Writing and College Apps

December 26, 2011 at 8:29 PM | Posted in Life, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Advice | 6 Comments
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As teenage writers, we have to deal with another obligation other writers don’t have to deal with as much: college. And our futures. How can one possibly find time to write when there are other issues like having a life, getting straight A’s, and completing activities that boost one’s impressiveness to admissions counselors?
Hey, don’t give up on writing just yet. The simple fact of it all is: colleges want to see your passion. If writing is your passion, stick with it! And besides, it can help your academic standing as well. I’ve listed some practical, real-life examples that could also further your acumen as a writer.

 

 

  1. Milk the CR/Writing portions of the SAT. These two sections were my biggest point-getters; math was my downfall. Still, you have that smug sense of superiority when you see the brainy math children struggle with the nuances of the English language. These reading and writing sections count for 2/3 of the test, after all!
  2. Self-study for the AP Lang/Lit tests. Your school doesn’t offer the class? Take matters into your own hands. Buy a few study guides, look them over during winter break, and talk to your counselor about ordering the tests in January, once you get back. The tests themselves are not hard if you’re naturally a good writer and voracious reader; AP English isn’t a class that needs to be taught as much as, say, AP Chemistry. It does cost money to take the test (some schools offer it for free—I know mine did), but getting a 5 and letting colleges see your intrinsic motivation is priceless.
  3. Become a leader and a writer. Does your school have a newspaper? A literary magazine? A yearbook? Get involved! If it’s too late in the year, ask about writing freelance. There’s always next year to apply for a staff position, and by then, the adviser will have built a good impression of you. You have a definite advantage over your peers when cranking it up for deadlines, soliciting businesses for ads (hey, you’ve been selling yourself in query letters, haven’t you?), and writing tight, informative articles. You’re already ahead of the learning curve, so it’s time to shine. Oh—and if your leadership helps your publication win competitions, all the more power to you.
  4. Look for writing-related internships or jobs. Some papers hire teens to do freelance reporting. Others print a mini-newspaper written by teens, for teens. A few even look for contributors to neighborhood-themed blogs. Thanks to the convenience of technology, you can often update a blog from the comfort of your own home. When you take the ten or fifteen hours a week that you once devoted to mindlessly scrolling on Facebook and put it towards something useful, you can see results that’ll help you get into college.
  5. Don’t give up! Colleges like to see you stick with a hobby—so even if agents didn’t like your first manuscript, don’t give up on writing entirely. Do what you can to build up your resume while staying involved, even if that means writing short stories or poems. Who knows? Winning a prestigious award would be a great way to demonstrate your skill. And if all else fails, self-publishing doesn’t hurt either; I know a girl who self-published a book and put that on her resume. Hey, though it might not count for anything in the literary world, it’s still something.

-linda

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Interview: Susan Beth Pfeffer

December 22, 2011 at 7:56 PM | Posted in Authors, Interviews, teen fiction, Writing, Writing Advice, YA | 2 Comments
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YA science fiction – especially speculative &/or dystopian stuff, seems to be a rising market at the moment. And today, we have an interview with a pretty cool YA author who’s been writing some sci fi lately. You may have heard of her – she’s the author of Life As We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, and coming soon, This World We Live In. So without further ado, presenting: Susan Beth Pfeffer!


Let’s start off with something fun. Your latest book, This World We Live In, is coming out soon. Summarize the book in twenty words – while tossing in as many alliterations as possible.
Lonely life. Laughter lingers. Longing looks. Loathing loses. Lust. Lying. Love lasts.
 

Very impressive – every single word! The Moon books seem to contain an element of speculative science fiction. Why this particular hypothetical future? How did these concepts come about?
I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that the moon controls the tides. And I wanted a worldwide disaster that wasn’t the fault of human beings (as so many things are) or something humans could change (since my main character was a teenage girl, and unlikely to save humanity). I also favored what I called a rolling disaster, one bad thing leading to another and another.

So I nudged the moon a bit closer to earth and tried to figure out just how bad that could make things. I have a basic sense of gravity, and I figured the moon’s gravitational pull could cause all kinds of miseries.

Which, thanks to me, it did.

Definitely original! Life as We Knew It, The Dead and the Gone, This World We Live In – all rather eloquently phrased titles. How did they come about?
My editor, or someone at the publishing house, named Life As We Knew It. My working title had been In The Sunroom.

Once I came up with the concept for The Dead and The Gone, I knew that would be its title. I zipped on over to Amazon to see if there were any other books with that title, and while there were a number of Dead And Gone(s), there weren’t any The Dead And The Gone, so I figured I was safe.

When I was trying to come up with the title for the third book, someone commented on my blog that the first two were five single syllable word titles. So I played around with various combinations until I came up with This World We Live In. Amazon didn’t show any serious conflicts, so that became my choice.

That’s smart, checking titles on Amazon first. Now, you’ve accumulated quite an impressive list of publications over the years. Is there one particular book you enjoyed writing more than the others?
I had a wonderful time writing all three moon books. I love the set up and the characters. When I wrote LAWKI it didn’t have chapters, and I think when I wrote d&g, I was reminded to put chapters in. Even with TW, the chapters were an organizing ex post facto addition.

I love writing books without chapters. There’s something liberating about not having to deal with that structure.

I wrote a book a long time ago called Courage, Dana, for younger readers. I remember really enjoying writing it. A tiny section of it is used on standardized reading tests, so I still make a little bit of money from it.

That’s really cool that it’s used for testing! If you could meet any character from any of your books, who would you chill with for a day? What would you guys do?
I introduce a new character named Charlie in This World We Live In. He’s your basic all purpose nice guy, and I think I’d enjoy spending time with him.

Since I mostly write for kids, I mostly write about kids. In real life, I tend to hang out with grownups. So I think Charlie would be the one I’d have the best time with.

I have no idea what we’d do though, since I only know him after the world has come to an end. That cuts down considerably on possible activities.

Haha, that probably would. If the apocalypse were coming tomorrow and you could only choose three books (in the entire world) to keep safe and bring into the “New World”, which ones would you pick?
Agee On Film by James Agee.
Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations
Church, State, and Freedom by Leo Pfeffer (my father)

Words of wisdom – what do you do when the muse has gone on vacation?
I go on vacation also.

I do a lot of pre-writing, so I always have some comfort level about what I’m going to be writing from one day to the next.

If I wake up in the morning with a big I Don’t Wanna, I simply give myself the day off.

It doesn’t happen often, but I respect it when it does.

Wise words. When writing, do you have any specific rituals?

I try to clean my home before I begin a book, have things all nice and tidy at least at the getgo.

And generally, I don’t read fiction when I’m writing.

Beyond that, I pretty much keep to my regular routines.

Outline first or writing on the fly?

Outline, outline, outline.

For the most part, I don’t outline on paper. But before I begin writing a book, I do an enormous amount of thinking about it. And when I’m writing, I focus on what’s going to happen.

I’m a very fast worker. I always have been. But the pre-writing lets me cut down on the rewriting, since I’ve worked out most of the problems before I start putting words on paper (or on screen).

There’s no right way or wrong way, and in the end it probably takes the same amount of time as it would if I sat down and improvised.

But my favorite part of writing is working the story out, and I always wait until I’m comfortable with the beginning, have a very strong sense of where the story is going to end, and am reasonably confident I know the middle, before beginning the actual writing.

More great advice! Really on a roll here. (And from peachiemkey of TWFT): What’s one hard truth you’ve had to learn about writing?
That just because I think something is wonderful doesn’t mean anyone else will.

I am my own biggest fan. I write the stories I would most enjoy reading. My primary goal in writing is to entertain myself.

Alas, not everyone else on earth has my exact taste.

 
Anything else to add?

Just that I’m very glad the world isn’t anything like the one I created in my moon books and that I don’t have to hang out with imaginary characters!
 
Thanks for joining us!

Interview ~ Jay Asher

February 25, 2010 at 1:10 PM | Posted in Authors, Interviews, teen fiction, Writing Advice, YA | 8 Comments

TWFT recently got a chance to interview Jay Asher, author of Thirteen Reasons Why. What a treat!

TWFT Summarize Thirteen Reasons Why in ten words or less.

Hannah committed suicide.  Clay listens to her recorded reasons why.

TWFT Who is your favorite character from Thirteen Reasons Why?

Tony.  When I wrote the scene where Clay “borrows” Tony’s Walkman, I didn’t have any plans for bringing Tony back later in the book.  But there was something about the guy which I immediately liked, and people who read that scene early on also liked him.  He turned out to be a very important character later in the book and I loved writing every scene he appears in.  I could probably write a whole book about him!

TWFT When did you first start writing?

I’ve enjoyed writing ever since I learned how to spell.  Regarding writing as a career, I wanted to write and illustrate my own comic strip for years.  If I could draw better, that would still be my fantasy job.  It wasn’t until my first year in college that I began writing children’s book in the hopes of one day getting published.  For about the next nine years, I only wrote funny books for younger children.  Thirteen Reasons Why was the first serious novel I attempted, and also the first book I wrote for teens.

TWFT Thirteen Reasons Why is quite a sad (but totally amazing) novel. Are any of the events that take place based on real life situations that you have experienced?

The scene in the Peer Communications class with the paperbags happened in my high school Peer Communications class almost exactly as it appears in the book.  We never found out who wrote that note, but obviously the class reaction left a big impact on me.  And when Clay first meets Hannah at the party, when he tries to tie his shoelace but his fingers are too cold, that happened to me at a party when I was introduced to the first girl I ever went on a date with.

TWFT Tell us about your querying process and road to publication.

From the time I first began submitting manuscripts to publishers back in 1994 to when Thirteen Reasons Why sold, twelve years had passed.  So this can definitely be a game of perseverance, as well as being willing to try different styles until you find your natural voice.  When my agent sent out this manuscript, it got rejected many times before it sold.

TWFT Thirteen Reasons Why is a very serious novel. Is there a message in the novel that you want readers to grasp?

As Hannah says, you never know what’s going on in anyone’s life but your own.  Someone who looks like they have it all together may actually be going through quite a lot.  And everyone handles life’s pressures differently.  While Hannah herself is not without fault, it still all comes down to the Golden Rule.  So that’s the main thing I was trying to say.  Always treat people with respect because you never know what else they’re dealing with.  As well, I want people who are hurting to realize how important it is for them to honestly reach out for help.

TWFT What was your inspiration for Thirteen Reasons Why?

I had a close relative attempt suicide when she was the same age as Hannah.  Through talking with her over the years, I began to understand how someone could get to that place where they completely lose hope of things getting better.  Around that same time, I took an audiotour and immediately thought that dual-narrative structure could be very powerful if paired with the right story.  It wasn’t until nine years later that the issue of suicide matched up with the structure.

TWFT Can you describe yourself as a teen in high school?

I was normally shy.  But when I got comfortable around certain groups of people, then I could be very outgoing.  I worked on the newspaper staff, but I was horrible and got out as soon as I could.  I played in a bunch of garage bands, playing guitar and singing, and I thought I was much better than I actually was.  I only really dated one girl in high school, and that relationship lasted two years.  I didn’t hate my teen years in any way, but I still wouldn’t want to redo them.  Those years were rather…blah.

TWFT If you could have dinner with one author, alive or dead, who would it be?

Stephen King.  Without a doubt.  And since he’s alive, there’s always a chance!

TWFT Do you have any tips for aspiring young writers?

Join a critique group where everyone gives each other honest suggestions for improvements as well as points out everyone’s strengths.  If you can find a group of writers like that, your writing will improve tremendously.

TWFT Are you currently working on another novel?

Yep.  Several!

TWFT Lastly, a TWFT tradition, what is your favorite flavor of jellybean?

Buttered popcorn.  It’s not that I can eat a ton of them…but they’re so fun to share!

Thanks for your time Jay! The last one made me crack up…

Andrew

Agented

February 22, 2010 at 3:40 PM | Posted in News, Publishing, teen fiction, Uncategorized, Writing, YA | 13 Comments

How does someone write a post like this? There are a million ways to try to convey the excitement. But I guess in the end the only way is the simple way, to just type out the words:

I am now represented by a literary agent. Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.

(SQUEEEE!)

Now the above was my pathetic attempt to sound professional. I will now just tell you guys the story without any kind of pretense because you’ve known me too long to think I actually think like that.

I started my writing career with a story about a princess, locked away in a tower, waiting to be rescued. I was in second grade, and I added a few illustrations, folded the pieces of paper to open like a book, and proudly presented my novel to be read to everyone I could wrangle into listening. I never did get around to writing the “sequel” I had planned.

The Virginity Thief came after a few more attempts, some of which came with query attempts, as well.  I brought characters to life, killed some, weaved some good plots and some bad; all until I got Mari Abdo’s voice in my head and I just couldn’t get it out. I knew I needed a plot worthy of Mari, and VT was born when I was 18 years old.

I started querying VT mid-January. I got a lot of rejections and a few requests, but in the end it wasn’t a query that got me an agent. Special thanks goes to Karla Calalang for this. Natalie Fischer joined AbsoluteWrite just as my novel was in the end of revision stages and I was to start querying. She was interested in Karla’s work and also in the work of any friends whose names Karla thought to pass on. At the same time, I got Karla in on an interview with Natalie for TWFT (read the interview here). It was a great interview and I learned a lot about the woman who would eventually be my agent.

Natalie found herself at my blog. She read VT’s description and asked me for the first 50 pages. I was ecstatic, and even more ecstatic when she sent me an e-mail a week later asking for the full. A week more and she told me she loved my novel (what wonderful words!) but needed a second opinion from a fellow Sandra Dijkstra agent to fulfill the agency’s check and balance requirements. Those were the toughest 2 days in my writing history. If anyone knows me, they know I am the most impatient writer alive. But then she sent me editing suggestions and told me if all went well, she’d love to represent me. Within a week I sent in my edited version and, today, officially signed with the agency.

I want to thank all my amazing Twifty and Oldies friends. Without you guys I would never have made it this far. To those of you reading this post who have yet to join AW, do so. It really is a fabulous site where you’ll get to meet people that will be an immense help to your writing.

And also, put yourself out there. I would never have gotten interest from Natalie if I hadn’t approached her for an interview and made sure I had a manuscript “blurb” on my blog. Don’t be afraid to share your story idea at the query stage!

And with that I’ll end this post.

Just one more… SQUEE.

Race

Spontaneous Novelling

January 30, 2010 at 6:00 AM | Posted in Writing | 7 Comments
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Many people like to write a plan before starting a novel. This has its many benefits, like you have less chance of ending up with untied ends and confusion in plot muddling. There are, however, some more rebellious subjects among the writing nation (including moi) who are either too impatient (me), work better without a plan, or just like to ‘go with the flow’.  Many who have gone without a plan know that it most probably will take more drafts to create a flawless draft this way.

However, there are more extreme aspects than just ‘winging it’ altogether. How about if you went through a whole novel never knowing what the ending would be, what would happen in the middle or who the person in question would meet along their journey? I know – it sounds über-scary to me, too, but wouldn’t it just be darn awesome to see what it would end up like?

That is why I propose an idea for the whole concept of novel writing altogether, or just as a writing excercise: forget the page-by-page-plan, forget the random musings you thought would be a good idea earlier, forget that you have an urge to give a character a shiny new Mini Cooper. Start not knowing anything at all.

What I think would be a good idea is that, before writing a novel, you get so many people to write down characters/plot points, or just even single nouns on their own. If everyone writes an idea down on a slip of paper, you can pick a piece out one-by-one, and include each point as they are chosen.

The outcome? Well, it could go either way:you could end up with a best-selling, most unique novel of all time, or you could end up with a load of garbage. The main point is that it breaks you out of a routine – it makes you broaden your horizons to new ideas.

So, bloggers – are you ready for the Spontaneous Novel challenge?

-It’s-Magic!/Becky/bexmagic

x

On Perceived Snobbery

January 22, 2010 at 11:25 AM | Posted in Op-Ed, Writing, Writing Advice | 6 Comments

So my schedule this semester rocks. I’m taking two English classes – Myths of Britain and Intermediate Fiction I – an Arabic class that is turning out to be way cooler than I thought it was going to be, and my very last general curriculum requirements. It makes me ecstatic. Because after this semester (or so the hope goes) the only classes that I will be taking are classes that I want to take and am not required to take. I will be filling up my mind with all these lovely things that I want to fill my mind up with. Like I said – it makes me ecstatic.

But something about my creative writing class hasn’t been sitting well with me for the last couple of classes. I couldn’t figure it out, not for the life of me. My professor is pretty kick ass, my classmates are pretty amazing. There is nothing wrong with this class.

Except, you know, writers are snobs.

Now, before you all jump on me with all kinds of indignant shouts and protests, let me finish! Or correct myself. Writers have a reputation of being absolute snobs. When a person who is not a writer thinks of a writer, they imagine the starving artist, the person who has a superior insight into the human condition, the person who has been gifted by some divine light to put life on a page for all (or some) people to view with a renewed sense of being.

But I’m a writer, and I certainly am not any of those things. I have a talent (maybe) but I practice, a lot. I read, a lot. And I don’t think I have a superior insight into anything. I write what I know, what I feel and what I learn. I write what I imagine, what I fantasize and what I imagine other people fantasize. And I don’t like being put into a category that is elitist and snobby.

And that’s what bothers me most about this class. Because, accidentally (or purposely), the professor and my classmates have put themselves up on a pedestal. They have decreed (yes, it is a strong word) that they and their writing colleagues and better, in some form or another, than the common man. And that doesn’t sit well with me.

Do you guys ever feel that way? Am I weird to feel this way? Please – do tell!

Posted by Sumayyah (Cross posted to The Raven Desk)

Swamped by Backstory

January 17, 2010 at 9:46 PM | Posted in Writing | 3 Comments

It happens to me all the time.

I’ll be writing away, happy as a clam, and all of a sudden Character A, who’s really only a minor character, will waltz in and dump enough backstory on me to write a book.

Which, of course, is exactly what I’m doing. I’m just not writing that book.

Even though that book sounds pretty darn interesting.

And that thing they just told me does sort of relate to something in the current story, and it is really a cool tidbit of information, and it wouldn’t be too hard to just mention – STOP.

Step away from the keyboard.

Is that really relevant? Does the reader really need to know that Minor Character A had a pet rock named Angus?

No, they probably don’t.

Maybe this is just me, but I constantly have to remind myself that certain scenes and/or conversations may be superfluous. They add to my already-astronomical word count and no matter how interesting they may be, they don’t really do much to advance the plot.

Of course, backstory is all well and good when presented properly. When dealing with an MC or another major character (like the LI), revealing a bit of the character’s backstory can be good for the book. But when minor characters start inundating us with their life stories, things get bogged down. And when things get bogged down, readers get bored.

So, I have developed a list of rules to keep myself from plumping up my word count any more than I already do.

  1. I shall have two* and only two major characters**. If the character who is telling me about the time they stuck a bead up their nose in preschool is not one of those two characters, then what they are telling me should probably not be included in the story. Even if the bead-in-nose story had a really funny ending.
  2. If the bead-in-nose story does belong to one of my major characters I will still think carefully before including it because it may so happen that it is still irrelevant and not entertaining enough to warrant the page space. Signs that it is relevant include the event providing some explanation as to why something in the current story is the way it is, and/or having had a longstanding effect and thereby contributing to the character’s current mental state/personality/character traits. (i.e. character’s severe phobia of things entering his/her nasal region)
  3. The only time a minor character’s backstory may be mentioned is when it directly relates to and/or affects the course of the plot. (i.e. When Minor Character D can ever-so-conveniently pick the lock on the dungeon door at a crucial point in time*** because her parents were locksmiths, it is acceptable and even advisable to have mentioned this previously via some witty anecdote or amusing scenario.)
  4. If the backstory is irresistibly interesting and the character it belongs to absolutely will not shut up, I will write it down in a separate document and save it there. This way my character(s) will hopefully be happy and I will have their backstories stashed away in case I ever need to refer to them.

* Adjust this number to suit each individual book
** Major characters are characters who are present and active for at least 75%**** of the story.
*** Disclaimer: having a minor character save the day at a crucial point in time may not be the best way to go about things, plot-wise.
**** I made that number up.

And that’s it. Hopefully I’m not the only one who ever has this problem. :)

– Becca Cooper (AKA Elusive)

Do you have what it takes?

January 16, 2010 at 8:00 PM | Posted in Editing, Reading, teen fiction, Writing, Writing Advice | 5 Comments

Are you supposed to be writing?

Now, don’t expect a happy encouraging post here. The job of this little post isn’t to assure you you can “do it.” It is to make very clear that some people just can’t.

We’ve all come in some kind of contact with them. We either know them personally, have heard of them, or… shock… read their (sadly) published novels. They are the ones that make us say “Hey, listen, the people who are meant to do this don’t need you taking up our agents’, editors’, publishers’, readers’ time. We have a hard enough job as it is.”

These are the people that have no business writing.

They are the ones who have grand ideas of what writing a novel is. They proclaim to the world that in a year or so they’ll have enough life experience to write the next great American novel but, in fact, it is simply that they don’t have the natural inclination to start as soon as the story hits them.

They pretend that the moments of writing must be perfect… the laptop computer must be new or the notebooks unsullied with grocery lists or the new pens have the smoothest writing in dark bold ink.

They bring hot beverages and soft music, to smother themselves in the writing mood they pretend must be there.

They are the ones who think writing a book is an easy way to make money from home, just write and submit. Unfortunately for the readers, these non-writers sometimes succeed.

Their ideas of writing fiction are simply fictional.

These are fakes who want to get noticed, not writers who live and breathe their characters, and how these characters are affected throughout a novel. We talk to our characters as if they are real, play the music that fits their moods, torture ourselves for hours at the desk chair telling their stories. We are the real writers, be we published or not.

Take this quiz to see if you are really a writer or are writing a novel for reasons other than ones you should…

And I say it here: I’d rather be a real writer and never be published, than a fake one who forces the readers out there to read my garbage. But that’s just me… sadly.

A Message from Monica Gellar

January 15, 2010 at 7:05 PM | Posted in Life, Writing, Writing Advice | 5 Comments

Who is this lady that is not you? you all may ask. That is Monica Geller. And she has a message for all you college writers that are returning to school. She knows that you have your time cut out for you. You’re probably taking four (or five, if you’re really insane) classes. You might have a job that sucks ten hours out of your week. If you’re really cool, you probably have to go to the gym at least once a week. Then there’s friends (please, tell us who invented them?). And papers. And studying. And of course, your highest priority, the writing.

But how do you plan on balancing such a hectic lifestyle. How will you do all of that, sleep, eat and keep a tight grip (or loose, your choice, really) on your sanity.

Monica Geller is here to solve your problems with a simple suggestion. PLAN. Preferably with a color coded schedule that works in bathroom breaks, snack breaks and eating times (sleep is flexible). Because if you do not plan, at least a little, you will never have time to do anything of value or merit. Your life will be one huge mess after another  and you will never get anywhere.

So Monica Geller implores you to planSchedule. Have a vague idea of what your day is going to be like. Or all is lost. Really.

Posted by Sumayyah (Cross posted to The Raven Desk)

Book Club ~ We All Fall Down

January 5, 2010 at 10:59 AM | Posted in Life, Reading, teen fiction, Uncategorized, Writing, YA | 2 Comments

Now, I know some of you have been looking forward to a review of We All Fall Down for this month’s book club post. Perhaps a Twifty will post one in the review section of this site soon. But for this post I thought we should instead take a moment to remember the author.

Robert Cormier, born in Leominster, Mass., once described himself as “a skinny kid living in a ghetto-type neighborhood wanting the world to know that I existed.”  For writers like us, getting the world to know we exist is pretty darn important, but I don’t think anyone should take Cormier’s quote and think that is all writers desire. There is power in the story that is stuck in your head, stories like We All Fall Down, an edgy read that leaves nothing out in pursuit of telling the story Cormier imagined. Sometimes, there is nothing we can do but let that out on the page. And very few of us do it as well as Cormier.

As to why he tunneled this energy into young adult fiction? He wanted to show us the “strength of young adults—their resilience, their ability to absorb the blows teenage life delivers.”

Mr. Cormier died on November 2, 2000, but he’ll be forever remembered by young adult writers everywhere.

On the lighter side, some things you might not know:

He wrote a book called “I Am The Cheese” and thus wins Race’s award for most fantabulous book title.

The Chocolate War, one of his most beloved books, has a sequel, called Beyond the Chocolate War.

When you try to Google his name and first start to type “Ro…” Google Chrome immediately assumes you want to search for rotten tomatoes.

Now, this is a book club post and when you end your moment of silence for Robert Cormier take a look at this book down here. I know for a fact is it a popular read and I hope you all have fun with it. Look for the next book club post near the beginning of March!

The Book Thief.

Photos from here and here.

Quotes and info taken from: site.

Race

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