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Writers’ Bloc: Places where writers and artists have lived together

Home is where the art is for four different groups of writers, who lived and worked together under one roof, experiencing a cultural time-share that produced diverse and original works of literature, art, and popular entertainment.
The February House

Between 1940 and 1942, “an entire generation of Western culture” lived at 7 Middagh Street, Brooklyn. The poet W. H. Auden was house mother, who collected rents and doled out toilet paper, at 2 sheets for each of his fellow tenants, advising them to use “both sides”. These tenants included legendary stripper, Gypsy Rose Lee, novelist Carson McCullers and a host of other irregular visitors - composer Benjamin Britten, singer Peter Pears, writers Jane and Paul Bowles and Erika and Klaus Mann, Salvador Dali, a selection of stevedores, sailors, circus acts and a chimpanzee.

Auden wrote his brilliant poem New Year Letter here and fell obsessively in love with Chester Kallman, and attempted to strangle him one hot, summer night - an event that taught Auden the universal potential for evil. On the top floor, Carson McCullers escaped from her psychotic husband, and wrote Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Member of the Wedding, while slowly drinking herself to an early death.

On the first floor, Gypsy Rose Lee created her legend as the world’s most famous stripper, wrote her thriller The G-String Murders, offered a shoulder to cry on, and told outrageous tales of her burlesque life.

Known as the “February House”, because of the number of birthdays shared during that month, 7 Middagh St. was a place of comfort and hope in the desperate months at the start of the Second World War.
The Fun Factory

The scripts that came out of 9 Orme Court in London, changed world comedy. And if Spike Milligan hadn’t gone mad and attempted to murder Peter Sellers with a potato peeler, it may never have all happened.

Milligan was the comic genius behind The Goons, and the stress of writing a new script every week, led to his breakdown. The need for a place to work, away from the demands of family, home and fame, brought Milligan to share an office with highly successful radio scriptwriter, Eric Sykes. 

The first Fun Factory was above a greengrocer on the Uxbridge Road. Here Sykes, Milligan, comedian Frankie Howerd and agent Scruffy Dale, formed the Writers’ Bloc Associated London Scripts. The idea was to bring together the best and newest comedy writers under one umbrella. Milligan saw ALS as an artists’ commune that would lead to political and cultural change. Sykes saw ALS as a business opportunity to produce great comedy. Frankie Howerd saw it as a source of finding new material.

When Milligan asked two young writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson to come on board, the central core of ALS was formed.

This merry band of writers expanded in the coming years to include: Johnny Speight (Till Death Us Do Part); Barry Took and Marty Feldman (The Army Game and Round the Horne); Terry Nation (Dr Who and the Daleks); John Antrobus (The Bed-Sitting Room); and with a move to the more suitable offices of 9 Orme Court, ALS was established as the home of legendary British comedy.

Milligan continued successfully with The Goons, before devising the groundbreaking Q series for television. Sykes began his long and successful career with his own TV show. While Galton and Simpson created the first British TV sitcom, Hancock’s Half-Hour, and then the massively influential Steptoe and Son.

9 Orme Court was once described, as though Plato, Aristotle, Galileo and Leonardo Da Vinci were all living in the same artist’s garret.
The Beat Hotel

A run-down hotel in the back streets of Paris was unlikely setting for a Cultural Revolution, but the Sixties were seeded when poet, Allen Ginsberg William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and Bryon Gysin moved into the Beat Hotel, at 9 Git le Coeur, in the late 1950s.

The literary revolution that started with Ginsberg’s Howl in America was formalised and expanded in the cramped, leaky, piss-smelling hotel rooms at 9 Git le Couer.

Ginsberg wrote part of Kaddish here, as he came to terms with the madness and death of his Mother. First to arrive, Ginsberg was also be first to check out, travelling in search of enlightenment to India. 

The wild and romantic Corso produced his best books of poems “Gasoline” and “Bomb”, whilst living the life of an American abroad.

But it was Burroughs who gained most from his four-year on-and-off stay in Git le Coeur.  Here he completed Naked Lunch, and wrote the novels The Soft Machine, The Nova Express, The Ticket that Exploded, and together with Bryon Gysin devised the cut-up form of writing, indulged in seances, Black Magic and tried out Scientology.

Like Middagh Street, the Beat Hotel was a cultural and social experiment that sought to inspire art through shared experiences. 
Passport from Pimlico

It started with a bet. Three young writers sitting watching Mick Jagger on Top of the Pops, in a flat in Pimlico during the 1960s. The bet was simple, which of the 3 would make the big time first?

It was the kind of idle chat once made soon forgotten, but not for these 3 young talents, Tom Stoppard, Derek Marlowe and Piers Paul Read.

Read and Marlowe believed Stoppard would hit the big time first, but they were wrong, it was Marlowe in 1966 with his cool and brilliant spy thriller A Dandy in Aspic, made into a film with Laurence Harvey, Mia Farrow, Tom Courtney and Peter Cook.

Stoppard was next in 1967, with his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Then Read with Alive the story of Andes plane crash in 1974.

All 3 were outsiders, set apart from their contemporaries by their romanticized sense of Englishness, which came from their backgrounds. Read was a brilliant Catholic author, favorably compared to Graham Greene; Stoppard, a Czech-émigré, and Marlowe, a second generation Greek, who was for “heroes, though if not Lancelot or Tristan, heroes” who appeared “out of the mould of the time.” All three writers were to become the biggest British talents of the 1970s and 1980s.
Previously on Dangerous Minds

A Dandy in Aspic: A letter from Derek Marlowe



Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Vincent Price: ‘An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe’

Vincent Price is on sparkling form in An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe, in which the Master of Horror presents his unique interpretation of 4 tales by “the most original genius America has produced” - “The Tell-Tale Heart”, “The Sphinx”, “The Cask of Amontillado” and “The Pit and the Pendulum”. Directed by Kenneth Johnson, who later created the classic series V, this is a classic TV adaptation from 1970, capturing Price at his electrifying best.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

100 tiny portraits of Vincent Price

Vincent Price hams it up in the bathroom


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Book jackets defaced by playwright Joe Orton in 1962 on display in London
03:16 pm


Joe Orton
Kenneth Halliwell

Cynical, dark-hearted British playwright Joe Orton and his boyfriend (later murderer) Kenneth Halliwell so hated the books on offer at the Essex Road library in London, that they decided to amuse themselves by creatively defacing book covers. Eventually the pair were caught and did jail time. Now a large selection of their naughty handiwork is on display at the Islington Museum, where 40 of the 72 dustjackets they defaced can be viewed by the public through January of next year.

From the Guardian:

What would a librarygoer in 1960 think in picking up The Collected Plays of Emlyn Williams and finding they were about to read plays called Knickers Must Fall and Fucked by Monty?

They also altered the blurbs for the books in a less than tasteful fashion. Dorothy L Sayers’s Gaudy Nights, for example, was the writer “at her most awe inspiring. At her most queer, and needless to say, at her most crude!”

Readers of another of her Lord Peter Wimsey books, Clouds of Witness, are advised to read behind closed doors “and have a good shit while you are reading!”

The pair would sneak the book back on to a shelf and then wait for someone to pick it up so they could watch the reaction.

You can see more of the defaced book jackets here.



Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Because we’re queer’: The Life and Crimes of Joe Orton

Thank you, Chris Campion!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Albert Camus’ ‘The Fall’: An animation by Mike McCubbins

Though it lacks a voice-over, Mike McCubbins has created a beautiful and haunting short animation based on Albert Camus’ The Fall.

Camus’ story tells of a so-called “judge-penitent”, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, who reflects upon his life to a stranger at a bar the Mexico City, in Amsterdam. As Clamence comments to his nameless companion:

“Have you noticed that Amsterdam’s concentric canals resemble the circles of hell? The middle-class hell, of course, peopled with bad dreams. When one comes from the outside, as one gradually goes through those circles, life — and hence its crimes — becomes denser, darker. Here, we are in the last circle.”

Clamence explains how he has had a fall form grace, is now in self-imposed exile in Amsterdam. He describes himself as a good man, giving to the poor, helping the blind across the street, and that he lived his life for others. This was, until one night, as he crossed over the Pont Royal returning home from his mistress, he noticed a woman close to the edge of the bridge. He walks on and then hears a scream, and a muted splash.

“It repeated several times, downstream; then it abruptly ceased. The silence that followed, as the night suddenly stood still, seemed interminable. I wanted to run and yet didn’t move an inch. I was trembling, I believe from cold and shock. I told myself that I had to be quick and felt an irresistible weakness steal over me. I have forgotten what I thought then. “Too late, too far…” or something of the sort. I was still listening as I stood motionless. Then, slowly, in the rain, I went away. I told no one.”

Haunted by his failure to save the woman, or tell anyone about it, Clamence’s life starts to unravel, until one day a woman’s laugh (or is it his own?) causes him to realize everything he has done has not been for others, but always for himself.

To find out who he is, Clamence decides to act out of character, as “no man is a hypocrite in his pleasures”:

“...jostling the blind on the street; and from the secret, unexpected joy this gave me I recognized how much a part of my soul loathed them; I planned to puncture the tyres of wheelchairs, to go and shout ‘lousy proletarian’ under the scaffoldings on which labourers were working, to smack infants in the subway. ... the very word ‘justice’ gave me strange fits of rage…”


Though Camus never thought of himself as an Existentialist (more of an Absurdist writing against Nihilism), many of his concerns stemmed from the same bourgeois preoccupations that inspired Sartre and Existentialism - guilt, alienation, regret, angst. This is limned at the end of the tale, when Clamence reveals his role as “judge-penitent” - in a world without God, we are all guilty of everything, and Clamence must, therefore, sit in permanent judgement over everyone.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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First public reading of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ took place 56 years ago today
09:06 am


Allen Ginsberg

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…”

Over at the indispensable On This Deity blog, Dorian Cope writes that today is the fifty-six anniversary of the first public reading of “Howl” by a then twenty-nine-year-old Allen Ginsberg. It was a revolutionary moment, in poetry, in literature, and the opening salvo in the counter culture battles of the 1960s:

As the hitherto forbidden content (drugs, mental illness, religion, homosexuality) emerged, Kerouac – two years prior to On the Road – was the first to realise the magnitude of what was happening. Sitting on the side of the low stage, he began to punctuate Ginsberg’s Whitmanesque-meets-jazz rhythms by banging his empty wine jug and, at the end of each long line, shouting “GO!” Soon, the entire audience joined in … their encouraging chants of “GO! GO! GO!” driving Ginsberg to a shamanic momentum and creating a tribal unity between audience and poet. By the time he finished, Ginsberg was in tears. So was Rexroth. Everyone in the room knew they’d witnessed a rare moment of duende – that mysterious higher state brought on by a burst of genuine inspiration – and henceforth nothing would be the same again.

Michael McClure would later recall: “We had gone beyond a point of no return, and we were ready for it. None of us wanted to go back to the gray, chill, militaristic silence, to the intellective void – to the land without poetry – to the spiritual drabness. We wanted to make it new and we wanted to invent it and the process of it as we went into it. We wanted voice and we wanted vision.”

The next day, Lawrence Ferlignhetti, who’d been in the audience, sent Ginsberg a telegram. And with a nod to the past but his eye fixed firmly on the future, he borrowed Ralph Waldo Emerson’s legendary words to Walt Whitman in 1855: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” The fledgling publisher then added:  “When do I get the manuscript?” The publication of “Howl” is another story… but, on October 7th 1955 and on the occasion of its first reading, a battle cry was sounded and the Beat Generation was born.

Read the entire post at On This Deity

Ginsberg reading “Howl”:



Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Rock band performing on a motorcycle!
10:18 pm


Rock band on a motorcycle

Russian motorcycle madness - rock band literally goes on the road.

The title of the video Бременские музыканты. Наши дни is Russian for “The Town Musicians Of Bremen,” a Grimm Brothers fairytale that was made into a very popular animated film in Russia.

In the story a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster, all past their prime years in life and usefulness on their respective farms, were soon to be discarded or mistreated by their masters. One by one they leave their homes and set out together. They decide to go to Bremen, known for its freedom, to live without owners and become musicians there.

Good luck young rockers, long may you ride.

Update: When I posted this last night it had 307 views on Youtube. It’s now at a quarter million. Talk about going viral!

Via Gadling

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
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Albert Camus vs. Jean-Paul Sartre

They first met through a love of theater, at a production of The Flies. It drew them together, this collective experience towards a creative good. And then, of course, their love of literature and writing, and during the war through the Resistance, and endless conversations in the cafes, which later became famous through association with their names. Jean-Paul Sartre was the leader. Albert Camus the talented writer, a leader in waiting.

Though close, there were early signs of division - Sartre knew Camus was the better writer, something he would never acknowledge publicly - and when the war finished, it wasn’t long for their friendship to fail.

Against the background of Cold War tensions and the threat of nuclear war between East and West, Sartre took the side of the Soviet Union, while Camus said he was on “the side of life”.

“I’m against a new war. To revolt today means to revolt against war.”

But it was Sartre’s blind acceptance of Russia’s concentration camps that proved too much for Camus. He wanted Sartre to denounce them, in the same way they had once denounced the German concentration camps. Sartre refused.

This led Camus to question the idea of rebellion and revolution, in particular the value of the Russian revolution, this at a time when writers on the Left held it up as the socialist dream.

In The Rebel Camus wrote:

‘In order to exist, man must rebel, but rebellion must respect the limits that it discovers in itself.

“In contemplating the results in an act of rebellion we shall have to ask ourselves each time if it remains faithful to its first noble promise or whether it forgets its purpose and plunges into a mire of tyranny and servitude.

“In Absurdist experience suffering is individual, but from the moment that a movement of rebellion begins, suffering is seen as a collective experience, as the experience of everyone. Therefore the first step towards a mind overwhelmed by the absurdity of things is to realize that this feeling, this strangeness is shared by all men, and the entire human race suffers from a division between itself and the rest of the world.”

Camus’ intention with The Rebel was to change accepted ideas about rebellion, with a new concept of questioning revolutionary action. For many it was too abstract and too damaging to the communist cause.

Sartre, therefore, decided something had to be done to redress Camus’ apparent attack on Soviet Communism, and by implication all communist belief, and he organized a damning and high-handed response. It proved to be a devastating blow to Camus.

While Sartre could separate the world of ideas from his personal friendship, Camus could not. He believed friendship was essential, and depended on his friends like the strong camaraderie shared by a theater company. Camus believed friendship united people together in the struggle for a better world. He therefore saw Sartre’s actions as the worst kind of betrayal, and it finished their friendship.

This is a short but fascinating extract examining the friendship between Camus and Sartre.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Jim Carroll live in Boston 1980: Bad Catholic video mix
07:55 pm


Jim Carroll Band Boston 1980

Jim Carroll Band live at The Paradise Theater, Boston. December,1980.

Brian Linsley- guitar
Terrell Winn- guitar
Steve Linsley- bass
Wayne Woods- drums

1. Wicked Gravity
2. Three Sisters
3. City Drops Into Night
4. Catholic Boy
5. It’s Too Late
6. Voices
7.Nothing Is True
8. People Who Died

Video NSFW.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
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Grunge, rock eccentrics and Debbie Gibson: Three books to rock your world
01:49 pm


Mark Yarm
Chuck Eddy
Jake Austen

Mudhoney. Photo by Bob Whittaker from Everybody Loves Our Town
Rock And Roll Always Forgets. Chuck Eddy.

Back in the Seventies, before I moved to New York City, my link to Gotham’s punk scene was the music section of the Village Voice. I pored over the club ads to see who was playing at CBGB’s, Max’s, Club 82 and the half dozen other joints where a new movement was percolating. Seeing the names of bands like The Cramps, Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie in big block letters and reading reviews by Robert Christgau and Lester Bangs were transmissions to my rock and roll heart. The Voice was, at one time, a great place to go for music writing, particularly regarding underground and genre-busting bands. It was seeing CBGB’s ads every week that compelled me in 1977 to pack my band up in a van and drive 2000 miles to play the Monday audition night at the infamous Bowery dive, the Mecca of rock and roll misfits.

Chuck Eddy didn’t arrive at the Village Voice until the 80s, but he maintained the Voice’s tradition of covering many bands that were off the mainstream map, but he also went against the grain and covered massively popular groups in genres that the Voice often shunned. Eddy was good to go when it came to heavy metal, hip hop, disco and bubble gum pop like Debbie Gibson and the Bay City Rollers. While some of Eddy’s subjects may have lacked danger, his writing was always edgy and opinions fiercely independent. Eddy took risks. And unlike the academic and overly serious Christgau, he was fun to read. And he still is.

Rock And Roll Always Forgets is a collection of Eddy’s reviews and essays published by Duke University Press and it’s a mother-lode of vibrant writing that captures the passionate energy of having a long-term love affair with America’s most unruly and pervasive art forms. If rock and roll is a woman, Chuck Eddy is her fuck buddy.

Flying Saucers Rock ‘N’ Roll. Jake Austen, editor.

There’s probably a book to be written about the link between Mad Magazine and punk rock and if anyone could write it it would be Jake Austen. A pop culture junkie, with a jones for weird and off-beat stuff, Austen is an archaeologist of the sublime and the silly, the divine and the demented, from the phosphene glow of teen dance shows and American Idol to the hidden and musty corners of rock and roll’s bargain basement. For 20 years, he’s been editing one of the few genuinely essential ‘zines, Roctober, and Austen knows his shit when it comes to rock and roll’s wayward history.

Flying Saucers Rock ‘N’ Roll contains ten fascinating, bittersweet and often very funny interviews with “unjustly obscure rock ‘n’ soul eccentrics” that will delight fans of Nick Tosches’ Unsung Heroes Of Rock And Roll. Both books share a love for the slow-to-die dreams of a handful of hardcore survivors of one of the most unforgiving industries in the modern world, the music industry.

If you never heard of The Fast, Guy Chookoorian, Sugar Pie DeSanto and Zolar X, or if you have and are wondering what happened to them, Austen, along with his intrepid co-writers, will take you to a place where the music still matters and fame is as elusive as a dildo in a nunnery. 

Some of the artists interviewed in Flying Saucers Rock ‘N’ Roll only have themselves to blame for the fuck-upped decisions or lifestyle choices they made, while others played by the rules and ended up in the same netherworld that separates struggle and success. But no matter what path these folks took, they walked the walk and never looked back.

Everybody Loves Our Town. Mark Yarm.

Mark Yarm’s oral history of grunge, Everybody Loves Our Town, is a big (567 pages), messy, mesmerizing and vital blast of rock and roll energy, much like the music it chronicles.

I’ve never been a fan of the Pacific Northwest music scene of the 1990s. Lord knows I’ve tried. Most of my friends whose musical tastes I trust were knocked out by Nirvana’s Nevermind when it was released in September of 1991. I didn’t get it. The same held true for Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the rest. It all sounded like sludge rock for stoners to me. Maybe I would have dug it if I smoked dope. Whatever the case, I was totally in the minority, but I’ve always felt that it’s my problem. Not the bands’.

By the time grunge fashions were appearing in display windows at Macy’s, the scene was teetering on the brink of just becoming another passing rock trend. When Kurt Cobain blew his brains out in 1994, “grunge” staggered and fell face first into a pile of decaying flannel and empty glassine bags of heroin. The myth and hype were blasted into oblivion along with Kurt’s head. But, the music survived.

Yarm’s book made me want to seek out the music of some of the bands that never ascended to the heights of Stone Temple Pilots or Alice In Chains. Bands like the U-Men and The Screaming Trees and to re-visit Skin Yard,  Mudhoney and Dead Moon. And I just pre-ordered the upcoming Nirvana boxset. Knowing more about these bands, in all their screwed-up glory, made a cynic like me reconsider their roles as fearless rock and roll rebels.

Everybody Loves Our Town captures a moment in time when a bunch of kids living in desolate rural areas and soul-deadening suburbs of Oregon and Washington turned to music for liberation. It’s the same old story going back decades, but it’s a story that I could particularly relate to. I grew up in the South when the only way out for a smart creative teenager was the military, running away, drugs or rock and roll. I took the latter three options.

The “grunge” movement was, in its infancy, comprised of a few dozen outsiders who lived, played, got stoned, fought and often fell in love with each other. It was an incestuous scene with booze, THC and heroin providing both inspiration and destruction. That for a few years, this collection of longhaired slackers and punks managed to re-animate a dying music industry is almost as heroic as it was unexpected. Mark Yarm’s deeply immersive book lets the front lines of this rock revolution speak for themselves and it is never less than enthralling.  I can’t imagine a better book to turn your head around if you didn’t “get’ grunge. It did mine.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
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‘Crimes In Southern Indiana’: Dope and death in America’s heartland
07:00 pm


Frank Bill
Crimes In Southern Indiana

Writer Frank Bill’s monosyllabic appellation could be attached to any number of the sociopathic characters in his unrelentingly brutal and bloody debut Crimes In Southern Indiana. With its drug-addled, inbred, white trash knuckleheads doing each other dirt and worse, Bill’s southern Indiana is a place of dark deeds and vengeance doled out via perverse systems of arcane backwoods justice. Imagine the ninth circle of hell cluttered with double-wides and clapboard shacks populated by dead-eyed redneck gangsters twitchy with meth-fueled bad intentions and lots of fire power. These crazed fuckers make Robert Mitchum’s angel of death in Night Of The Hunter look like the Fuller Brush salesman. One bloodshot glance from any of Bill’s hoosier badasses would make Blue Velvet’s Frank Booth spew his Pabst across the bar and shit his sharkskin slacks.

Crimes In Southern Indiana is a genuine jaw dropper. It contains bursts of brilliant writing that come at you like a sawed-off shotgun loaded with prose so hard and wicked it’ll knock you flat to the ground as sure as a blast of buckshot. I’m not kidding. This is intense stuff, mean, cruel and darkly beautiful, with more memorable lines than a dozen pulp fictions.

Bill’s tales of dope deals gone bad, incest, and blood vengeance in America’s heartland is gothic noir that scrapes at the coffin lid that separates the dead from the not-so-dead - a netherworld where the only sign of life are the insects tap dancing on the inside of your skull and the palpitating heart under the pale bruised flesh of your step-daughter’s tit. 

When Bill describes acts of violence he does so with a mix of blunt force and twisted delicacy. A man shot in the head point blank and his “complexion disappeared across the soil.” The line “Pitchfork buried a .45-caliber Colt into Karl’s peat moss unibrow” is, like all good noir, hardboiled and funny. A rapist named Melvin has “the scent of coagulated chicken swelled in hundred-degree heat.” Blood peels off a man’s face like “three day old biscuits.” A loudmouth psychotic killer has the tables turned on him by a knife in the neck, his karmic check cashed “like a dog chasing and biting at a passing car’s tires only to have its bark replaced by the crunch of its skull between rubber and pavement.”

For fans of Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, Boston Teran, Donald Ray Pollack, Joe R. Lansdale and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, add the name Frank Bill to your list of profane pleasures.

Crimes In Southern Indiana should come wrapped in butcher paper tied with a ribbon of barbed wire. It’s bloody great entertainment.

Check out Frank Bill’s website. He’s on a book tour and may be coming to a town near you. Check out his schedule. Consider it advance warning to lock your doors and draw your blinds.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Discussion
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