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The Birth of “Wild Helicopters”

A little while ago, I did a bit of a profile on Airborne, the anthology one of my stories appears in. The launch party for it was last week. It was fun. I did a reading of my story, “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback,” and we all ate cookies and talked nerd fiction and signed books. People seemed to really like “Wild Helicopters,” which is a friendship story about an artificially intelligent helicopter and a newly graduated aerospace engineer set on a floating wind farm in the outback of Australia. Everyone was surprised to learn that I’d never actually been there (Australia).

For today’s Random Friday article, I thought I’d give you a bit of background on where “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback” came from, since “where do you get your ideas?” seems to be the #1 most popular question asked of writers by non-writers.

The short answer: me dunno.
The long answer: my brain makes a mishmash of stuff I hear about and sometimes it gets interesting enough to write down. To illustrate this process I’ll show you the doodles from my notebook that started “Wild Helicopters.”

I loooooove blimps. I’ve wanted my own personal car-sized airship for forever.

Katrina Nicholson's doodle of a personal sized blimp

My brother Jared is in training at Ryerson University to become an aerospace engineer. I’ve been hounding him for ages to make me my blimp but so far he hasn’t obliged (some brother, eh?) He’s more concerned with doing his homework assignments, one of which he told me about: designing aerial wind turbines. I love wind turbines too, and I know a bit about physics, engineering, and flying from college/Air Cadets, so those three little words spawned a picture in my head that combined blimps and turbines. Jared told me later my made up version actually looked a lot like what he had in mind.

Katrina Nicholson's doodle of an aerial wind turbine

Of course, you never have just one turbine. You have a whole farm of them. And where in the world is there a lot of empty space to put a whole farm of wind turbines? The Outback, of course, which I was reading up on after watching Rogue, a horror movie set in the Northern Territory. So that one floating turbine turned into the Beckett’s floating wind farm.

Katrina Nicholson's drawing of an airborne wind farm

This was the first appearance of a helicopter in the mix. It turned up because:

a) I also love helicopters
b) Greg McLean, the director of Rogue said in the DVD commentary that some cattle/sheep farmers use helicopters to herd animals and it gives them mad skillz
c) The people who worked on the farm had to get around somehow.

But since the turbines were airships is made sense for their personal vehicles to be airships too, like the one I wanted for myself. So I messed around with how to make them “green” powered.

Katrina Nicholson's drawing of a green airship

Then of course I realized they could just charge up on the turbines, and the charging spawned thoughts of power poaching which created a spot for the helicopters in the story – as mooches, like rabbits on a real farm. But of course people know better than to steal, so having them be piloted helicopters makes the story too dark. Insert primitive AI into the mix and voila! You’ve got a cute but annoying wild machine to create some conflict at the farm.

And the rest of the story flowed from there. If you want to read it, I think the Cape Breton Regional Library has a copy, or you can order a copy of the book. It comes in old fashioned paper and newfangled e-book formats, and the e-book one is only 7 bucks.

Of course, my story is only one of sixteen short stories in Airborne. To find out about the others, you can get the skinny on the publisher’s website.

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The Devolution of a TV Show

Though there are some shows that get cancelled after a single season (like Firefly), and some shows that run for over a decade (like Law & Order), I’ve noticed a pattern that the majority of one-hour dramas seem to follow that ultimately leads to their downfall in about five seasons. It goes something like this:

Season 1

The show’s premise is fresh, with the possibility of thousands of different scenarios stemming from it to create drama, like patients coming into a hospital or crimes being investigated. But the actors and writers are still finding their way with the new characters. No one’s quite sure how the relationships are going to shake out, so it’s not perfect yet.

Example: In the first season of Bones, the premise of forensic anthropologist + FBI agent as a crime fighting team yields plenty of interesting cases involving everything from suicide bombers to pirate treasure. However, Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and Booth (David Boreanaz) are still a little wary of each other and haven’t settled into their full partner dynamic yet.

Booth and Brennan from Bones

I feel that we should have some sort of ritual. Perhaps involving diners and pie?

Season 2

The show has hit its stride. The characters are all fully rounded now and have intricate interpersonal relationships. Their jobs/lives provide a seemingly limitless source of external conflict, and it seems like with the premise they picked, the writers can keep coming up with great new ideas for stories until the end of time.

Example: During Season 2 of Alias, Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) helps to bring down the villainous spy cell she unwittingly worked for, freeing her up to do a myriad of different official missions for the CIA and to give in to sexual tension and actually have a relationship with her former handler Michael Vaughan (Michael Vartan).

Vaughan and Sydney kiss on Alias

This is so perfect! I’ve been wanting to kick ass and suck face since the first episode!

Season 3

The show is still operating at peak efficiency and there still seems to be plenty of drama to be had from the premise. In fact, the show is so popular that the network execs are preparing to give some supporting characters their own spinoffs. Sometimes these spinoffs are introduced during episodes in this season. In preparation for filling the gaps next season, the writers introduce some fresh new secondary characters.

Example: During the third season of Grey’s Anatomy, the character of Addison (Kate Walsh) leaves Seattle Grace Hospital to take a trip to Los Angeles, where she meets up with an old friend and is invited to join her practice, thus setting the scene for the Addison-centric show Private Practice, which will start next season. Mark Sloan (Eric Dane) moves into the hospital to fill her spot.

Addison and Naomi from Private Practice

NAOMI: You should so totally move here.
ADDISON: You are so totally right!

Season 4

The departure of the spinoff characters alters the dynamic of the show. In addition, the writers are running out of credible interpersonal problems to give the remaining cast. Writers force secondary and guest characters to step up and shoulder more responsibility, often forgetting that those characters were secondary because they weren’t very interesting. The writers put some of the original characters in mortal peril (or if the show is an action based show, in really serious mortal peril) as a way of forcing fans to stick around and find out what happens.

Example: In the fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the characters have graduated from high school. David Boreanaz, who plays Buffy’s vampire boyfriend Angel, departs for his own show, Angel. His place is rather inadequately filled by a college TA named Riley (Marc Blucas).

Riley and Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer

RILEY: I’m your new TA. Bone me?
BUFFY: My vampire boyfriend cut out on me, so why not?

Season 5

Things are starting to fall apart. Some of the other actors are leaving to pursue other projects, forcing the original secondary cast to become the primary cast. Any remaining original characters have long since exhausted all avenues of interpersonal conflict with one another and now interact almost entirely with guest or supporting characters. Additionally, the writers are running out of story ideas that have to do with the original premise, and they turn more and more to extra-premise storylines and mortal peril to keep things going. For many shows, this is the last season.

Example: By the fifth season of McLeod’s Daughters, main characters Claire and Becky are gone, as are a lot of popular secondary characters. The writers bring in previously unmentioned friends and cousins to round out the cast. Episodes, which were previously based on the trials and tribulations of running a cattle station, start to be more about other things, like drag racing, organized crime, and mining rights.

McLeod's Daughters peril

You got run over by a car? But I only just rescued you from being kidnapped yesterday!

Further Seasons

If the show has a strong, loyal fan base that is miraculously not driven away when the show’s premise stops being relevant to what’s happening on screen, the show may malinger for several more seasons. After this point, the cast has often been almost totally replaced. Secondary characters are repeatedly introduced and discarded when they don’t fit in, and the external conflict becomes increasingly ridiculous. Eventually the show slips quietly under the waves to die.

Example: By the seventh season of One Tree Hill, the writers are really reaching. They lost their “high school” premise at the end of Season 4 when the characters graduated, and they lost main characters Lucas and Peyton at the end of Season 6. Episodes in this season revolve around pregnancy scandals and moviemaking. Lucas’ brother Nathan is now the main character and his wife’s new sister Quinn and former secondary characters Clay, Mouth, and Millie moving up to the main cast.

Haley and Jamie from One Tree Hill

JAMIE: So daddy went dancing with another lady, and now I’m going to have a half brother?
HALEY: Something like that.

I was thinking of this because Private Practice seems to be devolving at an alarming rate. Last season was only Season 3, but already they had a bunch of car crashes, were lost in the wilderness, were attacked by psychos, and killed off. Now in the beginning of Season 4 they’re entering into random chemistryless marriages. It smells like impending show death, so I’ve jumped ship.

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Book Launch Tonight!

As I mentioned before, my story “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback” is getting published in an anthology. And the launch party is tonight. You should come. I’m reading part of the story (out loud, obviously), and you can get your book signed. You don’t need an invitation to go, but here’s one anyway:

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Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole Review

poster from the Warner Bros. Pictures film Legend of the Guardians

I have a theory that whatever form I see a story in first, that’s the one I prefer. If I’ve read the books, the movie won’t measure up. If I’ve seen the movie, the book’s just not as good (even if it was the story’s original form). I decided to test this theory on Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, because although the books were pretty good, I thought they’d make a better movie. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Guardians of Ga’Hoole books or the movie version, here’s the lowdown:

A young barn owl gets kidnapped by an order of evil owls who want to take over the world using an army of brainwashed owlets, but he escapes and bands together with a group of other orphans to find the mythical Guardians of Ga’Hoole and help free the others.

This covers the first four books in Kathryn Lasky’s Guardians of Ga’Hoole series (they’re very short). As you know if you’ve been following my blog, I’ve been looking forward to this film for months. Did it measure up to my admittedly high expectations? Yes and no.

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Trailer Reviews for Sept. 24, 2010

This weekend is going to be a good one. We’ve got Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of Ga’Hoole, The Virginity Hit, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, You Again, and the limited release of Waiting for Superman coming out, and the Cape Breton Island Film Series is showing The Kids are Alright.

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE



Wah hoo! Two weeks in a row I’m actually excited! That’s got to be some kind of a record (not really). I’m really looking forward to this movie for several reasons. 1) Kathryn Lasky, who wrote the book series this is based on, really knew her stuff about owls and their world is fantastically detailed and different – in other words, it would make a great movie. 2) It’s an adventure movie, and I love adventure movies. 3) It’s in 3D, the real animated kind like in How to Train Your Dragon, not that live action crap that never looks like anything much. 3) It’s a “kids and parents can both go and have fun” movie. 4) “Kings and Queens” is an awesome song. 5) The owls all have adorable Australian accents! (one of them is Abbie Cornish, and another is Ryan Kwanten, who plays Jason on True Blood) So I’m fully expecting it to be awesome. And I’m usually right about these things.

THE VIRGINITY HIT




Ugh, how many of these dumbass movies are we going to have to put up with? “Oh a bunch of male teenagers trying to lose their virginity” this is such an original plot. The Virginity Hit looks like American Pie except not funny, engaging, or nicely filmed. In other words, it looks like a movie I would never, ever pay money to see. But obviously somebody is paying to see these things, or they wouldn’t have been able to drum up enough money to make it. If you want to watch a bunch of losers embarrass themselves in shakey-cam mockumentary-o-vision, and you think that crude automatically equals funny, then I guess this movie is for you.

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS



So, according to Gordon Gekko, we’re all greedy because we share our Kool Aid? What exactly did they do to him in that prison? Now, I’m not a Shia LeBeouf fan, and I haven’t seen the original Wall Street (yes yes, scandalous, I know, but there are too many movies!) so I’m not exactly salivating for a sequel. Having said that though, I like Michael Douglas and Carey Mulligan and this movie looks like effort was put into it. There’s a complex plot, complex characters, competent actors, and they didn’t give everything away in the trailer. Therefore it’s probably a solid bet. If you’re more of a grown-up drama person than a kids’ movies about owls person, see this one. I doubt you’ll even need to have seen Wall Street to enjoy it.

YOU AGAIN



Okay, they did that thing where they take a pretty girl and put glasses on her and expect people to believe that she’s ugly, but it was only for a minute, so I guess it can let it slide (but just this once!). There are a lot of very funny people in here – Jamie Lee Curtis was great in Freaky Friday, and Kristen Chenoweth was hilarious in Pushing Daisies, but I wasn’t really helpless with laughter over the trailer. I barely smiled. I hope this is because they saved all the “real” jokes for the movie and not because it’s actually not funny. Because the premise looks good. It’d be a shame. Anyway I’m iffy on this one but not iffy enough to tell you to avoid it. It’s probably a good time. Try it.

WAITING FOR SUPERMAN



I don’t usually go to documentaries, but I would totally go to this one (not like we’re going to get it or anything). I’ve been complaining about the school system dumbing things down for forever. I remember arguing with my art teacher about it in high school. I remember reading my own books in class instead of paying attention because we were barely learning anything. And by all accounts things in the States are much worse than in Canada. I’d be very interested to see what’s going on from a broader perspective, and this documentary looks like it had a lot of effort put into it. I’m not sure how Superman fits into it though.

And as I mentioned up top, the Cape Breton Island Film Series people are showing The Kids are Alright on Thursday evening at 7 at Empire Theaters. If you want to see my trailer review for the film, click here. As you know if you live here (here being in Sydney, NS) there are a lot of good movies that we don’t get when they come around the first time, like The Road or Get Low. They totally pass us by. So these people run after them, tackle them, truss them up, and drag them back to Sydney to play for us. Each Thursday it’s a different one, so it’s pretty cool. You should check it out.

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Book Launch!

Airborne anthology by Third Person Press

A while ago I mentioned in the My Work section of the site that one of my short stories, “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback,” is being published in an anthology soon. Well, “soon” has been given an official date: October 6th, 2010.

The anthology is the second one in a series that started with Undercurrents in December of 2008. (I was in that one too). That one had a water theme, this one has an air theme, the next one’s going to be earth themed and I assume there’ll be a fourth “fire” one after that. All the stories are speculative fiction (i.e. sci-fi, horror, or fantasy), which is wierd for Cape Breton. Most of the books that come out here are about fishing, mining, Celtic culture, or fishing miners who love Celtic culture. The series is put out by Third Person Press, a local independent publishing company.

The launch party is at the McConnell Library in Sydney, Nova Scotia from 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening. So for those three or so readers who are actually from my hometown, come down and see me! There’ll be readings and food and stuff and you can get your book signed. None of us are really very famous yet. A couple people have books published, some work for newspapers or whatever, but someday one of us will make it big (ME!), like J.K. Rowling big, and then your copy of Airborne will be a rare, signed book that will fetch many dollars on eBay for your kid’s college fund.

My story, “The Wild Helicopters of the Australian Outback,” is about a recently graduated aeronautical engineer who comes home to her family’s floating wind farm to help fight off the pesky artificially intelligent helicopters who keep hanging around leeching their power, only to find herself making friends with one instead. It’s a cool story (if I may say so myself). It combines five of the top entries in my ‘Coolest Things Ever’ list (Australia, wind turbines, blimps, helicopters and wilderness adventures) and it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written (so far, anyway).

Here’s a list of the other people who contributed to the book, just in case you’ve actually heard of them before:

Chris Benjamin
Jill Campbell-Miller
Ken Chisholm
Donna D’Amour
Kerry Anne Fudge
Meg Horne
Theresa MacKay
Bruce V. Miller
Krista C. Miller
Sue MacKay Miller
Sherry D. Ramsay
Julie A. Serroul
Peter Andrew Smith
D.C. Troicuk
Nancy S.M. Waldman

You can buy a copy of Airborne at the launch (the last book cost about $20 so this one will probably be the same) or you can get it online after it comes out. There’s probably going to be an e-book version for about $5. There was of the last one. I’ll post links when I find out for sure.

Anyway for now check out the awesome cover! (look to the right… up a bit… yup, that cover) Nancy Waldman, one of the editor/writers, did the artwork. Totally cool, right? Those things in the cloud are little pictures representing the different stories. If you look on the left you can see a helicopter. That’s me!

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Trailer Reviews for August 27, 2010

ANIMAL KINGDOM



Another trailer for one of those award winning movies that never quite gets around to telling you what the plot is… which leads me to suspect that the plot is either nonexistent or too convoluted to sum up in two minutes. Since this movie is Australian, I’m guessing the latter. Normally I wouldn’t be interested in a convoluted movie about (yet another) crime family (what is it with crime families? They’re not THAT interesting), but since it’s Australian, the acting will probably be really good, so it might be worth a look. I mean, Guy Pearce is in it… with a ridiculous Magnum P.I. mustache, but still. It speaks well for the film (Guy Pearce, not the mustache).

TAKERS



Paul Walker is a clone, Hayden Christenson always tries too hard, Zoe Saldana has turned into an attention-sucking vortex since she was in Avatar, and I hate Mat Dillon. Then add in a cast of characters who are jerks and criminals and you’ve got exactly the type of movie I don’t want to see. Now, obviously I’m prejudiced, so there are plenty of people who won’t feel the same way. If you love heist movies and you don’t feel like nine million heist movies being made in about five years is too much, you’ll probably like this movie. Just don’t ask me to go see it with you.

THE LAST EXORCISM



The Last Exorcism looks like it’s trying to capitalize on the success of two different films The Exorcist (obviously) and Paranormal Activity (by trying to look like a sketchily shot documentary). As with most movies that don’t bring anything new to the table, it looks pretty standard. There’s nothing in here that hasn’t been done before, but it’s hard to tell from the trailer if they manage to create actual tension (which is the most important part of a horror movie). Those running around in the dark bits make me think maybe they did, so if you like scary movies, maybe give this one a try. I think I might, given it’s lack of competition this week.

AVATAR RE-RELEASE



If there’s one thing you can say about James Cameron, it’s that he loves money, and he knows how to make it. As if his 3D extravaganza of epic blueness didn’t make enough the first time around ($2.7 billion), he’s sticking in a couple extra minutes of footage and releasing it again. If you’ve seen it already I wouldn’t bother. If the sixteen extra minutes were important they would’ve been in it the first time around (when it was ONLY two and a half hours long) and they’re not new real Sam Worthington parts, only more blue parts. But if you haven’t seen it, just go already so everyone in the world will have seen it and James Cameron can stop insisting that his movie needs to stay around in theaters taking up space that could be given to newer 3D movies. All’s I can say is that it better give way when The Legend of the Guardians comes around or I’ll be mad. You can read the full review of the original Avatar here.

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Newcastle Review

poster from the Dragonfly Pictures film Newcastle

I love water. I also love Australian movies. So when the auto-suggester on my DVD rental company’s website suggested an Australian water-sports film called Newcastle, I rented it right away. I’ve written a bit about this movie already in my article on Australian Dopplegangers but I’m only just now getting around to doing the review because it’s been such a busy summer for movies. (I’d see another theatrical film this week, but I’m at Girl Guide camp.)

Anyway, Newcastle is set in the Australian town of (you guessed it) Newcastle, which is a mid-sized industrial town just north of Sydney in New South Wales that everyone seems to want to escape from. (You may remember this from another Australian film – about tap dancers this time – called Bootmen). Here’s what the movie’s about:

Jesse, a teenage surfer, struggles to balance his dreams of becoming a pro surfer, his tumultuous family life, and having fun with his mates when he fails to make the cut for entry into the big-time surfing contest hosted in his hometown.

It’s kind of a nebulous logline, I know, but it’s kind of a nebulous movie. Not by any means bad, but like the tagline about being young forever suggests, Newcastle’s story is about as focused as a teenage boy’s attention span.

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A Parliament of Flames

As the owner of a movie related website, I frequently have cause to look up information on IMDB. Whenever I do so, I always make a point to scroll down to the bottom to look at the message boards, just for a laugh. I’ve found some pretty ridiculous thread titles, but the funniest part is always how even the most reasoned debates eventually degenerate into two people hurling insults at one another. This thread was so funny I had to read it out loud to my brother in its entirety. It was on the Sam Worthington boards, but it doesn’t matter which actor/movie you look up, there’s always a thread like this. Here are a few choice snippets:

rajak1: What you see as subtlety in your little fangirl world is a lack of acting talent in the real world.

Athena21: People in the biz obviously see him as talented. Someone like you (someone with the maturity of a two-year-old) will never understand why they do – but that’s ok because people are allowed their own opinion and retarded people like you are always given extra leeway anyway.

rajak1: I think you are the only one here on this board not able for a serious discussion, cause your behaviour on this (and other boards) is like a hormone-driven drama queen.

Athena21: You wouldn’t know a serious discussion if it bit you on the arse. For one thing, you don’t debate. I often do… I can’t decide whether to think of you as a kid that has lost their favorite toy or a hormonal thirteen year old. Either way you are someone who is a complete joke.

rajak1: If you cannot stand the critism here on this board, maybe you are too much a pantywaist…

Athena21: …you are a troll, and trolls aren’t welcome.

Two people with no idea how to debate debating over their (in)ability to debate… did your brain just explode? I think mine did.

As long as internet message boards offer users the ability to hide behind screen names and there’s zero possibility of “debaters” ever having to meet in person, this sort of thing will continue to happen. People have to let off steam somehow. It makes me wonder, though: what if the internet style of debating bled over into politics?

Currently, parliamentary debates in Canada are boring. Their discussions on renewable energy go something like this:

ALBERTA MP: Blah blah oil blah blah prosperity blah blah taxpayers blah blah deficit blah.

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER: Blah blah climate change blah blah future blah blah biomass blah blah responsibility blah.

If, however, we let the politicians wear little paper bags over their heads…

I move that anyone who disagrees with me has to wear a PLASTIC bag

…. and pick out nicknames for themselves, then their debates would sound more like this:

Iluvtrees: We need to stop burning coal and oil or the environment will be ruined in only, like, twenty years.

Icecapzsukmaiballz: Twenty years, pff! Who cares?

Iluvtrees: U should! I care!

Icecapzsukmaiballz: Yeah, only cause u r like, married to a tree, you dirty hippie.

Iluvtrees: U should talk, what do u do with all that oil, ne way greaseball? Bathe in it?

Icecapzsukmaiballz: Shut up, u r so immature. We r supposed to be having a debate and u r just insulting me. U r so stupid, ur brain cellz must be dead from all that patchouli u r sniffing.

Iluvtrees: I m not debating??! U r the one who callz ppl dirty hippiez when they have legitimate concerns. Maybe if u wernt getting it up the bum frum the oil companies we could have a real discussion!

Icecapzsukmaiballz: I m not gay!!!!! Ask ur mom, I gave it to her last nite and she loved it.

Iluvtrees: F*** you, a**hole.

…and at this point the censor would have to step in, since these things are usually televised, but wasn’t that more entertaining? It’s like C-SPAN crossed with Jerry Springer. Apparently Australian parliamentary debates go something along these lines. Bill Bryson, in his book In a Sunburned Country, says it’s well worth the trip to Canberra to hear them go at each other. I’m totally putting that on my list.

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Casting Bond 23

bond 23 poster

With MGM up for sale and Bond 23 on indefinite hiatus, current James Bond actor Daniel Craig has jumped ship in favor of the English adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, leaving the role of James Bond potentially open for casting once things at MGM have been settled.

Before Craig was cast for Casino Royale, Australian actors Hugh Jackman and Sam Worthington were also being considered for the role, leading me to believe MGM was interested in reaching new audiences (i.e. Australian ones) with their choice of Bond. They didn’t go for it, obviously, since they chose Daniel Craig, but perhaps when MGM has a new head they’ll actually try to reach out. They won’t choose Jackman or Worthington, of course. The new head of MGM will want to put his or her “stamp” on things, so they’ll choose someone else entirely. Someone British (some things never change).

I have some casting suggestions for the James Bond role based on which new audiences MGM wants to attract to the theaters, hopefully solving the studio’s money problems.

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