A writer at heart

A quick note to update my writing friends. As many of you may know a short time at the university involved in full-time research was all I needed to discover that I am a writer at heart. I have officially resigned from all academic pursuits to pursue a career as a full-time editor, and on the side to keep working on my writing. I’m taking a radical new direction with my writing, removing a lot of pressure and allowing myself an open time frame, and I look forward to learning a lot from my work as an editor.

Of course, those who follow me on Twitter know I am also busy with art too. It is great to be full immersed in artistic endeavors, and I feel now like I am truly able to grow.

New Directions…

I have come to a difficult decision, one I’ve been weighing in my heart for the last several months. However, I just received a wonderful research opportunity with long-term potential that will require my time and commitment. So, I’ve decided to put writing aside.

The plans for my books were getting out of hand, and I think, were I not distracted by anything else then it would have been a wonderful career path to give them my all. Creativity, after all, is addictive.

But I am a passionate lover of math and if the last few months have taught me anything it’s that writing, while rejuvenating, is more for me; it belongs with art and hobby time. Art is my balance, and accordingly I can only give so much time to it.

So, I will continue to do my art – you can visit my website http://www.graemebrownart.com if you are interested in what I’m working on, and for those Twitter friends I’ve been privileged to meet, I will continue to Tweet what inspires me (though be warned – math tweets may be coming…)

Most importantly, though, I will no longer be blogging here anymore. I am going to leave this up for those authors who are interested in the author spotlights – it was a privilege to learn from so many talented authors, and it’s taught me that one must pour every ounce of passion they can into the things they believe the most in.

I’d love to see all you writers still use #writersinoffice – and I’ll be sure to check it out regularly. I look forward to staying in touch via Twitter.

Thanks for your wonderful energy!

Author in the Spotlight: Sharon Plumb

A warm welcome to Sharon Plumb, my guest author today!

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Sharon Plumb-400H

Tell us about yourself.

I started writing as soon as I could hold a pencil, and wrote a lot of stories growing up.  Then I switched to writing computer programs and a Master’s thesis in Computer Science. Reading books to my children re-ignited the creative spark, and I took up writing stories again about 20 years ago.

I have two published books—becoming a writer is not always quick and easy! The first one is a grade 2 level picture book published by Scholastic Education in 2006. Bill Bruin Shovels his Roof is about, well, a bear who shovels his roof because the heavy snow prevents him from opening his bathroom door and having a hot, bubbly bath.  Along the way, he discovers the fun of playing in the snow.  It is listed as a fantasy, presumably because of the talking animals.

My second book also has talking animals, actually aliens. Draco’s Child is a young adult fantasy novel published by Thistledown Press in 2010. It has a talking dragon, a star-child who speaks in mind pictures, and a lot of fungus that doesn’t speak but does make life difficult on a new planet. It also has a teenage girl who needs to figure out how to help her colony of transplanted Earthlings survive.

I am currently working on another story set in the same world, but hundreds of years earlier, and with a whole lot more dragons. Besides fantasy and picture books, I also write plays, songs, and children’s poetry. I am the president of the Saskatchewan chapter of CANSCAIP (Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators, and Performers).

***

SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:

#1: What do you enjoy the most about writing?

I love being able to get away from my ordinary life and explore other worlds. I love creating places that don’t exist anywhere except in my mind—although I depend a lot on the things that do exist to make them believable and realistic. I love exploring ideas and the “what if” questions that arise from them. For example, I recently heard a scientist talking about the possibility that children who relate to people via technology instead of face to face don’t develop the ability to read body language and facial cues. If they are “plugged in” for much or most of their time, they tend not to daydream, which is normally how people make sense of their relationships and other things that happen in their lives.  So this makes me wonder, as a writer, what would happen to our society if people lost these social skills? Autistic people have trouble with social relationships for different reasons. Would autistic-type traits become the new normal, and how would our lives change as a result? I haven’t used this idea in a story— I don’t know if it will lead anywhere. It takes at least two good ideas to make a story, and part of what makes writing fun is finding those good ideas and fitting them together in creative ways. I also enjoy exploring how characters like us might act in situations unlike any we have ever seen.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience?

My earliest memory of writing is sitting on a small chair at a child-sized table in our kitchen and printing something—I don’t know what—on a piece of clean, white paper. Later I used the regular kitchen table to turn out stories inspired by the ones I read. After reading one of my stranger fantasy stories, my teacher told me that either I had psychological problems or I was going to be a writer. I think I was flattered that he found my story so disturbing. I don’t have that old story, so I don’t know exactly what he was referring to, but the dream was born.

In grade 7 I wrote (and typed out on an old, mechanical typewriter) my first novel: a 25-page coming-of-age story about a wolf cub. It was called Leader of the Pack, and was inspired in large part by Felix Salten’s novel Bambi, which is far more serious and philosophical than the cute Disney version. 

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

For most of the past 20 years I didn’t have a daily writing pattern; I fit my writing around all the other things I had to do. In the very early days, naptimes were writing times. Sometimes my husband took our three boys somewhere for a weekend so I could concentrate on writing. Now that the boys are more independent, I have more freedom to structure my time. I soon realized I needed an attitude update: to make a conscious decision to value my writing enough to do it FIRST, not only when everything else is done.

I like a quotation from Carl Sandberg: “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” I now make a weekly list of everything I have to do, with writing at the top. Each morning I schedule in what I will spend the coin of my time on—taking care to distinguish writing from “writing-related activities”, like working on my website. Yes, other things are important. But many things are only urgent, not important, and they can wait until I have time for them. I also evaluate carefully what it will mean to my writing if I agree to take on something new. The result? I am writing more, and faster, than before. And I hope, better.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

I suppose I should start with Felix Salten (see question #2). All of my favourite authors show me what good writing is and make me aspire to write as well as they do. Here are a few:

  • Cynthia Voigt’s Jackaroo series, with its lyrical writing, so-real characters and rich medieval-type world. I want to write stories so convincing that readers forget they’re not real.
  • Orson Scott Card’s Ender and Homecoming series, which confront serious ethical issues through the eyes of his larger-than-life intellectual characters. I also want to consider every implication of what my characters do, although I don’t want them to spend so much time talking about it.
  • Megan Whelan Turner’s Attolia series, with her crafty thief Jen and richly imagined ancient-Greek type world. I would love to create such a tricky character—and make it work four times!
  • Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant and Mordant’s Need series, with intricate plots and worlds that reflect the main character’s psychological states.  I would like to try that world-building technique.
  • David Brin’s Uplift books, with his alien characters that don’t think at all like humans.  I hope mine don’t either.
  • Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing series, convincingly told through the eyes of bats who see with sound, and his soaring Airborn series. And everything else I’ve read by him. I want to write such enthralling books.
  • Monica Hughes. Fun science fiction set in places I know. I hope I have as many good ideas.
  • Sheree Fitch’s poetic prose, generous spirit, and “seriously joyful nonsense”. I want to make my words say as much as hers do, and sound as delicious.
  • Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road. Heart-stopping from the first sentence to the last. Dialogue that is always one step ahead of the reader. Inspiring in every way possible.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

The first thing must be better writing. I thought I wrote well 20 years ago, but when I look now at what I wrote then, I see all sorts of flaws. This is a good thing, because it means I must have improved. How do I learn to write better? Lots of ways. I read books about writing. I read books that contain good writing. I attend writing conferences and workshops. I learn from other writers.

My writing group friends have probably taught me more about good writing, and how to improve mine, than anyone else. When we read each other’s drafts and dig into them, we see what works and what doesn’t. We brainstorm ways to improve what we wrote. Amazingly often, our combined attention leads to solutions that no one of us would have come up with on our own. I am also lucky enough to have a son who reads voraciously, especially science fiction and fantasy. He helps me weed out bad ideas before they grow, and plants a lot of good ones too. Every writer should have a son like him—as well as a writing group!

The next important thing I had to learn to be a writer was how the book publishing industry works, how it is changing, and how to find a way in. Once a book is published, of course, and even before, it is essential to know about promoting a book with social media. There is a lot to learn, and I expect the learning never stops.

#6: Describe your writing method:

Some writers put words to screen and see where they lead. Not me. I need to know where I’m going, not least because I have a very hard time coming up with characters and events at the same time as sentences I like the sound of. So I keep notebooks. When I get an idea that intrigues me, I write down everything I can think of about it: who the characters might be, what the world is like, what the characters want to do, what obstacles they face, what the ending might be. I write down questions and try to answer them. For Draco’s Child, I filled two school notebooks; for my current project, I’m deep into the second.

Once I have the idea fairly clear in my mind, I make a general outline and a list of things that need to happen in the first chapter. Then I write. And the story changes because as I write I add details that turn out to be significant, and they change the characters and the plot. So I go until I’m stuck, then pull out the old notebooks, work out more ideas, and revise the outline. If there are multiple plot strands, I often make a timeline so I know what each character is doing relative to the other ones. When I’m happy with each part of my novel, I show it to other writers for feedback. Then I revise. And write more. And revise to keep everything consistent. When the first draft is done, I print it out and revise, and again ask my writing friends to read it and comment. And then revise. Only once I’m thoroughly happy with it do I start looking for a publisher.  And plan to revise again.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

The most important ones are probably to read a lot and write a lot. Figure out what makes good books good, and bad ones bad. Don’t be afraid of feedback. In my first writing group, our guiding principle was that we always tell the truth, because our goal is to improve our writing, not make ourselves feel happy. So find a writing group with people who also want to improve their writing! Writing can be lonely and discouraging, even if it is the thing you most love to do. Having people on your side will help you through the dark times and make the bright times even brighter.

***

About Sharon’s Book Draco’s Child:

Dracos ChildVaria is a 12-year-old girl who lives with her family and several other space colonists on a planet they call “The Kettle”. Or is she 13 or 14 years old? Because she spent several years on a spaceship getting to her new home, and time is different at high speeds, no one really knows.

One thing she does know is that her colony is in danger. Their food is being infested by illness-causing fungus, the ship containing the other half of their colony, including all but two of the other children, never showed up, and two of their group died of a horrible sickness shortly after exploring the forest around their base. Obviously, the planet must be hostile to animal life–after all, it has no animals of its own, except a few kinds of overgrown insects.

Then two things happen. A constellation that looks like a child falls out of the sky and starts offering them help–in return for shrinking them back into children. And Varia discovers the skeleton of a dragon in a cave, along with a brilliantly coloured stone that she deduces is the dead dragon’s egg.  Varia will be tested as never before as she attempts to save her colony and reverse whatever it was that killed off all the planet’s animals. But to do so, she must figure out who is telling the truth: the mysterious star child or the secret-hugging dragon. Because they are at war with each other, and they can’t both win.

Excerpt:

Dad whistled softly. “A weighty question for this hour of the morning!” He glanced at the sleeping children on the floor. “You’re really asking about your mother, aren’t you? I’m trying to figure her out too. She looks like a nine-year-old, but she still knows everything she used to, and does almost as much. Except for her size, she’s the same person.” He sighed. “No, not completely the same. She runs everywhere, and sleeps like a rock.”

Varia grimaced. “We need to find the other lander,” she said. “Maybe they’re in a nicer part of the planet, and if we went there, no one would need that star water.”

Dad sighed. “Except that they haven’t made contact so we have no idea where they are, and we would have to walk to this unknown place, and we don’t even know if they’re still alive.”

Varia sat up. “But if we found them, we could join them.”

Dad didn’t answer right away. “What would they think if they saw us now? Except for you and me, they wouldn’t even recognize us.”

A jolt ran through Varia. She stared into Dad’s eyes. “Is that the real reason you aren’t drinking the star water? In case they find us, so you can explain what’s happened?”

Dad shrugged.

Tears sprang into Varia’s eyes. She buried her face in Dad’s neck. “You still think they might find us,” she whispered. “I thought I was the only one who hadn’t stopped hoping.”

Dad stroked her hair. “Don’t hope too hard,” he said. “They might not.”

Varia pulled away and looked into his eyes. “No, Dad,” she said. Her voice trembled. “We’ll find them.” She stood up, threaded her way to her mat, and lay down facing away from him. Mom lay curled up beside her. I wouldn’t know her either, thought Varia, in that stranger’s body. She buried her face in her empty pillow. How could things be so wonderful and so horrible at the same time?

***

Buy Draco’s Child:

Kobo, Kindle: Sorry—not (yet) an e-book! If you wish it were, please tell the publisher at Amazon.ca or Amazon.com! (see links below)

Print Books:

Chapters-Indigo

Amazon.ca

Amazon.com

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Connect with Sharon:

Webpages:

  http://sharonplumb.ca  (main site)

  http://sharonplumb.wordpress.com (blog)

  http://books4kids.ca  (writing group site)

Facebook: Sharon Plumb Hamilton

Fan email address: sharon@sharonplumb.ca

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Author in the Spotlight: Nikki Andrews

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Nikki Andrews has worked as a picture framer, community activist, and stable hand, but in her real life she’s a writer and editor. She writes cozy mysteries, of which Framed is her latest, as well as sci fi, YA, and assorted short stories, songs, and poetry. She edits freelance and for two indie publishers. In her spare time, she makes jam, serves as a river monitor, and falls off horses and mountains. She has been known to make train noises in front of the local planning board, and is still waiting for her Formula One Ferrari with driving lessons from Fernando Alonso.

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SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:

#1: What do you enjoy the most about writing?

Who was it who said, “I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy having written”? Seriously, it’s not that bad. I love that moment when the words explode out of my fingers, the characters urge me on, and the story grows into a living world all by itself. It does happen. It’s called “flow,” and it also happens to me when I’m gardening or stitching or making music. It’s like that moment of unity with a horse, a perfect turn at speed, singing in harmony, or summiting a mountain.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience?

I’m told I made up a song about ladybugs when I was five. I’m not sure I remember that, although it’s definitely the kind of thing I’d do. The one I remember is a song I made up as I walked through the woods to my aunt’s house. I was so annoyed at forgetting the words that I made up new ones on my way home. I still have a piece I wrote in fifth grade, describing an afternoon ride with my beloved mare, Irish. My teacher scrawled across the bottom, “This is beautiful!” Unfortunately, it was years before I realized I could do it again.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

Not every day goes like this, but a lot of them do: Check my bedside notepad and decipher any notes I may have left overnight. Get DH off to work, sit down in my jammies and bring up yesterday’s efforts. Shower with my characters. Jot down whatever comes to me. Take care of whatever chores need doing. After lunch, if all goes well, I settle down for a couple hours with my work. Edit some other folks’ work. After supper, review and make notes for tomorrow. Sweet dreams.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

As a kid I devoured Walter Farley’s books about the Black Stallion. If he influenced me, it was to write what I love. I stole my brother’s Hardy Boys books when I could. I never was much for the girly-girl books my mother thought I should read. Later, Ray Bradbury entranced me with his imagination and his breathless, rapturous writing. Is there a pattern here? Adventure, mystery, otherworldliness? Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan for clarity of thought, Tony Hillerman for spare rich beauty, Anne McCaffery for people skills, the Indigo Girls for romance. (Have you read their lyrics? Your heart like a dam when it breaks. Fantastic.)

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

~Yes, I can write.

~Yes, I deserve the time to write.

~Yes, it’s real work.

~Yes, there is always more to learn.

~No, the book will not sell itself. Promotion is absolutely necessary.

#6: Describe your writing method:

Throw it on the wall and see what sticks. Outlines do not help me, although for my longer works I usually have a mental map of where I want to go. Songs and poems are gifts from the universe; short stories lure me out of my daily routine, bouncing just out of reach until they turn around and pierce my heart with their unexpected conclusions.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

~Learn your craft. Yes, this does mean boring old grammar. You can’t build a house until you know how to hammer a nail.

~Read and reread. The first time, read for pleasure. The second time, read to understand why it pleased you. Take notes of what worked and what didn’t, and apply the information to your own work.

~Submit to critique from strangers. Find a group or partner, either live or online, and generously share both your own work and your critiques of theirs. You’ll learn more from people you don’t have to live with.

~Write and rewrite. Do it again. Then do it over.

~The first manuscripts should probably stay in the desk drawer.

~Trust your editor.

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About Nikki’s Book Framed, a cozy mystery now available from Wild Rose Press:

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  1. When a long-lost painting turns up at Brush & Bevel, a decade-old mystery is reawakened. What really happened to artist Jerry Berger and his model Abby Bingham? Was it a murder-suicide, as the police proclaim, or was it something far more sinister? Gallery owner Ginny Brent and her loyal staffers, Sue Bradley and Elsie Kimball, each take a different path to unravel the mystery. Together, their discoveries start to form a cohesive whole. But as they get closer to the solution, they discover to their horror that art is not the only thing that can be framed.

Excerpt:

“Were they lovers?” Jenna asked, wide-eyed. “You always hear that about artists and their models.” Then she blushed.

“Oh, no! Jerry never had any interest in her as a woman.”

“But they died,” Jenna prompted, absorbed in the story.

Ginny nodded. “Ten years ago last winter. They went missing during a snowstorm. The police went nuts trying to find them. At first, everyone assumed they had just run off together, but it wasn’t like that. Mike, her husband, really stirred things up, insisting something had happened. He forced the cops to look into it.

“It took the authorities about three weeks to find them. A hunter came across them in the snow.” She looked rather sick. “The coyotes had been at the bodies, but it looked like he killed her and then himself. Mike moved out west and never came back.”

She sighed and returned to the present. “All of which means you may have a gold mine on your hands, Jenna. Let us clean it up, verify it is what I think it is. There may even be a signature under all the grease and smoke. Would you feel better if we came up with an agreement about what happens then?”

Sue and Elsie excused themselves and went to the workshop down the stairs from the gallery. “I’d forgotten he killed himself,” Sue said.

“Don’t you believe it,” Elsie replied. “Jerry wouldn’t hurt a fly. That was no murder/suicide. It was a double murder.”

***

Buy Framed:

Kindle:  http://amzn.com/B00HJEHFV2

Other(s): The Wild Rose Press: http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/maincatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=5515

Framed will be available on all vendors on April 18, 2014

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Connect with Nikki:

Webpage: www.nikkiandrewsbooks.com

Twitter:@NAedits

Blog: www.scrivenersriver.blogspot.com

Fan email address: nikki@nikkiandrewsbooks.com

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Author in the Spotlight: January Bain

January BainJanuary was one of those: a high school poet. Now, married to the love of her life whom she credits for her interest in big time romance, she has combined this love with an interest in the paranormal and vampires to produce the FOREVER SERIES of books. Forever Man, Forever Woman, Forever Clan and Forever Angel are all published by Champagne books. She teaches Business, Technology, and English during the day, and can often be found engrossed in writing early in the morning and in every spare moment humanly possible. She writes in many genres: paranormal, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and contemporary exotic romance under a pseudonym.

January enjoys blogging for Science Fiction Musings, Worlds of the Imagination, and The Writers Vineyard each month. She hopes to touch your heart with her stories and very much enjoys hearing from other writers and readers alike. She loves living in the country and communing with nature while time travelling in her mind. Oh, and she’s a firm believer in positive karma, one of her favorite quotes being, to forget oneself is to be happy by Robert Louis Stevenson.

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SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:

#1: What do you enjoy the most about writing?

The actual-writing-at-the-computer-keyboard-moment when you are literally holding on for the ride created by the characters that have come fully to life in your mind. It’s those hours that make writing the most amazing adrenaline rush I have ever experienced short of falling in love.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience?

Becoming a teenage poet was my start. A special teacher I remember with great fondness would take my words and read them aloud in the staff-room giving me my first audience. What a blessing! They gave me such hope.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

My favorite day is Saturday or Sunday. I get to stay in bed for a few hours after waking and write to my heart’s content drinking a bottomless cup of coffee. I usually manage three or four thousand words that will need editing later, of course.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

I had a voracious appetite for reading as a child that followed me into adulthood. I’ve read many genres and many, many authors. All have helped me in my writing journey. The running joke growing up was that I read all the available books at the public library in our town.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

I’ve learned that first class fiction is characterized by memorable characters, unique premises, story worlds instantly real, plots that grip even when slow, gorgeous writing, and themes that surprise, challenge and change us, to name just a few. It’s always about the quality of the writing.

#6: Describe your writing method:

For me it’s important to go with a story that captivates me and fills me with the driving passion to write it. Then, I write full out the first time round. I flesh out my characters as they become real for I experience them as actual people. (I see a movie unfolding in my mind and I sometimes just feel like the recorder.) I open multiples word files to fill the self-titled book folder with character names and studies, research, hook lines, plot, story arch and ending if it’s come to me yet. Often, it does not, but unfolds in real time with the characters. I think I like that best, though it’s also scary because you worry if the story will become the right one to share with others? And yet, I don’t want to lose all the spontaneity by structuring too fully before starting. And it’s always a wild, glorious ride!

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

Write, write, write. Learn from others. Don’t be afraid to edit your words, they’re not written in stone and can always use improvement to better explain what you are seeing and experiencing to your readers. Try to say things different from other writers. Be an original. Develop enough of a skin to handle criticism, but don’t become so immune that you won’t fight for what’s right for your book. Always be kind. One of my favorite things to say to my students is, “It’s hard to be human.”

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About January’s Book Forever Clan:

forever clan ecover (1)

  1. Will the love of a human for her vampire mate be enough to save their child?

Sunday Rose’s soul mate is a vampire. If that isn’t difficult enough to deal with, she’s pregnant with a child that prophecy states can either help or destroy the vampire race. And there are those that fear either outcome. If she is to protect her child from those who would exploit the prophecy, she must awaken unknown abilities and call upon her guardian angels to buy the time necessary to get her family to safe harbor.

Excerpt:

“I think reading all those vampire romance novels you love so much has addled your brain, Sunday Rose St. Clair. First, it was Grandma Rose and her faeries, and now you and your vampires.” Her mother remarked without rancor as she deftly rolled out the piecrust for the fifth pie of the morning. Sunday Rose was lagging behind her mother in peeling the Macintosh apples she was in charge of, causing her mother to give her a stern warning with eyes that plainly stated to hurry it up, we don’t have all day.

She sighed, “But ma, to be able to live forever, just imagine!”

The older woman brushed back a wayward strand of still-bright auburn hair that belied her years with a backward sweep of a flour covered hand and looked at her last born child, though her expression softened as she took in her long shining titan hair and striking emerald green eyes that were the exact color of her late grandmother’s, a legendary beauty in her own right.

“I think I’ve done enough baking and cleaning and doing for others in this lifetime. No thanks to continuing this indefinitely.”

Her mother’s practical answer drew an exaggerated eye roll from her daughter who was picking up the pace on the cleaning and cutting up of the fragrant apples into the large tin basin positioned precariously in her lap. A second warning look had sent the clear message her mother was fast losing patience.

“It’s not a practical matter. It’s about being able to have endless time to live and love and learn and—to just have more.” Sunday Rose’s voice was full of yearning as she tried to explain how she felt about the subject.

“What do you know about love? You’re just a chit of a thing.”

“I know that I’m going to find someone that will love me no matter what—who’ll love me unconditionally.”

“That’s pretty hard to find child. Sounds more like the love of a parent for a child.”

***

Buy Forever Clan:

Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Forever-Clan-January-Bain-ebook/dp/B00AXVC6YE/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1392319660&sr=1-1&keywords=forever+clan

Champagne Books: http://www.champagnebooks.com/januarybain.htm

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Connect with January:

Webpage: http://www.januarybain.ca/

Twitter: @JanuaryBain

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/january.bain

Fan email address: jbain@xplornet.com

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Author in the Spotlight: Olga Godim

olgagodimOlga Godim is a writer and journalist from Vancouver, Canada. When she doesn’t work on her fiction, she writes for a local newspaper and collects toy monkeys. She has over 300 monkey figurines in her collection. She reads like a bookaholic and posts book reviews online. She is bilingual and translates her favorite stories from Russian. Most of her fiction is fantasy: swords, magic, and talking squirrels. You can read some of her short stories and translations on her website.

To date she has published 210 newspaper articles, 19 short stories (online and print magazines), and 2 novels. She has another novel under contract (May 2014).

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SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:

#1: What do you enjoy the most about writing?

Most writers love writing the first draft, riding the wave of inspiration. I do too, especially when the writing flows, but I also love revising and editing. When I write the first draft, I’m either in a writer’s block, trying to coax the story out of my reluctant brain, or in a rush, grabbing the most common words and phrases to get my bubbling ideas across. But when I revise, I’m free: no writing block, no rush. I play with words and expressions, search for the best ones, use a thesaurus, juggle paragraphs. I enjoy the process, even deleting pieces, when it improves the story. It feels like I’m a gourmet cook at a feast of words. I rejoice in every modifier, every clever turn of phrase, every quirky noun or lusty verb. I add a pinch of this and a dollop of that, and the resulting verbal brew becomes better.

I must confess, I keep everything I delete. Sometimes, I reuse those snippets of text in another story. I’m a hoarder, I don’t discard anything.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience?

I became a writer pretty late in life. By education, I’m a computer programmer. I worked with computers for over two decades. I’m also a daydreamer. I’ve always made up stories and played them in my head like a one-woman theatre, but I never told anyone about my daydreams and I didn’t write them down. To tell the truth, I was a bit embarrassed, afraid of ridicule. I was a professional woman, a single mom with two children. I never thought I could be a writer but I couldn’t get rid of my daydreams. I loved my dream-world’s heroes and heroines. Sometimes, they felt more alive and precious to me than living people.

In 2002, I got seriously ill. During my long recovery, my daydreams became more persistent. They swarmed me, they wanted to be told. I decided to be brave, stop resisting, and at last let my daydreams out. I started writing a story, the first writing I did since high school. I didn’t know if it was a short story or a novel. I didn’t know anything about writing or publishing. I just wanted to write. I still do. My stories are always with me, evolving, transforming, striving to get out—into a computer file or into a book.

I remember the exact month I started writing my first story – February 2003, when I returned to work, bought a dedicated laptop from my first paycheck, and opened the first empty DOC file to record my fiction. I can tell you (but sh-h-h, don’t tell anyone): my first story was terrible.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

For a freelance writer, priorities are everything. My priorities at the moment are:

1. Articles assigned by my newspaper

2. Online promotion for my published novels

3. New fiction writing

When I have an article coming, I do research on the internet, conduct interviews, and write the articles. I love interviews: they bring me in contact with so many fascinating people. When I don’t have an article, I spend time, sometimes hours, online—blogging, searching for reviewers for my novels, reading others’ blogs for inspiration, etc. Frankly, not my favorite occupation, but necessary in the current publishing atmosphere. I write fiction mostly in the afternoons, after I’ve consumed my three cups of coffee and replied to all my emails.

For some reason, I need at least a day to switch from article writing to fiction, so a day or two after I finished an article are totally wasted in regards to my fiction. In those days, I play computer games. Then, in the evenings, before bed, I read.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

I write fantasy, so it won’t surprise you to learn that I read fantasy too. My favorite fantasy writer is Sharon Shinn. I enjoy her lyrical, magical tales, a blend of fantasy and romance. Her stories are full of light, without the darkness that’s dominated fantasy novels lately. I especially like her older Samaria series. In it, she writes about angels, and her concept of angels is unique in the genre. It has nothing to do with biblical angels and everything to do with the writer’s imagination. She created a charming race of angels in her stories, angels I believe in, despite my atheism. Her angels are arrogant and talented, decadent and dedicated to their duty. In short—alive. When I read Shinn’s books, my spirit soars. I want to write like she does.

My favorite sci-fi writer is Lois McMaster Bujold. Her hero, Miles Vorkosigan, is unmatched in the genre. He is a genius at solving cosmic problems. His adventures are always original, his obstacles gargantuan, and his solutions frequently funny. I wish I could create a protagonist as memorable and engaging as he is. Bujold is one of the very few writers I use as a self-teaching aid. Whenever I’m stumped in my own writing, I ask myself: how would Bujold handle such a conundrum? I open one of her books at random and page through a dialog or a narrative to see what she does. It often helps.

And then, there is Terry Pratchett. His satirical fantasy is joy with teeth. I don’t want to write like him—I can’t; satire is not my forte—but I’d like to show in my writing as many shades of gray in a human soul as he does.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

How to deal with a writer’s block:

I read once that the best way through the writer’s block is to write. Three sentences a day as a minimum. I found it good advice. You start with three sentences, but then you want to finish a paragraph. And then another thought sprouts in your head, and you want to write it down before it flees. Sometimes, it helps to switch projects, especially if you don’t know how to continue with your current one. A time away from a story might give you a fresh perspective.

How to create conflict in my stories:

The hardest character for me to write is a villain. I write mostly in the fantasy genre, and fantasy plots usually require a baddie of some sort or at least a strong antagonist. I have trouble with those guys. I don’t understand their thought process. Villains traditionally hanker for power, or world domination, or some such nonsense. But why would anyone want to rule the world, or even a village, is beyond me. It’s so much hassle.

On a more serious note: conflict is a challenge for me. I like my heroes. I don’t want them to suffer, but conflict is essential for fiction, so I have to go against my nature and invent problems for my characters, pit them against wicked odds. One of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous 8 rules of writing is “Be a sadist.” I’m still learning that trick.

#6: Describe your writing method:

I’m a plotter. I outline before I write. I need to know what happens with my characters before I type the first words of a story. My writer’s block often happens when I don’t know, when I wonder how my hero could solve this particular problem. Fortunately, sometimes a story takes over. I would be typing, following my rough outline, and then my hero would meet someone unexpected, have a chance conversation, and the story would veer into a side lane. Such detours often add richness to my characters, but I always return to my general outline in the end.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

The most important advice I could give: persevere. I have a favorite quote–my motto in writing:

“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.”

―William Feather

Don’t stop writing. Don’t give up. If one route to publication doesn’t work, try another. If nobody wants to read your novel, try to write for a newspaper or a magazine, even if they don’t pay. Try short stories. Try a blog. You need to convince strangers that what you write could be interesting for them. And write, write, write.

A writer friend I met online once said: “You can only consider yourself a professional writer after you’ve written one million words or more.” I agree. An average novel is about 60,000 to 100,000 words. If I toss in all the writing and re-writing I’ve done for all the short stories and novels, plus my newspaper articles, I’m somewhat over one-million-words now. And I’ve got two novels published by small publishers.

Self-publishing–I’m not enamored with it. I respect indie authors and I might try their approach some time, but overall, writing is a long process, and you can’t skip the apprenticeship phase. You can’t rush the skills; they come only from years of practice, like in music or in sport. Of course, there are exceptions, but they only underscore the rule: instant gratification doesn’t exist for writers.

I’m sorry to say this, but your first novel probably isn’t too good. It’s your school. My first novel was really bad. It’s still hidden in the bowels of my computer. It will never be published, although I have revised it at least ten times. I learned from it and moved on.

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About Olga’s Book Almost Adept:

AlmostAdept-EBOOK

For the seventeen-year-old mage Eriale, magic is a source of joy, and she often uses magic to solve problems. Unfortunately, such solutions sometimes get out of hand. Her latest magical caper was a disaster, so she has to leave home in a hurry but she decides to turn her shameful fleeing into a quest to prove her Adept potential. She expects a glittering foreign escapade but ends up in Grumesh, the land rife with treachery and violence. A local courier Kealan becomes her only friend and ally. Together, they survive an explosion, a treacherous incarceration, and a daring escape. Sparks of interest ignite between them, but before Eriale can explore her attraction to Kealan, she discovers blood magic running amok in the city. Her priorities must change. As an aspiring Adept, she is duty-bound to find and eliminate the blood mage of Grumesh. She can’t allow her budding romance to distract her, or the blood magic will taint the entire land. No matter the cost—her life or her heart—she can’t let the vile mage win.

Excerpt (a conversation between the two protagonists, Eriale and Kealan):

“Tell me about magic, Eri,” Kealan prompted. “Why are you hungry afterwards?”

“Well.” She gazed at the tourmaline in her hands. “Magic is energy.”

“What can you do with it?”

“Anything.” She grinned. “Anything that can be done without it.”

“What do you mean?”

“For example, if you want to carry a load of crystals,” she pointed to the wagons, where the guard still snored peacefully, “to the other side of the kingdom, you can do it using a horse and a wagon. And lots of time. Or you can employ a mage to transport your cargo much faster. The horse would spend energy pulling the wagon. It would need to eat and sleep to replenish its strength. So would a drover. A mage is no different. He compacts the time and space needed for transportation, but his use of energy is multiplied by a hundred. He uses the same amount of energy for the same job, but he pulls this energy out of himself. Of course mages are always hungry and tired after working magic.”

“But where does your magic come from?”

“My body generates it.” She glanced askance at Kealan and pointed at her breasts. “Somewhere here.”

“Oh. So, if my body doesn’t generate magic, I can’t learn to use it? You know, spells or something?”

She shook her head vehemently. “It’s an innate ability, like sight or hearing. Some people have it; others don’t. But you need to study hard to be able to control it.”

“What if a mage wants to use more magic than his body generates?”

“He can’t.” Her expression clouded. “Unless he resorts to blood magic. Then he can, if he extracts energy from the pain and death of others. It’s easy magic, but…it’s dirty. Blood magic corrupts a mage’s soul.” She shivered. “It makes me want to puke, like poison.” She hugged her knees and stared into the distance.

“Sorry I asked.” Kealan didn’t like her looking so forlorn. What could he say to lift her spirit? “What about illusions? You can’t create illusions without magic.” He recalled the illusion of the mountain cats he had employed on his way to Varelia.

“Illusions are extra,” she said serenely, her distress forgotten. “They’re entertainment. I like making illusions. It’s like painting on the air with magic.”

“What if something can’t be done without magic? Like turning a man into an animal? Is it possible with magic?”

Eriale snickered. “Why? Do you want to turn someone into a frog?”

“No. I heard a rumor that some crazy mage at the royal court turned a duke into a goat. I thought it was a hoax; they were just pulling my leg, right?”

“Ah.” Eriale sighed. She kept silent for so long, he thought she wouldn’t answer at all, when she stirred. “You can transform one living being into another, but it’s a very complicated spell and a brutal one,” she said quietly. “It takes lots of power and lots of knowledge. You have to learn every detail of the anatomy of your original creature and the target creature. Otherwise, you’ll create a monster. And the overall masses of both creatures should be the same. You can’t turn a man into a tiny frog. Where would the extra mass go? Unless you want a frog the size of a man.”

Kealan grunted. His imagination leaped into overdrive, visualizing a possible result of such a transformation. “A frog the size of a man. Should be charming.”

She giggled. “There’s another solution. I could use a transportation spell. You know, find a frog in a nearby pond, transport the man there and the frog here. It’s a kind of a switcheroo. Done properly, it only takes a moment. For a bystander, it would look like a transformation, but it’s a trick, really.”

***

Buy Almost Adept:

Burst (Publisher): http://burstbooks.ca/product.php?id_product=118

Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Almost-Adept-Olga-Godim-ebook/dp/B00HPPNRUI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389036660&sr=8-1&keywords=olga+godim

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Also by Olga—Lost and Found in Russia, a women’s fiction novel availalbe from Eternal Press:

Newborn babies

After the shocking revelation that her daughter was switched at birth 34 years ago, Canadian scholar Amanda embarks on a trip to Russia to find her biological daughter. Intertwined with the account of Amanda’s journey is the story of Sonya, a 34-year-old Russian immigrant and a former dancer, currently living in Canada. While Amanda wades through the mires of foreign bureaucracy, Sonya struggles with her daughter’s teenage rebellion. While Amanda rediscovers her femininity, Sonya dreams of dancing. Both mothers are searching: for their daughters and for themselves.

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Olga’s words about this book:

When I was young and poor, I often thought: what if someone showed up at my door and said that I had been switched at birth, and my birth family was rich. And they’re looking for me. What would I do? What would my mother do? And – here was the tricky question – what would my other mother do? Would she want and love me as much as the mother who raised me? From that daydream sprouted the idea for this book – a story of a mother who discovers after 34 years that her daughter was switched at birth, by mistake.

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Buy it here:

Eternal Press: http://www.eternalpress.biz/book.php?isbn=9781615728770

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Found-Russia-Olga-Godim/dp/1615728783/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1362966343&sr=8-1&keywords=olga+godim

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/lost-and-found-in-russia-olga-godim/1114480110?ean=9781615728787

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Connect with Olga:

Olga’s website: http://olgagodim.wordpress.com

Olga’s twitter: @OlgaGodim

Other places to find her:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6471587.Olga_Godim

Worlds of the Imagination: http://worldsoftheimagination.wordpress.com/

Silk Screen Views: http://silkscreenviews.wordpress.com/

Book Likes: http://olgagodim.booklikes.com/

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Author in the Spotlight: Nancy LaRonda Johnson

It’s Thursday, and that means another Author in the Spotlight! My guest today is also my critique partner, so it’s a pleasure to highlight her work for you today.

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Nancy LaRonda Johnson has written short stories, poetry and personal journals most of her life, and has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and a law degree. A probation officer by day, she strives during her off-hours to write interesting characters who make it through trying times. Her first book, the literary Christian speculative novel Anticipation of the Penitent, about a serial killer and his mother, reached the finals in the San Francisco Writer’s Conference 2012 Indie Publishing Contest. Salted With Fire, a book of short stories and poetry, is her second publication. She is working on several projects, including a sequel to Anticipation of the Penitent.

Christian speculative fiction is horror, sci-fi or fantasy written from a Christian angle. Nancy also writes poetry when it hits her, and flash fiction  (very short stories, usually under 1000 words).

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SEVEN SPOTLIGHT QUESTIONS:

#1: What do you enjoy the most about writing?

I love writing about everyday people and controversial topics with a touch of horror. In doing that, I hope to get people to question their beliefs and consider how although others may seem different, they are very similar to ourselves.  In other words, I love to “stir the pot” with my writing. Usually people who love my writing, do so even though they are disturbed by the lives they’ve encountered and the jarring roads they have to travel in the stories.

#2: What was your earliest writing experience?

In elementary school, I remember writing a story about my dog, Chico, getting lost in a regional part and how he found his way home. It was a valiant effort at a first story, but I thought it was quite bad. Even so, my teacher called me “prolific.” She told me to look the word up, which I did but still didn’t understand what it meant. It still encouraged me.

#3: Describe a day in your writing life:

A good day is when, at every free moment, during slow times at work, once home after work, or on my days off, and in between every other responsibilities I have, I’m thinking about my characters, plots and subplots, am adding on to what I’ve already written or am editing it. But, unfortunately, there are days when the document doesn’t get opened.

#4: What authors influenced you and how?

The most influential authors for me have been: Stephen King, for his always interesting characters; Octavia Butler, for her amazingly creative storylines; Gloria Naylor, for her real life, everyday strong characters; and the most influential book, the Bible, which has the most heart wrenching and uplifting stories, amazing poetic prose, and is true. Which reminds me that true stories, especially true crime books, have also influenced me greatly.

#5: What are some things you learned to help with your success?

I’ve learned not waste money, which I have done too much last year. I’m learning that if I can’t see a matching return for the money, there’s no good reason to spend it and, in fact, is the worst entrepreneurship rule you could break. So, it helps to find free services whenever possible. Then go cheap. The place to spend the most, I’d say, is with editing.

#6: Describe your writing method:

When I’m starting on something new, even when I have an idea in mind, it really helps me to do free write or use a writing prompt to get me started. Some of my subplots were developed by this method and made my books much more complete and unpredictable.

What also helps me, especially if I’m not focusing or am feeling stuck, is to open up a blank word document and just start writing. Or, I just write at any point in the story that interests me that day. For me, it’s more blocking to write linearly. Much of my writing is mood or emotion based, or character driven, so writing a scene that grabs me that day really brings the best of my writing out.

Other than that, I just keep plugging away! Even if I don’t write as much as I’d like, it will eventually get where I want it to be.

#7: Tips for aspiring writers:

So many people say that writers write. Very helpful, (not!) even if it’s true. Generally, I’m not one to sit for hours and hours writing every day, mainly because I don’t have the time. But I will push myself to write something, even if it’s a paragraph or developing or filling in an outline. Wherever you’re at with your discipline as a writer, just keep trying to increase from there, without guilt.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to get beta readers. This process has helped me greatly in my current project. Graeme has read my WIP as it developed, which meant at the worst stage, with the worst writing and incomplete storyline! But his input has been invaluable. Two other beta readers gave me wonderful input after I made changes to my first draft, which has made it so much better. With each drastic change in the book based on input I got from the beta readers, I like to get one or two other readers’ inputs. It’s amazing how much your original idea for the book develops! Since writing is subjective, readers let you know if what you’re trying to say doesn’t come through or doesn’t even make sense, and you make the changes to write what you really meant. Afterward, you realize that the book has gotten exponentially better.

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About Nancy’s Book Anticipation of the Pentinent:

Anticipation_of_the__Cover_for_Kindle

Trapped by the devil, Alezea bears Satan’s son and knows her life will never be her own. She is the mother of Thomas, a man reared by Satan to be a killer of life’s most innocent – little girls. Alezea lives detached from the horrors committed by her son and from her domination by the entity who uses her as he pleases. Until she meets Martha, who shows her a way out. Alezea will now risk her very soul to free Thomas from his father. The fight to save her son will either redeem Alezea or destroy her forever.

Rachel knows Thomas’ history, yet she believes her presence can transform him. Her belief in Thomas might send her fully into the devil’s realm or provide an opening for God’s miracles in both of their lives. In a scheme to continue his father’s line, Thomas may ruin his alliance with Rachel or rend himself from the dominion he was born to hold. The impulse to contrive his future takes Thomas to new heights in his lifework as a killer and pushes him toward maturity, while forcing him to encounter the astonishing truth of his heritage.

Anticipation of the Penitent depicts the battle between good and evil in one family until it is rendered to its destined completion. Only then will it be known whether Alezea succeeds in her struggle for a life free from Satan’s control.

Excerpt:

For the first time in twenty-seven years, Alezea looked at Thomas as a part of herself. He was human, not a pliant slave for the devil’s use and pleasure. A rivulet of shame started to stream its way into her heart for the actions she partook in with her son.

Her son. Tears manifested their way from within her soul and overflowed onto her cheeks. He was her son, not Satan’s. He lived in her world, not the underworld of the devil. Her formidable, strong, handsome son had the choice to not be the devil’s heir, just as she had the choice not to be the devil’s maiden.

It was late when Alezea finally completed her story to Martha. Alezea was amazed that Martha did not send her away forever or call the police to her home. Instead, Martha told her to go home. She told Alezea to not worry and that she would help.

Alezea reached out in the darkened room and touched her son gently on the arm, not with the initiation of demanded sexual perversion, but with the care and worry of a mother for her only child who was lost. That rivulet of shame slowly began to transform into a prospect of hope. Could her son, who had no guidance or teachings of goodness, be turned around?

This phenomenon of love for Thomas was in its infancy. But Thomas was a man in his twenties. Could he begin to see Alezea as his mother, to be respected and trusted? The immediate answer to herself was a blatant “No!” Rather or not she reached out to God previously, she knew that God was stronger than her shame, her doubts and the devil himself. She would fight for him. She would fight for her son.

She covered Thomas’ shoulders with his sheet and left his bedroom, closing the door quietly. Alezea stood, leaning gently against his door, still enjoying the emotional impasse welling inside her. For the first time ever, feeling something other than trapped, fear and shame, enabled Alezea to feel relief.

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Buy Anticipation of the Penitent for Kindle:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Anticipation-Penitent-Nancy-LaRonda-Johnson-ebook/dp/B009ZQCEEA

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Also by Nancy: Salted with Fire, a collection of flash fiction and poetry with a theme of spiritual growth

Salted_With_Fire_Cover_for_Kindle

Black magic, murder, insanity… humor, honor and devotion. Salted With Fire is a journey of flash fiction and poetry that shows my writing transformation from worldly to wanting to please God.

Flash fiction is my passion; poetry is my release. I love creating a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end, with twists, humor, drama, compassion and horror, all under 1000 words. Salted With Fire isn’t just a book of stories and poetry, it is my journey as a writer, from writing only for the mere joy of it regardless of the message, to writing stories that highlight God’s will for people, even if the stories themselves are not religious in nature.

Inside are fifteen flash fiction pieces and twelve poems with color pictures, and short Biblical discussions after each story.

Excerpt:

Heat

Smoothly, his hand moves
and glides across my arm,
leaving a trail of humidity in its wake.

Droplets of his heat rise on my skin,
and he takes my hand,
silken and shaken, into his.

Words aren’t spoken,
it’s time to listen.

The sound of “hush” comes from us both,
quieting the vibrations of our hearts that
diminish our ability to hear.

Our hands meld into one,
knowing this is how it should be.
Our arms draw closer,
our steps align,
and we arrive.

There is nothing left,
but to affirm the commands:
Honor. Love. Keep God with.
Only after, do we vow and alight
in our first kiss as one.

nancy-hand

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Buy Salted with Fire:

Kobo: http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/salted-with-fire-6

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Salted-Fire-Nancy-LaRonda-Johnson-ebook/dp/B00DFRU6L8

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Connect with Nancy:

Webpage: http://www.nancylarondajohnson.com

Twitter: @NLaRondaJohnson

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NancyLaRondaJohnson

Fan email address: nlarondajohnson-author@yahoo.com

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