A Dad, a Day, and a Book Giveaway

I’m writing this post on Father’s Day. To all of you dads out there—a toast to you! I live a thousand miles away from my dad, so I didn’t see him today. Instead, I talked to him on the phone and gave the requisite greetings. My younger brother, who also is a father, went there to be with him—his Father’s Day present from my sister-in-law.

The desire to be eloquent rises within me as I think about Father’s Day. But whenever I try to be what I’m not, I come off sounding phony. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll ignore that desire and just be myself.

Know what I think of when I think of my dad? I think of how he taught me to draw, how he read fairy tales to me at bedtime, and taught me to ride a bike. And every Christmas, like clockwork, I could expect the latest Stephen King novel from him.

I remember as a teen how embarrassed I was to buy feminine products at the store. If the cashier was male, I’d balk and refuse to make the purchase. But my dad had no problem buying what I needed.

“Got you some on sale,” he’d say proudly, as he plunked a bag on the kitchen table.

I remember my first car—a Hornet station wagon. (Yeah, I’m old. But it was old when I got it, so, yeah.) It had a tendency to break down on various roads. Dad would have to come get me, sometimes in the dead of winter. Dads do things like that, see.

The test of a father’s influence is when you still love something when you become an adult. My dad infused within me a love of animation, science fiction, and mysteries, fortified by the books I discovered on the bookshelves at our old house (Ray Bradbury; Isaac Asimov; Agatha Christie; Erle Stanley Gardner) and the shows we’d watch together (Doctor Who; Looney Tunes, Star Trek in various forms).

    

    

Each week, my father and I discuss books that we read or are currently reading. Right now, he’s into a series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

I’m also reading a mystery:

So, though I’m not with my dad on this special day, we’re still together, sharing the love of a good mystery book.

Speaking of good books, I have one to give away: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! by Sarah Aronson. (Click here if you missed the interview with Sarah.)

    

The winner of The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! is

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Marie of 1WriteWay!

Marie, please comment below to confirm.

While we wait for Marie, do you have a great dad story you’d like to share? Please comment below!

Small critters wishing their dads a Happy Father’s Day

P. S. Thank you, Dad, for everything. 😀

Book covers from Goodreads, with the exception of the ones photographed by L. Marie. Father’s Day image from clipartpanda.com.

You’re a Mean One, Miss Kitty

The following poem is my version of Clement C. Moore’s classic poem, with a bit of inspiration from How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. It explains what Kitty’s been up to lately, which I’ve hinted at a couple of times. (Yes, I know this is more appropriate for Christmas Eve. But you don’t want to wait that long, do you?) So, if you stopped by to learn who won the books in the latest giveaways (click here and here for the author interviews), check the end of the poem.

’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, save Kitty—that louse!

While the children drew close to the warm fireplace,
Kitty took herself up the stairs to rob the place.

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But a child crept upstairs to observe her at work.
Yet Kitty heard her creeping, and turned with a jerk.

“Are you Santa Claus?” asked the sweet little tike.
“I’d like a Nintendo, and some kind of bike.”

“A Nintendo what?” asked the grumpy fake Nick.
“Nintendo’s a company. Please be specific.”

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“You’re not St. Nick!” cried the suddenly wise child.
“You’re grumpy and harsh; he’s sweet and warm and mild.”

“He sounds like a hot drink,” the would-be thief sneered.
“Take my advice. This Santa Claus? Well, he sounds weird.”

Kitty shooed the child off with a ten-dollar bill.
She returned to the sack she had hastened to fill.

But suddenly outside, there arose such a clatter.
To the window she raced. What on earth was the matter?

Sirens squealed in the distance—what a kerfuffle!
The window was shut; but the noise would not muffle.

She would be caught with the stuff she had stolen.
What could she say about a large sack so swollen?

So, she threw off the disguise, and then she made haste
Down the stairs with her usual cupcake at her waist.

“Oh children,” she said, “I’m a neighbor so near
I stepped through the window to visit you here.”

The child with the ten, not a word did she say.
She felt keeping mum made life better that way.

So, they gave Kitty cocoa and showed her a chair.
And soon, Kitty realized, she was better off there.

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Now let’s turn from a larcenous “Santa” to the winners of the books. As a reminder, I am giving away a copy of How to Share with a Bear and How to Build a Snow Bear by Eric Pinder, as well as Hard to Die by Andra Watkins and Our Justice by John Howell.

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The winner of Eric Pinder’s picture books is . . .
Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Jennie!

The winner of How to Die and Our Justice is . . .
Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Andy!

Winners, please confirm below. Jennie, please email your snail mail information and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com. (Amazon will not deliver without a phone number.) Andy, when you email, please include the email address you use with Amazon.uk. I believe you can only get the Kindle versions of Hard to Die and Our Justice through Amazon.uk. Hope that is okay.

Thank you to all who commented!

Book covers from Goodreads. Photos by L. Marie. The Happy Places Shopkins Happy Home is a registered trademark of Moose Toys. Hello Kitty is a registered trademark of Sanrio Co., Ltd.

Thanksgiving

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Poor Thanksgiving. You often get lost in the shuffle between Halloween and Christmas or Hanukkah, don’t you?

Mostly, you’re lumped into the general autumn scheme of things when it comes to decorating. Well, you are a holiday born out of thanksgiving to God for a good harvest (and for survival) back in 1621. And thanks to President Lincoln, you were celebrated nationally on a Thursday, though you didn’t become an official national holiday until 1941.

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I’m grateful for all of the Thanksgiving meals I’ve had in the past, where I consumed mass quantities of food, played board games with my family, then vegged out in front of the television, watching football. This year will be a little different. I plan to hang out with friends, play board games, and eat mass quantities of food. (As I said it will be a little different.)

What are you thankful for? My attitude this past week was anything but thankful, though. I received a record number of rejections from manuscript queries—four. I felt like a failure. But some good friends encouraged me (thank you, Sharon, Laura S., and Megan). Someone else did too. A few days ago, I made a quick stop at a jewelry party at the home of another friend. A young woman was there, whom I hadn’t seen since she was a kid.

“I still have some books of yours from when I was a kid,” she said, referring to a series I’d written many years ago, that went out of print within a year. “They were some of my favorite books. They helped me decide to be an author/illustrator.”

Her words made me tear up. How could I have so quickly forgotten the power of reaching even one kid by the written word? How easily swayed I was by discouragement.

Sometimes you have to kick discouragement in the teeth. And what better way to do that than with the giveaway I introduced in my last post? (Click here for the list of books.) At first, I was going to give away just one book. But I decided to give away more than that. It is Thanksgiving (soon) anyway.

I looked at the list of people who mentioned books. Here it is:

Charles (Star Wars)
Penny (Meetings)
Pamela (Meetings)
Karen Gradient (Grace Lin)
Reocochran (Star Wars)
Lyn (Grace Lin)
Nicki (Grace Lin)

Congrats. You’re all getting a book. Please comment below to confirm. Then I’ll need you to email your snail mail address and phone number to lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com (or email my primary email account if you know it, which would be faster). If you would prefer that I not have your snail address, please let me know, and we can make other arrangements.

If you commented and mentioned a book, but don’t see your name on the above list, please comment below. I’m going by the honor system here.

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Seriously, have a good Thanksgiving (if you celebrate it, that is; if not, have a great Thursday)!

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Rudolph and his gang of unfinished crocheted reindeer discovered a new house in the neighborhood. Perhaps they could spend Thanksgiving here.

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After booting out the reindeer, the new neighbor, Rainbow Kate, took up residence in her new house. But Kitty invited herself over for a Thanksgiving meal. Chaos is sure to ensue.

Turkey images from latintimes.com and openclipart.org. Thanksgiving image from dvd-ppt-slideshow.com. Other photos by L. Marie.

A Desperate Struggle

Before I get to the reason behind the post title, it is my pleasure to announce the winners of the print copy and ebook of Stephanie Stamm’s A Gift of Wings. For the cover makeover post, click here.

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The winner of the ebook for A Gift of Wings is Mishka Jenkins!

The winner of the paperback for A Gift of Wings is Sue Archer!

Congrats, winners! Please comment to confirm below, then email me your information at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com. For the ebook winner, I’ll need the email address you use with Amazon. For the paperback winner, I’ll need your snail mail address and a phone number. Amazon will not deliver without a phone number. I’ll pass along your information to Stephanie, who will have the books sent to you. Thanks for commenting!

Now, onto the reason for the title. I’ve written posts about the sunflowers outside my apartment building. This is the last one, I assure you. I couldn’t help noticing how the sunflowers have been drooping lately, though we’ve had some rainfall. I wish I knew how to help them. I’m no gardener, but I can’t help wondering how plants this size thrive in such hard, shallow ground so close together. How could they gain adequate nourishment? Perhaps that’s why the bottom leaves look so unhealthy.

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I feel the same frustration with a scene I’m working on: an action scene involving a fight between two enemies. My nephew read it, because I had misgivings about it. It seemed to droop, rather than crackle with life. His assessment? It lacks tension and emotional depth. In other words, it’s too shallow.

“I wish I could help you more,” he said. And then he asked the question that was more helpful than he could have guessed: “What would you do [in this situation]?”

At first I avoided the question, because I was supposed to be thinking like the point of view character. Who cares what I would do? But I really needed to know. I was too clinical, too eager to get from Point A to Point B. There wasn’t enough emotional grit to make a reader eagerly turn pages.

I needed to remember when I was at my rawest emotionally, when I was desperate to survive. Interestingly enough, years ago I lived on a block where drive-by shootings occasionally happened, thanks to a gang member who lived two doors away. Yet even the memory of those days didn’t take me to a raw place, because occasional gunshots and police sirens were part of the nighttime fabric in my old neighborhood. (Amazing what you can get used to, isn’t it? Sadly, many innocent people have been killed in drive-by shootings.) I needed to go deeper.

The memory of almost choking to death came to mind almost immediately. Several years ago, a piece of steak lodged in my throat and for a few frightening moments, I didn’t think I could get it out. Talk about being fully present in a moment. When you’re struggling for breath, every millisecond has an epic weight to it. Someone who has asthma knows this all too well. Thankfully, the Heimlich maneuver works. I wouldn’t be able to write this if it hadn’t.

That wasn’t the only desperate moment. I had an allergic reaction to penicillin one night a few summers ago. I had taken it for a sinus infection, little knowing the problems that would arise. A fluid-filled sac developed on my tonsils that slowly closed off my airway. Instead of calling someone or wasting time waiting for an ambulance, I drove myself to the hospital. I’ve never driven so fast in my life! Miraculously (and it was a miracle), I hit green lights all the way. The hospital was less than fifteen minutes away. After an examination, the doctor recommended an overnight stay to allow various antibiotics to be administered through an IV to reduce the swelling. The doctor mentioned that my body had built up an intolerance over time. He then led in a parade of interns eager to take pictures of the sac on my tonsils. After the gawkers left and I was taken to a room upstairs, I was told how fortunate I was to get help in time.

My scene lacks that kind of heart-pounding desperation. But now that I’m reliving those horrible moments, moments where I was completely present, completely desperate to live, I find I’m in a better place to revisit the scene.

Ever have a difficult time writing a really tense scene? What did you do to put yourself in the moment?

Worth the Risk

Welcome to the blog! You might be eager to know who won the Shadowfell series. If that statement confuses you, check here and here for the interview with the always gracious author of the Shadowell series, Juliet Marillier. Book 3 debuts on Feburary 25 in Australia! (The U.S. debut is July 9. Check Juliet’s website for more details.)

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Without further ado, the winner is . . .

Sue Knight!

Congrats, Sue! To prove you’re a real person and not a Spambot, please confirm below, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide the email address attached to your Kindle, iPhone, iPad, or other eReader, and the country in which you live, since that will determine to which Amazon I will head. Because these are highly coveted books, if you haven’t at least confirmed by the end of February 25, I’ll have to choose another winner. Thanks again to all who commented.

On with the subject of this post (and it is a fitting one, since I was just discussing a great author like Juliet): blockbusters.

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Um, I don’t mean these . . .

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The other day, while reading the March 2014 issue of Game Informer, I stumbled upon a discussion of blockbusters in an interview Matt Helgeson conducted with Anita Elberse on her book, Blockbusters. Who’s she? I didn’t know either until I read the article. (I didn’t read the book.) She’s a professor at Harvard Business School and a marketing expert.

One of Anita’s comments jumped out at me:

[I]n order to be successful, it is probably best for content producers to make blockbuster bets. They should spend a disproportionate part of their budget on what they see as a handful of the most likely winners. But, the alternative strategy also feels intuitive to many people—a strategy in which content producers say, “It’s so incredibly hard to predict what’s going to work in the marketplace, we’re going to make a larger number of smaller bets and spend our resources equally. Then we’ll see what sticks in the marketplace.”

While Elberse’s statements might inspire a “Duh” from you (or not), they emphasize what I already guessed: participation in the entertainment industry is a gamble no matter what. As Elberse later said, “It’s incredibly risky to make entertainment products in the first place.”

Many experts try to find ways to predict whether a book, videogame, or a movie will be a blockbuster. Don’t we all wish we had a golden formula that would guarantee a product’s success, especially if that product is ours?

While reading the interview with Elberse, I felt discouraged at first. The discussion of blockbusters led to thoughts like this: How on earth do I make my book blockbuster worthy??? and Arrrrrggggggghhhhh! Such thoughts in the past have resulted in my uttering, “What’s the use?” followed by a period of non-writing. I hurt myself once by a three-year, no-writing decision. So this time, I decided not to try for such a needle-in-a-haystack goal as producing a blockbuster (and no, I don’t know the steps for doing so), and instead shoot for a measurable goal: quality. I can produce the best book within my power to do so. Maybe that’s your goal too.

car images clip art-6I don’t need an expert to tell me that life is “incredibly risky” at times. If you don’t believe that, take a look at the statistics for traffic accidents. (Then again, maybe you don’t want to see them.) Does the risk of an accident mean I should stop driving like I stopped writing? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? The risk factor actually spurs me to work toward being a better driver. I can’t control what another driver does. I can only do my part to ensure safety on the road. Such is the case whenever I read articles on the search for the next blockbuster. I can only do what I can do to make myself a better writer.

Theories about how to produce the best product always will abound in times of economic hardship. Such theories might tempt us to panic or doubt our ability to produce anything anyone else might want to read. But we have to believe that what we produce is worth the risk of producing it. Like many other things, producing it begins with love. Do I love what I’m doing enough to keep making the effort to do it, despite setbacks?

Are you willing to take the risk? Do you agree with Elberse, or do you have your own “blockbuster theory”?

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Quality, like this hamster, is only a step away . . .

Helgeson, Matt, “The Blockbuster Rule.” Game Informer March 2014: 14-15. Print.

Blockbuster logo from telegraph.co.uk. Blockbusters cover from Goodreads. Game Informer logo from gameinformer.com/blogs. Cat from LOL Cats.

What Your World Needs Now Is Love

Valentines_Day_Wallpapers_2012 (7)Happy Valentine’s Day—the day we think of love and chocolate! I also think of the ever delightful Martine Leavitt, since I’m giving away two of her books: My Book of Life by Angel (FSG/Macmillan and Groundwood Books) and Keturah and Lord Death (Boyds Mills Press). If you’re confused right about now, that means you missed the interview posts with Martine. They are here and here. Run! Catch up! I’ll wait for you here.

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Today is the day to announce the three winners, courtesy of the Random Number Generator. (Random Number Generator, I love you!) And now, without further ado, they are . . .

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Still wait for it . . .

Waaaaaaaait for it . . .

Anna J. Boll (My Book of Life by Angel)
Laura Sibson (My Book of Life by Angel)
Stephanie Stamm (Keturah and Lord Death)

Congrats, winners! Please confirm by commenting below, then email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to provide your snail mail particulars, including your phone number. Now, since the paperback of My Book of Life by Angel will debut soon, please also tell me whether you prefer a hardback, paperback, or eBook. I haven’t asked that question in the past, but I thought I’d ask this time. If for some reason, you do not wish to receive the book you won, please comment below and I’ll choose another winner. Believe me, I will not be offended if you wish to opt out.

On with the rest of the post. . . .

Having read the title of the post, maybe by now like me you’re thinking of the song, “What the World Needs Now Is Love” (written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach). Or, perhaps you’re not familiar with that song, and you’re drinking a cup of tea or coffee and shrugging. I thought of it, because Martine Leavitt’s excellent advice from the interview really haunted me, and not just because today is Valentine’s Day. What advice? Here it is:

Love the world, love the word, love your characters, love your readers, love the work. If you are not very good at loving any one of these things, you must change.

The other day, a friend and I discussed whether or not we felt as passionate about writing as Martine suggested during the interview. I’ve been in love and know how all consuming it is. It’s hard to think of anyone or anything else but the one you love.

Do I love writing? Or, based on certain projects, do I just want to date writing and see what happens? Y’know, keep my options open until something else comes along to snag my attention? (For example, a videogame; outings with friends; a good movie on TV or at the theater; the Olympics; and so on.)

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As I explored those questions, I considered the amount of time I spend thinking about my current novel. I go to bed thinking about it. It’s the first thing on my mind when I wake up. As I drive my car, I consider what my characters need to do and how they need to grow. I worry about rainfall and wind on my imaginary terrain and whether my characters can handle the elements and the events. I draw maps so that I can know every step they take. I cry when they cry, and laugh when they laugh. So, I guess that means I’ve more than just dated writing. We got married and had kids—the world of this novel and also this blog!

I can’t help being reminded of the love my parents have for me, though I didn’t always acknowledge it when I was growing up. When I was eleven and away at Girl Scout camp, Mom later told me that Dad would stand in the hallway and look in my room, shaking his head, because I wasn’t there. That’s love. As I grew older, Mom would stay up late waiting for me to come home from a date (and then yell at me for coming home later than I was supposed to come home). That’s love.

With love there is an ebb and flow. You don’t always “feel” love. But love isn’t just a warm feeling. It’s a commitment—a decision to stick with someone or something even when you sometimes want to bail. Love of writing has the same ebb and flow. Some days you’re feelin’ it. Some days you aren’t.

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Do you love what you’re writing? Perhaps you think you don’t, because walking away from it sometimes seems so easy to do. But I’m betting deep down, you really do. Your writing is your baby—a world needing all the love you can give.

While you think about how to give it, let me leave you with this. You know that winter has overstayed its welcome when snow starts to look like this:

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Or this:

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Heart from forthesakeofus.blogspot.com. Cat photo from LOL Cats. Beach at low tide photo from commons.wikimedia.org.

Winter Workout

Before I get to the part of the post pertaining to the title, let me announce the winners of Alan Cumyn’s novel, All Night. In case you’re new to this blog (if you are, welcome and help yourself to cheese sticks), Alan’s interview is here.

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Caught up? Good. Thanks to the magic of the Random Number Generator, the winners are . . .

Are . . .

Are . . .

Are . . .

Ellen Reagan
Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Aussa Lorens

Congrats, guys! Please email me at lmarie7b(at)gmail(dot)com to let me know the email address attached to your device (Kindle; smartphone; iPad). I’ll have Alan’s book sent to you.

003Now that I have your attention, I have a workout you fitness buffs can try. It’s called the Winter Workout.
• First, don over your pajamas a sturdy pair of warm-up pants like the ones a good friend bought for me to prevent more blog posts like this or this.
• Second, add to your ensemble a polar fleece pullover, a fleece hat, fleece coat, fleece-lined boots, and fleece-lined mittens, which combined undoubtedly weigh as much as the average fourth grader. Consider yourself a weightlifter just for wearing these clothes.
• Third, trudge toward your vehicle through drifts almost knee deep in places.
004• Fourth, firmly grasp your snow brush by the handle. Place against the snow piled high on your vehicle. Brush in an even manner back and forth from the hood to the trunk of the car. Repeat 70,000 times or until your arm tires, whichever comes first.
• Fifth, stop to wipe your runny nose with the back of your glove, because you did not bring tissue. Dare anyone to say anything.
• Sixth, firmly grasp your snow shovel by the handle. Insert the blade of the shovel into the snow and shovel any area in which you need to drive or walk. For example, your driveway or around your parking space. Repeat 70,000 times or until your back gives out, whichever comes first.
• Seventh, go inside and proceed to drink eight cups of warm coffee. Visit the bathroom when needed. Then check the weather on your phone or computer. Slam phone to the desk when you learn that more snow is predicted.

And there you have it! I discovered this workout, because my parking space is by a field. Talk about a wind pocket! The other day, so much snow had fallen, a section of it dormered out of my back passenger window. I could have rented out that space if I hadn’t brushed it off.

The repetition of snow followed by dropping temperatures has gotten old this winter. It almost makes me long for a volcano to erupt. Almost.

Something else has gotten old—the repetition of words in my manuscript. Though I’m in draft mode and don’t usually stop to read what I’ve written, I can’t help noticing that I’m repeating some of the same words and phrases—maybe not quite 70,000 times, but enough. (If you’re wondering why I should care, take a look at some of the reviews on Amazon. Some readers notice when an author did not vary in his or her word choices.) So after writing a paragraph in which I’d used the word suddenly twice, I decided to do a quick check back through my manuscript. Sometimes as I wrote a scene, I highlighted a word I used more than once in a paragraph so that I can change it later. I came up with the following list and the number of times I used that word or phrase.

Felt—125
Judging by—21
Just—119
Looked—70
Nodded—53
Realize/Realized—33
Suddenly—45
Surprised—20
Turned—138
Watched—21
Wondered—50

If you’re wondering (hee hee) how I found out how many times I used a word, in Microsoft Word I used Find and Replace. First, I saved the manuscript. Second, I hit CTRL + H and typed the word. But instead of suggesting a word to replace it, I left that section blank, then hit Replace All. The computer would then tell me how many times the word was replaced. I then hit CTRL + Z to go back to my original version each time, since I’m not yet ready to revise.

As you can see, I have pet words. They’re quick to use in a draft when I’m just trying to get the story down. See? I used the word just again. But when I revise, I need to do the harder work of cutting down on the repetition and strengthening my prose by culling filter words—words that distance a reader from the action. Talk about a workout! Just thinking about it makes me want to drink eight cups of coffee. Think I’ll go grab a cup now. And while I’m at it, this picture expresses my feelings very well about any upcoming snow:

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Sometimes repetition is good, as Victoria Grefer of Creative Writing with the Crimson League describes in this post: http://crimsonleague.com/2014/02/02/5033/

Wondering about filter words? Check out Susan Dennard’s post here: http://www.publishingcrawl.com/2012/05/21/filter-words/

Alan Cumyn photo from his website. Grumpy Cat from somewhere on the Internet. Book cover from Goodreads.