Friday, December 8, 2017

Surviving the Newbie Blues

When I was a fledgling writer (and I do mean fledgling), I heard the adage that good writers read--a lot. And being a literary know-it-all with my six weeks of experience backing me up, I scoffed. "Read? Who has time to read? It's all I can do to write a paragraph without being interrupted by three teenagers or dinner preparations or any one of many other distractions that each and every writer in the world faces." Poor me. Little did I know back then that I'd condemned myself to Newbieland for as long as it took me to truly understand what writing is all about.

Writing is not romantic, easy, nor is it a profession for the faint-hearted. No one writes alone in a vine-covered garret or the tower of a crystal palace with servants to take care of the mundane things of life--like earning a living if your writing career doesn't bring in several thousand dollars the first month or so. (That was sarcasm.) Instead, writers spend precious stolen moments honing their craft until life settles down. Maybe that's when your spouse comes home to watch the kids, or the pizza delivery guy shows up and everyone's too busy eating their deep-crust pepperoni with extra cheese pizza to pester you, or when the kids go to bed. Maybe it's early morning or late evening, noon hours, coffee breaks, weekends, and may be, just maybe, it's not until your retirement years.

My point is that just because I was trying my hand at writing didn't mean the world would kindly step aside for me to work my genius and crank out bestseller after bestseller. That idea was quashed fairly quickly there in Newbieland where I resided until I'd learned a few hard lessons, including:

1.)  The writing field is jam-packed with talented, ambitious people who more often than not--no, make that always--knew a heck of a lot more than I did. Being a newbie was on one hand thrilling; on the other, terrifying, and I admit I often had the Newbie Blues.

2.)  Nobody has enough time to write. Nobody. Even the successful writers (and you know who you are, Successful Writers, although I imagine you're not reading this) who consistently hit the bestseller lists probably have trouble with life getting in the way of their craft. Writing is no different than anything else we want to do in life. We need to make time and space for it.

3.)  It doesn't come easy. Being a new writer means you know enough to know you don't know enough about being a writer. (Please read that again until it makes sense.) A good share of the time I spent living in Newbieland was spent learning everything I could about writing, and yes, that included ...

4.)  Reading! Yes, lots and lots of reading. In a moment I'll list some of the books that have helped me tremendously, but first I want to tell you that reading anything helps to make you better at writing. It finally dawned on me that I wasn't going to go anywhere with my raw talent. Just as if I had a great serve in tennis, I wasn't going to hit Wimbledon right off the bat (or racket, as the case may be), I had to get rid of my bad habits and groom the good ones that others had learned before me. And to do that I had to read their advice in books on that topic or simply read the fiction books they'd written. Speaking for myself, I've learned more from reading the books of successful and great fiction writers than I could figured out for myself if I'd worked at it until the day I dropped dead. And by then it would be too late, and I wouldn't give a rip, anyway. There's just so much to know and to assimilate into your writing until it's a habit, that not taking the advice of good authors is just plain silly.

Of course there are many other ways to learn. Critique partners, writing groups, conferences, and classes are just some of them. I concentrated on the reading aspect simply because it's something you can do for little or no cost, and it's a pleasant experience. No longer do I think it's outrageous to think writers need to read everything they can get their hands on. I've moved out of Newbieland and I'm looking for a niche in Mightjustmakeitland. It's still a long shot, but I'll never get there if I don't try. I hope I see you along the way.

Before I forget ... trying reading Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott), Writing for the Soul (Jerry B. Jenkins), or On Writing (Stephen King). There are thousands of other books out there, most of which are no doubt very good, but I've read these three over and over. I also read the novels by Jerry and Stephen and Anne's other non-fiction books. I learn something from each author and each of their books whether they're trying to teach me or not. They're that good.




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Monday, November 27, 2017

On Writer Buddies & Ignoring Them

“Generally, art partly completes what nature cannot bring to a finish, and partly imitates her." -Aristotle, Physics, Pt. 2& 8
“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” -Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying.


Although the critical theorist in me would love to join a spirited debate between two old dead guys, for the sake of brevity let’s just agree that life and art are inextricable. Then as artists we can apply those truths we’ve found in life to the benefit of our work (which will then improve our life, likely resulting in the further improvement of our work, but that’s only if imitation…wait, I said I WASN’T going to join the debate).
Aristotle
In life, we have multidisciplinary evidence that it’s impossible to succeed or thrive without human contact; the same is true of art. You cannot succeed as a writer without allies and friendships. Yet the work of a writer (and I imagine most artists) is rather secluded. I can’t tell you how many times I have laughed at myself when writing a scene thinking “How would a non-socially awkward person respond in this moment... oh well, I have beta readers and normal people for that.”
There is this romantic image in the writer’s mind of a cabin in a forest somewhere which contains little besides a laptop, maybe a caffeine source, and a table near a pot belly stove. The haze of said cabin is a place from which triumphant writers emerge with completed manuscripts after the course of a week. Now, I have been to that cabin; my friend’s mom owns it and sometimes we go there for tea and the pleasant company of ignoring each other for a while. Ah…the cabin. ::sigh:: But that romantic image is not where books get made.
Isolation is the suffocating pit of self-doubt where dreams go to die. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and agree that there is a definite time to buckle your pants and close the door so you can get the work done. Managing distractions and interruptions is a skill that must be a sharp pair of scissors in a writer’s toolkit. Don’t get me started on smartphones and the “attention economy” (seriously though, google that, but not right now, you’re reading something). Some parts of the writing process are isolated and focused.  But others require external input and criticism; writers know this. I personally recommend this cool new thing the kids are doing called single-tasking (It’s pretty fringe, you’ve probably never heard of it). It’s this new wave habit where you turn of the smartphone and TV, ignore all the people that you love, and do one thing at a time. The writers that practice it, finish their books. Food for pigeons.
I’m still new at this (obviously, you should see my under-construction newbie website. Or maybe not, ha!), but there were two things that took my writing game to the next level in 2017. The first was tracking my hours. That habit showed me the limits on my “focus” time. Before tracking, I often vacillated between “I have no time to write” and “I am taking so much time to write away from my family, oh the guilt! But data doesn’t lie, and I have been averaging about 15 hours a week for 11 months because I started tracking. My two cents: Track. Analyze. See where it takes you. The second and even more helpful change I made this year was connecting with fellow writers. I’ll be honest with you; it was intimidating at first. I started out thinking, “Who am I to comment, ask for feedback, or share ideas?” Not to mention, we all have asked that dreaded question, “Am I really a writer?” I’ll let you in on an industry secret; you are. And more to the point at hand, we’ve all asked it of ourselves. That question is not so far in my rearview mirror that I have forgotten its impact. It matters; ask it; answer it.  There will come a moment when you realize how silly it is that you ever had to ask. But whether or not we admit it we’ve all asked ourselves that question. For some of us we were in junior high, but we still asked it.
Honestly, for me, connecting with authors is still intimidating. I’m writing a guest post for Author Culture today for cry-babying out loud, how cool is that? My first book is only half finished, but without the dual pedals of focused work and writer buddies, on my book-cycle (oh man that’s a terrible metaphor), my WIP would still be an intangible dream.
This writing journey, whether it’s to Canterbury, Random House, or Amazon is made better by companyae (Ha! Middle English non-conventional spelling for the win!).
I cannot stress this enough. Do the work. Write. And connect. With. Other. Writers.
Good. Now, actually show them your work. Otherwise you will likely end up arguing with Aristotle or something…
…and we all know how that ended.

p.s. If you are interested in connecting, look me up on Facebook or check out my blog http://candor.amykaras.com/
I’ll keep the sass to a minimum…maybe. 

Amy Karas is a mom of two beautiful kiddos, a wife to a great man, and a child of God who occasionally takes herself too seriously. She is grateful to offer her writing as the crayon scribblings of a child at a plastic table next to the desk of her Heavenly father while he does real work. 
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Friday, November 24, 2017

6 Things Writers Can Do This Holiday Season

Halloween is in the distant past (as is summer), Thanksgiving is behind us, and the Christmas season is in full swing. This is traditionally the time when the publishing business slows down, folks go on vacation, the holidays consume us, and not a lot gets done until after the new year.

I'm not sure if that still holds true or not. In this age of instant communication, maybe it's just as easy to accept or reject a manuscript at home, on the train or bus, or even in the car (in the passenger seat, of course) as it is in the office. Needless to say, every publishing house, editor, agent, and writer does it differently. Many writers self-publish these days and can work around their holiday festivities with no worries about publishing houses slowing down during the last month of the year.

Aside from wondering if this holds true, I also want to mention how easy it is to put our writing on the back burner and take it easy for a while. If that works for you, and you don't feel guilt or pressure, I say go for it. If, though, you're like me and would rather know you're on top of things in your little corner of this profession, you'll continue doing what you always do.

You'll people-watch. Malls are great places to watch others as they run from store to store, lugging around their latest purchases and cursing themselves for not leaving their winter coats in the car. You'll see exasperated parents, cranky toddlers, whiny teenagers, bored middle-schoolers, frantic retail employees. You'll see men and women who truly want to be there shopping their hearts out, and you'll see others who gladly would give you a kidney on the spot if you would just get them out of there.

You'll eavesdrop. Everyday conversations are interesting enough, but add in the stress and hustle-bustle of mall-shopping, and you've struck dialogue gold. Shopping is tough from the get-go; add in a heavy coat, bags of purchases whose handles, whether twine or plastic, are threatening to cut off the circulation to your hands at any moment, the food court and its horde of hungry humans, and the lines--let's not forget the long lines--and you've got some juicy dialogue to steal.

You'll take notes. Neither of the above activities will be worth a hill of beans if you don't take notes. Dictate what you hear and see into your phone (and you'll have the added advantage of looking like a spy), so all those gestures, words, and whining you've culled from your day of snooping won't be forgotten.

You'll continue journaling, writing devotionals, free-writing, or whatever you do with your computer when you're not actually writing or editing (and Free Cell doesn't count) your latest work-in-progress, if for no other reason than to keep your work fresh and in the forefront of your mind.

You'll keep up with your blog posts, or at least warn your readers that you'll be back in a couple of weeks. While I don't personally have as much time to read blog posts during the holidays as I do during the rest of the year, I do look forward to a few of them and would wonder where they went if I wasn't told in advance. It's just common courtesy. You might also want to write some blog posts, tweets, etc., ahead of time and schedule them with Edgar or some other site that will do that for you. That allows you the freedom of not having to worry about missing important obligations.

And finally, I sincerely hope you'll remember what this season is really all about and enjoy yourself, your family, the food, fun, and parties, the meaningful church activities, and all the traditions that surround you and your loved ones. No, we can't forget we're writers and losing a month out of the twelve we get each year will no doubt cause you to do some catching up come January. But a little forethought and a few minutes each day devoted to what you do best will go a long way in keeping those January blues at bay.

Maintaining an orderly work life is important, but that pales in comparison to the memories you'll make with your family and loved ones. A little bit of planning will go a long way in giving yourself the freedom to truly enjoy the holidays and all they entail.
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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Helping Fellow Writers

Part 2 of Lisa Hannon's Guest Post on Writing Group Critiques -Reading (and listening) to help another writer.

For both the person giving and the person receiving the critique, there are a number of things that can become apparent in the necessarily short pieces that are read aloud in a read-and-critique group. No one is going to address every possible item of the following lists in a few minutes of verbal critique, but keeping them in mind allows the person giving the critique touchpoints, and allows the writer the ability to strive for the positive points and correct those that should be changed before putting their work in front of others.
For those trading manuscripts online for critique, the lists can be valuable reminders, both to the writer and the reader, as well:
What to look and listen for when writing, or when listening or reading to critique another writer.
             The villain who isn’t just a stereotype.
             The hero who isn’t a stereotype either. A hero without weakness is boring! Some weakness makes them human, and the reader needs to identify with him or her in ways that make them keep reading.
             Dialogue that works.
             Plots (and subplots) that are clear and compelling.
             In non-fiction, there should still be a story arc – you’re trying to get from Point A to Point B, whether it’s a biography or a history.
Changes to look for:
             Plot – Is the plot clear, is it believable? Is the piece read out or handed out to the workshop driving that plot?
             Subplots – Are they necessary to the story? Do they drive the story, or are they distracting? Are they convincing and well-drawn?
             Setting – Does the reader know where they are? Is the setting used as another character within the story, driving the action, or is it a thruway?
             Characters – Are characters motivated, are they individual? Are you able to tell them apart by how they drive their dialogue? Or do you simply not care whether a character lives or dies?
             Characters – Does each character have a defined arc? Every major character, and any character that drives a subplot, should go through some form of change between the beginning of the story and the end, or a reader will feel incomplete.
             Names – The names of the characters are part of the overall setting—are they appropriate? Do they help define the characters?
             Consistency – Do the characters adhere to the facts we learn about them during the story?  Take a look at continuity, in the sense that a character who exhibits a trait in one part of the story still has that trait in another, unless it’s part of their own arc. A stoic may break down before the end of their arc, but a character with an amputated leg should not grow it back, unless it’s science fiction or magic.
             Length – if the piece is a short story, every word should drive the story arc. If it’s a novel, or part of a novel, there is more time and ability for character development, backstory, etc.
             Language – are some phrases confusing? Are the words chosen well?
             Lack of conflict—a story without conflict isn’t a story, it’s a monologue.
             Too much conflict – the reader needs some moments of calm in order to breathe.
             Description – Places where more description is called for (or less).
             Dialogue amount – Places in the story where more dialogue is necessary (or less).
             Dialogue attributions – Be sensitive to passages where more attributions are needed so readers don’t get lost in figuring out which character’s speaking, or fewer “he said/she saids.”
             Action tagging – Places in dialogue where an action tag would be appropriate.
             Pacing – Areas of the story where the pace is dragging, and you just want the characters to get on with it.  Alternatively, be aware of sections where pacing is racing so fast, the reader doesn’t have time to breathe, and can quickly get lost and frustrated.
             Information dumps – When a character or the narrator simply tells what’s happening or gives backstory without weaving it into the narrative of the story. This is where the person giving the critique will often say, “You need more showing and less telling in this section.” This is also often where an observer will say, “This part was a little boring.”
             Show don’t tell – Telling and not showing is also an issue when you see the word “felt.” Naming emotions can distance the reader. “She felt sad,” doesn’t give the readers what they need. But showing them will: “Covering her face with her hands didn’t stop the tears. Nothing did.”
             Dialogue reality – Unbelievable dialogue, whether it’s stilted or simply unlikely from the way the character has been drawn, is another character issue. It’s often when the person leveling the critique will say “I don’t believe the character would say something like …”
             Point of view issues – Swapping points of view mid-sentence or mid-paragraph can leave a reader confused or annoyed. No reader should ever have to wonder whose head they’re in or whose eyes they’re looking out of while they’re reading.
             Tenses – Tense confusion, from past to present and back should be noted.
Writer’s workshops can be even more valuable with a guideline to follow. Hopefully, this will help your workshop be even more valuable to its members.

About Lisa 
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Friday, November 17, 2017

Book Review of Memoir Miracle in My Living Room

Miracle in My Living Room: The story of a little Mann
Evelyn Mann
 Miracle In My Living Room: The Story of a Little Mann by [Mann, Evelyn]
Memoir
Her Purpose Press
c.2016
ISBN 9780998394404

Print: $12.95 Buy on Amazon
E-book: $2.99

From the publisher: In this inspirational story of hope, a first-time mom is faced with unthinkable circumstances. This was not the pregnancy any woman would have planned. This mom was forced to face the option of abortion while medical professionals said her son would never survive a day outside the womb. There were many harsh words used to describe her precious unborn child, including the devastating declaration “not compatible with life.”

Miracle in My Living Room chronicles a nearly 11-year journey for this mom who, when faced with absolutely no hope, found that there was ONLY hope.

My review: It’s hard not to sit back and feel guiltily grateful for only being violently sick during pregnancy after reading books like Mann’s memoir of her pregnancy and motherhood experience. Already in her late thirties when Evelyn and Ralph married, they wanted a family right away. Getting the welcome news of being pregnant was short-lived when a few months in, the first ultrasound showed issues, followed by a diagnosis of an extremely rare genetic condition. Evelyn was even discouraged from searching for more information about it, which she eventually ignored. The Manns chose to carry through with their pregnancy, searching for the right medical team and occasional heavenly intervention to help them. Samuel was always a real person in utero, through surgical birth and early months of love spent in hospitals and medical facilities. Evelyn and Ralph sacrificed their careers to watch over him, running interference through medical personnel when needed. They make it clear that while doctors, nurses, and aides for the most part did what they were taught to do, some were better at their specialties than others. While church and family gave unwavering support, questions still arose from their supporters and professionals about whether they were doing the right thing for their child. The Manns rightfully questioned themselves. Was Samuel in pain or too much distress? The special medical devices that kept him alive and in the most comfort were expensive and not always readily available. Constant supervision was critical for his care. Could they learn to care for him themselves at their own home?

Evelyn found other families touched by this condition and created a network of hope. Despite a “lethal” outlook, Samuel has lived over a decade, and their story offers inspiration.

My only complaint is about the treatment of editing. Numerous errors, even in the back cover copy, deflect a little from the book. Mostly typos which should have been caught before publication, perhaps a future edition would also correct naïve errors which work against the sincerity of the script.


About the author: Evelyn Mann is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Tampa Florida raising her special needs son, aka the “Miracle Mann.” Receiving inquiries from around the world, she offers other families hope and encouragement showing that a negative diagnosis is not beyond God’s reach.
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Nanowrimo Tips

Many writers are smack in the middle of National Novel Writer's Month - 50,000 words in 30 days. It seems a daunting task, but it's my 9th year to participate, and I love it. No, it's not a "submittable" project on the last day, but you have something to work with, which is better than nothing.

I usually start with an outline, but no matter how much I prepare, I get stuck. I'm tackling a historical fiction this time, a first for me, and so I did extensive research before November 1. Even with all that preparation I stumble over something that needs to be historically accurate, and I don't have the answer. I'm trying to remember to just focus on the story, and not get bogged down with questions. I jot down a note within my document so I know what I need to follow up on. I will lean heavily on my critique group later. They saved me from submitting something awhile back that had me stuffing my main character in the back seat of an El Camino. Yeah, I don't know anything about cars. The point is, the book was written. The bugs can get worked out later.

So...I tell myself:

1. Just keep writing.
2. Hook up with other Nano nuts for inspiration.
3. Take breaks. (I will put the work aside and watch a favorite program, jotting down words and phrases that catch my ear, and then go back to my project and try to incorporate them.)
4. Keep writing.
5. Remember that it's a draft, and you can write anything you want. Anything. Have fun.

Who's doing this with me? If you need an extra Nano Buddy, my handle is jodybooks. What's yours? Got any Nano tips?
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Friday, November 10, 2017

Domain-tenance

It started out innocently enough. All I wanted to do was switch hosts for my website because my computer, in all its glorious idiocy, suddenly wouldn't let me log out of my account with my Gmail address (where I do everything but my two blogs) and then sign in to my Yahoo account where my two blogs live. I spent an entire day doing everything to this computer other than tossing it off the balcony. Nothing worked.

I had no choice. I'd have to switch to a host that wouldn't require me to sign out and then sign in to another host to post on it, and then try to re-create my blogs on the second host. But in order to do that, I had to have a few questions answered. I asked a question and received a ticket at the new site. After several back and forth emails and a phone call, I finally figured out I'd have to have the old host point my domain to the new host's name servers. Of course, all this felt like pudding had been injected into my brain, but with the very friendly agent, I was able to initiate a website with them. All I had to do was contact the old host to tell them where they should point my domain in order to make my website live and able to be created.

Simple, huh? It might have been except the old host site is apparently manned by only a computer or maybe some talented monkeys. No humans, no place for a talk with an agent, nothing but a continual series of answers ("does this answer your question?") that almost, but not completely answer my questions. I asked for a ticket, but have yet to receive an email acknowledging that I'm even in the queue, so I'm in limbo until someone from the old site contacts me. I don't even know if I outright own the domain. Perhaps it's part of the old host and I'll have to pay for it forever, which is fine, but I have to know. In the meantime, I'm not able to start creating my new website until those darned domain thingies are pointed at the name servers.

My point (aside from a personal rant)? Please, please be careful when you choose a host for your website. There are attractive and free ones out there, and if your computer isn't as stubborn (dumb?) as mine, perhaps you'll never have a problem. But my advice is to talk to a human, if possible, then write down what they tell you about your domain (unless you bought it independently), because sure as shootin' you won't remember when you need to.

This might not be the best writing advice you've ever received, but it pays to ask other website owners how they like their hosts, the good and bad about them, and what they would do differently, if anything. I was naive and relied on only my limited knowledge of domains and websites, then went for the cheap fix to my problem. Yes, I got a website, and I liked it. But needs change, and technology advances daily (by the time this post goes live everything I've written above will no doubt be obsolete). As a result, I forgot important things that, had I written them down, wouldn't have left me in a holding pattern at the mercy of a computer or pack of talented monkeys. If ever I needed to talk to a human being, this is the time.

Even after I get all this needed information and get that domain pointed in the right direction, I still have to create the new website. I can feel the pudding now.
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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Single Quotations – American English Literary style


Image result for image of quotation marks 
When do writers use single quotation marks?
 Lisa Lickel
  • In NON-Fiction AP style – that is, if you’re writing a newspaper article and the editor puts a title of a book or other such piece of work in the headline
  • In languages other than AMERICAN English – like, Queen’s or British-style
  • In quotes within quotes


Pay Attention, Authors!

If you’re writing an American English piece of literature no matter the style or genre or length, you only use a single quote mark when one of your characters is quoting something while speaking. Seriously. That’s it.

Please, I beg you, Horatio—nevermore use a single quotation mark by its little itty bitty self. There may be an exception, but just…really, don’t do it. Okay? 

If you’re using “air” quotes – double; if you’re using internal and feel like you have to use a mark – double; if you’re going for emphasis, gently, once in a very great while – italics.

Example:

Maude uncurled her long legs from the chair and pushed upward. “Honestly, Rupert, if I’d wanted to hear another method of movement, I would have called Helen. She’s always telling us to ‘get a wiggle on,’ or some such nonsense.”

Rupert guffawed. “Ha! Just the other day she told me to move my ‘blooming arse.’ Said she’d heard it in a movie.”


“Ye-es,” Maude drawled. “My Fair Lady. Elisa tries to show how refined she’s become until she attends a race and is about to lose a bet. She ‘shocks’ some of the ladies with her course language, though the ‘gentlemen’ get quite a kick.”
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Friday, October 27, 2017

Why Does My "To Do" List Always Turn into "I Didn't"?

Our household, consisting (besides me) of my daughter, six-year-old granddaughter, along with two cats, a bird, and one hermit crab have been sick for the past five weeks. I mean "coughing, gagging, spiking fever, aches, pains, runny noses" sick. As a result I haven't done a lot of writing in the past few days, and the animals are barely getting by because we're all too weak to do anything but toss some food in the dish and throw some water at them.

While I didn't do much actual writing, I did try to fine-tune my "to do" list. This is what it usually looks like:

TO DO 

  • Make a list. (This guarantees I'll have something to cross off.)
  • Go to the bathroom, then shower.
  • Enjoy a cup of coffee while I peruse the news and my emails. 
  • Nod off
  • Wake up (See? Already I'm making progress!)
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Think about getting to work on a blog post, batch of emails, current WIP, etc. 
  • Eventually consult my list 
  • Take the easiest, most desirable project I can find and procrastinate on the not-so-fun ones (which will undoubtedly find themselves on my next day's list).
  • Get a snack and a drink
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Find something--anything--I can do other than what I should be doing. (It's a skill I've honed over the past few years.)
  • Finally settle down to get something written/edited/marketed/blogged.
  • Work until I can justify stopping to do something more important--fluff the couch pillows, check the driveway to make sure no serial killers are lurking out there (so far, so good), check to be sure there are no wrinkles in my bed sheet, scan the refrigerator, talk to the bird, etc.
  • Look at the clock and gasp! Time to make supper already? (I just hate it when the day flies by and I never get anything done.)
This is me trying to keep my head above water. I look a little
like an otter, don't I? Hm-m-m, never noticed that before.
Then I make a new list and vow I'll get my act together tomorrow. But I've discovered--and this is the actual point of this post--is that "to do" lists seldom work. At least they don't for me. A list of upcoming obligations and the dates they're due and a few things you know you'll get done is just fine. But I've found that the words "to do" intimidate me because I know darned well I won't. I always overestimate what I can do and underestimate the time it will take to do them. And that's not taking in consideration those spur-of-the-moment things that pop up--an email I have to reply to right away, phone calls, appointments. As a result, I fail. Daily. Every stinkin' day. And that makes me feel bad about myself.

Now I'm not advocating not jotting down the important things (and obviously the list I showed you above is a silly exaggeration), but I think "to do" lists should be limited to plans for a party, errands to run, banking, grocery shopping, and the like.

Writers face enough obstacles without setting ourselves up for failure. If you have the fortitude to follow your "to do" list, and if you feel you really need it, then go for it. I applaud you for your determination and gumption. My inner "crack-the-whip muse" lets me know when I really need to buckle down, and I find myself working like a fiend for hours upon end at times. Other times resemble the list above. But I can't, and won't, add guilt on top of my writing obligations.

I say we do whatever makes us, as writers, feel the best. We have enough competition, time-gobblers, and roadblocks in our paths without us putting other things in the way. I guarantee the more you do what you can to feel good about yourself, the better your writing will be. As for me, I'm abandoning the "to do" list habit and trusting myself to get it done without being nagged.

It doesn't matter what method you use. It's a personal choice and probably won't wreak destruction and havoc across the nation no matter which you choose. All you really have "to do" is remember that you're a writer, and be proud of yourself and your work.






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Friday, October 13, 2017

Becoming an Expert (at Being an Expert)

Are any of us "experts" in the field of writing? I'm not referring to being a leading authority in a field you're writing a non-fiction book about, but rather an expert in the act of writing itself. I've given this question a lot of thought in the past few days because I've been feeling unusually inadequate lately. That could be attributed to the grandpappy of all head colds and my not being able to accomplish anything more daunting than brushing my teeth some time during ten-minute periods I was upright during the past ten days or so. Or it could be that I'm just feeling the stress of marketing a new book, editing a children's series for publication early next year, and working on two other manuscripts simultaneously.

In any event, it's a valid question.

Do any of us who write for a living (or for fun or as a mission) qualify as experts? Certainly there are those authors among us who are better than I am at many things in a writer's life--perhaps all things. It guess it comes down to how we define "expert" and what parameters we use to distinguish an unusually skilled writer from one who isn't.

While it might be a moot point because we can never really nail it down to bullet points, educational degrees, bestsellers under our belts (or number of pages written, for that matter, in which case I'd be the head poobah), it warrants our attention because one of the worst things we writers can do to is compare ourselves unfavorably to those we look up to. Yes, we should aspire to be better at what we do each time we do it. Every book, article, short story, poem, newspaper article, or whatever form in which we write will ideally be better than the last. Hopefully we learn something, whether consciously or not, from each foray into the printed word. But just as our target audiences, skills, experience, genre, voice, and everything else that goes into our work will always differ in some, or perhaps, many ways from other writers, so too will our personal takeaway from those works.

It would be easier if there were a reliable rating scale to which we could aspire. For instance, someone who has written twenty books might be considered an expert in the field of writing, yes? But what about those who have written one hundred? Does that make the 100-guy/gal more expert than the 20-guy/gal? What if 20-guy sold ten times the books that 100-gal sold? Does it even matter? We can't calculate the pleasure or information imparted to the readers, so figuring out if either one of them is more expert than the other is an exercise in futility.

Of course, there are many, many writers who excel at what they do, and oftentimes they stand head and shoulders above the rest of us. They have paid their dues, earned their keep, and produced time and time again. But even a gifted wordsmith might lack organizational skills or need a little help with dialogue or backstory or any one or more of a thousand different aspects that add up to a great writer.

What it boils down to, in my opinion, is how we feel about ourselves and whether or not we apply every single iota of skill, talent, perseverance, and wisdom into our work. No, I will never be the world's leading Christian humorist, but I'll make good and sure I'm the best I can be (with apologies to the United States Army for stealing their tagline), and get better each time I let one of my works out into the world. And while I will always feel there is someone (more than likely millions of someones) who are more expert at writing than I am, I will have the satisfaction of knowing I'm the most expert writer I can be. Some things are just out of our control.

What about you? What would it take to make you feel as though you're an expert at whatever it is you write, and how do you go about accomplishing that? You can, you know. You really, really can.
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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Creating Worthy Side Characters


Sub Characters Need a Purpose

by Lisa Lickel

I was recently asked about what makes a good, solid side character. I happened to be reading this debut novel with excellent examples. As a writing mentor, I find it helpful to pick apart worthy published works as examples, and this book, Picking Daisy, by Kimberly Miller, fits the bill nicely. You can read my review here.

In general, your side characters need a purpose and a personality without being able to disappear or take over a story. 

It's not a bad idea to set up a general background for these characters like you do for main characters, but it certainly doesn't have to be as involved. At least figure out why you're making up this character at all. "Comic relief" and "expendable" aren't sole worthy reasons.

The importance to the plot line and main character development must be obvious--as obvious as any other aspect of story. If your main character's pants will fall down without the sidekick to hold them up, the sidekick is necessary. If your main character wears a belt and the sidekick is merely an ankle-biter, ditch 'em. They're not necessary. 

Side characters must be memorable and unique without disappearing at any time without notice, or taking over the story. Even one interesting thing, such as fashion sense, accent, tattoo, does the job.

How many are too many? Well, if Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was a standalone, there would be too many characters. Sometimes one is enough; sometimes a larger cast, as long as they're necessary and unique enough to keep separated, is fine. In Picking Daisy, each main character basically had two sidekicks (though I put together an engaged couple as one sidekick, since they acted as a unit). One other sidekick character was essential to both of them.

I recommend getting out a book you like a lot that has a fairly large cast and pick it apart. Think Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or A Man Called Ove, or Gone With the Wind. These are the questions to ask for a good Side Character study. The questions may seem obvious, but think about it carefully and seriously. We authors tend to love our people, and the thought of them not be important to someone else is heart-breaking. I've been there. I understand. But I have learned to wield an ax.

ASK THESE QUESTIONS OF EACH CHARACTER

Why is (this person) in the book?
What role do they play?
Will the story still make sense if this person/setting/object/quest is not in the story? (What would happen if they/it weren’t in the book?

Alert readers noticed that a side character does not have to be a person. It can be a setting (think Tara or Oz), an object (think sorting hat in the Harry Potter books or A in Scarlet Letter), or a quest (think revenge in Moby Dick).

So, to show you an example of how to analyze characters and think about them in your own work in progress, I give you the following study from Picking Daisy. First, here's the blurb about the book. You'll note there is absolutely no information at all about side characters in this teaser. You'll note in my analysis I considered this book might birth other stories with these characters, though along with being expendable and humorous, potential serial fodder is not reason enough for a character's presence. You don't need to read the book to get something out of my analysis, though the book is a pretty sweet read.

From the publisher about Picking Daisy:
Daisy Parker isn’t the woman that rock star Robby Grant would have imagined himself falling for. She’s soft-spoken, sweet, and lives by a strange code the struggling musician is recognizing as Biblical. And he’s helpless against it. Even if Daisy is hard-pressed to believe that a man like Robby would see her—a woman long forgotten by the rest of the world—as anything more than a step back to his career. But Robby challenges Daisy in ways she’d long avoided. With their mutual love of music, it seems nothing can separate them—not Daisy’s wheelchair or Robby’s ego. As Robby grows into the man he’s long dreamed of being, Daisy dares to trust again. But will this sweet melody last?

We learn that Daisy is in a wheel chair, and Robby is a rock star, that Daisy has trust issues and Robby a giant ego They both love music. What we learn provides ample excuse for side characters.

Uncle Nick – he was the catalyst to getting Robby and Daisy together. He's an older man in his seventies, widower, romantically inclined toward Daisy mostly to give her security though he also wants her to meet up with Robby because of their mutual love of music. His accident brings Robby into the setting. If he wasn’t in the book, there would have to be some other set-up to bring the main characters together.
My reaction: I knew him, could picture him, he had a personality with a manner of speech and character that showed stubborn and big-hearted, quirky humor. He would marry Daisy just to help her out; slightly creeped out that Robby accused them of being intimate and then kissed her.

Sadie – Daisy’s single friend, café owner; was in the book to provide aid to Daisy and provide a place for her to perform; also to provide some toughness and dose of reality. She also served as the love interest for Jazz and later brought Robby and Daisy back together. If she wasn’t in the book, Jennifer, Daisy's other friend, could act alone, or even Nick could take on the role of caregiver or hire someone; they could find a place for Daisy to perform.
My reaction: I probably read too fast and missed knowing she was the café owner who brought Daisy coffee regularly – by the end I knew she was the owner. She had a feisty personality who wanted to challenge Daisy more, but was softened by the quieter Jen. I loved that she and Jazz were working on a relationship and were role models for Robby.

Jennifer and Steve – Daisy’s engaged friends. Jennifer was a longtime friend who stuck by Daisy through the ups and downs, and Steve helped look after Daisy and Nick. They were good sounding boards, and Steve challenged Robby, the famous rock star, to be good to Daisy. Their wedding helped Sadie and Jazz grown closer. Jennifer seemed more quiet. I didn’t know her as well as Sadie, though they were good role models for Robby to watch and learn about relationships. Jen provided activities for Daisy to help her and keep her busy. She also loaned Daisy money. If they weren’t in the book, Daisy, to be realistic, would need some kind of aide on a regular basis due to her health status. She could talk more to Nick, but there should be someone to challenge her and listen to her woes.
My reaction: I thought they were necessary to show both Daisy and Robby hope for a good, solid, serious faith-based relationship. Steve was a mature contemporary for Robby to look up to, since the other men in his life (Nick, Warren) were relatives or hired men (Jazz).

Warren - the perfect big brother for Robby, stable, mature, yet needing to grow. The nicknames they used and actions toward each other were great natural examples of how they came to be the way they were, and needed each other. His role was to shame Robby into going to check in on Uncle Nick after his accident. If he wasn’t in the book, a lot of good example for background would be lost. He provided some hard-nosed touches in not letting Robby continue to be such a jerk, and was also a role model for Robby. He was unique in personality—tough military—and used clever nicknames that kept Robby grounded. Robby admired his physique and relied on his brother to get him out of messes. He was a man of faith. Was he necessary? If he wasn’t in the book, Nick could have called Robby to come, and they might have shared some of the background, but it would have been forced.
My reaction: I liked him; he had good personality and was one of those people who helped me see that Robby was redeemable. He and Jazz were somewhat alike in build and temperament; whereas Jazz was a hired employee and a friend who took a lot of guff from Robby, Warren didn’t have to take anything and kept challenging Robby.

Jazz (Jason) – Robby’s best friend and hired body guard. He was in the book to provide a little bit of “realism” in the life of an international celebrity, and to serve as a reality check. He also became a love interest for Sadie. It’s possible more “companion” books will come out with the stories of Jazz and Sadie, and perhaps Warren (who got engaged to an unseen woman, Daphne, who has a child), and Uncle Nick, who developed an interest in his nurse, an unseen woman, by the end of the book. In that case, these people perform necessary plants for future books while still being necessary in this book naturally. He had a definite personality by letting Robby know of his concern; he escaped being cliché by challenging his boss and talking to Daisy, and by falling for Sadie.

My reaction: If he wasn’t in the book, I would need some healthy realism from another source. The author already made too light of the female protagonist’s wheelchair-bound life in not sharing any intimate details of life as a paraplegic, so making some of the problems Robby faces as an international celeb are more focused. I wouldn’t believe in Robby as much without Jazz.
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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Sweepstakes Marketing Results

Testing Marketing Methods part two

by Lisa Lickel

Two weeks ago I announced a trial of Amazon's Sweepstakes giveaway "offer." You can read about it here. My novel, Requiem for the Innocents, was languishing due to self-inflicted ennui, and I happened across an ad from Amazon for a marketing ploy--yeah, I'm an occasional sucker for the easy way--that seemed relatively painless for both me and my audience.

Authors need to find answers to:
How to make your work known?
Where does your audience lurk?

My book isn't only offered on Amazon--it's available on many online store sites as well as for order in bricks and mortar stores. But how to help readers find it when you're painfully shy, too poor and invisible to professional marketers, and frankly tired of stalking people, is a burning issue.

The following information and pondering are the results for my Sweepstakes, which was an offer of 10 ecopies of my book, which I paid for in advance, to randomly chosen (by Amazon) winners.

When the sweepstakes started at the end of August, the book's stats went from about 2 M to 1.1 M on Amazon's tracked sales "bestseller" list, so I know I had a couple of sales, which was nice. When the Sweepstakes ended on September 21, I had a total of 217 entrants (I suspect that might be quite miserable, but I have no way of knowing for sure), so at least there was a pool of more than 10 people to choose to receive a copy. The entrants had to "follow" me on Amazon, so supposedly I got a bunch of new followers, though I can't find the number on my author page. It used to be pretty visible, but I must be looking in the wrong place. I checked on a couple of other author sites and couldn't see any numbers either. I know on Facebook I lost at least five "fans" from my author page, but I can't prove it was due to the advertising of the contest. 

Image result for marketing

On the morning of September 22, 2 of the 10 prizes had been claimed after the verification process; on Saturday, 8 of the prizes had been claimed; as of Monday afternoon, 9 prizes were claimed. I don't honestly know how the entrants have to claim the prizes, whether there's some sort of ordeal involved which would make it difficult, but I don't have to be the one to verify or choose. Oddly enough, names are displayed, but I think it would be too creepy to try to follow up with them, although it might be worth it if they are easy enough to find. I assume they have to have an Amazon profile. The bestseller rankings are rising again, so sales never organically took off. In my "thank you" note to the recipients I asked for a review if the reader would be so inclined. 

Was it worth it?
Time will tell. It cost me little pain, although I should have done more promoting (I did some). I got one confirmed fan buy, though I lost Facebook followers which is moot as far as I'm concerned. If I get a couple more reviews that are positive I'll be content. Would I do it again? Maybe...but with a plan in mind of better and more consistent promotion. I need to spend some marketing dollars as part of my business plan, and this helped.
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Friday, September 22, 2017

Why Addiction Is Good for Authors


I have a confession to make. I'm an addict. Yes, I'm addicted to geodes. You know... geodes? Those little rocks that look downright ugly on the inside, but hide beautiful surprises within? They're formed in cavities in the earth or in bubbles in volcanic material. 
Over time minerals form inside the outer layer, which is stronger than the material around it, and survive after the surrounding rock erodes. We're left with an intriguing spherical-shaped (or close to it) rock which, when cracked open reveals beautiful mineral deposits. My daughter, granddaughter, and I love to crack them open with a hammer (be sure to wear eye protection or at least wrap the geode in a towel while hitting it) to reveal what this little gem (no pun intended) has hidden for who-knows-how-many-millions of years. 
Here's just one of the geodes we have on display in our home.
No, it doesn't contain valuable gems, but it gives us such
pleasure to know we're the first to see what's been so
lovingly created within its humble covering over the millennia. 
And that's exactly how I view my work as a writer. I want to surprise my readers with what I've created within the covers of my books. Mind you, I'm not calling my covers ugly--they're beautifully rendered by a very talented publisher--but who knows what a book holds until you crack it open and take a peek inside?

If we can give readers a surprise every time they read our work--whether poetry, journalism, literature, non-fiction, novels, short stories, or any other kind of writing--we'll have done our job. And by surprise, I'm not talking necessarily about "scaring them out of their socks" surprised, although that's always fun, but any one of a number of great things with which we can use our talents to give our readers a thrill, a laugh, shock, inspiration, or even fear. 
If we can do that we'll have people addicted to our work in no time. After all, isn't that what we're trying to do? Give readers a thrill every time they read one of your works of art and they'll be hooked for life! 

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday Grammar Tip Capitalizing family names

Image result for capital letters

When to capitalize those family nicknames - you know, when Dad says, "Son, you've gone too far this time!" or daughter says, "Aw, Aunt Lulu would have let me..."

There is a trick to it. And it's easy!

Ask yourself:


  • Am I describing someone or using his or her proper name? Not substituting for a proper name, but actually using the name or title?
  • Am I using the relationship word (brother, bro, sis, uncle, grandma) as a NOUN?


Here are some examples.

My brother Dillon likes to give me knuckle rubs, but I hate it. Oh no, here he comes.
"Yo, bro," Dillon says to me and tries to grab my head.
At least Grandma comes to my rescue this time.
"Dillon, that's not nice," Grandma says to him. I just love my grandma.
Uncle Joe walks into the kitchen. My uncle is the nicest guy I know, not counting my dad.
"Son, take it easy on your little brother," Joe says.
Mom and Dad went on vacation, so Grandma, my aunt Babs, and uncle Joe are staying with me and Dillon.
It's just us boys, we don't have any sisters, though Aunt Babs has a sister who's a sister, like, a nun. Sister Joan.
"Your mother called," Grandma says. "She and your dad want to know how you're doing."

In the examples above, when Dillon is described as the brother, the usage is lower case. When Dillon talks to his younger brother, he uses the description, "bro," or "brother," so the usage is lower case.
When Grandma is first introduced, she's called by her proper title without a relationship identifier ("my") so the usage is uppercase. When "my" is in front of the description later, grandma is lower case. When Uncle Joe calls Dillon "Son," the only reason the word is capitalized is because it's at the beginning of the sentence; otherwise it would not be capitalized.

Questions? Comments?
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Monday, September 18, 2017

Guest Post with Lisa Hannon

I’ve been a member of more than one writing group, including groups who read their work out loud for critique, and groups who submit in writing and then discuss, either face-to-face or online.  A good group can be of enormous help in inspiration–in fact, a throw-away sentence from another writer actually inspired my first book. I asked him what inspired him, and he said that it allowed him to kill his boss–not in reality, but in the third chapter. It sparked “This Little Pig,” and I’ve been addicted ever since. Anyone who’s ever been part of a read-and-critique writing group has witnessed the differences in how writers address each others’ efforst.  Some seem harsh, some don’t, some seem focused on how the writing can improve, some seem focused on how to improve the writer, rather than what’s been read.  Few groups actually help writers learn how to critique another person’s work verbally or in writing, and fewer still help writers learn how to deal with the critiques of their own work.
In my experience, the biggest issue with not having instruction is that group members tend to confuse critique and criticism, and end up leveling the latter.
In the environment of a writer’s group:

The primary definition of criticism is: “the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.”
The primary definition of critique is: “a detailed analysis and assessment of something, especially a literary, philosophical, or political theory.”
Differences:
Criticism, in a writer’s group, is largely destructive:
  • Example: This story is scary and dark and I really didn’t like it. I just don’t understand people who write really dark stuff like this.
Critique is acknowledging your filters, followed by pulling out the positives and mentioning them first. Then you can follow with constructive suggestions for change:
  • Example: I may not be your first audience for this story–I don’t often read horror. However, I thought your story arc was good overall, and your characters were well-drawn. You might want to take a look at your beginning. You’ve put a lot of details about the setting there, but I think if you start your story right in the middle of the action that begins on page two, second paragraph, it will draw the reader in immediately. Then you can weave the setting in as you go, to give us the sense of place.
This is just one example–the second in the series will discuss details in what you’re looking for to build a critique that can actually help your fellow writer’s improve, and the third will discuss how to accept critique from other writers and build on it.


About Lisa
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Friday, September 15, 2017

Two for Tea by Carrie Turansky

Tea for Two is the first in a novella duet by Carrie Turansky. Allison Bennett and her older sister Tessa Malone run the Sweet Something Tea Shop in Princeton, New Jersey. The shop is struggling financially and hurting for customers during the worst winter in 30 years. Nevertheless, Allison is content to help her sister. She finally seems to be getting her act together after the love of her life, Tyler Lawrence walked out on her 6 years before. She enjoys the attention of  Peter Hillinger, a wealthy, handsome business owner.

Just when Allison feels her feet are on solid ground, Tyler moves back to Princeton, and what's more, he offers her free advertising for Sweet Something. Although she's not sure if she can trust him again, his presence makes her realize she only thinks of Peter as a friend. This frees her to see if she and Tyler can make their way back to each other. He has definitely changed.

This is a super sweet read, undoubtedly Christian in its worldview, and a quick, enjoyable read. I look forward to reading the second offering in this pairing.

Author info from Amazon.com: Bestselling Inspirational Romance Author Carrie Turansky writes heartwarming historical and contemporary novels and novellas. She has won the ACFW Carol Award, the Crystal Globe Award, and the International Digital Award. Readers say her stories are: Heartwarming and inspiring! I couldn't put it down! . . . Touching love story. It captured me from the first page! Rich characters, beautifully written.
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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Testing Amazon Sweepstakes GIveaways

Trying out Paid Marketing Promotions
by Lisa Lickel

We're all about fresh and new marketing tips when we're in business--how to move product into the hands of those who need it. Trends change so fast it's so hard to keep up. Authors need to let Readers know What they have to offer. Amazon, love it or hate it, is one of the largest book sellers in the world, so it makes sense to try a few of their friendly, helpful tips to move product. One of the latest marketing tools is giveaways and sweepstakes. I've also worked with my publishers on Net Galley and I'll report on that tool in the future.

A couple of weeks ago I signed up for a three-week Amazon Giveaway Sweepstakes. Since the e-book I'm promoting was priced at 99 cents, and sales had pretty much slowed to zilch (mostly because I'm not actively promoting), this seemed like a fairly painless and simple way to light a flame under the book. Amazon does the heavy lifting, I'm supposed to shout about it. I decided on a three-week time period around my birthday (just because I felt like an excuse would help, and my birthday was coming on). I decided to give away 10 copies, which I was charged for in advance. If for some reason all of the copies weren't given away, I'd get vouchers to those books to give away on my own. Amazon then collects names and chooses the winners, and notifies them. Seemed like a good deal.

After the first week I had over 150 sign-ups; after two weeks, today, I had 183. My only requirement was asking folks to follow me on my Amazon profile. Although I have a collector for a possible future newsletter/e-mail list and know its supposed to be a good thing, I'm having a hard time convincing myself to do it. Knowing that an open rate for mass mailing lists of any kind is a small percentage makes me tired, and I've lost two fans from my Facebook author page since the sweepstakes started. Though I can't prove any correlation, it still hurts to lose anyone for any reason other than death. My Amazon profile has the potential to showcase my books, and isn't personal, so I figured it was a fairly low-cal thing to ask folks in exchange for a chance to win a book. I tweeted a few times, posted the link on my website landing page and asked for help tweeting from my marketing group. The book came out September 2016. When the sweepstakes started, the book hovered closer to the 2 M mark on the "best seller" list; now it's around 1.1 M. I had few reviews, the last one 8 mo. ago. I asked only readers I know to review; a couple of folks I had approached the year before to endorse backed out. I had another book release November 11 last year, so I purposefully saved some momentum for that release.

Below is what the Sweepstakes message looked like. They also offered promotional language for posting, and sample Tweets and Facebook links. I had to write a brief welcome and a brief thank you for after the sweepstakes was done. I'll report back after the Sweepstakes is over to let you know what I thought and how it worked. I received one sale that I know of that's directly related to the promotion.


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Or here is some suggested copy:
See this #AmazonGiveaway for a chance to win: Requiem for the Innocents: a novel (Stories from Paradise House) (Kindle Edition). https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/7b3a0e0e519a3de2 NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Ends the earlier of Sep 21, 2017 11:59 PM PDT, or when all prizes are claimed. See Official Rules http://amzn.to/GArules.
Giveaway Summary:
Title:
Entry Message:
It's my birthday and I'm celebrating by giving away 10 e-copies of my novel Requiem for the Innocents. Enter the Sweepstakes, and I hope you win!
Duration:
Aug 31, 2017 12:22 PM PDT - Sep 21, 2017 11:59 PM PDT
Prize:
Requiem for the Innocents: a novel (Stories from Paradise House) (Kindle Edition)
Number of Prizes:
10
Reminder, Kindle giveaway prizes are not eligible for refunds. Reference our FAQs to learn more about our policy.

This giveaway adheres to the Giveaway Services Agreement


@2017 Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Amazon, Amazon.com, the Amazon.com logo and 1-Click are registered trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. Amazon.com, 410 Terry Ave N., Seattle, WA 98109-5210.
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