Ten Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me As a Newbie Author

dangerThe other day I stumbled across a great Facebook thread in which a new author asked for advice: she wanted to know what kinds of newbie mistakes to avoid as a first-time author.

True to form, the writing community, including myself, chimed in with a number of excellent points. Afterward, it dawned on me this would make an awesome blog post, and here we are.

I’m going to give you my bits of ‘I wish someone had told me’ advice, mixed in with some of the best snippets I gleaned from my Facebook friends when asked the same.

In no particular order:

1. Google your pen name before you start using it. Yeah, I wish I’d done this. Because there’s Sarah Madison the actress, and Sarah Madison the cardiovascular surgeon, and Sarah Madison the published historian, and if you are looking for any of them and you get me instead, yikes! On the other hand, I like to think of someone enjoying one of my stories while recovering from cardiovascular surgery… Seriously, though. Google your pen name. You really don’t want the same pen name as a serial killer. Also, be careful of having a ‘unique’ spelling. If people can’t remember how to spell your name, they aren’t likely to find you on a web search. It’s easy. It takes less than thirty seconds, for Pete’s sake. Just do it. You won’t regret it.

Whether or not you need a pen name is another discussion altogether. I personally think if you write in wildly divergent genres, such as ‘sweet’ Christian romances and dinosaur porn, you’d better have two pen names. But that’s just me.

2. Platform and promotion. Yes, you have to have it. No, no one likes promoting themselves, but it is a necessary evil. As author K-lee Klein points out, “Writing is the good part, but be prepared to WORK for the book when it’s done.”

In order for promotion to work, however, you already have to have a platform and internet presence in place. A website (more on that later), Facebook page, and Twitter account are probably considered the bare minimums, but most writers have pages on Pinterest, Tumblr, Goodreads, Amazon, Instagram, G+… well, you name it. Many writers have pages on sites geared toward their genre, too. It’s a lot to keep up with. My rules for platform and social media: pick the two or three sites where you are the most comfortable and spend time there. If a site makes you unhappy, you won’t be your best there. Learn how to cross post from your main sites to other sites. I rarely spend time on Goodreads or Tumblr–they just aren’t my kind of places, but other people hang out there, so when I post a blog entry like this, I make sure it automatically cross posts to those other media platforms.

Worry less about your ‘brand’  when starting out. Be friendly. Share other people’s announcements. Interact with people in a manner that does not always center around your books or writing. For heaven’s sake DO NOT auto-post tweets or private message people with BUY MY BOOK spiels within seconds of them friending or following you.

glasses-booksThere are some great books on social media out there. I happen to like Kristen Lamb’s We Are Not Alone:The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I might not agree with everything Ms. Lamb says (she is very much against pen names, for example) but she has some good points to make. One of which is that your name should be easy to find–it should be part of your website, your Twitter name, etc. Having a cute Twitter handle might be fun, but what if no one remembers that @AwesomeWombat is really Sarah Madison? Don’t make it hard for your readers to find you.

3. Websites: Your website is your home base. It is going to be the main way readers find you. Make it easy for them! You have roughly two seconds to make a good first impression when people land on your page. If your site is too hard to navigate, too difficult to read, has too many moving gifs or images that roll by too rapidly to read, you’ve lost a perspective reader right there. They will move on to the next site, to look for someone other author whose home page doesn’t make their eyes bleed. Whether you have a static home page or not is up to you. But the most important thing is that your site is crisp, clear, and easy to navigate. Your social media links should all be in one place. Your backlist and buy links should be easy to find. You should update your blog on a regular basis. If you have a newsletter or a way for readers to follow your blog, it should be easy to find and sign up. Two seconds. Otherwise, your viewer will click away.

4. Reviews: if I had put these in any kind of order, reviews probably should have gone at the top. EVERYONE had a lot to say about reviews. For the most part, I tend not to read my reviews unless I’ve been sent the link from a trusted review site or a friend has discovered a glowing review and they want to share it with me. Everyone gets bad reviews. Don’t believe me? Look up your all-time favorite book. I guarantee that you will find someone who utterly loathed it and flamed it royally in their review. Any time I stumble upon a review I wish I hadn’t seen, I perform this very task and it is amazing how therapeutic it is. Because if someone can hate the book you adore, then it puts things in perspective for you. Over and over again, people gave DON’T ENGAGE A NEGATIVE REVIEW as their number one advice. Just.  Don’t. The author *always* comes out looking like the bad guy here, and nothing will alienate fans faster. Jay Northcote puts it this way, “Never respond to bad reviews. EVER. And don’t bitch about them in a public forum or it’s likely to bite you on the arse. If you need to vent (and if you look at your negative reviews, you will), do it in a safe/private place to someone you trust.Sue Holston says don’t even read your reviews, and I can understand that viewpoint as well.

There are some people who’d suggest not responding to any review on Goodreads, as it is a site primarily for readers, not authors. I know many authors who interact with their fans quite happily on Goodreads, but I confess, it feels like an abandoned mine field to me. One false step and BOOM. But that’s just me.

The point is, don’t let one bad review negate the twenty good ones you’ve received. Don’t let a ‘meh’ review derail you from your planned story arc, or shut down your writing mojo. Cooper West quotes Churchill, saying, “When you’re going through hell, keep on going”, which is a pretty good life lesson in general. Margarita Gakis advises the same, but urges even more to simply write. She says, “My advice is keep writing. Keep writing when it sucks and when you get a bad review and when you’re not sure if this is for you. Because as long as you’re writing you’re getting better. It’s like learning any skill and the more you do it the better you’ll be.”

And then there is the classic post regarding reviews from the imitable Amy Lane: The Five Stages of a Bad Review. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

5. Beta readers versus Editors (and what they bring to the table): first of all, these people are invaluable to you as a writer. As Kaje Harper said, “Beta readers and editors are in partnership with you to make the story the best it can be. Every error they catch, every change they suggest, is not an insult to your talents or story, or a sign of failure, but one more thing that will be better when actual readers buy your book. Welcome the red ink, don’t fear it or be insulted by it. At the same time, remember it is YOUR story. You can tell an editor they are wrong, if you truly believe that. They are human and fallible and sometimes your vision has to be the one that carries the day.

I think this is very important on many levels. As authors, particularly new authors, we have to be willing to accept the input of others, especially if we keep getting similar feedback from multiple sources: that’s your biggest indication something is wrong with your story or your writing style and it needs fixing. At the same time, it can be difficult not to let a strong-minded person take on more credit for the shaping of your story than they really deserve–or should have. Beta readers are not editors, either. Yes, they will catch typos, but their primary function is to tell you if the story is working or not. Different people catch different things, so I think it is very important to have more than one beta reader. But my main reason for having multiple readers is two-fold: not only do you not want to overwhelm a single person if you are a prolific writer, but it is much harder for someone to claim a larger share of the credit when there is more than one person involved. A beta reader who claims to ‘make or break’ you is like someone who helped you set the table expecting credit for cooking the banquet as well. A good beta reader is worth their weight in gold. They will help you produce the cleanest copy possible for submission to a publisher. They are cheerleaders and problem-spotters. But once the story moves on to editing, their role is usually done. Beta-readers are often friends, which can make it very painful to sever the relationship if it is no longer working for you. But if your beta-reader is acting like a gatekeeper between you and publishing, it is definitely time to end the relationship.

pen and paperEditors will clean up and tighten your prose, point out that you have used the same phrase thirty-seven times, correct your somewhat loose interpretation of the Chicago Manual of Style, and identify where things need to be explained in greater detail or a weak plot point that needs fixing. But they should not be altering your style to match their own. It is your story. They are polishing the finish on the sports car, not re-building the engine.

Kaje Harper and Becky Black also wanted me to point out the difference between rejection and ‘revise and re-submit’. Getting a revise and re-submit request is a good thing. It means the publisher sees promise in your story, but that it is still a bit rough around the edges. Don’t let an R&R crush you! It’s actually quite hopeful. :-)

6. Don’t game the system: I mean, seriously. There’s a big difference between recognizing and taking advantage of market trends (something I’m not very good at, but I know people who are) and writing simply to make a buck. Face it, if you want to make money, there are  far easier ways of doing so. By gaming the system, I mean deciding you’re going to write serials, or short cliffhangers, or dinosaur porn, filling Kindle Unlimited with them because hey, you can churn those babies out to match the current best deal Amazon offers, and the instant the algorithm changes, so does your storytelling. Look, I have nothing against dino porn, but if you want to write it, do so because you enjoy it, okay? And no sockpuppets singing your praises or slinging mud at the competition. No buying reviews. I really shouldn’t have to say this, right? Pricing your story so that it sells well, or making the first book in a series free? That’s not gaming the system. Buying your way onto the bestseller lists is.

The best way to make writing pay for you? Write. Write a lot. Be working on your next story while you are launching your previous one and be thinking about the next one, too. Readers are like stray cats. If you feed them, they will come.

Most of us go through a post-story blues, where it is hard to move on to the next project. Get over yourself. I once sat down and figured out that it took me nearly a year from the time I conceived of a story idea, to writing it, to submitting it, to having it published before I saw royalties trickle in. Which means that for writing to pay the bills, I have to have a new story coming out at minimum every quarter. Which brings me to the next point…

7. Don’t quit your day job. Seriously. Writing a runaway bestseller like 50 Shades of Grey is like winning the lottery. It rarely happens, and certainly not to you and me. The rest of us have to slog out a minimum of something on the order of 60-80K words every 2-3 months in order to even hope of quitting the day job. I don’t know about you, but putting that kind of pressure on myself really puts a damper on my writing mojo. Writing is something I do that makes me happy in order to make other people happy.  But I don’t ever want to look back on my life twenty years from now and wish I’d spent more time walking the dog or hanging out with my boyfriend. And I don’t want to take something I love and turn it into something I hate because I can’t turn out a completed product I can take pride in.

But hey, maybe you can be incredibly prolific while still working a full-time job. Or maybe you’re currently jobless, and now is the sink or swim moment. It is possible to make a living as a writer. Just expect to work hard, write a lot, make a lot of personal sacrifices regarding how you spend your time, and don’t expect Hollywood to come knocking at your door with a movie deal in hand. It means writing when you don’t feel like it. It means there is no such thing as ‘your muse’, only the need to put words to paper because that’s your job.

Though this doesn’t quite fit in here, Felice Stevens had a nice bit to share about the “Rules” of writing: Don’t listen when someone tells you the “Rules” on how to write. Don’t listen when people tell you if you write fast, it’s junk, if you write slow you’ll lose you base. Find your voice and don’t try to be some one else.”

Which is just plain, good common sense. You’re going to hear a lot about how to be successful as an author. But by trying to please everyone, you’ll wind up pleasing no one. You don’t really need a ton of fans, anyway. You need a thousand die-hard fans that will buy everything you write and tell all their friends about you too.

pirate8. Piracy: it happens. There is no use giving yourself ulcers about it. Don’t try counting up the money in lost revenue it represents, either. It will only make you cry. Some people don’t fight it. Personally, I do. Piracy means the difference between my paying the mortgage some months, or whether I have to wait another year to replace the glasses with the $400 lenses. Piracy is the difference between having to choose between dental work or going to a writer’s convention. Don’t just bitch about it, though. Every couple of weeks, do a search of your name and book titles (I find that Google Alerts tends not to pick up many illegal downloads–it’s better for notifying you of reviews). If you have a publisher, report it to them–they are losing money as well. Draft DMCA and takedown notices to send to pirate sites. Make sure that people know that many of these sites are just phishing to steal credit card information. In my case, my stories frequently show up on torrents (someone seems to keep uploading a bundle of four of my stories–it’s infuriating to see the same bundle appear again and again…). Appealing to the torrent is usually futile, but you can report the link to Google, which will block it in a title search on their browser. Given that almost everyone uses Google, having them block the illegal site in a search is a good thing. Searching the internet and preparing takedown notices is time-consuming and frustrating, but I do it. Sure, I realize that the vast majority of people downloading illegal copies would never buy from me in the first place. That doesn’t mean I have to make it easy for them to pick my pocket.

NotMyMonkeys-FB9. Don’t ever diss another author. That’s just plain stupid. Unless you are among unimpeachable friends that you trust with your whole heart, giving a frank opinion of someone’s work or personality is fraught with the potential to have your words come back and bite you in the ass. Keep it to yourself, even if you feel completely justified, or if someone approaches you, encouraging you to vent. Be a professional and keep your mouth shut and your fingers off the keyboard. That applies in general to most internet kerfuffles and dramas. Remember the great proverb: Not my circus, not my monkeys. This is a corollary to not responding to negative reviews. People talk. And if you malign someone’s writing or themselves as a person, the chances are it will get back to them.

On the other hand, sometimes it is impossible not to have someone get angry with you through no fault of your own. Apologize for inadvertently upsetting them, try to correct or prevent the circumstances that led to the misunderstanding, but if they won’t grow up and get over it, let it go. Don’t talk about it, however. Be the bigger person here. Apologize, move on, and never refer to it again. If they keep bringing it up in the face of your silence, they wind up looking petty and small for holding grudges.

10. And last but not least: write what makes you happy. Don’t write to market pressures. If you have no interest in the latest fad, your lack of enthusiasm will show. If you want to write about chefs, or the horse-racing industry, or US Marines, or WW2 flying aces, or dragons, you can. Just make sure you’ve done your homework, or in the case of fantasy, you’ve created a world with believable rules that make sense. Don’t worry about finding an audience. Chances are if you love what you’re writing, others will too. And they are the readers that count the most.

As for me, right now, I’m deep in the throes of edits for Truth and Consequences, book 3 in the award-winning Sixth Sense series from Dreamspinner Press, hopefully to be released this fall! If you’ve been waiting to find out what happens to Flynn and Jerry next, you’re in for some major surprises! Next month, I’ll be attending Rainbow Con in Tampa, FL–do look me up if you’re attending the convention. :-) More on that as we get closer to the date.

 

 

 

 

Bicker versus Banter: Learn the Difference between True Love and a Hot Mess

chemistry“The main characters had no chemistry together.”

One of the most damning sentences that any creative artist can read in a review. I don’t care if you’re an author, or a scriptwriter, or a producer—the words make you cringe, and strike fear deep in your heart. Lack of chemistry between your lead characters can turn a potential blockbuster or bestseller into a mediocre mess. The opposite is true as well—if people like your leads and love the interaction between them, then they will forgive you just about everything. Plot holes the size of Detroit, incorrect grammar, inconsistent POV…none of it will matter to the reader who loves your characters. The majority of those enthralled readers simply will not see these problems in the first place.

I came across these words recently in reference to one of my stories, and I have to admit, I did a classic cartoon double-take when I saw them. Hey, my flaws as a writer are legion, but people usually like my characters!

How could they have no chemistry together? What about that scene in the basement, that fairly crackled with sexual tension? Or when they are pressed up against the wall—and they can hear someone else on the other side engaged in the same activity?

Granted, one person’s idea of smokin’ hot is another person’s idea of tame, so I usually take statements like this for what they are: one person’s opinion. But this time, I got to thinking about how someone could fail to see the unwilling attraction and heat between these two characters—and then it hit me.

They didn’t fight with each other.

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They didn’t yell or throw things. They didn’t slam each other into the wall, or punch each other out. They didn’t say terrible, nasty things to each other. No whiskey bottles were shattered, there were no slamming doors, no one peeled out of the driveway with a squeal of burning rubber and a desire to do self-destructive things.

I find the idea that these things are necessary to show ‘chemistry’ a disturbing trend in romantic fiction. Now, mind you, I understand how difficult it is to tell a story without introducing conflict. It’s conflict that makes for drama, which engages the reader and draws them in. One of the hardest things any television show can do is successfully maintain audience interest once the UST been the lead characters has been resolved. I can only think of a handful of shows that did it well. Why? Because happy couples make for nice endings, not interesting story-telling.

But to me, there’s a big difference between bicker and banter. I’ve seen bickering couples in real life; they’re no fun to be around. Banter, on the other hand, sucks me in every time. Take Castle in the early seasons. Okay, pretty much an unbelievable premise. But because the dialog was so clever and because there was clearly chemistry between the actors, I suspended disbelief and fell in line whole-heartedly with the series.

There’s a scene where Castle and Beckett are standing in a hallway, about to knock on the door of a witness. As Beckett knocks, Castle says something about inspiration. Beckett glances at him with a sly smile and says, “I thought I was your inspiration, Castle.”

“You are, you are,” Castle hastens to assure her.

“Well be careful,” she says, still smiling slightly. “You might find that inspiration will strike you sooner than you think.”

It’s witty, and clever, and she is obviously teasing him, even as she is still being dismissive of his presence in her investigation. It was dialog like this that made me a Castle fan. Well, that and Nathan Fillion.

Banter is teasing. It can be exasperated, but it is seldom irritated. It’s a quick, snappy trade of one-liners that should have the reader following the thread of conversation like a sports fan at a tennis match. It can be slightly mean, but it is never angry or aggressive. It worries me that aggression is so often seen as attraction in fiction or entertainment. I don’t want to live my life like a soap opera, and my characters don’t want to love like that either.

What’s wrong with depicting healthy relationships?

Nothing, except from a writer’s perspective, it’s a heck of a lot harder. To me, it’s a bit of a cheat to make your characters angrily and abusively attracted to one another for the sake of dramatic effect unless you’ve laid out the background for why these people are so damaged in the first place. And then, if you want me to believe in their True Love at the end of your story, you have to show me that they’ve worked through these issues. You also have to show me why they are worth the effort. Telling me that they are so unbelievably hot doesn’t cut it.

south beach sunsetThere was an episode of CSI: Miami in which Joe Flanigan played an abusive boyfriend that was a suspect in a murder investigation. It turned out that his girlfriend was not the murder victim, and he was cleared to go. However, Horatio tried to convince the woman to press assault and battery charges against him. She refuses, looking doe-eyed and helpless as she walks over to Flanigan, where he is seated on a bench, wearing handcuffs.

Joe Flanigan is incredibly hot anyway, but in this role, with his smoldering anger and his three day stubble, he could have carried the part based on his looks alone. His character has beaten this woman, has threatened to kill her, but she won’t leave him. He’s good-looking enough that as an audience, we would have bought it right there. But when she sits down beside him, this man who’d frightened her so badly that she’d run away from him, turns to her and gently presses his lips against her bare shoulder. For the first time ever, I could understand how someone could stay in an abusive relationship. I got it. But only because Flanigan made me believe it.

But it was not a healthy relationship. It was clear from the start that Flanigan’s character was a bad guy, if not THE bad guy. Lest you think I’m not about Bad Boys, let me tell you, some of my favorite characters are Bad Boys. I adore the Tortured Hero. More than anything, I love watching his path to redemption through finding love with the right person.

And I don’t think fists need to fly for sparks to fly.

Bio: Sarah Madison is a veterinarian with a busy practice, several cats, a large dog, an even larger horse, and a very patient boyfriend. She writes M/M erotic romances in her copious spare time and relies heavily on the smoke detector to tell her when dinner is ready.

Coming this fall, book 3 in the Sixth Sense series: Truth and Consequences.  Also, be on the lookout for the re-release of The Boys of Summer!

Suck It Up and Deal

HelpSometimes, like it or not, you just have to suck it up and deal.

I won’t kid you. The last couple of years have been fairly crappy for me. I’ve had to make some tough choices concerning my job, my writing, and my life in general. I’ve been battling low-level chronic health disorders, a bout of depression, and some serious financial woes. Every sacrifice I’ve made has been with the idea of making things better, of crawling out of that hole, of moving forward with life instead of just treading water.

2015 started out hopeful. My publisher, Dreamspinner Press, accepted the third book in the Sixth Sense series, Truth and Consequences, and not twenty minutes later, I received an email with generous offer to retool and re-release The Boys of Summer. For once, instead of chewing my nails while waiting to hear if my submitted manuscript was accepted, I’d decided to do the smart, adult writer-thing and had begun working on the next story right away. I’d been pleased with my writing progress on the new story when things in my life fell apart in a big way. To the point where friends began asking me if I was a serial killer in a previous life or if someone out there had a voodoo doll in my name, sticking pins into it. This is why I don’t believe in karma, to be honest. I know I don’t deserve any of this crap right now. There was a time, however, when I’d have wondered what I’d done to bring the wrath of the universe down on me.

Snow closeupI’m not going to bore you with all the multi-generational family stuff going on. Everyone has stuff like that going on in their lives. Nor all the animal health crises, of which there is always something when you have as many animals (especially as many geriatrics) as I do. The biggest problem, the one that outweighs all others, is that I’ve done a number on my shoulder. I probably have a torn rotator cuff, and let me tell you, I have never experienced so much pain in my entire life. Even with the ‘good’ drugs, I’ve lost ten pounds in the last couple of weeks. I’m waiting to get an MRI, but it’s very likely they will tell me I need surgery.

And I can’t do it. I just can’t. I live alone. I have big animals I take care of. Taking six weeks off from work isn’t an option, either. For days I stewed about the pain, and the possible need for surgery, and what would happen to me if I didn’t get surgery. I made my decision the other day: no matter what the MRI says, I will not pursue surgery at this time. Right now, I have about 40% use of my arm and I can deal with the pain fairly well until I try to sleep at night. I’ve got an elaborate system of pillows I use to prop the various parts, however, and I seem to have found a compromise I can live with. I’m functional enough that I can do my job. Each day I seem to be getting a tiny bit better, as long as I don’t overdo. I’ve come to terms with the decision, which has already meant missing one planned event and probably cancelling another one in July. I know, attending conventions is probably the last thing I should be worried about, but these are the bright spots in a rather grinding existence, so canceling them has been a downer. However, it is what it is. Suck it up and deal.

RockandSand pendant1A friend of mine sent me a pendant consisting of this tiny jar filled with sand and a small rock within. She pointed out that like the rock, I always rose to the surface no matter how much sand was dumped over me. It’s true, no matter how you turn the glass jar, the rock always breaks the surface of the sand. It’s kind of awesome having people who believe in you like that. Friends who have your back and help you out in so many ways. Asking for help is not easy for me. My friends make it easier to accept it when it’s offered. :-)

The one thing I seem to still be struggling with is the story I’m working on. It’s not a particularly happy story, and the characters have to work through some hard stuff. I find that I’m just not in the headspace to work on it right now. In fact, I sort of loathe it. Writing it is like pulling teeth. I decided the other evening that it wasn’t the story I should be working on at the moment. I needed to write something I enjoyed while I was sucking it up and dealing. I think that’s only fair, right?

So I’ve set aside the contemplative and angsty story I’ve been working on these last few months and have started a project I’ve been putting off for the last couple of years. I’ve been putting it off because I was afraid of not getting it right, of screwing it up. Truth be told, I’ve been holding this project in reserve as a kind of trump card, and have been afraid it wouldn’t live up to the test. As long as I didn’t play it, I could tell myself it was going to save my butt one day. Playing it, and discovering that it wasn’t as good a card as I’d hoped, was a reality I didn’t want to face. But a trump card never played ceases to have any value. So there you are. I’m setting aside a project that holds no appeal for me at the moment in order to play with one that does. It might be a dismal failure. But at least I will enjoy the process, and right now, I need a little something to enjoy in my life. The story is a totally different direction for me–but I think that’s exactly what I need.

Mountain Laurel

 

 

The Culture of Nasty: Where Everyone Has a Right To Share Their Opinion

www.jpereira.net info@jpereira.netI’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and discussing it with my friends. I suspect this is going to be an unpopular opinion. I’ve spent several hours drafting it, hours in which I could have done something more productive, and probably less like to piss the Internet off. I’ve come close to deleting it more than once.

The very fact I feel this way is proof of my point, though.

We’re in a culture of Nasty, where Meanness is King.

Perhaps it’s naive of me to think it hasn’t been there all along, but I have to say that in the last ten years, I’ve seen a huge shift in the attitudes and behavior of others, and I think it has a lot to do with the social media platforms where people spend the majority of their time.

My co-workers and I have discussed how short-tempered and irritable clients are, as well as how demanding they are. They want what they want when they want it. If you can’t drop everything and see to their needs immediately, they snarl, “Well, I’ll just take my business elsewhere, then.” The threat doesn’t change anything. If we could have helped them then and there, we would have. Instead, the attitude puts our backs up. Fine, so be it, we sniff, when they hang up on us.

I blame it on the Internet. I blame it on the instantaneous delivery of so many things. One-click a book. Stream a movie. Order food delivered to your house. That’s just part of it though. The other part is that the Internet encourages you to leave your opinion where ever you go, on whatever you purchase. How was your experience at your salon, your grocery, your daycare, your doctor’s office, Home Depot? Tell us! We really want to know!

The President of the United States started a twitter account recently. Within minutes, he’d received some of the most appalling racial slurs and horribly demeaning, hate-filled Tweets that I’ve ever seen. The President. Of our country. To think that when the Dixie Chicks disagreed publicly with then-President Bush’s decision to go to war with Iraq, radio stations dropped their music and people sent death threats. All because one of the band members said she was ashamed that Mr. Bush hailed from Texas. Now, direct name-calling to the President himself is de rigueur. Is it because he is the first black President? Possibly. But I think that the racial aspect is only part of it. FOX News has been cultivating an atmosphere of hatred and disrespect for President Obama for six years now. I think any Democratic president would have faced similar venom because so many people have been groomed to spew the Far Right’s bile. (It’s kind of fascinating, in a horrible way, how long the Koch Brothers have been modeling public opinion of political figures… but I digress)

The Internet has given Everyman a voice.

Everywhere I go, I see people plugged into their iPods or smartphones. There’s even a phenomenon called ‘tech neck‘ because so many people are looking down at the phone in their hands all the time that they are developing wrinkles on their necks at extraordinarily young ages. We had a young pedestrian killed here not too long ago because she stepped off the curb, eyes glued to the phone, without looking at the traffic. She couldn’t even put the phone aside long enough to cross the street safely. I recently read a thread on Facebook where someone complained of making an impassioned speech as part of a lecture, only to look out on a sea of students all staring at their laps. Not a single one was focused on the class. They were all checking their phones. We’ve become addicted to our devices. We’ve also come to a point where we expect to be entertained every minute of every day. Where we can’t cross the street without checking our messages, or we’re on the phone in the line at the grocery store and at the doctor’s office, or we can’t pause the movie for the two minutes it takes us to ladle dinner on our plates, so we have to carry the IPad to the kitchen with us.

And part of that constant need for connection means checking up on what other people had to say. Frankly, the nastier, the better. The more we can gasp and say, “Oh, no they didn‘t!” and yet read on.

I can’t tell you how many times someone will share a link with me but say, “Don’t read the comments. They’ll only make you gnash your teeth.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started an online conversation, only to have to leave for a few hours and come back to discover that it has imploded in my absence and I have no idea how to do the damage control.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen others in that boat, who’ve decided to close the thread to further comments because of the vitriolic disrespect people are showing to each other. Or people who post a strong commentary, but block comments because they know what kind of wank-fest will start if they don’t.

A friend and I were discussing this the other day–this veneration of the nasty, where everyone gets to have their say, but because so often they can do it anonymously, all filters are off. The nastier the better because then people will like your post and you’ll develop a following for your snarky reviews. Maybe it was the hilariously scathing gif-filled review of 50 Shades of Grey that started it, but I see too many reviews aiming for this level of cutting brilliance, when sadly, they are only a pale imitation. Giving celebrity status to the unpleasant critic has become the norm, from Simon Cowell on American Idol to the hordes of talk radio mouthpieces that make a living off being mean.

I think my friend summed it up nicely, however: Reviews have become so important and yet I think they have become so meaningless.

By that, I don’t mean the well-thought out review given by review sites and readers that truly want to share how this story made them feel.These people (and their reviews) are worth their weight in gold! I’m not referring to the people who are capable of articulating the problems they had with a story, either. I’m a big believer in constructive criticism, and I pay particular attention if more than one person makes a similar statement along the same lines when it comes to a story. No, I’m talking about the people who one-star something because it didn’t meet all of their personal expectations. The real issue seems to be one of expectations and entitlement. Because it doesn’t matter if it was well-written or not.  If it didn’t push all of that reader’s particular buttons, it gets low-balled.

This story was about vampires but your vampires didn’t get sparkly in the sun and your heroine (having some degree of backbone) is too bitchy so yeah, I’m one-starring this.

Your hero smokes. Eww.

There was too much sex.

There wasn’t enough sex.

The sex scenes were boring.

Or a personal favorite someone shared on Facebook today: Your Mayans were cruel. The real Mayans weren’t cruel people. (Um, human sacrifice, people? Perhaps that was just a mild aberration, then? A case of being ‘hangry’? Gee, someone hand that Mayan a Snickers bar, for God’s sake!)

Of course, if increased visibility wasn’t tied directly into reviews, then reviews like this wouldn’t matter. They’d just be opinions, and while a few of them might sting a bit, it would be easier to laugh them off. But because they *are* tied into increased visibility, and therefore potentially sales as well, they carry a lot more weight than perhaps they ought.

I’ve said for a while now that I wish Amazon and Goodreads would do away with the ‘star’ rating system and let people just post what they thought without the ranking business. I wonder if as many people would bother in that case? And if no one could give your opinion a ‘thumbs up’, would it still try so hard to be cleverly mean?

The point I’m trying (perhaps unsuccessfully) to make is that I think in many ways, the Internet has made us a less kind society. Our right to voice our opinion is what leads strangers to walk up to George Clooney and tell him, “Hey, your last movie sucked.” Like our opinion matters so much, we have a right to get in a celebrity’s face and tell him that. Or that we can be unforgivably ugly to the President. Or we can cyberbully and troll someone into self-harm.

I get upset when I read about stuff like that, or when I have to put out fires on my own page, or when everything I read makes me despair for the future of our species. I still think that the Internet is a kind of awful addiction, and I know I’d get a lot more done if I simply turned off my browser and got to it. There are days when my Facebook timeline depresses the hell out of me, and forget about going to Twitter or Tumblr! At least on Live Journal, there was a sense of community that tempered one’s interactions with others. Those days seem to have vanished. Now it’s about reblogging someone else’s content and moving on to the next New Shiny. If you are spectacularly nasty, you’re more likely to get reblogged, too.

But even as I’ve wasted the last couple of hours writing this, I know that I’m not telling the whole story. Yes, there is a lot of ugliness online. Yes, it is frequently addictive and often depressing as hell. Yes, I think the generations coming behind us will have to deal with an inability to focus on anything for more than a few minutes, and an outrageous sense of entitlement that makes some people think the world owes them a living. But here’s the thing: I’ve met some wonderful people through online communities. I’ve seen these people come together to help someone in need, be it financially or emotionally. I’ve been the recipient of links to funny videos, cute pictures that make me smile, surprise care packages, and astonishing generosity–all when I needed them the most. I’ve had my hand virtually held when I needed the lifeline, and have been given a safe place to vent when I needed that, too. I’m not sure I’d still be around were it not for that kind of support. I know I wouldn’t be publishing my stories. It was the enthusiasm and encouragement of my online friends that prompted me to submit that first story to a publisher.

So yeah. Mean is flashier. Mean grabs headlines. Nasty makes the news. It’s like the Dark Side of the Force–quicker, deadly, makes a bigger entrance. Seems more powerful.

But don’t belittle the power of the Light side of the Force. I believe that kindness, like nastiness, is catching, and as such, it is up to us to spread it around, sending it out in little ripple effects as a kind of shield against all the nastiness out there. I’ll probably be one of the first ones to die in a post-apocalyptic society, but you know what? I’m not sure I’d want to live through that mess anyway. We have to choose between the two, between kindness and meanness, just like in the story about the two wolves.

Two wolvesWhich will you choose to feed?

 

 

 

 

The LGBTQ Pushback Fundraiser & Giveaway!

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In the wake of the passing of the Indiana Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, a fundraiser was set up to support a family who think it’s their “right” to refuse service to LGBT customers. It raised almost $1 million dollars.

Unfortunately, a pro-LGBTQ counter-fundraiser hasn’t got nearly the same visibility. It’s one thing to tweet our outrage, or share a link on Facebook to an article that is upsetting or disturbing. It’s another matter entirely to put our money where our mouths are.

So authors Kate Aaron and AJ Rose have teamed up with reader/writer/blogger Meredith King at DiverseReader to host a very special giveaway. They’ve invited over 200 LGBTQ authors to donate books to a massive Rafflecopter giveaway at DiverseReader starting Saturday April 18th at 9 am EST and running through 11:59 pm EST on May 1st. I’ll be joining this list, and offering an e-copy (reader’s choice) of one of my stories. Readers will have a chance to win an ebook if they donate $5 to a deserving LGBT charity or share a charity donation link.

It’s a win-win for everyone! Participants get a chance at winning an e-book, but even better, we as a community get to pushback to help those in need by donating to deserving organizations that face an uphill battle in securing funding. Not to mention, I won’t mind having a list of these organizations all in one place for future donations on my part! All the details will be here on the DiverseReader post (which will not go live until 9 am EST on 4/18/15). For the price of one e-book or a fancy cup of coffee, you can make your voice heard in a manner that will count most.

You should check out the post on DiverseReader regardless–there’s a poignant short story by AJ Rose that illustrates what happens to many LGBTQ youth when their families find out about their sexuality. Hope to see you on the winner’s list!

Discounted Books and Free Stories!

Whew! I know I haven’t been around much lately–life has been unexpectedly hectic! I did a serious number on my shoulder, I have an on-going medical crisis with one of the horses, we’ve entered the busy season at work, and I got a recall notice on my car just as I’m trying to leave town for a business trip. You know, life as usual… :-)

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But I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some good news with you guys! First, Dreamspinner Press is having a 25% off sale on everything in the store from now until Monday, April 20th. But even better, for the rest of April, Dreamspinner is selling all in-stock paperbacks at 50% off! My DSP page is here, if you are interested in big savings!

 

photo_30486_20110214Looking for a great beach read? For a limited time only, A Summer Fling is free at Amazon and Barnes and Noble! In A Summer Fling,Daniel falls hard for a guest staying at the hotel where he works. Ryan McFarland is working frantically to finish his latest novel and shouldn’t be distracted. The attraction, however, is mutual, and all too quickly their time together passes. At the end of the week, will this have been just another summer fling?

Bite the Dust is a short story based on one of Ryan McFarland’s characters, the enigmatic and deadly vampire detective, Mikhail Frost.

A Summer Fling was originally published in 2011 under the title Surf’s Up, as part of the Goodreads M/M Romance Group’s “Don’t Read in the Closet” fest. Bite the Dust, a short story based on a character in Surf’s Up, was a finalist in the “Just One Bite” Contest. This compilation is the only place you can get both stories together, so check it out while the price is right. :-)

On Amazon

On Barnes and Noble

So pick up a light read and eat your lunch outside in the springtime sun. Pretend you’re at the beach for me. :-)

Why Peggy Carter resonates with so many women today

Value2Anyone who knows me even slightly knows I am a HUGE fan of Peggy Carter. Captain America: The First Avenger is one of my favorite movies, in part because I adored Peggy Carter in it. (I also might have a thing for the time period, seeing as I wrote The Boys of Summer :-) ) I’ve written about why I think Steve Rogers is the kind of hero we need, and I’ve written a little about my adventures in cosplaying Carter. I’m obsessed in the way only a fangirl can be. If you search this website for references to Peggy Carter, you’ll see what I mean.

Ever since Captain America:TFA came out, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing what would happen to characters like these after the war. After their brilliant, adrenaline-driven careers were no longer necessary, and they had to meld into suburban America. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a series under the pen name Madison Dean, a kind of X-Files meets Ward and June Cleaver. I thought it would be fun, and I was enjoying the research for it. Then Agent Carter came out, and I realized that I’m going to have to change much of how I envisioned my original characters in order to prevent it from feeling derivative.

Besame 1940 PerfumeYou know what? I don’t care. Because I enjoyed Agent Carter as a television show so much, it doesn’t bother me that it might have shot down my brilliant idea for a romantic adventure series. I enjoyed it so much, it even knocked Queen Elsa off the throne for my current fangirl obsession. (Lord knows, I’ve posted a lot about Frozen, too! You should do a site search on that one if you want to read them all…)

Yesterday, I got a text from a friend off at Emerald City Comic Con, saying she had a surprise for me. Now, I’ve been running on fumes this last week, dealing with an injured horse needing round-the-clock treatment in an effort to save his eye. So when I got her text, it piqued my curiosity but I’d forgotten where she’d gone this weekend. Then she sent me a photo of my surprise: an autograph from Hayley Atwell! Those high-pitched dolphin squeals of glee you heard around the world yesterday? Yeah, that was me.

I showed the image to the BF last night at dinner, and he said he’d been looking for some sort of Agent Carter-related thing to get me ever since the series came out, but he’d had trouble finding anything he liked. Which gave me the warm fuzzies, you know? We watched Agent Carter together each week when it was on–it was our one Must See Live television show, and I believe he looked forward to it almost as much as me (given the amount of teasing I got, I’m sure of it!). The fact that he’s been looking for something Carter-related as a gift shows he *gets* me.

Besame Red VelvetWhich got me thinking this morning, why Peggy Carter? Why not Black Widow, or Wonder Woman, or Kate Beckett, or Brenda Leigh Johnson, or any of a number of excellent female characters over the years? What is it about Peggy that strikes such a chord? Why did Twitter explode with live tweeting during Agent Carter? It’s not just because Hayley Atwell is adorable (have you seen the pictures she posts of her sleeping almost anywhere on almost anything? The one of her in the suitcase is my favorite) but because Peggy Carter herself really struck a cord with a lot of viewers.

For a heroine, she’s super-feminine in a way that is disarming. She’s not in a catsuit. She doesn’t look like she could break your nose with her elbow, despite the fact she can. She is under-appreciated at work, and her male superiors dismiss her abilities while at the same time take advantage of them. I love the fact that she anticipates the mission’s needs and has the information ready to provide before her bosses can even ask for it. I confess, I was disconcerted by the scene where she takes a male co-worker to task for standing up for her–I thought she should have rewarded him for being progressive, after all! But I realized that she dressed him down for intervening because no one should have to intervene on her behalf. To have a man back her in that scenario meant that her presence and usefulness was only allowed if validated by a male co-worker. It was an interesting distinction to make, and one far more subtle than the average comic-book show.

Cinnamon Sweet resizedBut she can ditch the feminine look to get dirty in the trenches. She can knock back Scotch with the best of her male companions, the ones who know her true value and don’t question what she brings to the team. Her hand shakes when she diffuses a bomb. She’s known heartbreak, and personal loss. She’s made mistakes, ones that have gotten people killed, and she’s suffered the guilt, as well as the consequences of her actions. She eats out at restaurants a lot, because seriously, when does she have time to cook? She curses when she hits her head. She is tempted by the luxury of staying a night in Howard Stark’s townhouse, so far removed from a life sharing flats with other women. She is wonderfully realized as a character. She is human. And she is a damn sight closer to most of us than the average role model we see on screen.

One of the best moments in the series is depicted on the mug above: Peggy states clearly that she doesn’t need outside validation to know her worth. She doesn’t expect it. She’s learned to live without it. She’s learned that the only person she mustn’t disappoint is herself. Praise from others is nice, but she doesn’t need it to know she’s done her best.

Forites shoes 1That is a wonderful, amazing, empowering mindset. Seriously, it is everything we could ever hope for in a role model. No, we’re not going to be able to take out bad guys with a mean right hook, but we can look smashing while we go about our business, do our jobs to the very best of our abilities, and we can hold our heads–and our standards–high when the rest of the world would put us down. Without whining.

I sincerely hope Marvel and ABC decide to renew the series for another season. It was by far the best thing I’ve seen on television in years. We need more female characters like this in television, movies, and books. And she’s inspired me to create some of my own.

A friend, knowing my obsession, linked me to this wonderful, amazing essay on Agent Carter and the power of friendship. Do check it out. You won’t be sorry. :-)

 

Book 3 in the Sixth Sense series, and the Convention Season!

Is it spring yet? I’m starting to think it might be.

SnowdustAfter uncharacteristically bitter temps (to the point my dog, who normally loves the snow, had trouble walking because the ground hurt his feet, it was that cold), and the multiple rounds of snow, which never melted before the next bout hit, we’ve had a bit of a tough winter for us Southerners. There was one morning when feeding the horses took three hours, simply because it was snowing so hard it was nearly impossible to see what I was doing. The only good thing about having so many snow days was that I got a lot of writing done. Yay!

redbud resizedBut in the last two days, the temperatures have jumped up into the sixties. Robins flit across the yard, and you can hear the spring peepers every time you step outside. (Sadly, it’s the skunk mating season, so you can smell skunks every time you step outside, too!) The air has a warmth to it that speaks of spring. Daffodils have sent shoots up almost overnight, and yes, I’ve already gotten a tick off me. Tonight we’re experiencing a cold rain, but even that whispers of spring. I believe we’ve seen the last of the winter weather around here, and for once, I’m glad.

I’m not generally a big fan of spring because spring is usually a few weeks of lovely weather before it turns into summer, and I am no fan summer at all. Summer means unbearable heat and humidity to me, being damp and uncomfortable most of the time. Sunburn and mosquito bites. Too hot to sleep. Too hot to walk the dog or ride the horse, unless you want to get up at dawn, and sometimes not even then. But this spring and summer, I have exciting things to look forward to, which change the way I feel about the seasons altogether!

108203413_8The first bit of news is that I’ve completed the next installment of the Sixth Sense series! Book three, tentatively titled Truth and Consequences, has been submitted to the publisher. Instead of holding my breath for the next couple of months until I see whether or not it will be accepted, I’ve decided to move on with the next WIP, which will be a contemporary M/M romance set against the backdrop of eventing. I’m excited about this one–it’s a tale of overcoming personal fears and learning to take second chances–a theme that’s every dear to my heart!

The next bit of exciting news (at least for me!) is that I’m going to be at Animazement in Raleigh, NC (May 22-24)! I’m excited because I’m going to be meeting some of my fellow Dreamspinner authors in person for the first time–we’ll be sharing a table and enjoying the fun! If you’re planning to go to this convention, look us up!

If that wasn’t exciting enough, I’m also going to Rainbow Con in Tampa, FL (July 16-19th) as a featured author! I’ll be doing some panels, and I think a reading as well. :-) I’m already working on putting together some swag to give away, as well as some signed print books. Have you checked out the events for Rainbow Con? They had me at the Big Cat Rescue field trip, but there are all kinds of amazing panels, as well as what will be my very first Masquerade Ball! There are going to be so many great authors there too, so if you’ve been toying with the idea of attending a convention this year, you should check it out! It’s not too late to sign up!

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Goodbye, Leonard Nimoy. Live Long and Prosper, Mr. Spock

SPOCK-mr-spock-35423717-500-451I’ve been crying on and off all afternoon.

I just happened to be online when word of Leonard Nimoy’s passing was announced, and though I’d known in my heart that his time was near, I was still stunned by the news. I quickly shared it with my friends, as one does, and only gradually did the truth of it sink in.

Mr. Spock was dead.

Now before I go any further, I’d like to say that I know everyone and their mother is going to post some sort of statement about their reaction to the news. This isn’t about jumping on the bandwagon and getting people to come read what I have to say because I’m going to be amazingly articulate and say something worthwhile. No, in fact, I’m having a hard time typing through the tears. This is just one fangirl mourning the loss of an icon, and a lifelong hero, and the man who gave that character brilliant, enduring life. It doesn’t matter that I never met Leonard Nimoy, or that he was an actor on a very old television show. His portrayal of Mr. Spock has been, and always shall be, a big part of my life.

Star Trek, and my love for Mr. Spock in particular, woke in me a fierce love for science fiction. After I devoured the James Blish novelizations, I wanted more. I needed more stories about these wonderful characters and their adventures. Star Trek was one of the few sci-fi universes that believed we’d solve our problems, that we weren’t stupid enough to kill ourselves or poison our planet. I didn’t grow up thinking that a woman’s place was in the kitchen because I saw a woman right there on the bridge. I didn’t think the Russians were our enemies because, even though Chekov endearingly thought all great things came from Russia, well, he was Chekov. They weren’t black, or Russian, or Asian, or alien to me. They were the crew of the starship Enterprise, and I wanted so very badly to be a part of their five year mission. More than that, I wanted to be good enough to be a part of their mission. Above all, I didn’t want to disappoint Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk, or Bones. The fact that I was a girl was immaterial to me. It never even registered that I might not have a place on the Enterprise. You have no idea how powerful, how liberating that kind of life lesson that is for a young girl. I credit it with helping shape who I am today.

StarTrekoldpixI read all the tie-in novels, but when I ran out of those, I desperately tried to get on one of those mailing lists for these things called ‘fanzines.’ Failing that, I read some of the published short stories written by dedicated fans, and let me tell you, some of these works were utterly brilliant. I began writing my own stories, horrible self-insert tales where I would miraculously get beamed aboard the Enterprise and save the day (despite being twelve at the time). Still needing my sci-fi fix, I went to the library, where I discovered Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and more. You should have heard the dolphin squeals of glee the day I realized that the ST episode Arena was actually adapted from a short story by Fred Brown. It was like running into a member of a secret club right there in the library.

I became a dedicated sci-fi fan thanks to Star Trek, and my love of sci-fi has brought me my most enduring friendships, introduced me to some of the best people (including my boyfriend of seven years) and brought me back to writing after a decade-long hiatus. So yes, I owe Star Trek–and Mr. Spock–so very much. More than a lifetime of shared jokes and laughter. More than some tears at storylines that hurt and cheers when things were put right again. Star Trek is one of those foundational cornerstones in my life. I can’t imagine the person I’d be without having experienced it. Mr. Spock made science cool. He made science sexy.

As the news broke today, people took to the airways to express their sorrow and to say their goodbyes. I think that’s when it really began to hit me.

As John Scalzi put it on Twitter: every geek has just lost their favorite grandfather. William Shatner tweeted that he’d loved Leonard Nimoy as a brother. My friends began expressing their sorrow, sharing their memories, their pictures, their stories. Every time I’d pull myself together, I’d read another tribute and I’d start tearing up again.

Leonard Nimoy brought Mr. Spock to life and made him the iconic character he became. He wasn’t always comfortable with being so closely associated with the role (hence the book: I am not Spock) but he came to embrace the role of Spock as being part of his legacy (hence the book: I am Spock) later on. He portrayed the character with a subtly that was the perfect counterpoint to the more bombastic style of Shatner’s Kirk. In fact, the on-screen chemistry between Nimoy, Shatner, and DeForrest Kelley was part of what made Star Trek resonate to such a degree with so many people for so many years. And though other people will play the role, it was Leonard Nimoy who first breathed life into a writer’s words and a creator’s vision, and made Spock unforgettable. He is the reason why other people will continue to play the role. Spock will live on.

I think perhaps this letter Nimoy wrote to a young fan in 1968, bullied for being biracial, shows best who Leonard Nimoy was and how much Spock has meant to so many throughout the years.

Yep, Crying again.

I’ll leave you with Nathan Fillion’s words, tweeted this afternoon:

“I have been, and always shall be, your fan.”

Goodbye, Leonard Nimoy. Your legacy will live on as long as even one person remembers Spock. Live long and prosper, Mr. Spock.

 

 

New Release & Giveaway for Felice Stevens: Memories of the Heart

Title: Memories of the Heart
Author: Felice Stevens
Genre: Adult, Gay Romance
Release Date: February 12, 2015
Ruthless, Controlling, A Loner. All words used to describe Dr. Micah Steinberg by the hospital staff for their next head of surgery. When a letter arrives from his grandmother’s friend at the assisted living facility, his orderly world tilts dangerously out of control.
Josh Rosen had everything until it was revealed much of his world was a lie. Forced to re-evaluate his life, Josh gives up his career and returns home to New York City to care for his beloved grandmother. What Josh didn’t figure on was an attraction to a man who on the surface, appears to be exactly like the life Josh chose to leave behind.
As Micah struggles with the reality of his grandmother’s illness, the bond they share deepens, as Josh helps Micah heal, then open his heart. Micah discovers there is more to life than work, control and success. Josh is in deep but has yet to tell Micah who he really is.
When the fight for the hospital’s head of surgery turns ugly, Josh’s past and present collide. Micah must let go of the past and accept who he is, if his life is going to move forward.
Life is full of surprises, and as both Micah and Josh learn, love can happen whether you plan for it or not.
I have always been a romantic at heart. I believe that while life is tough, there is always a happy ending just around the corner. I started reading traditional historical romances when I was a teenager, then life and law school got in the way. It wasn’t until I picked up a copy of Bertrice Small and became swept away to Queen Elizabeth’s court that my interest in romance novels became renewed.
But somewhere along the way, my tastes shifted. While I still enjoys a juicy Historical romance, I began experimenting with newer, more cutting edge genres and discovered the world of Male/Male romance. Once I picked up her first, I became so enamored of the authors, the character-driven stories and the overwhelming emotion of the books, I knew I wanted to write my own.
I live in New York City with my husband and two children and hopefully soon a cat of my own. My day begins with a lot of caffeine and ends with a glass or two of red wine. I practice law but daydream of a time when I can sit by a beach somewhere and write beautiful stories of men falling in love. Although there is bound to be angst along the way, a Happily Ever After is always guaranteed.
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