Procrastinate to Fuel Your Writing, Tip #1: Chocolate Wars

chocolate_fractal_300Some insist procrastination is a dirty word. But I say, “One writer’s procrastination is another writer’s research.”

Have you ever left your keyboard in search of a snack, and found yourself staring at the inside of the fridge (for the umpteenth time that day) and not finding anything worth eating? Of course you have. You’re human.

The next time you’re disappointed by the dull innards of your refrigerator, don’t go back to your work-in-progress. You know you want a break from deciding what color eyes each of your characters should have or from making a definitive guide on how to kill a boar with a straw. Your new research might begin something like this:

Skipping to the fridge, hungry for a quick snack. Squee, chocolate sauce! Drat, no ice cream. Score – everything needed to make chocolate chip cookies! But ingredients for brownies, too. Which to make…

Turn this predicament into an exercise in character development, scene generation, or world building. What would your main character rather snack on? Does a beefy cop enjoy brownies? A warrior princess prefer cookies?

Go ahead, bake a pan of brownies. While waiting, mix cookie dough. Take a sample. When brownies are done, taste test a corner and a center piece (one for you and one for your character). Bake cookies. Sample again. Consider a drizzle of chocolate sauce and/or running to the store for ice cream. Would cop like vanilla or chocolate? This is a win-win for everyone.

If chocolate isn’t to your liking…er…your character’s liking, try these alternatives:
– apple pie vs. cherry pie
– any pie vs. any cake
– cookie vs. cookie
– same for candy, milkshakes, etc.

So many characters, so many choices. Savory alternatives could include comparing bread, wine, beer, cheese (and now I’m officially hungry).

Allow this to be a pleasant, but useful, distraction. Food preferences can reveal a protagonist’s character and upbringing, become a recurring prop throughout the story (e.g. Agent Gibbs’ coffee on NCIS), or be included in a scene such as:
– a food fight
– a requisite tavern visit
– a prelude to a romantic encounter
– a family/holiday dinner
– a meet-and-greet with new alien neighbors

So take a break and make procrastination research work for you and your story. And then get back to writing.

Do you prefer cookies or brownies? How often do you visit the fridge hoping the food elf has left something yummy since the last time you checked?

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Posted in Procrastination, Writing Advice

Reading and Creating


As you read a book word by word and page by page, you participate in its creation, just as a cellist playing a Bach suite participates, note by note, in the creation, the coming-to-be, the existence, of the music. And, as you read and re-read, the book of course participates in the creation of you, your thoughts and feelings, the size and temper of your soul. ~ Ursula K. Le Guin

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Saying “Yes” to Saying “No”

ID-10075071_2Today is my last day as webmaster for SouthWest Writers (SWW). Tomorrow I’ll begin a semi-sabbatical for the remainder of the year. Not a rest from everything, just from taking on new responsibilities. A sabbatical, I suppose, from saying “yes.”

I’ve been a member of SWW for ten years now, having served on their board of directors for four years—at various times as secretary, webmaster, blogmaster, newsletter editor, brownie baker, and general volunteer. It’s an odd thing to be part of a writing organization and not to write, at least not in any committed, consistent kind of way. I’m not blaming SWW. It’s clearly my fault for failing to knuckle down and take my writing seriously.

But I’ve come to realize I’ve said “yes” to requests to volunteer, not just out of a desire to help but as a way to avoid finishing my writing projects (including five novel drafts and two partials). For the past few years I’ve told myself, “I can’t write today. I’m too busy with such-and-such,” or, “I’ll write tomorrow. So-and-so needs me today.” These seemed like good excuses at the time, and writing does take gobs of focus and energy…

I suppressed the gentle call to write until it screamed at me, more and more often. My characters wanted their stories finished, and only I could do it.

Letting go of my volunteer responsibilities has not been easy, but it was necessary. Several positives came out of these last few years: I helped a great organization I truly care about, I made awesome friends, and I learned how important writing is to me.

So…tomorrow I finish the query letter and synopsis for my fantasy novel, and then hold my breath as I email them to an agent who requested them a few weeks ago. (I wrote the first chapter in May of 2005 and completed the draft in 2015. Wow, where did those 10 years go?)

For the remaining seven months of 2016, I’ll work to make that novel shine and to finalize a dozen short stories for submission to speculative fiction magazines. If there’s still time left in the year, I’ll pick one of my four other novel drafts to start editing. I have a lot of work to do, but I’m excited to jump in and put as much energy into writing as I did into volunteering.

How about you? Have you let something get in the way of your dreams? We’re almost at the halfway point of the year—where are you on meeting your goals?

Image “Clean Idea”courtesy of thaikrit at

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Book Review: Apocalypta Z by Maer Wilson

Apocalypta Z by Maer Wilson
A Book Review by Carol Holland March

Apocalypta ZThis is one of the few zombie books I have read recently since generally I am turned off by the blood and gore and the lurid descriptions of flesh eating. This book is different. It is told in multiple points of view, mainly from Maddie, a no longer young librarian who encounters zombies at a rest stop in a desert as she drives home with her two dogs.

The other point of view that is most memorable is a poodle who is by far the most adorable animal you could hope to be stranded with in an apocalypse. As the novel opens, the little poodle is left behind so Maddie can escape the zombies, and the adventures of the tiny dog as she trudges down the highway, chased by two zombie dogs, set the plot in motion.

Maddie is a likeable character. Her dogs are her family, and she is sharp and self-sufficient. After she rescues her dog, she also rescues an abandoned child. She and her friend Nick devise a plan to use the local hotel to shelter the few remaining residents of town who did not become zombies. As they carry out their plan, we learn who they are and how they become leaders of this community of survivors.

I was surprised at the explanation given for the zombie apocalypse, which came late in the book, and I love being surprised. This is more an adventure/mystery story than horror, so if you’re up for an adventure story with some endearing characters that will not give you nightmares, give this one a try. It’s worth a read.

Carol Holland March writes fantasy, magical realism, and science fiction because she loves the intersection of dreams, reality, and time. She lives and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a house she shares with two demanding dogs who bring her ideas for stories in exchange for long bike rides through the river bosque and the occasional treat. In addition to writing stories of love and longing, she teaches creativity at the University of New Mexico using writing as a tool for insight. Her short stories have been published in magazines and anthologies and are collected in The Way Home, Star Crossed, and The Man Who Watched the Stars. Her first novel, The Dreamwalkers of Larreta, will soon be available from Ellysian Press. Visit for information about the worlds that spin out of her head.

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Why Writers Write: Kathy Kitts

by Kathy Kitts

WhyDoWritersWrite5c3In Poets & Writers Magazine, they have a column titled “Why We Write.” I enjoy reading what the guest authors have to say and how they interpret the questions. Today, I would like to respond.

I believe we write for two reasons: to provide ourselves what the world will not or cannot, or to share a lesson we have learned with others. Because of this, a story often ends up attempting to serve both the needs of the author and the message. Unfortunately, it is rare that a story can excel with two masters, and a particular piece may devolve into a schizophrenic mess. I see this frequently in critique sessions.

One of my critique buddies is Native American. She recently wrote a fictionalized version of a sacred story. In the circle, it was unanimous that the piece needed some structural work. She dismissed the criticism by stating that this structure was how the story went and we would just have to deal with it. Everyone in the group scowled, and I quoted Ben Bova, “Sorry, but the reader is always right.”

Indeed, if that were the case, then the story was not fiction but explicitly nonfiction. I asked her purpose. Did she want to document the sacred stories of her people or to share the greater life-lesson? She wanted to share the lesson. Then as a writer, she had no choice but to do what would be best for the piece even if that meant changing the story itself. If the goal is to teach, then the author must consider the target audience. If they can’t understand the medium (e.g., the structure in this case), then the message is lost and the story is a failure. Sometimes, an author must lie to tell the truth. Is that not the essence of fiction?

In my opinion, the reason she wrote the story is actually quite personal, and I do not know or understand it. And if the real purpose of the story is personal, then it is perfectly fine as it is. Writing is a lot cheaper than therapy. However, if an author decides that sharing with an audience is more important, then the message must come first and the story crafted to reflect that. Even if it requires we “kill our darlings.”

This motivational push and pull is especially difficult in deciding whether to write a memoir or an autobiography. Autobiography is classified as nonfiction and there can be no fuzziness of memory. If you quote a date, your reader better be able to look it up and verify it. In memoir, which is shelved in my library under fiction, the author has more latitude and can change the order of events to make the story build or be more cohesive.

What if you don’t know whether a specific piece is more about you or more about your message? I suggest there’s a hint in how you like your superheroes. Are you a Superman fan or do you prefer Batman? Should your superhero be perfect? Bullets bounce off and you get to save the day without breaking a sweat? Or does the dark knight’s flawed humanness draw you in? If you are a Superman type, then perhaps this piece needs to be more about what you need. If you prefer Batman, then send up that bat signal and share it with the world. Either way…

Happy Writing!

KathyKitts175Dr. Kathy Kitts, a retired geology professor, served as a science team member on the NASA Genesis Discovery Mission. Before that, she directed a planetarium for nine years. She has dozens of non-fiction publications spanning professional papers to textbooks to general interest articles. However, she no longer writes about “what is” but rather “what if.” Her speculative short fiction has appeared in James Gunn’s Ad Astra (writing as K. Eisert), Mad Scientist Journal, and The Storyteller’s Anthology. Born and raised in the Southwest, she is currently living in the high desert of New Mexico.

This article was originally published in the December 2013 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

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Posted in The Writing Life

SFWA Short Story Qualifying Markets for Speculative Fiction: 2016

This article is a major update of one of my most popular posts, “14 SFWA Short Story Qualifying Markets for Speculative Fiction.” Several markets have been added, others removed from the original list due to closures, and pertinent submission information is up-to-date as of February 29, 2016.

SFWA SS Word Cloud300Achieving active membership status in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) is a continuing goal of mine. To be a member requires a certain number of speculative fiction sales to eligible markets for short stories, novels, scripts, etc. But I don’t have to be an SFWA member to benefit from the organization’s expertise. Their site maintains an Information Center full of articles ranging from manuscript preparation to publishing technologies, and Writer Beware is an indispensable resource for warnings regarding scams in the publishing industry (including which agents and publishers not to query). You can follow the Writer Beware blog here.

As much as I appreciate SFWA, their list of eligible short story markets is updated infrequently and has no links to the appropriate websites—so I’ve created my own list with submission information.

The following are the markets I submit to first in hopes of satisfying SFWA membership requirements. Those listed are still accepting unagented submissions as of February 29, 2016. At the end of the post you’ll find a link to a pdf spreadsheet for future reference.

1. AEAE is looking exclusively for science fiction, though their interpretation of the genre can be quite inclusive. They welcome submissions from both established and emerging authors – they are a Canadian market that publishes a limited number of international stories.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
500-3,000 7¢/word 90 days No
Other: Accepts simultaneous submissions (read guidelines). Submit one story at a time. No excerpts, screenplays, or poetry.

2. analogo_bwAnalog publishes science fiction stories in which some aspect of future science or technology is so integral to the plot that, if that aspect were removed, the story would collapse. The science can be physical, sociological, psychological, but the stories must be strong and realistic, with believable people (who needn’t be human) doing believable things – no matter how fantastic the background might be.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
2,000-80,000 (see Other) 8-10¢/word up to 7,500 words
8-8.5¢/word over 7,500
2-3 months No
Other: No simultaneous submissions. Accepts online and manual submissions. Preferred lengths: short stories, 2,000-7,000 words; novelettes/novellas, 10,000-20,000 words; serials, 40,000-80,000 words.

3. new-banner092512Apex Magazine is a monthly online prose and poetry magazine of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mash-ups of all three. They seek works full of marrow and passion, stories that are twisted, strange, and beautiful.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
Up to 7,500 6¢/word 30 days No
Other: No simultaneous submissions or multiple submissions. Accepts poetry.

4. as_logo_blAsimov’s is looking for character-oriented science fiction stories in which the characters, rather than the science, provide the main focus for the reader’s interest. Borderline fantasy is fine, but no Sword & Sorcery. No explicit sex or violence.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
1,000-20,000 8-10¢/word up to 7,500 words
8¢ each word over 7,500
5 weeks No
Other: No simultaneous submissions or multiple submissions. Accepts online and manual submissions. Accepts poetry.

5. Beneath Ceaseless SkiesBeneath Ceaseless Skies is an award-winning online magazine publishing “literary adventure fantasy” with a secondary-world setting – different from our own primary world – and a traditional/classic fantasy feel, written with a literary focus on the characters. No urban fantasy.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
Up to 10,000 6¢/word 2-4 weeks No
Other: Accepts simultaneous submissions (read guidelines). No multiple submissions or novel excerpts.

6. ClarkesworldClarkesworld Magazine is a Hugo award-winning monthly science fiction/fantasy magazine. Science fiction need not be hard SF. Fantasy can be folkloric, medieval, contemporary, surreal, etc. Horror can be supernatural or psychological, as long as it’s frightening.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
10¢/word for first 5,000 words
8¢ each word over 5,000
2 days No
Other: No simultaneous submissions.

7. Cosmos200Cosmos is looking for original science fiction based on scientific premises, principles or possibilities, with characterization and a story arc.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
2,000-4,000 $300, print
$100, online
Unknown No
Avoid profanity, explicit sex, and gratuitous violence.

8. DailyScienceFiction_200Daily Science Fiction accepts speculative fiction submissions: science fiction, fantasy, slipstream, etc. They will consider stories with dark elements but no pure horror.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
100-1,500 8¢/word < 4 weeks No
Other: Accepts flash series (3+ standalone stories built around a common theme). No simultaneous or multiple submissions. No erotica.

9. escapepod2Escape Pod seeks science fiction stories, centered on science, technology, future projections, alternate history, and how any or all of these things intersect with people. Fairly flexible on what counts as science. No fantasy, magical realism, or more than a tinge of horror.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
2,000-6,000 6¢/word Unknown Yes
Other: Reprints: $100 flat rate. No flash fiction, poetry, serialized fiction, or novel excerpts.

10. fsi-new-logo1_200Fantastic Stories of the Imagination accepts stories that cover the entire science fiction and fantasy spectrum, from magic realism to hard SF. Let your imagination run wild, push the limits of genre, or send them something traditional.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
Up to 3,000 15¢/word 2-8 weeks Yes
Other: Reprints: any length, 1¢/word ($25-$100). No simultaneous submissions. Accepts up to two submissions at a time.

11. FlashFictionOnline200Flash Fiction Online seeks complete stories with a resolved plot and strong, interesting characters (not a story synopsis or scene from a novel). They lean toward science fiction and fantasy, but also like literary fiction; great flash stories aren’t always easily classified.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
500-1,000 $60 flat rate 2-10 weeks Yes
Other: Reprints: 2¢/word. No poetry, erotica, porn, graphic sex, or violence. No simultaneous submissions. Accepts multiple submissions.

12. logo302bIGMS (Intergalactic Medicine Show) is looking for science fiction and fantasy stories of any length. Science fiction: hard sf, sf adventure, alternate history, near-future, far-future, psi, alien, etc. Fantasy: heroic fantasy (based on any culture’s mythology), fairy tales, contemporary fantasy, and horror in the sense of supernatural suspense (not gory bloodfests).

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
Any Length 6¢/word 90 days+ No*
Other: No multiple submissions. Might accept some reprints (see guidelines)*. This is a PG-13 magazine and website – no explicit/detailed sex that would earn a movie rating over PG-13 or language that earns an R rating.

13. fsflogo5_200The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction is looking for stories that appeal to science fiction and fantasy readers. The SF element may be slight, but it should be present. They prefer character-oriented stories.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
Up to 25,000 7-12¢/word < 8 weeks Unknown
Other: No simultaneous or multiple submissions.

14. nightmare_28_january_2015_bannerNightmare is seeking all types of original horror and dark fantasy stories. No subject is considered off-limits, and they encourage writers to take chances with their fiction and push the envelope. Open for submissions June 1-15, 2016.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
(< 5,000 pref.)
6¢/word 2-14 days Yes
Other: Reprints: 1¢/word. No simultaneous submissions, multiple submissions, fan fiction, or poetry.

15. sh_headStrange Horizons is a weekly online magazine seeking speculative fiction, broadly defined, previously unpublished in English.

Word Range Payment Response Time Reprints
Up to 10,000
(< 5,000 pref.)
8¢/word < 40 days No
Other: No simultaneous submissions, multiple submissions, resubmissions, serialized novels/excerpts, erotica, horror, or poetry.

Here’s a handy spreadsheet incorporating the information from this post. Go HERE for the pdf version with clickable links. I’ll keep an updated list on my Writing Resources page.
15 SFWA Short Story Markets 022916
Good Luck!

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Creativity: Crushing and Glorious


Creativity is a crushing chore and a glorious mystery. The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you. ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

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A Writer’s True Compensation

Roald Quote1_600

A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it. ~ Roald Dahl

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An Interview with Author Keith Pyeatt, Part 2

Keith Pyeatt is an engineer turned novelist who writes paranormal thrillers with a psychological twist that he calls “horror with heart.” Living for ten years in an isolated cabin in Vermont may have influenced his choice of genre, but his empathetic nature is what helps him create a variety of characters — “likeable, despicable, tortured, and those ‘gray’ characters you can’t quite decide whether to love or hate.” Keith has four published standalone novels including Struck, Dark Knowledge, and Above Haldis Notch, with Daeva (October, 2015) being his most recent. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, and his website


Your latest novel Daeva “pits supernatural manipulation against human devotion when a powerful demon with a grudge against mankind stands ready to gain access to the world.” What makes this novel unique in the paranormal market?
I think a lot of an author’s storytelling style is revealed in how he or she develops characters. Character development and the heavy use of psychological tension are what make Daeva unique.

Your main character in this novel is Chris, an inherently good guy who was raised to host a demon in his head. Tell us about your other main protagonists.
Sharon, Chris’s sister, was largely ignored and ridiculed as a child, but because of her inner strength, she matures into a confident, well-loved character. Her biggest weakness is her blind devotion to those she loves, and that trait makes for an interesting twist late in the novel. Her initial goal is to free her brother from the demon’s influence, but she ends up trying to save her brother’s life and spare the world from the demon.

Rick is a childhood bully turned nerd turned hero. He’s meek, insecure, and not particularly bright or capable, but he loves deeply and has great focus. He is madly in love with a woman who will always love him only as a friend, and he inherits a big chunk of the responsibility for saving mankind.

Which point of view did you enjoy writing the most, the protagonist’s or the antagonist’s?
I have the most fun when I’m writing from the point of view of a character with interesting motivations. In Daeva, I used multiple point of view characters, but I didn’t really have a favorite. The protagonists are all working on their own agendas, and they keep dark secrets, often from each other. That aspect made writing from each point of view very fun for me.

Is there a scene in your book that you’d love to see play out in a movie?
I visualize heavily as I write and edit, so I’m always “seeing” the scenes playing out in my mind. I’d particularly love to see any of the scenes involving Minnie’s cabin and the surrounding woods (portraying beauty and eeriness, isolation and loneliness). Many big moments that trigger a wide range of emotions and turning points happen there.

I’d also love to see the ending climax that’s set on a small bridge during a winter storm. There’s a lot of turmoil going on inside the head of each character, and there are many questions hanging in the reader’s mind. It was a fun but complicated scene to write. I never revealed exactly where the rarely-used bridge led, by the way, not even to the characters. I decided that defining a destination wouldn’t add as much atmosphere as leaving it unknown. I like that they’re all on the bridge for the climax, and no one knows what’s on the other side.

My last pick may sound like a strange scene to want to watch because there’s almost no action in it. It’s a scene two-thirds of the way into the novel where the psychological tension really ramps up. Rowena, an older, eccentric woman, comes up from her basement. She’s highly emotional as she tries to accept something horrible that she must do, and as the last light of a fading winter’s day angles in through the window, she studies the heroine Sharon standing in her kitchen. I love the contrast between all the inner turmoil and emotion surging through Rowena and the peaceful kitchen in the magic light of dusk. The last light of day fades, and the kitchen darkens as Rowena looks through loving eyes at Sharon.

When readers turn the last page of Daeva, what do you hope they will take away from it?
The ending is emotional with big twists and a firm resolution. I hope readers will be completely satisfied and happy that they spent time reading Daeva. That’s really what I shoot for, creating a novel that’s a temporary and satisfying escape from real life. If there’s a takeaway beyond good entertainment and a strenuous exercise for your emotions, I guess I’d like it to be the high value of loving and being loved.

AboveHaldisNotch150Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
All my novels have themes and messages that help bind the story together. Daeva has a power-corrupts theme. Above Haldis Notch has a vengeance-is-poison theme and a family strength/family burden message. Struck has an acceptance theme. Dark Knowledge has a theme about every life being equally important and a very obvious theme that good and bad can’t always be separated, especially when it comes to people. You’d better learn to accept the whole package, because you’re not getting sunshine without darkness. I do have a recurring message about the value and power of friendship that someone pointed out to me once. The main characters in all of my novels have a very strong friendship, and that bond is critical to the main character and to the plot.

How do you come up with your titles? Your character names?
Sometimes names and titles just pop into my head and feel right. Other times, I use a baby naming website, either to peruse for inspiration or to look up names that have a certain meaning. For example, Barry, the name of the protagonist in Struck, is based on a name that means warrior. The word “haldis” in the title of my afterlife thriller, Above Haldis Notch, is based on a word that means stone spirit.

What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write?
Internal struggles that take place with little physical activity or dialogue are hard for me to write. That sounds like a weird difficulty for someone who writes novels that depend on creating lots of psychological tension, but those types of scenes are always my biggest challenge. Like with any good challenge, it feels great when I finally get it right, so there’s a reward for hanging tough through the process.

How has the Paranormal market changed in the last 10 years?
Trends come and go (vampire, zombie, etc.), but the market seems to have changed, too. The lion’s share of paranormal novels now seems to be romance and/or erotica. I’ve had two publishers publish a novel of mine and then stop publishing (or supporting) paranormal novels that don’t have a strong romantic or erotic focus, so it hasn’t been a welcome or kind change for me.

Struck-150When did you know you were a writer?
I lived for a decade in a log cabin in rural Vermont on twenty-five acres of wooded land with an amazing view. I had a wood stove for heat and a dog at my feet. How could I NOT end up writing novels? I knew I was a writer when I finished writing the first draft of my first novel. I was certain I’d do it again and again.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m plunking away in a stop-and-go manner that’s definitely not my usual writing style. It’s an alternate world, paranormal novel that I call Sirens of Sayhurn. The alternate world lets me stretch my imagination, and it’s very dark with lots of addiction, lust, danger, and heart. I really like what I have (about a third of a novel). I need to lay out a block of time to devote to nothing but writing so I can finish the first draft.

To learn more about Keith and his writing, go to Part 1 of “An Interview with Author Keith Pyeatt” on

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Posted in Author Interviews

Every Book Demands its Own Thing


You’re the kind of writer that you are. You have a process. Maybe that process is slowly and painstakingly crafting a novel over many years—a dedication like that of a watchmaker’s artifice. Or maybe instead you prefer to write like a squirrel covered in fire ants…every book demands its own thing. It takes the time that it takes.
~ Chuck Wendig

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All who wander are not lost. ~ JRR Tolkien

CampNaNoWriMo Winners Badges Apr_Jul 2015
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