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Summer 2019 goal review

Going In Circles Ebook

I released this not too long ago. Not a goal but it’s still an accomplishment!

Summer is in full swing. The flood waters have finally receded (yay for a record-length flood of 66 days of major flooding and 103 total days of flooding), my garden is in overdrive, and I’m longing for a North Dakota winter with snow and cold and zero humidity.

And it’s also time for my quarterly goal review.

Every 3 months, I review my annual goals. Here’s my progress so far this year.

  1. Publish to Medium at least weekly and Patreon monthly.
    I should be at about 26 Medium stories and 6 Patreon. I’m at 13 for Medium and 2 for Patreon, with another short story posting this weekend.
  2. Finish my novella series.
    I’m still final revising book 1, Captive and the Cursed. Book 2, Sleeping Shaman, is finished and needs to be edited. Book 3, Little Amethyst Abaya, is half done. I’ve also written a stand-alone short story, “The Maiden in the Tower,” which is currently available on Patreon, and I’ve halfway through a couple more stand-alone shorts: “The Brave Little Thrall” and “The Fabiranum Town Apprentices.” These are about side characters and take place years before the main storyline. I’m hoping to have several to send to my publisher when I get them the first book (which I hope to have to them soon; I’m just more interested in writing new stuff than revising).
  3. Increase my networking.
    I was doing well with this but since I got a new job, it’s fallen off. I put the Medium app back on my phone though, so I theoretically will read stories on it when I have free time rather than playing stupid games.
  4. Read 100 books.
    I’m at 40 right now, which is 10 behind schedule. Between working and writing and gardening and destressing from my job with YouTube videos, reading hasn’t been a priority. I also haven’t really found anything recently that’s grabbed my attention.
  5. Keep going with my trauma-informed care/school social work writing.
    I have a couple posts in mind but nothing written yet.
  6. Have more adventures.
    My new job means I don’t have the summers off anymore. And it also means I don’t have enough vacation time accrued yet to take time off for adventures. I’ll have enough days in August to head out west to the Grand Canyon, Vegas, and other places I’m going based just on the name (Truth and Consequence, NM) or because The White Stripes told me to (“I’m going to Wichita/Far from this opera for evermore”). Yeah, that seriously is why I go places. Like Medicine Hat, Alberta, a few years go – I liked the name.

Just because my life hasn’t aligned with my goals doesn’t mean I’ve been unproductive. My writing group is doing a great job of keeping me accountable and motivated with my Heartsbane novellas. And even though I haven’t hit my short story goal, between those stories and my series I’ve been writing more in the past six months than I probably have in the past six years. I’ve also been crocheting a ton so that maybe I can do some craft shows this fall. We’ll see how much I have made closer to time.

If you’ve set goals for yourself, what are they? How are you doing with them?

An unscientific poll about romance

My writers’ group had a conversation recently about what kind of romance we like to read, sparked by a local author whose books are in the “clean and wholesome romance” section on Amazon. We discussed what that might entail, and decided it was the opposite of “dirty liberal atheist” romance.

Then, out of curiosity, I did a poll on Twitter and Facebook.

RomancePollTwitter RomancePollFB

My sample size was small (9 and 7, respectively), and there’s a good chance some of the same people voted on both of them. But still, 4 people (25%) prefer clean and wholesome and 12 (75%) prefer dirty liberal atheist, which is a thing I just made up. A couple people commented that they don’t specifically read romance but enjoy romantic subplots.

This is kinda pertinent for me because I’m not a big romance person either. The series I’m working on has maybe more romance in it than I prefer, but it has lots of different types of relationships and all are part of character development. The relationships are constantly shifting as the characters grow (or regress, in some cases). Based on my polls, it seems like my readers will be okay with this.

Are you a romance reader? What kind of love/relationships/courtship do you prefer: clean and wholesome, dirty liberal atheist, or somewhere in the middle? Let me know in the comments!

Media Monday: Reading my way around the world #1

Reading Around the WorldThe books: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Under the Banners of Melancholy: Collected Literary Works by Migjeni, Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel, and The Teacher of Cheops by Albert Salvadó

The music: “Earth” by Lil Dicky

I love lists. I love making them, and I love using them as a guide for what to do, especially when it comes to reading. A while back I read about a woman who read a book from every country, and I thought to myself, hey, maybe I should do that too. I tend to mostly read books by American, British, and other English-speaking country writers, and I’m always looking for new perspectives.

A quick Google search gave me a list of 266 countries, so obviously I’m not going to finish this challenge anytime soon. I’ll be updating my progress as I finish a handful or two of books.

Afghanistan

For my first book, I went with one I’d been meaning to read for a while: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I debated on whether this actually counts as an Afghani book – the author was born in Afghanistan but now lives and writes in the US – but eventually decided just to go with it.

I wasn’t super impressed with this book. It felt like Hosseini was trying too hard to push his theme of redemption, and all the characters served only to help the main character grow. On some level this is good – you don’t want a bunch of superfluous characters – but the way it was done was very transparent.

Albania

I found a great series, 20+ books on Albanian Studies by Robert Elsie. I’d love to read all of them someday, but for this list I chose Under the Banners of Melancholy: Collected Literary Works by Albanian poet and prosist Migjeni.

I’ve read a lot of Russian stuff and figured an early 20th century rural Albanian would write in a similar vein. The guy studied to be a priest and then taught school in a rural village before dying of tuberculosis at the age of 26. His poems and stories are filled with cynicism and longing for romantic relationships he never received.

From the back cover: “The main theme of his literary work was misery and despair. Previous generations of Albanian writers had sung the beauties of the Albanian mountains and the sacred traditions of the nation, whereas Migjeni now opened his eyes to the harsh realities of life, to the appalling level of misery, disease and poverty he discovered all around him. He was a writer of despair who saw no way out, who cherished no hope that anything but death could put an end to his suffering.”

But through it all, there’s a faint vein of hopeful optimism for his country and for the people around him.

I’m not a huge poetry person, and some of the works became repetitive after a while. He also had a lot of purple prose, although this book was an English translation so I’m not sure how accurate this book was. Overall, though, I enjoyed this, especially some of the short stories. It’s a shame he died so young, because he would’ve had a lot to contribute to Albanian literature.

American Samoa

Believe it or not, there aren’t a lot of American Samoan authors out there. I cheated a bit for this one and went with a Samoan author who lives in American Samoa. I ended up reading Where We Once Belonged by Sia Figiel, a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl in Samoa.

At least, that’s what the description said. But this book was a lot more than that. It was as much about Samoan culture – regarding family, community, and views towards the rest of the world – as it was about what the main character Alofa went through. This book was very skillfully written, conveying just as much in what it didn’t say as it did with its descriptions. My favorite that I’ve read so far.

Andorra

As you’ll learn if you try this challenge yourself, there’s really only one book by an Andorran author that’s been translated into English: The Teacher of Cheops by Albert Salvadó. And it’s about ancient Egypt.

The story itself wasn’t bad. It’s about a slave, Sedum, who gains his freedom and then works his way up to become treasurer to the pharaoh. But the characters aren’t fleshed out. There’s lots of pages on this made-up “path in the stars” philosophy stuff which is probably way too Eastern for ancient Egypt. Lots of details that don’t matter, especially in the very clinical sex scenes.

It was definitely a slog to finish, and if I hadn’t been reading it for this challenge I would’ve put it down after just a couple chapters.

Up next:

Algeria, Angola, Anguilla, Antarctica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Argentina

The music

Today’s song is quite possibly one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard, but in a juvenile, amusing way. I heard it on the radio and didn’t believe it was a real thing – that’s how stupid it is. I suggest everyone should listen to it at least once (although warning: it’s definitely NSFW).

If you’re doing or have done this challenge, what did you read for each of these countries? Have you read any of these books and, if so, what did you think of them?

Thursday Things: Smallpox, Vikings, and the medieval Arab world #ArabHeritageMonth

thursday thingsI’m currently working on a series (almost done with book 2! Yay!) that’s basically fairy tales with Vikings. While it’s a historical fantasy, I’m doing my best to make everything plausible based on historical context.

The first book, Captive and the Cursed, is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. But because I’m trying to make these stories realistic, the beast’s curse is basically a noncontagious form of smallpox rather than something magical.

In the second book, Sleeping Shaman, the main characters travel to the country of Aghlabid (modern-day Tunisia) because the dad of one of the guys is a scholar at the university there and they hope he can help with the cure. The dad knew the Viking king and owes him a favor.

I initially made this all up, but as I researched, I found out some pretty cool things.

First, there really was an Arabic scholar who traveled up to see the Vikings. In 921, Ahmad ibn Fadlan traveled from Baghdad to Bulgaria, and he documented everything he observed. My guy would’ve traveled to Britain in about 900. Not exactly the same thing, but it’s still pretty damn close and fits with my story.

Second, the Arabic empire was renowned for its scholars, who excelled in medicine, among other things. The first person to really study smallpox and write a medical book about it was Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, who lived in Persia in 854-932. So, it’s very plausible that the Tunisian university library could have a copy of this guy’s book for my characters to find (I know that Iran isn’t an Arabic country, but this guy also did a lot in Baghdad so I’m including him).

Finally, the Vikings raided along Spain, past Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean, possibly even to Italy, in 860. I write about this expedition in a prequel short story, “The Brave Little Thrall.”

Here’s a song about that raid, and about Vikings in general.

I love historical fiction, especially when it’s about periods I know very little about (Morgan Llewellyn is awesome for this), so I’m really excited to be bringing actual historical events, people, and locations into these books, even if I do fictionalize everything. And it’s been really fun researching the medieval Arab world, because they were out kicking ass with science and literature and culture while Europe was not.

Also, last month I was in Detroit and went to the Arab American National Museum. It was very informative, and I’ve definitely incorporated a lot of what I learned there into these books. If you’re ever in Detroit, make sure you stop by.

If you read or write historical fiction, what’s your favorite period? Do you like when authors put in lots of details like this, or do you prefer a more generically-set story?

6 YouTube channels to improve your writing craft

A couple weeks ago, I compiled a list of 10 resources for building a medieval fantasy world. I’ve also been watching a bunch of YouTube videos on the craft of writing, and this week I’d like to share those with you.

  • DC Ferguson: dozens of very good videos on all aspects of craft. If you don’t click on any other links, make sure you click on this one and then watch everything!!
  • Hello Future Me: focuses on fantasy but has lots of videos on worldbuilding and craft, with detailed examples from movies and books.
  • Just Write: different aspects of the writing craft, illustrated by movies.
  • Lessons from the Screenplay: similar content to Just Write.
  • Lindsay Ellis: videos on the theory of storytelling.
  • Overly Sarcastic Productions: entertaining videos on tropes as well as history.

There are a few more channels that I watch occasionally, but not enough to subscribe to them or recommend them in this list.

If you’re a writer, what YouTube channels have you found useful? Please share in the comments!

Spring 2019 goal review

Going In Circles EbookHow is it April already??

Every 3 months, I review my annual goals. Here’s my progress so far this year.

  1. Publish to Medium at least weekly and Patreon monthly.
    So far I should be at 13 or Medium stories, and 4 Patreon stories. I’m at 5 Medium stories and 0 Patreon stories. Although to be fair, I currently have 0 patrons, so I’m not really that motivated to post any stories there. No excuse though for Medium.
  2. Finish my novella series.
    I’m in the final revision stages of book 1, Captive and the Cursed, and have book 2, Sleeping Shamans, about half written. If I can keep up the pace of writing a book every couple months, I’ll be on track to have this done in a year or so. We know I won’t stay on track, but it’s nice to currently be on schedule.
  3. Increase my networking.
    I’ve been reading and clapping for about 20-30 Medium stories a week and commenting on quite a few of the blogs I follow as they write new posts. Most of my comments have been on fellow writers’ blogs, so I need to expand to industry people too.
  4. Read 100 books.
    I’m at 27 right now, which is 2 ahead of schedule. I haven’t read much nonfiction yet, but I have been trying to read more than just US/Western authors.
  5. Keep going with my trauma-informed care/school social work writing.
    This has not happened. At all.
  6. Have more adventures.
    This has also not really happened, sadly. My son and I went to Detroit for a few days, but I wouldn’t really call that an adventure, even though I could probably spin it that way if I mention, completely without context, that he held a human brain and we dug around in a cemetery. I’d planned to go to Florida or Carhenge over spring break but my car needs a new radiator and I decided to be responsible and fix it rather than go on a trip. I probably won’t have time for an adventure until this summer, when hopefully I’ll have an epic one.

Mostly I’m not meeting my goals right now because I have too much free time, and I tend to waste it on YouTube videos or just not being productive since I think I have all the time in the world. Fortunately my writing group is keeping me focused and accountable, at least for my series!

Not on my goals this year but something I DID accomplish – a new short story collection! Going in Circles: Vol 1 contains 10 connected very short stories that were originally published on Medium. If you’re not a member of that site, you can pick up a copy of the collection at Amazon.

If you’ve set goals for yourself, what are they? How are you doing with them?

Blogger Recognition Award

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Image by Mimzy from Pixabay

Fellow writer Raven Black has tagged me for the blogger recognition award! Raven is a great inspiration for networking (which I generally suck at), so I appreciate her tagging me for this!

Why I started this blog

I’ve been blogging and running websites off and on for 20+ years, starting way back with Livejournal and Geocities. So when I got serious about writing and getting published, I created a website as a home base and included a blog. It’s a way to update readers on what I’m writing, pass along writing and publishing information and advice, and share whatever random stuff happens to pop into my head.

Over the years, it’s become more organized regarding the content I post. I always say I’m going to post more often, but of course that never happens.

Two pieces of advice for new bloggers

The first piece of advice I’d give to new bloggers is to only blog if you enjoy it. When I started this site eight years ago, the consensus in the writing community was that everyone had to have a website, and one of the components of that website was a blog. Don’t get me wrong; I agree that having a website as a home base, with at least contact info (including social media) and links to your works is important. But so many writers threw on a blog that they promptly abandoned, so that when people went to their site it appeared abandoned.

(Part of this was probably the website host itself; if you use the free Blogspot or WordPress.com, it defaults to having a blog as the main landing page. You can change this, of course, or disable the blog entirely, but not all writers are savvy enough to know to do this.)

So what’s the big deal about not updating your blog? The content’s still there, right? Yes, but you’re not going to attract new followers without new content. And as for your current followers, maybe they’ll check back periodically, or maybe they use a site like G2 Reader (which is what I use) to bookmark your blog and get updates when you have new posts, but chances are they’ll probably just move on and never come back. Building up views for your blog is tough; maintaining views without new content is damn near impossible.

So, if you’re going to have a blog on your site, make sure you’ll want to update it at least weekly or monthly. If you don’t think you’ll do that, then it’s probably best to skip the blog altogether.

The second piece of advice I’d give to new bloggers is to be consistent with your post topics. Before you start your blog, think of its purpose and who’ll be reading it. My blog, for example, is for my author persona. While I do share some personal stuff, it’s not a journal for me to pour out my heart and soul into. I knew a guy who was a city bus driver, and he told me he was “personable, but not personal,” and I this is how I try to be as well. I also share book reviews, author interviews, writing tips, and book updates because I want my blog readers to be book readers and authors. If someone isn’t interested in books, then my site probably won’t interest them – which is fine, because obviously as a writer I want to attract readers.

I’ve found that keeping to a certain schedule helps me stay on topic.

  • Media Monday: book review paired with a song
  • Tuesday Tournament: poll about a topic
  • Tuesday Travels: essay about somewhere I’ve gone
  • Whatever Wednesday: things that don’t fit other days, like this post, goal updates, new release announcements, etc
  • Thursday Thing: the inspiration behind one of my stories or expanding on a detail (place, history, etc) from one of my stories
  • Friday Five: interview with an author
  • Sunday’s Weekend Writing Warrior: 8-10 sentence excerpt from one of my works as part of a blog hop

Not only does this help me stay focused, but it lets my readers know what to expect.

Bloggers I nominate

These bloggers are a mix of writers I know, blogs I follow, and people I think need to update their blogs more often.

For the record, I follow about 60 writer/blogger people, but only about a dozen are updated on anything resembling a regular basis. Many haven’t been updated for over a year. New bloggers: this is NOT how you get new readers!!

Rules For The Blogger Recognition Award

  1. Thank the blogger for nominating you and give the link to their blog
  2. Write a blog post on your website showing the award
  3. Describe the story of why you started your blog
  4. Write two pieces of advice you have for new bloggers
  5. Nominate 15 more bloggers
  6. Notify each of your nominees that you have nominated them

If you’re reading this and have a blog, please share a link in the comments! I’m always on the lookout for new people to follow.

10 resources for building a medieval fantasy world

The series I’m currently working on – fairy tales with Vikings! – is best described as historical fantasy. It’s set in a version of medieval Europe and the Mediterranean, although I don’t call the places by their current names. I want the stories to seem accurate for the time period, but I also don’t want to be constricted by actual historical events.

Fortunately, there are a ton of great resources for building an authentic medieval world. Here are some of my favorites.

Historical figures and campaigns

  • History Time: Really detailed videos on Viking exploration and military campaigns of the Middle Ages, focusing on Britain, Viking kings, and the Mediterranean, as well as ancient Rome and Greece.
  • History With Hilbert: Short-ish, in-depth videos on specific northern Europe historical figures, wars, languages, and general Viking and British stuff.
  • VC3 Productions: Overviews of the history of European countries and historical figures and events.

Daily life

  • Modern History TV: The best channel on YouTube for all aspects of daily life of knights in medieval Britain, from horse care to meals to weaponry.

Random details

  • Invicta: Details on military life and logistics in the Middle Ages and ancient Rome.
  • Metatron: All things military in medieval Europe, from weapons to fighting techniques to battle offense and defense, as well as videos about daily Medieval life.
  • Scholagladiatoria: Another channel on medieval warfare, focusing on weapons, armor, and fighting techniques.
  • Shadiversity: The go-to source for information on all aspects of medieval castles, including how and why they were built.

General fantasy worldbuilding

  • James Tullos: Reviews of fictional worlds in books and movies, as well as discussions on how to build fantasy worlds.
  • Stoneworks World Building: In-depth discussions on accurately naming your worlds and characters and adapting real-world settings and scenarios to your fantasy world.

If you’re creating or have created a fantasy world, what resources did you use? Please share in the comments!

Media Monday: The book equivalent of CSI: SVU

Media MondayThe books: The Collector series by Dot Hutchison

The music: “My Muse” by Red Sun Rising

(Okay, so disclaimer: there might actually by a book equivalent of CSI: SVU.)

Last week, blogger and fellow author Corinne Morier reviewed The Butterfly Garden on her blog. I was home with the flu and couldn’t get out of bed, so I bought it on Amazon (just $1.99) and read it. And then Amazon told me it was a series, so I bought and read the next two as well.

The first book, The Butterfly Garden, tells the story of Maya, a teenage girl kidnapped by a sadistic man known only as the Gardener. He collects girls, tattoos butterfly wings on their backs, and forces them to live as part of his harem in his backyard botanical garden, until they turn 21 and he kills them, preserving their bodies in resin. The story alternates between an FBI agent, Vic, listening to Maya tell her story, and the story itself. Although the premise is beyond horrific, the abuse isn’t very graphic, and the book instead focuses on what makes Maya such a survivor.

The second book, The Roses of May, switches from Agent Vic and Maya to Agent Edderson, his partner, who’s working another serial killer case. This time, someone is killing a girl every spring and leaving her body in a church. He suspects that this time the victim will be Priya, a teenage girl whose sister was murdered by the serial killer five years ago. Again, the book isn’t so much about the horrific details, as it is Priya’s story about surviving trauma.

The third book, The Summer Children, again switches from Agent Edderson to his partner, Agent Ramirez. Someone is killing abusive parents and leaving the unharmed children on Ramirez’s porch. Throughout this book, the focus is again on overcoming trauma – in this case, Ramirez’s recollections of her own childhood abuse.

I can’t speak to the accuracy of the FBI agents’ methods in each case; I get most of my criminal investigation knowledge from the crime dramas I watch with my dad. But I can comment on the response to the trauma that Maya, Priya, and Ramirez endured, and it’s pretty accurate.

First, the Butterflies as a whole. More than a few people remarked in their reviews that, “If I were in their situation, I would just escape. Twenty-two girls against one man – how hard could it be?” But most people, when thinking about a threat, inaccurately think of just two responses: fight or flight. Either the girls gang up on the Gardener (fight) or they run away as soon as they have the chance (flight). There’s actually a third response, which is the most common response when people encounter trauma, especially when it’s ongoing: freeze. Think of it as learned helplessness, and not necessarily learned directly. This guy has been taking girls for twenty-plus years, and all their bodies are on display. The Butterflies know that if they try to fight back, there’s a good chance they’ll be killed. Die immediately, or die eventually? So, they freeze.

(Relatedly, many women freeze when sexually assaulted. Their assailants, and a lot of the community as a whole, take this for consent since they don’t try to fight back or escape. This leads to horrible victim-blaming, especially of the women towards themselves.)

But what happens when you’ve escaped or been rescued or otherwise survived? That brings us to the themes explored in books 2 and 3, which include survivor’s guilt. Everyone expresses it differently: Priya binges, her mom is a workaholic, her dad kills himself, and Ramirez becomes an agent investigating the types of crimes that were once committed against her. Is any method more effective than another (except suicide, obviously)? Sometimes it changes from day to day, experience to experience.

Overall, I highly recommend this series. They’re each only $1.99, so really, there’s no reason not to check them out.

The song is one of my favorites by Red Sun Rising. Maybe it’s about relationships, but I think in a broader sense it’s about not moving on from a bad situation, even though you know you should, and how the people we surround ourselves with can make it easier or harder to move on.

If you’ve read these books, please share your thoughts. And share your thoughts on the song as well!

Friday Five: Nillu Nasser

friday fiveToday’s Friday Five focus is Nillu Nasser, author of literary fiction and women’s fiction short stories, novels, and poetry.

She is a writer of literary fiction novels. Her books include: All the Tomorrows (2017) and Hidden Colours (2018). An Ocean of Masks is due to be released in 2019. Nillu has a BA in English and German Literature, and an MA in European Politics. After graduating she worked in national and regional politics, but eventually reverted to her first love: writing. She lives in London with her husband and three children.

Each evening, nestled in Berlin’s Treptower Park, the immigrant circus comes to life. When Yusuf fled Syria, he lost everything. Now the circus is the only home he knows. When public opinion swells against it, he risks upheaval and grief all over again.

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Nillu Nasser1. What genre do you currently read most and why?

The book on my bedside table is currently Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time. On my Kindle is a bundle of ebooks about book marketing, because the launch of Hidden Colours is a few weeks away and I need to refresh my skill set. On the whole though, it’s literary fiction, magical realism and fantasy I gravitate towards, in that order. They help me understand the world, fire my imagination, keep me aware of the trends in the market, and help me escape reality. There really is nothing better than a good book and a cup of tea in hand. I’ve got a whole pile of Murakami books waiting for me, because he really is an author I’d love to explore more.

2. What do you want your readers to take away from your works?

I’d like them to have found themselves thinking from the perspective they might not have considered before, be it the hero or villain. All of us have good and bad in us. What I love about fiction is that is makes us feel deeply, and realise life is messy and complicated, but still hopeful.

3. What are some of your favorite words and why?

I like this passage from my new book Hidden Colours, because it flowed onto the page without thought and it feels truthful to me when I read it over again: “He’d met men like Silberling before. Hadn’t his father been such a man, before it all came crashing down? Can’t they be found on every street, in every country, there where the wine flows, backs are patted and decisions are made? Some wore suits, others wore kurta, some carried guns, and some a briefcase, but the undercurrent of energy remained the same, and the hunger in the eyes.”

4. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever researched for your works or biggest/most out-of-the-ordinary thing you’ve done while researching?

Oh my goodness, I shudder to think what lists I am on for the things I type into the Google search box. For All the Tomorrows, the strangest bit of research was how long before a body decomposes to work out the timing of a funeral in India, and for Hidden Colours it was details on clown routines. Any investigator looking at my search history would be very confused if they didn’t know my profession!

5. Why should people read YOUR stuff? Who’s your target audience and why?

My writing is aimed at adults over 25. My stories often take place in rich settings and explore the search for identity from an outsider’s perspective. They delve deep into characterisation, and what brings humans to breaking point. They are not afraid to be dark, but there is always hope.

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All the Tomorrows and Hidden Colours are both currently available at Amazon.

Become a Friday Five author or read previous author interviews.

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