Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Lauren Spieller of Triada US Literary Agency October 28, 2016




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If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight. You examine the next few paragraphs hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.


The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. It’s tricky to get the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that’s requested over and over.


Today, I’m proud to share Lauren Spieller’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.





Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?



Lauren: The first line is important, but it’s not a dealbreaker if it needs tweaking, or even a rewrite. What’s more important to me is that the opening pages have tons of voice and conflict that hook me from the get go.




Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?



Lauren: I’d stay away from scenes in which characters wake up with no memories, scenes so packed with action that we have no time to get to know the character, and scenes that focus more on “telling” us about the character than “showing.”




Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?



Lauren: Voice + gripping conflict = request!




Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?



Lauren: Focusing on backstory, starting the conflict after the inciting incident (or too far before it!), cramming the pages with too many characters to keep straight, and relying on clichés.




Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?



Lauren: Voice really resonates with me. The first pages should provide a snapshot of who this character is and what matters to them, as well as what their conflict is (or is going to be!)





TriadaUS Literary Agent Lauren Spieller has a background in literary scouting and editorial consulting. She has a sharp editorial eye, and is passionate about author advocacy. Lauren is seeking Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, as well as commercial Adult fiction and non-fiction. Whatever the age category or genre, Lauren is passionate about finding diverse voices. Visit for her full wishlist.


W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with McKelle George October 26, 2016








Every writer has their own path to publication. Some paths are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.



In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.



Today, I’m pleased to share McKelle George’s writing journey…






Amy: When did you first begin seriously writing with the intent of wanting to be published?


McKelle: 2011. I remember, because I’d been living in Hungary for almost two years. Before then, I’d been studying illustration. I switched to English (which isn’t necessary to write, but it was for me and my focus) when I started university the fall of 2011, and now here we are!






Amy: How many completed YA manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?


McKelle: One and a half? I queried the first book I ever wrote, and it was terrible, and though I did get a few full requests, it really wasn’t that good and I’m glad it will never see the light of day. The half is because I submitted my next book to a contest before querying, and it got signed with a small press as a result. However, when I signed with my agent with my next book, we got out of the aforementioned contract.






Amy: How laborious/frustrating was the query process for you?


McKelle: It wasn’t easy, exactly, but also not that hard. For my first book, that was because I didn’t put as much time into research because I had no idea what I was doing. For the book that got me my agent, I only queried 20 before it was in the Brenda Drake’s Pitch Madness contest, and also got some requests from #PitMad. From first query to offer was only about two months, and I blame those two contests for propelling my querying process so quickly.






Amy: From beginning (first draft) to end (signing contract), how long was the process of getting a deal for SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE?


McKelle: I wrote the first word of the first draft July 20, 2013. And I had the phone call with the editor who signed my book December 2015. So, two and a half years.





Amy: Do you have critique partners? If so, how critical are they to your writing process?


McKelle: Yes! Sometimes I will give my manuscripts to other author friends and I always appreciate their feedback. But I have two critique partners who read everything I write. I met them in college and we went on a study abroad to the UK together and are still really good friends. It’s not at all necessary for CPs, but even more valuable than their feedback on my writing is their friendship, so I love being able to call them to get ice cream with me if I need it—as well as critiquing my work. (:





Amy: What one thing are you looking forward to most as a debut author? 


McKelle: Holding my physical book in my hands, seeing it on a shelf. So many of the “perks” of publishing are not in your control, and every journey is different. But nothing can take away from having the published finished result of your hard work in front of you.






Amy: What was your “call” like with Katie Grimm? How did you know she was the right fit for you?


McKelle: So, I actually had another offer and another phone call with another agent first. After I sent the courtesy will-you-let-me-know-if-you’re-interested-because-I-have-an-offer e-mail to the other agents who had the full of SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE, she was one of the ones who got back to me and was still interested. And her e-mail was like, ha ha, this huge paragraph of things she thought needed to be fixed in the manuscript, and the end of it was basically, “I would expect a lot of work, but if any of my notes are resonating with you, I’d love to chat.”


I remember being really stressed out about choosing the right agent between the ones who offered, because there wasn’t a bad choice. Katie had all the professional things I was looking for in an agent (I had a small checklist of qualities), but in the end, it was also a gut feeling. She just sounded so smart and tough on the phone! I knew she was someone I’d want to have in my corner, and someone I could trust to know the business and get things done. I haven’t regretted the choice once.






Amy: What one piece of writing advice did you receive early on in your career that you still use today?


McKelle: I don’t know if I still use it, but I still stand by it, and that was: put your first project aside. It was revelatory to me, to stop picking at the same story again and again. Writing more books taught me way more than revising the first old one.


The other thing (and sorry to be cliché and use Stephen King) was reading the book On Writing, and reading the passage that starts: do not come to the blank page lightly. It was the first time it clicked for me that I would need to sacrifice other things to do this, that it was a serious thing that deserved to be pursued seriously, and not just some fun hobby.






mckellegeorgeMcKelle George is an editor, perpetual doodler, associate librarian at the best library in the world (the Salt Lake City Public Library), and lover of quiet adventures. Her debut novel SPEAK EASY, SPEAK LOVE comes out from Greenwillow/HarperCollins in 2017, and she currently lives in Salt Lake City with an enormous white german shepherd. For more on McKelle, check out her website or follow her on Twitter (@McKelleGeorge).



QUITE THE QUERY – Laura Brown and SILENCE October 21, 2016









If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few authors say writing their query took them almost as long as drafting their book!


Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences, but for those who don’t I wanted to provide a resource where writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.


With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Laura Brown. This great query connected her with Rachel Brooks at The L. Perkins Agency.






I would like to present my New Adult Contemporary Romance for your consideration. SILENCE is complete at 84,000 words


As a college senior, Carli Reynolds’ goals in life are simple: survive her classes, mask her hearing loss, and suppress her debilitating headaches. If she succeeds, no one will know her internal daily struggle. Goals one and two all but combust when “Hot New Deaf Guy,” Reed, introduces her to a world where hearing loss is not a disadvantage. He breaks her hotness scale as her world shifts off balance.


Carli’s disability has hung over her head her entire life, care of her perfectionist father. Through Reed’s hands, her invisible scars heal. He convinces her to learn ASL. For the first time in her life something comes naturally to her. With him she starts to feel whole.


Reed discovers her debilitating headaches when she’s stranded without her pain meds. Headaches he deems not normal. Carli continues to straddle the line between hearing and deaf. When Reed discovers she’s abusing her pain pills, she’ll have to decide once and for all to embrace her hearing loss and Reed—or shun them both.








Signs of Attraction now available via Amazon and Barnes and Noble.








This query originally led to a full request, and a rejection, as my agent had a different vision of where she wanted the novel to go. When I asked what that vision was, it turned into a R&R (revise and resubmit). I made some major changes, including the title and adding a POV, and the end result has been more than worth it.






laura-brown-author-photoLaura Brown lives in Massachusetts with her quirky abnormal family, consisting of her husband, young son, and three cats. Hearing loss is a big part of who she is, from her own Hard of Hearing ears, to the characters she creates. She’s represented by Rachel Brooks of L. Perkins Agency. Her NA, SIGNS OF ATTRACTION, was released by Avon in June of 2016. For more on Laura, check out her website ( or follow her on twitter (@AuthorLBrown)






Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 9:17 am
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Hard, stone cold truth-I’m in a huge writing slump. This summer I struggled with a major revision I could never seem to wrap my head around. I don’t know if this is the world telling me the changes are wrong, or if it’s my brain throwing up a huge stop sign shouting “you’re going in the wrong direction, kid.”



At some point, you have to stop fighting the reality of things and realize you’re at a crossroads. That’s it’s time to take a step back and rethink that story. Start working on something new to clear the cobwebs away and get those creative juices flowing. Unfortunately, I’m not quite there yet. I’m still kind of kicking around in the doldrums to figure out what’s next.



As I seem to be in some sort of limbo, I’ve been on social media a lot lately. In the past few days, I’ve seen two things on Twitter that have started to motivate me again. Both of these instances were quotes from writers about their struggles before finding success in the publishing world. I have to admit these kind of stories are like a shot of adrenaline for me. I see myself in these writers. Struggling for years. Wanting to give up, but the muse never quite letting go.



These stories give me hope and I want that hope to be spread to other struggling writers. This gave me the idea to start a new series here on Chasing The Crazies. I’m going to start reaching out to writers (who I know have struggled in the past before finding success) and ask them to share, in their own words, how they managed to hang in there and never give up.



With all the horrible crap floating around social media these days, I want to put something out there that inspires others. Motivates them to hang onto their dream. This new series will be called, FIRE IT UP FRIDAY, and I hope it will encourage writers both young and old to persevere until they find success.



With that being said, this is a call to writers who would be willing to share their story. I want to hear about your years in the query trenches before finding an agent or how many books you had out on sub before one finally sold! If you don’t have that story yet, but know of someone who does, please help me spread the word.



If you are willing to share, please reach out to me on social media or here on the blog. I’d love to post your story and hopefully inspire thousands of others!




Filed under: Blog,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 9:02 am
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Monday Musings Image





(SPOILER ALERT: I’m talking about the new show, TIMELESS and revealing details about the pilot episode. If you have not seen, but want to, you may want to stop reading…)





Since the first promos began airing for NBC’s TIMELESS, I’ve been very interested in the show. I love time travel stories, and when they have a good does of history thrown in, well, call me hooked.



If you are not familiar with the details of the show, here are the basics…



A rogue spy breaks into a lab and steals a time machine. Homeland security gets involved and calls on a history professor, a soldier, and one of the machine’s inventors to go back in time (with a second, and much older machine) to stop the man from changing history.



An intriguing premise, right? So the other night I eagerly sat on the couch and settled in to watch the pilot. I couldn’t help but think about the longevity of a show like this. Would it be able to keep viewers’ attention? Would I fall in the love with the show, only to have it cancelled? A problem with most shows I enjoy. No matter, I kept my fingers crossed and hoped the writing and acting was decent – but then came the opening and ALL the backstory.



Just like writing an opening chapter, there has to be a general understanding of the plot, character, and stakes, but I have a huge issue with stories that begin with a large dose of “here’s what you need to know.”



Opening with the crashing of the Hindenburg felt like the writers were shoveling detail after detail at the viewer. Winking, nodding, and saying, “hey, this is important, don’t miss it.” They even set the scene with all the early foreshadowing: the beautiful female photographer, the anticipation of the press, the imminent crash.



I thought about this beginning long and hard. Could the story open in modern day with the history teacher and still work? In fact, I went back and watched the episode twice to see. And the truth is, in my opinion, that without the Hindenburg scene, the story still would have worked.



Here’s how…


There were several times in the show where history, and the Hindenburg tragedy, were discussed. It would have been easy through dialogue, and even photos, to describe the scene. Allow the viewers to get a handle on the tragedy (if they weren’t already aware) through other methods rather than handing them a glob of backstory. In addition, it would have been much more startling (and a boon to the time travel theme) to see the goliath of an airship for the first time when the three adventurers step out of their time machine. The image would have solidified their journey, but would have also made clear the magnitude of what they were about to attempt.



When I give editing feedback, I often encourage the writer to slowly weave in backstory. Use small bits of detail to allow the reader to understand the main character’s goals and journey. If done slowly, and methodically, often times the reader does not even know they are learning important nuggets of information. By using this approach in TIMELESS, I would have slowly been enmeshed in the story and gradually learned more about the main characters.



How could this have worked? Imagine if the Hindenburg images were up on the screen when we first meet the history professor? We as viewers would have seen and understood her connection to history. What if when they were in the warehouse, and the military man assigned to the case saw the image of the photographer, he immediately had a connection to her? This would have provided great set-up for his mysterious need to save her. In both cases you still get the necessary information, yet it is delivered in a more seamless way.



When it comes to any fantasy or science-fiction story the idea of positioning backstory is a tricky concept. There has to be a conscious decision on how you as a writer will deliver information and explain how characters got to that specific place and time. I do believe with a slow delivery of information, and methodical placement of critical story details, it can be done well.



As the show moves forward, I’ll be curious to see if they begin every episode in this manner or if they’ll allow the plot to evolve naturally. It is a great premise, and I hope the writers will force the characters to take over and tell the tale, rather than presenting history in a summarized platform. In the meantime, I’ll be sitting on my couch watching and hoping for the best.






QUITE THE QUERY: Judi Lauren and STILL BREATHING October 7, 2016

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,Query — chasingthecrazies @ 7:50 am
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If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few authors say writing their query took them almost as long as drafting their book!


Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences, but for those who don’t I wanted to provide a resource where writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.


With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Judi Lauren. This great query connected her with Tina P. Schwartz at The Purcell Agency.




When seventeen-year-old Drew’s twin Tyler commits suicide, he leaves one note for their parents: “Drew will do it, too”. As he tries to piece together the reason why his brother took his own life, Drew begins receiving a series of letters his twin left him. Not only do the letters bring back a dark secret Drew’s struggled to forget, they also force him on a path to discover if he’ll do the same.



While Drew wrestles with coping after Tyler’s death, he finds solace in Raven Kensington, a charismatic girl from his school whose parents died in a car accident a few years ago. She understands what Drew’s going through; she’s felt that pain and the ache in her chest. Raven pulls Drew out of the numbness he’s been experiencing since Tyler’s suicide and the two begin a relationship as Drew slowly learns to live his life again.



But as the letters keep coming, the words in them take Drew back through the past he and Tyler have been hiding from for the last decade. As Drew tries to come to terms with the loss, all he has are the letters to guide him. With Tyler gone and the darkness of the past catching up to him, Drew is faced with the choice of wanting to live or following his brother one final time.




Fun tidbit: Judi wrote this book when she was 19, but didn’t begin editing and querying it until she was 23.




original-profile-shotJudi used to write only as a hobby before she realized it was her dream job and got serious about it. Even though she enjoys reading books of all types she’s drawn to writing realistic books for teens that explore a darker side to the teenage years. She works as an editorial assistant at Entangled Publishing and is represented by Tina Schwartz of the Purcell Agency. She has an unnatural obsession with Chicago, New York, Dean Winchester, and Friends (the TV show). For more on Judi, check out her website, or follow her on Twitter (@Judi__Lauren).




W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Sarah Henson October 5, 2016






Every writer has their own path to publication. Some paths are long and winding. Others are a straight shot. No matter the tale, the journey always involves ups and downs, caution signs, and for some, serious roundabouts, but what always remains is the writer’s commitment to their craft and their enduring dream to see their work on bookshelves one day.



In bringing you the W.O.W. series, I hope as a writer you will learn that no dream is unfounded. That with time, patience, perseverance, and commitment to your craft, it is possible to cross that finish line and share your story with the world.



Today, I am pleased to share Sarah Henson’s writing journey…





Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?


Sarah: I’m one of those people who has always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first story when I was four. My grandmother used to read James Herriot’s children’s books to me (specifically, THE CHRISTMAS DAY KITTEN and THE MARKET SQUARE DOG), and I decided I was going to be the American James Herriot. I wanted to be a veterinarian, lion-tamer, ballerina, and astronaut—all concurrently, of course—and write about my experiences. Writer turns out to be the only profession that stuck!




Amy: Your book tackles some important issues and has dark themes. What inspired you to write DEVILS WITHIN?


Sarah: I’m sad to say that DEVILS WITHIN was inspired by real events. I read an article about a ten-year-old boy shooting his white supremacist leader father, and all I could think was “what has to happen to a kid to reach that point, especially so young?” and “how do you come back from something like that?” So I started doing research, learning how hate groups recruit and operate and why people join them. I’m from the south, the breeding ground of the KKK, so I’m no stranger to racism, but I never understood what draws someone to that kind of hate.


The more I learned, the more the main character, Nate, took shape in my mind. I wanted others to see how easy it is to get stuck doing the wrong thing, how important it is to form your own opinions and beliefs, not just the ones you’ve grown up hearing, and how it’s never too late to change.




Amy: I read in your bio that you are an attorney. Did any of your legal background help with writing this book?


Sarah: Definitely! I spent the beginning of my career practicing criminal defense and appeals, and family law, which absolutely come into play in DEVILS WITHIN. It helped knowing how long trials actually last (much longer than Law and Order would lead you to believe!), and some the laws regarding minors’ rights. But I would say the piece of my legal background that helped most was knowing how to research. Also contrary to legal TV shows, most of being an attorney is effectively researching and writing.


The majority of the information that helped shape this book came from the Southern Poverty Law Center ( They have amazing resources such as their hate map, which shows every hate group across the country (currently 892 hate groups in the US), as well as an updated list of hate incidents. Every hate incident in the book is based on something that actually occurred. I went to law school in Montgomery, Alabama, where the SPLC is located, so it helped knowing that resource was available.




Amy: Are you one of those people who had an easy time writing a query or did it take several tries before you landed on your final version?


Sarah: I’m one of those weird writers who actually kind of enjoys writing a query letter. When I started getting serious about writing, I spent a lot of time reading the Query Shark archives and reading and critiquing in Absolute Write’s Query Letter Hell. I learned more by reading other people’s queries than I ever could have by posting my own—both queries that worked and those that didn’t.


I also liked to write the query before I wrote the book. It seems backwards, but I found it’s easier to focus on the main plot and tension when that’s all you have, before you muddy the book with subplots and side characters. I’d go back and edit once I finished the book, and then post in QLH for outside opinions because your brain is really good at filling in plot or logic gaps. So I went through 3-4 drafts before landing on a version I was happy with.


I think the main thing to remember when query drafting is that you’re never going to please everyone. There were always people who hated my queries, even the one that landed my agent. The main goal of a query is to entice an agent to read more. Once you’re happy with it, send it!




Amy: Do you work with critique partners? If so, how do they help shape your stories?


Sarah: Absolutely! Good critique partners are invaluable! My CPs have pointed out logic flaws, plot problems, and character inconsistencies—things I tend to miss because I’m too close to the story. CPs are also wonderful at keeping me motivated. I like to break the rules and edit as I write (if I wait until the end, I get too overwhelmed at all the work that needs to be done and start procrastinating), so I send chapters to my CPs in installments. Nothing motivates me to keep writing like someone clamoring for the next chapters. And like I said with queries, reading other writers’ work has improved my own writing. It’s always easier to spot a flaw in someone else’s story, which often leads me to uncovering the same kind of problems in my own. My CPs are some truly talented writers. Reading their beautiful words has pushed me to be a better writer.




Amy: From beginning (first draft) to end (signing contract), how long was the process of getting a deal for DEVILS WITHIN?


Sarah: I wrote the first words of DEVILS WITHIN way back in the beginning of March 2014. It’s kind of shocking to look back through my drafts and realize how long it’s been! I worked on it for over a year—the longest it’s ever taken me to draft a novel. It went through about seven drafts before landing on the final version in May 2015 when my agent thought it was ready to go on submission.


We subbed to the first round of editors in May and had several close calls, but no bites. In October 2015, we went out on a second round. Around mid-November, an editor sent my agent a very excited email gushing about how much she was loving the book. The whole process from that first email to an offer took about three months. Then finally, on January 14, I got THE email. An offer!! Details were finalized and the announcement went out on February 4, but I didn’t sign the contract until July 2016. It’s one of those weird quirks of publishing that no one tells you about until you’re in the middle of it, but it’s more like buying a house than a car. I also review publishing contracts for a living, and I’ve seen contracts that weren’t signed until the book was through edits and ready for production! So if that happens to you, it’s totally normal! All told, DEVILS WITHIN took about two and a half years from idea to signed contract.




Amy: As most writers know, publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to garner agent interest?


Sarah: I did the only things that were within my control: wrote the best book I could, and kept a good attitude. So much of this business relies on luck and timing. The only parts of it we really have any say over is how we write, and how we act. If either of those two components are missing, you’re going to have a harder time getting agent interest.




Amy: What can you tell us about “your call” with your agent, Mandy Hubbard? How did you know she was the right fit for you?


Sarah: Oh man, I was SO nervous during The Call! I’m much better in writing, which is actually one way I knew Mandy was a good fit for me, because she initially offered through email. That may sound silly, but it made me comfortable from the outset. I’d heard plenty of agent horror stories, so I had a list of things I was looking for in an agent. Someone I was comfortable with, who understood my writing and what I was trying to do, who could push me to be the best writer I could be, and who knew the industry and could help me achieve my dreams.


I’d already gotten a glimpse of how Mandy worked. She’d requested a Revise and Resubmit on the manuscript I initially queried. She was super excited about my book and had all these ideas for ways to make it better. She sent a 6 page edit letter! It was daunting, but also invigorating. She saw what I was trying to do with the story and helped me elevate it. I loved how hands on she was, and even though I was nervous during The Call, she put me totally at ease. I clicked with her instantly and haven’t looked back. Four years later and I’m still confident I made the right decision!




Amy: If you were doing a book signing and met a writer who was about to give up on their publishing dream, what would you say to them? 


Sarah: Publishing is about tenacity. I thought about giving up so many times. It’s easy to look around and see other writers’ successes and get discouraged. But their path to publication is not your path, and what you don’t always see—what we’re not so great at talking about—is other writers’ failures.


So here are my failures: DEVILS WITHIN may be my debut novel, but it’s not my first novel; it’s my fifth. I wrote two manuscripts that were absolute garbage before writing the one that landed my agent. And that one still didn’t sell. Neither did the next one. It took those four failed manuscripts, though, for me to free myself up to write the one that did sell. Over 120 rejections from agents and editors before one agent and one editor said yes. DEVILS WITHIN will release almost exactly 9 years from the day I started writing my first novel, and 30 years after I declared I wanted to be a writer.


If publishing is truly your dream, you can’t give up. It doesn’t matter how many years it takes, or how many rejections you receive. I’ve learned from each manuscript I’ve written, and I’m still learning and growing. Much like the Goonies, writers never say die.





s-f-henson-author-photoS.F. Henson was born and raised in the deep south. She graduated from Auburn University with a degree in Animal Science, which she put to great use by attending law school. Her law degree has gotten some mileage, though, giving her the experience to write about criminals and other dark, nefarious subjects. She lives beside a missile test range in Huntsville, Alabama with her husband, dog, two oddly named cats, and, of course, the missiles that frequently shake her house. For more on Sarah, check out her website or follow her on Twitter (@sfhwrites) or Facebook.


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