Friday, December 30, 2016

Ending the Year Well

In 24 hours we'll all be ringing in a New Year . . . but how will you be ending your old one? Make it count. Don't be a slacker.

I ended mine by plotting out a new novella that's first on the docket to write in the new year. Here's a blurb for THE GENTLEMAN SMUGGLER'S LADY.

When a prim and proper governess is called home to her ailing father's bedside, her ship is ravaged by smugglers and her heart captured by the leader of them all -- the local lord of the manor. It's within her power to reveal the gentleman's secret . . . and within his to cast her out of town.

A huge thank you to all the faithful readers out there in the blogosphere. You make Writer Off the Leash worthwhile. There will be some upcoming changes to the blog in 2017 so stay tuned.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Gold Medal Winner

I read lots of fantastic books this past year by some awesome authors, so it was really hard to narrow the field down to one favorite. But I did, so you should probably snatch up a copy of it if you haven't already read this little gem . . .

The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn
by Lori Benton


In an act of brave defiance, Tamsen Littlejohn escapes the life her harsh stepfather has forced upon her. Forsaking security and an arranged marriage, she enlists frontiersman Jesse Bird to guide her to the Watauga settlement in western North Carolina. But shedding her old life doesn’t come without cost. As the two cross a vast mountain wilderness, Tamsen faces hardships that test the limits of her faith and endurance.

Convinced that Tamsen has been kidnapped, wealthy suitor Ambrose Kincaid follows after her, in company with her equally determined stepfather. With trouble in pursuit, Tamsen and Jesse find themselves thrust into the conflict of a divided community of Overmountain settlers. The State of Franklin has been declared, but many remain loyal to North Carolina. With one life left behind and chaos on the horizon, Tamsen struggles to adapt to a life for which she was never prepared. But could this challenging frontier life be what her soul has longed for, what God has been leading her toward? As pursuit draws ever nearer, will her faith see her through the greatest danger of all—loving a man who has risked everything for her?


Okay. I admit it. I am a super jaded reader. It takes a creative plot, larger than life characters, and some sweet turns of phrases to even slightly tickle my reader bone. THE PURSUIT OF TAMSEN LITTLEJOHN not only meets those requirements, it rockets right to the top of my favorite reads list.

And Lori Benton is one of my new favorite authors. I don't have many faves, folks, so this is quite the feat indeed.

So, let's get down to the nitty grittiness of why the heck I'm making such wild claims. I suppose it mostly boils down to how thoroughly the hero, Jessie Bird, stole my heart right along with the heroines. He is seriously "da man." What red-blooded woman wouldn't swoon for a fella who looks out for her safety, is gentle yet tough enough to fight off enemies even when he's shot and bleeding, and sports a serious six-pack beneath his shirt. Whew. Is it hot in here?

Okay, so besides my obvious man crush, let's talk plot. There are some great twists and turns in this one. In fact, you don't find out some very important information until near the end of the book. Don't panic. No spoilers here. Just know that you're in for a real treat of a surprise.

I also love the history lesson woven throughout the story. No dry textbook dates and names, just plenty of true action.

I picked up this title because of the recommendation of a friend. So here I am, friends, passing that recommendation along. This is a keeper. Now then, I'm off to buy every last other title of Lori Benton's even if it makes my credit card smoke.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 Silver Medal Winner

The Nightingale
by Kristen Hannah


FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn't believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne's home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne's sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women's war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.


This book was raw. Not like thawing hamburger left out on the counter. More like gritty, real, the kind of feeling you get when your shin drags across the carpet and burns. The Nightingale is the tale of two women during World War II.

And the ending will blow your mind.

This is the first Kristin Hannah book I've read but it won't be the last. Her writing is fresh, evocative, and totally pulls you into another world. Granted, war torn France isn't really where I'd like to hang out, but the emotion of this book grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go.

There is some violence, some sex, but all play into the story and make it what it is . . . a moving read.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 Bronze Medal Winner

It's that "Best Of" time of year. You know the drill. Lists galore featuring the best fill-in-the-blank of 2016. And, as always, I will cave to peer pressure and list my best reads from the past year. I didn't get as many books under my belt as I would've liked, but of the 14 titles that I read, I narrowed it down to the top 3. Today, I present to you the 3rd place winner.

by Travis Thrasher


The mystery only deepens. After his best friend disappears and his girlfriend abandons him, Brandon finds himself alone with few answers about what's happening in the small town of Appleton. Nobody knows the whereabouts of Devon, so Brandon decides to get the help of a private investigator who warns him of bad things ahead. At every possible turn, Brandon seems to meet a roadblock. With Marvel's dangerous uncle, Carlos. With the mysterious Otis Sykes. Even with Marvel herself. What darkness awaits them as the story unfolds? The third in The Books of Marvella series after Marvelous and Wonder.


Gah! Be forewarned: this one leaves you hanging in a beautiful yet must-have-the-next-book kind of way.

In usual Thrasher style, the writing of Awe is quick-paced yet connects you to the characters so much, you feel like you're one of them. Brandon and Marvel's relationship is so right and so wrong at the same time. Without giving any spoilers, there are a lot of answers in this 3rd installment of the Marvella series, but not all -- and even leaves you with a few new what-the-heck's by the time you close the book.

God's love is clearly portrayed through story in this dynamic sequel to Marvel and Wonder. If you haven't read the first 2 books, don't start here. Snatch those up and then grab this one. -- and then join me with my nose pressed against the glass door of the bookstore while waiting for the next one!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Book Booty

I love big books and I cannot lie . . . but this post isn't about the size and desirability of large, voluptuous books. I'm talking booty as in the pirate sense, because I scored some treasure from that scalawag, old Saint Nick. Here are a few titles you might want to check out if Santa left you nothing but coal.

The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable
by Carol Baxter
Quaker John Tawell's trial became a sensation, involving poison and sexual scandal. It helped to secure the telegraph's fame — and usher in the modern communication age. A true tale of murder and scientific revolution, The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable is historical crime writing at its best.

by Agatha Christie
"Ten . . ."
Ten strangers are lured to an isolated island mansion off the Devon coast by a mysterious "U. N. Owen."
"Nine . . ."
At dinner a recorded message accuses each of them in turn of having a guilty secret, and by the end of the night one of the guests is dead.
"Eight . . ."
Stranded by a violent storm, and haunted by a nursery rhyme counting down one by one . . . as one by one . . . they begin to die.
"Seven . . ."
Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

by Ann Voskamp
This one's for the lovers and the sufferers. For those whose hopes and dreams and love grew so large it broke their willing hearts. This one's for the busted ones who are ready to bust free, the ones ready to break molds, break chains, break measuring sticks, and break all this bad brokenness with an unlikely good brokenness. You could be one of the Beloved who is broken --- and still lets yourself be loved.
You could be one of them, one who believes freedom can be found not only beyond the fear and pain, but actually within it.
You could discover and trust this broken way --- the way to not be afraid of broken things.

By Rob Wynalda
Each book in this series is organized so that you can write out your very own copy of Scripture. You will be writing the Bible text only on the right hand page of the book. This should make for easier writing and also allows ample space on the left page to write your own notes and comments. From time to time a question or word will be lightly printed on the left page; these questions are to aid in further study, but should not interfere with your own notes and comments.

Friday, December 23, 2016

New Cover Reveal

Without even looking at the naughty or nice list, I've got a special little Christmas gift for all my awesome readers. Pull out your jingle-ringers and doodle-horns because the curtain is about to part for a sneak peek at a brand new book coming your way next September.
**excessive drum roll**
**ear-splitting cymbal crash**
**hearty waves of applause**
Here's the cover for 12 Days at Bleakly Manor . . .

And here's a blurb . . .

When CLARA CHAPMAN receives an intriguing invitation to spend Christmas at an English manor home, she is hesitant yet compelled to attend—for if she remains the duration of the twelve-day celebration, she is promised a sum of one thousand pounds. That’s enough money to bring her brother back from America and reinstate their stolen family fortune. But is she walking into danger? It appears so, especially when she comes face to face with one of the other guests—her former fiancé, BENJAMIN LANE.

Imprisoned unjustly, Ben wants revenge on whoever stole his honor. When he’s given the chance to gain his freedom, he jumps at it—and is faced with the anger of the woman he stood up at the altar.

Brought together under mysterious circumstances for the Twelve Days of Christmas, Clara and Ben discover that what they've been striving for isn't what ultimately matters. What matters most is what Christmas is all about . . . love.

Merry Christmas to all my Writer Off the Leash peeps!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Trim the Fat

It's that fat time of year. I don't know about you, but with all the Christmas cookies and parties galore, I'm pretty much living in stretchy pants for the season.

But that doesn't mean my manuscripts are porky . . . and neither should yours be. When writing a first draft, just like at Christmas, it's okay to indulge in some extras. But after you've typed The End and before you present your story to the world, it's time for a bit of fat trimming.

4 Ways to Trim the Fat Off Your Manuscript

Cut out repeat words/phrases.
Everyone's got pet words and phrases. I happen to like "give it a whirl" or "seriously." Sometimes I even hit a great sale on words like "actually" or "indeed." That's fine for when you're pounding out the first go-around of your story, but afterwards you need to get in there and delete them. You can save 1 or 2 but that's it. Be ruthless.

Go light on the adjectives.
Every junior high grammar teacher drills it into our skulls that adjectives are our friends. I'm here to say that nope, they are not. Use one adjective per description and leave it at that. If you really need to describe a noun with more modifiers than that, then write a whole new sentence describing it in a different way.

Backstory is salt.
Ever salted your popcorn too much? Yeah. Blechh. That's how it is with too much backstory. Sprinkle it around the story. Don't dump it all in one place, and especially not at the beginning. Keep the intrigue. Readers love to figure things out bit by bit.

Weed the dialogue.
Listen to your next conversation. Do you speak in complete sentences all the time? I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that no, you don't. You sometimes use slang. Sometimes just a word or two. Maybe even a grunt instead of a word. That's how dialogue should be between your characters.

Usually you've only got one shot to impress an agent or editor. Trim these four areas of fat from your writing and you'll be one step closer to dazzling a potential buyer.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Writing Lessons From Rogue One

Whether you've seen Rogue One yet or have no plans to, there are some writerly lessons to be learned from this blockbuster of a movie . . .

Go Big or Go Home
The story started out with conflict and didn't let up until the last, big knock-down-drag-out clash. Do that. Take your characters from bad to worse to oh-my-sweet-bunions-how-will-they-get-out-of-this-mess?

Take Risks
Without giving any spoilers, let's just say the ending is controversial. I happened to love it, but I'm just that quirky. The point is the writers took a risk in crafting the final scene with certain characters dying. It was a bold move and well worth it. Others may disagree, but either way, it causes a visceral reaction in a viewer, and that's what you want to create in your reader.

Come Full Circle
One of the best things about this story is that it finally tied up some loose ends and connected a few dots from previous Star Wars movies. Whether you're writing an epic or simply a stand alone, always do this. Tie in the beginning to the end to make your reader feel satisfied.

Connect on an Emotional Level
Rogue One begins with a child left to fend for herself. A cute child. Defenseless. Who's heartstrings aren't pulled when that child is threatened? Always have at least one character that really connects to the reader's heart.

Star Wars fan or not, these 4 little techniques will help you develop a better story so make sure to include them next time you sit down to write.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Any Dickens Lovers Out There?

I just typed "The End" on my most recent manuscript, the first book in a trilogy called Once Upon a Dickens Christmas (more on that later this week). Anyhoo, as the name implies, the stories are written with a Dickens flair, which meant I had to do a lot of Dickens research. And while I was nosing about, I uncovered an interesting tidbit of Christmasy Dickensian trivia . . .

Everyone's heard of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but did you know he produced a series of Christmas tales before that bestseller? The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain is one of those tales, first published in 1848. It addresses the spirit of the holidays as Dickens perceived it. On the first day of publication it sold 18,000 copies. That's a LOT of sales. You can read it for free by clicking HERE.

If ghosts aren't really your thing but A Christmas Carol is, here's another read you might like. God Bless Us Everyone! by Annie Tipton is a devotional inspiration based on A Christmas Carol. Here's a blurb:

One of the best-loved and most quoted stories of "the man who invented Christmas"--English writer Charles Dickens--A Christmas Carol debuted in 1843 and has touched millions of hearts since. The familiar story of cruel miser Ebenezer Scrooge who never met a shilling he doesn't like. . .and hardly a man he does. . .and who hates Christmas most of all, has inspired this keepsake devotional God Bless Us Every One! Alongside scenes from the beloved Dickens classic, you'll learn eternal lessons of charity, kindness, goodwill, heart-transformation, and more. Experience a true Victorian Christmas with these 60 in-depth devotional readings that are sure to warm your heart this holiday season and beyond.

The best things about a Dickens tale are his quirky characters and statements on life. Bleak House is my favorite. What's yours?

Monday, December 19, 2016

It's Okay to Take a Break

It's the big Christmas countdown. Everyone's frazzled, except for my dog. She's currently sacked out on the floor at my feet. But that's only because she doesn't have to bake cookies and shop and wrap gifts and yada yada. There's no way I'm going to shoehorn in any writing time this week.

And that's okay.

Did you hear that? It's okay to take a break from your usual production schedule when life careens on to Crazy Avenue. No need getting your undies all bunched up because as a writer, every minute can be productive even if you're not pounding away on a keyboard. Why?

Because great ideas for characters, plot, or settings come from everywhere.

This holiday season don't guilt yourself out for not meeting a particular word quota. Live in the moment. Gather experiences and store them up in your heart. It's not time wasted. It's time that will make your stories all the richer.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner!

Okay, so I'm not really awarding a steaming plate of fried poultry, but I am announcing the winner of The Captive Heart Christmas contest. Pull out your twang-doodle-horns and blow a few trills for . . .

Jacob Airey

Ba-da-bang! Ba-da-boom! And a huge thanks to all those who entered. Don't worry, kids, there will be more contests coming up in 2017.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Art is Work

I went to java with a young graphic designer recently (yes, drinking copious amounts of coffee is in my job description) and had a bittersweet conversation. He's a super creative fellow with his art, but apparently he'd originally wanted to go into theater. His father nixed that idea in a quick-slap hurry. Theater isn't a "real" job, according to that fellow -- and that is a common mindset I'd love to blow to smithereens.

There's a perception floating out there in Adultland that art isn't really a profession. It's a hobby. Childish, even. Art is optional, but work is not. Creativity can't possibly be a true vocation because it's clearly a pastime, right?

Wrong-oh, Bucko. Art is a need because artists show beauty and meaning. It is art that allows us to experience the world from a different perspective and often spurs creativity in others.

The fact is that art is work. Expect it to be and treat it as such. If you don't respect what you're doing, neither will others. I came across a list once that spelled out the characteristics of a professional, no matter what your vocation is . . .

7 Characteristics of a True Professional
1. Interpersonal skills: Value face-to-face interactions
2. Work ethic: Put forth the required effort to earn rewards
3. Controlled use of on-the-job-technology
4. Commitment to quality work
5. Appearance
6. Communication skills
7. Knowledge

Apply those characteristics to the way you go about creating and producing your art and you will be seen as a professional instead of a schlocky hippy who pretends to have a job.

Will you make it as an artist? I don't know. Would you make it as a brain surgeon? I don't know that either. The thing is that every profession has its risks. Artists have the right to expect from their profession what others expect from theirs.

Don't let others poo-poo your chosen line of work, be it an actor, writer, or watercolor artist extraordinaire. You do you, even if that means you have a day job until you can fly on your own art wings.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Determination and Timing

" . . . the mass market might want what the mass market wants, but that doesn't mean that it's your market."

I recently had a conversation with a writerly buddy of mine. She's an awesome story teller. Her prose is killer. And talk about characters that stick with you long after you've read the end. Sheesh. I'd like to write like her when I grow up.

And she's never been published yet.

I know. Right? What the heck? I have a bald patch from scratching my head over the years as to why no publisher has scooped up her work yet. I've suggested a few times that maybe she should write a story that's totally in the parameters of what the market wants, just to get her foot in the door. Yet she maintains that she must write the stories on her heart.

That, my friends, takes guts and a hearty round of applause.

I suspect that when the publishing world finally comes to its senses and snatches her up, her stories will sell like nobody's business. Apparently it's just not time yet.

No matter how talented you are, how persistent, how ripe you are for the writerly picking, landing a contract is most often about timing, and that timing is as fickle as a wind from the east. 

So hang in there my writerly buddies. I have no idea when you'll get discovered but I do know this: if you quit writing you will never be discovered.

And if you never enter the giveaway for a signed copy of The Captive Heart, you'll never win. Here's your chance . . .

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Imposter Syndrome

During a morning of writing, I check my email about a thousand times, pop over to Facebook again and again and again, and even bop in to Twitter and Pinterest before I've finished the scene. Yes indeedy, folks, I am a procrastinator.

But I am not alone.

Turns out lots of writers drag out their writing sessions, putting off pounding out their word count goal by procrastinating on the internet, or doing laundry, or cleaning the garage, or pretty much anything else except for writing. What's up with that?

Fear, usually.

Whether it's conscious or not, writers must face the terror of writing something that is sub par, something that will put a blight on their name . . . something no one will want to read. If/when that happens then the world at large will figure out that you are clearly not a "real" author. You're a big fat fake. This is so common that it has a name:

Imposter Syndrome ~ 
The fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you believe yourself to be.

Lots of people suffer from this hidden fear, mostly successful people and particularly women. Even so, it is possible to succeed because eventually as your deadline looms, the fear of not meeting that deadline surpasses the terror of being discovered you're a fraud. But if that survival instinct doesn't kick in, here are a few more ways to deal with your imposter syndrome . . .

Focus on Providing Value
The quickest way to get past feeling like a fraud is to try to help someone else. Focus on the message of your story.

Stop the Comparisons
It's never a good idea to compare yourself to someone else, and if you do, you'll find this increases the tendency for imposter syndrome. Don't try to write like someone else. Write like you.

Treat Your Art Like a Business
Believe it or not, lives are not hanging in the balance because of your writing. Nurture the mindset that your art is business and that you have a product to produce. This takes away the ethereal must-be-perfect attitude toward what you're making and instead frees you to get done what you need to.

You, my twitchy little writerly friend, are not alone in feeling like a fraud. Here is my open invitation for you to sit down at the big authorly table and take your seat amongst writers. There are no prerequisites, just a burning desire to write and write and write.

There's one more day left to sign up to win a signed copy of The Captive Heart . . . don't miss out!

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

3 Useful Writing Sites

While perusing the ol' interwebs, I discovered a few sites that are handy dandy for a writer to have in his back pocket to pull out in times of need . . .

Online Symbolism Dictionary
If you'd like to use some symbolism in your story but aren't sure what to use -- or -- you did use a symbol and want to check to make sure you used it correctly, the University of Michigan put this site together just for that purpose.

Best Of History Web Sites
If you're looking for a particular historic fact or need to check on what you already have as facts, this is the site for you. This link has over 1200 annotated links to history websites and is recommended by many scholars.

Descriptive Thesaurus Collection
Need a different way to show your character is angry? Try the emotion thesaurus. Looking for a particular mood or setting? Check out the weather and earthly phenomena thesaurus. This site has a thesaurus for pretty much anything writerly related.

And don't forget there are still a few more days to enter the drawing for a signed copy of THE CAPTIVE HEART . . .

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Christmas Slay

It's that crazy time of year. The frazzle-dazzle of shopping. Parties galore. Cards to address. Presents to wrap and lights to hang and whew! I'm stressing myself out just by typing a few of the things on my to-do list. How in the world are you supposed to find time to breathe let alone carve out time to write? Here's a thought . . .

Slay the Christmas madness.

But how exactly does one do that? As usual, I've got a few ideas.

5 Ways to Slay Christmas Stress

Change Your Perspective
Sometimes all that needs to be slain is your mindset. This season take a good, hard look at all that you're doing and then question everything. You could be stressing yourself out because of expectations and values that aren't really yours. Examine what your core beliefs are and live those out, not some goofy-butt Hallmark Christmas movie ideals.

Let Go
Who says you need to do it all? Unless you're Martha Stewart, you don't have to. Choose 1 item to cut from your must-get-done-before-Christmas list and just say no. I'm not talking simply crossing it off your list. I'm saying cut it out and throw it away for good. Maybe you'll decide not to do cards anymore or give up baking 6 different kinds of cookies. Whatever. The point is to stop doing 1 activity.

Plan Ahead
Obviously you're not going to cut everything from your holiday season. Decide on what you'll keep (remember, you're being proactive by choosing what you will keep and what you won't) then whip out your calendar and plan those things into your schedule. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Putting things off until the last minute causes undue anxiety.

Shop Online
Books make great gifts and are just a click away. So is just about everything you can imagine. You'll avoid the crowds and save time driving to and from the store. Yeah, you might end up paying for shipping but in the long run if it saves you time, it's totally worth it.

Say No
This one is the hardest of all because you want to have fun as much as the next guy, right? Or your heart is big and you want to help everyone who has a need. Or you just plain old don't want others to think badly of you. Well, Bucko, in order to lessen your stress you just might need to let someone else stress out in your place by saying no. And if you do, guess what? You'll find that your "yes's" have a whole new meaning.

Life is short. Live intentionally, whether it's Christmas or not.

But if you do find you have a spare moment like right about now, here's a quick and easy chance to win a signed copy of THE CAPTIVE HEART . . .

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Friday, December 9, 2016

4 Ways to Spark Creativity ~ an Infographic

Yep . . . this one is all yours. Share wherever you think creatives might be hiding.

And while you're at it, why not sign up to win a free signed copy of THE CAPTIVE HEART?

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Board Games for Word Lovers

The holiday season is just around the corner. That means lots of family time. If you don't want to get stuck listening to Great Aunt Violet's gory details about her lumbago, then I suggest you bring along a little activity. Here are some of my favorite word games that are usually a hit and always hilarious . . .

The premise for this game is to see who can come up with the best first line. A title of a book is given, along with a short synopsis read by the designated reader for that round. Everyone writes down what they think would be a great first line for that book and hands it in to the reader (who's actually writing down the real first line). The lines are read and everyone votes for what they think is the real first line. It's amazing how many better opening lines are created.

The Game of Things
In this game a topic card is read. Example: Things you wouldn't want to find in your Christmas stocking. Everyone writes down an answer. The designated reader for that round reads all the answers then everyone takes turns guessing who wrote what. You won't believe the "things" people come up with.
5 Second Rule
You'd think it would be easy to name 3 breeds of dogs—but you'd be surprised at how hard it is when you've only got 5 seconds to do so, especially when the other players are waiting for you to mess up. You never know what will come out of your mouth, and that's what makes this game so funny to play.

These are all tried and true games in my household. Whether you're a reader or a writer, any lover of words will love these games.

And here's something you'll also love . . . a chance to win a signed copy of THE CAPTIVE HEART.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Best Audiobooks of 2016

It's that list time of year. You know . . . the ol' best of the best for everything from the year's greatest hot dog topping to wiener dog of the year. But the list I'll share with you today is a bit more valuable than that.

I'm not a huge audiobook fan, mostly because I hate having earbuds stuffed into my skull. Those knobby things have a tendency to poke out the piercing on my tragus. No, that's not a fatal disease. Just an annoyance. Anyhoo, when I really love me a good audiobook is when I know I'm going to be stuck in traffic or am on a long car ride. And so I give to you -- and me --

Audibles Top Picks for 2016

The Nix by Nathan Hill
performed by Ari Fliakos

A Nix can take many forms. In Norwegian folklore it is a spirit who sometimes appears as a white horse that steals children away. In Nathan Hill's remarkable first novel, a Nix is anything you love that one day disappears, taking with it a piece of your heart.

It's 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson - college professor, stalled writer - has a Nix of his own: his mother, Faye. He hasn't seen her in decades, not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy. Now she's reappeared, having committed an absurd crime that electrifies the nightly news, beguiles the Internet, and inflames a politically divided country. The media paints Faye as a radical hippie with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother was an ordinary girl who married her high school sweetheart. Which version of his mother is true? Two facts are certain: She's facing some serious charges, and she needs Samuel's help.

To save her, Samuel will have to embark on his own journey, uncovering long-buried secrets about the woman he thought he knew, secrets that stretch across generations and have their origin all the way back in Norway, home of the mysterious Nix. As he does so, Samuel will confront not only Faye's losses but also his own lost love and will relearn everything he thought he knew about his mother and himself.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
performed by Maggie Gyllenhaal

Leo Tolstoy's classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky.

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
performed by Robert Bathurst

When an intricate old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, it at first seems no more than a curiosity. But the closer the villagers look, the stranger it becomes.

Given to Armand Gamache as a gift the first day of his new job, the map eventually leads him to shattering secrets. To an old friend and older adversary. It leads the former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec to places even he is afraid to go. But must.

And there he finds four young cadets in the Sûreté academy, and a dead professor. And, with the body, a copy of the old, odd map.

Everywhere Gamache turns, he sees Amelia Choquet, one of the cadets. Tattooed and pierced. Guarded and angry. Amelia is more likely to be found on the other side of a police line-up. And yet she is in the academy. A protégée of the murdered professor.

The focus of the investigation soon turns to Gamache himself and his mysterious relationship with Amelia, and his possible involvement in the crime. The frantic search for answers takes the investigators back to Three Pines and a stained glass window with its own horrific secrets.

For both Amelia Choquet and Armand Gamache, the time has come for a great reckoning.

performed by Gerard Reynolds

When a high-ranking officer gallops into the quiet Mistyvales, he brings a warning that shakes the countryfolk to their roots. But for Aedan, a scruffy young adventurer with veins full of fire and a head full of ideas, this officer is not what he seems. The events that follow propel Aedan on a journey that only the foolhardy or desperate would risk, leading him to the gates of the nation's royal academy - a whole world of secrets in itself.

If none of these piqued your interest, there's more where that came from. Just click on the list HERE and discover other great audiobooks.

And don't forget to sign up to win your own signed copy of another great read . . .

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Christmas Giveaway

I know. You're a busy bee, especially with the holidays right around the corner. Maybe you haven't had time to snatch up a copy of The Captive Heart for yourself yet. Or perhaps you were going to snag one to give as a gift to the book lover in your life, but doggone it, who has time to shop? Never fear, little buddy, because I've got you covered.

Just enter this handy dandy giveaway to win a signed copy! Don't forget to share the love and spread the news. Offer ends on the 16th and I'll announce on Monday, Dec. 19th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, December 5, 2016

Self-Care for the Holidays

It's that crazy time of year, but you didn't really need me to tell you that, eh? Between shopping and parties and wrapping and deadlines, you've probably figured that out all on your own. But have you given any thought at all as to how you can manage this season with less stress?

Yeah. I thought so. I hadn't either . . . until now. This list is as much for me as it is for you.

5 Ways to Lower the Stress Level this Holiday Season

1. Unplug
You don't owe anyone your attention 24/7. It's not only advisable but mandatory that you shut off the screaming squawkboxes in your life: your laptop, cellphone, tablet, your mother. Okay, well, you can't actually shut up your mom, but all electronic devices need to have a time out daily between now and Christmas. You choose the hour, but make sure you choose one. And stick to it. Unplug an hour a day, Hoss, and let yourself recharge.

2. Take a Break from Writing
How can you write about life if you don't experience life? Pull your head out of your story world for a day or week or even the rest of December. Unless you're under a Dec. 31st deadline (and seriously, what publisher gives that for a deadline?) step away from the keyboard and live in the moment. Your manuscript will be there waiting for you when you get back in January -- and your writing will be the better for it.

3. Exercise
Stop whining. This is my least favorite one on the list too, but it's here for a reason. You know you're going to give in to that plate of cookies or half gallon of eggnog or whatever holiday delectable is number one on your temptation list. Logging more time at the gym will ward off those extra calories and lower your stress level at the same time.

4. Quit Comparing
Newsflash: you are not Martha Stewart. Thankfully. The world can handle only one of that robot humanoid. But that's not my point. Here's the dealio . . . you do you. Do Christmas like you, not anyone else. If that means you have no greenery or Christmas cards or whatever, that's okay. Sometimes a smile is all it takes to make someone's day.

5. Dig into the Word
It's easy to lose your focus when you're tired and cranky and the world is nutty nuts. Spend time every day reading God's word. After all, Christmas is all about Him coming down to earth, not some fat man in a red suit. Devote as much time to Bible reading as you do to Christmas movies.

There you have it. Sounds easy enough, but the hard part is putting these things into action every day. It will be worth it in the long run, though.

Feel free to share in the comment section any de-stressors that are your favorites.

Friday, December 2, 2016

What if Santa Brings You a Magic Wand?

What's on your Christmas list?
Your very own pony?
A cherry red Ferrari?
A lifetime supply of Ghiradelli dark chocolate?

Not that I wouldn't mind receiving any of those things, but what if Santa brought us all something ever better . . . like a magic wand that could fix any of your problems with your manuscript? What would you fix first? Think about it. One wave and shazam! You could:
- fix a plot hole
- prop up a sagging middle
- develop characters a reader will never forget
- finish the story in the blink of an eye

Indeed, if old Saint Nick gifted you a magic wand you'd never have to suffer through the anguish of fixing these annoying glitches. Pretty sweet, eh?

Nope. Not really.

The flip side of that fantasy is if that really happened, you'd never learn the skills for how to fix those flaws yourself.

Here's the deal, little writers . . . don't wish away all your writerly problems. Those glitches are there for a reason. Sweating through the process of creating a viable manuscript is a valuable experience. It's how you learn and grow as a writer.

So cross off that magic wand on your Christmas list. You don't need it. You just need to park your rear in a chair and push through the hard bits.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

From Meh to Marvelous ~ An Infographic

As always, it's yours. Share wherever and whenever.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How to Fangirl an Author

Fangirling author Julie Klassen
A girl or woman who is an overly enthusiastic fan of someone or something.

If you could fangirl any author, who would it be? Go ahead and make a list. I'll wait.

Now that you know who you want to fangirl, let's go over the basics of how to do it . . .

5 Steps to Fangirl an Author

1. Join a fandom.
A fandom is a group of people who are as passionate about a particular author as you are. You can find these people on Goodreads or Facebook or pretty much any social media. And if you can't find any, then start your own fandom realm. Just be sure to go public with it so you're not alone. Also, if you create your own fandom, make sure to give yourself and other members a name. Example: Whovians are those who love Dr. Who.

2. Be a follower.
It's a given that your favorite author is somewhere on social media, and usually on more than one platform. Follow them all. Most importantly, check in on their website frequently for special events in your area.

3. Get off the couch.
If your author is having an event within a hundred mile radius of where you live then go. You don't want to miss out on a prime selfie with the author photo op, do you?

4. Be creative -- not creepy.
I once had a reader send me some pretty sweet handmade bookmarks. That's the kind of reader I adore -- not the ones who email me and tell me they love me so much they want to watch me while I sleep.

5. Share the love.
If you're a passionate fan of an author, the best way to spread that passion is to write reviews for their books. Post on Goodreads, Facebook, Amazon, wherever.

If you happen to be of the male persuasion, don't despair. Fanboys are every bit as important as fangirls.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Be on the Lookout

Two of my writerly buddies have books coming out in the very near future that are both fanfreakingtastic and you won't want to miss them. Here's what to put on your Christmas list.

The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill
(book I in the Tales From Ivy Hill series)
by Julie Klassen
Release Date: December 6

The lifeblood of the Wiltshire village of Ivy Hill is its coaching inn, The Bell. But when the innkeeper dies suddenly, his genteel wife, Jane Bell, becomes the reluctant owner. Jane has no notion of how to run a business. However, with the town's livelihood at stake and a large loan due, she must find a way to bring new life to the inn.

Despite their strained relationship, Jane turns to her resentful mother-in-law, Thora, for help. Formerly mistress of The Bell, Thora is struggling to find her place in the world. As she and Jane work together, they form a measure of trust, and Thora's wounded heart begins to heal. When she encounters two men from her past, she sees them--and her future--in a different light.

With pressure mounting from the bank, Jane employs innovative methods to turn the inn around, and puzzles over the intentions of several men who seem to have a vested interest in the place. Will her efforts be enough to save The Bell? And will Thora embrace the possibility of a second chance at love?

A Moonbow Night
by Laura Frantz
Release Date: January 3

**Bonus** the paperback version of this is currently on sale for $8.56

On the vast, uncharted Kentucky frontier of the 1770s, Temperance Tucker has learned to be fleet of foot, accurate with her rifle, and silent about the past. But her family secrets complicate her growing attraction to a handsome Virginia land surveyor with a harsh history of his own. Will the hurts and hardships of the past prevent them from a fulfilling future?

Laura and Julie really are spectacular authors. I hope to be like them when I grow up. If there's any chance your name is on the naughty list and you don't think Santa will put these in your stocking, run (don't walk) over to Amazon and snatch up a pre-order for yourself.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cyber Monday Deals for Writers and Readers

If your credit card isn't still smoking from Black Friday, whip it out because here are some sweet deals for Cyber Monday . . .

Whether you're looking for a writing craft book or just a nice piece of fiction to curl up with, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have discounts galore. Fill your shopping cart at either one, and when you're ready to check out, here are the codes to save 30% at Amazon or 25% at Barnes & Noble:
For Amazon: HOLIDAY 30
For Barnes & Noble: 25CMONDAY

And while you're at it, THE CAPTIVE HEART is on sale before the discounts for $8.00.

Kindle Paperwhites are on sale for $99.99 HERE. And the cheapest Kindle is only $33.33!

Writers Digest has 50% off their craft books and other items, plus if you enter the code CYBER10, you get an additional 10% off.

Groupon has up to 80% off on some of their deals. Okay, so that's neither reading nor writing related, but 80% is a dang good dealio.

The Writer's Store has some great specials HERE.

Who can't use some office supplies? Ink. Paper. Yada, yada. Pop over to Staples for their Cyber Monday offerings.

And for the really hard person to buy for in your life, check out Uncommon Gifts. They're not offering any super sales, but they've got unique items you won't find anywhere else.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Emotions of Typing The End

I finished yet another manuscript today. Book number, umm, I dunno. Do you count books in which your story is but one of several? Whatever, even when I type THE END on a novella, there are a boatload of emotions that whack me upside the head . . .

What it Feels Like to Type THE END

What if the story is a pile of literary manure? What if you get laughed off the face of the earth? Or booed? It's frightening to think of sending off a manuscript because you know it's not perfect. It will never be perfect. And therein comes the fear.

I'm told that there's a certain high achieved when you run. Something about endorphins or maybe dolphins. Not sure. I've never experienced this because personally I'd rather stab my thighs with forks than feel the burn of a long run. Nevertheless, I'll give the benefit of the doubt to those who say running is exhilarating. So is typing THE END. Way less sweaty, though.

There are moments during the writing of a book when you wonder if it's worth it. All the angst over plot and characters and what the heck to make for dinner besides frozen pizza. But then the day comes when you finally finish the dang thing and, yes, indeedy, it was all worth it. You feel like a champion.

Sticking with a project until it's completely done spurs you on to do yet another project. The success of one manuscript makes you realize you can do another. This is a temporary feeling though. By the time you're mid-way through another book, that energy is gone.

Lot's of people say they're going to write a novel, but never do. If you've ever typed THE END, here is a cyber high-five from me to you. And if you haven't finished writing a book, what are you waiting for? These emotions can be yours as well.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Bookish Thanksgiving Activity

So after the food coma subsides this Turkey Day, what are you going to do? Stare at each other? Argue about Trump? Pull out a deck of cards and play Kings in the Corner for the bajillionth time? Sounds like you could use a new Thanksgiving activity, little cowboy, and have I got one for you.

Play Thanksgiving Lie-brary. Here's how it works . . .

1. Pick out 6-8 fiction books ahead of time. I'm using Thanksgiving-themed books. You can use whatever.

2. Read the title and show the book. Then give everyone a pencil and paper.

3. Each person writes down what they think the first line of that book ought to be. While they're being creative, you write down the actual title on a piece of paper. Then collect ALL the papers.

4. One by one, read each first line, instructing everyone to listen for what they think is the real first line.

5. Then read them again and have people vote on what they think is the real first line. Put a tally on each paper for the votes.

6. Here's how to score it: each person who guessed the correct first line gets a point. Each person who wrote a line that someone else voted for gets those votes.

7. Go through all the books, tally up the prizes, and give the winner a chocolate turkey.

If it turns out everyone really loves this activity, you can buy the actual game HERE.

Monday, November 21, 2016

INFOGRAPHIC ~ 7 Reasons to Become a Writer

Yep. It's yours. Steal and/or share wherever you like.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thanksgiving Giveaway

I have a fun surprise to share. . .

To celebrate November, I've teamed up with more than 55 fantastic inspirational historical romance authors to give away a huge collection of novels, PLUS a Kindle Fire to one lucky winner!

You can win THE CAPTIVE HEART, plus books from authors like my writing buddy Elizabeth Ludwig.

Enter the giveaway by clicking HERE.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Mandatory Questions for the Writer

A writer's job is to invoke questions. Yeah, I know, that seems like a given, but let's pick it apart some because there are different kinds of questions for you as an author to raise.

Standard Story Questions 
- What will happen next?
- Will the hero die?
- Will the villain die?
- Will everyone except the hamster die?

Character Questions
- How will the heroine overcome her fatal personality flaw?
- How are the characters inter-related?
- How will the reader relate to the main character?

Reader Questions
- What's the takeaway value of the story for the reader?
- Why should the reader care about your characters?
- Is the story strong enough to stick with the reader long after he reads The End?

Those are all great issues to ponder before you sit down and write the next Great American Novel, but don't forget about the often-overlooked set of questions that are all about you, writer . . .

Author Questions
- Why are you writing this book?
- What makes you qualified to write this story?
- What issue are you working on in your own life that will play out via characters in this tale?

Great stories raise great questions for the reader and the writer. It's those questions that take each on a journey of self-discovery.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Word of the Year

You've heard of book of the year, movie of the year, yada, yada . . . but have you ever heard of word of the year? Yeah, I thought not. I hadn't either.

But there actually is one. Every year the folks at Oxford Dictionary choose to shine the spotlight on one relevant word for the year, and they've just announced the 2016 winner. Drum roll, please . . .

The word is post-truth. It's defined as:
“relating to or denoting circumstances in which 
objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion 
than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Usually this word is associated with politics. I know, right? That's a no-brainer. Actually, though, the concept has been in existence for the past decade. It's only recently become a buzzword, and that's why it was chosen (a spike in frequency)

Some of the other words that were nominated but didn't win were:

The process of taking on the responsibilities of an adult

glass cliff
A situation in which a woman or member of a minority group ascends to a leadership position in challenging circumstances where the risk of failure is high. 

A computer program designed to simulate conversation with human users, especially over the Internet.

The fear of clowns.

A person who is in favor of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the European Union.

Which word would you have chosen?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

3 Must Have Story Elements

There are 3 things every story needs (all right, 4 if you count a hunky hero): action, emotion and theme. Yep. That's all.

But what exactly does that mean? Pull up a chair, little buddy, and let's chat . . .

Think of action as the moody teenager, the drama, the oh-my-goodness-what-in-the-world-is-going-on. Action is physical. It's concrete. You can see it, smell it, feel it, taste it. And it's all created by your characters' goals.

Yeah, that old dead horse again. Sorry, but you need to know what your characters want so that you don't give it to them. That's what dictates the action and creates tension for the story and for your reader.

This is the inner journey of your characters. They start out in one frame of mind and by the end of the story should be in a different one, hopefully a better one. Think of this as an emotional before and after picture.

What's your character's flaw? Give him one. By the time you type 'THE END' that flaw should be fixed or at least changed into something better. The climax of the story is when your character comes face to face with that flaw.

Stop groaning, you big baby. This really isn't that hard, just a little abstract. Basically it's the universal truth that you're presenting in the story, be it forgiveness or justice or loss or whatever.

When you identify what your theme is going to be, then you can use symbolism or settings or even word choices to drive that truth home to the reader.

Every great story incorporates these 3 elements into the tale. Go therefore and do likewise.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast is my numero uno favorite fairy tale. In a small way, I crafted my hero in The Captive Heart after the beast, giving him a burn scar on part of his face. Plus he's a bit beastly in personality.

So it is with great anticipation and not just a little impatience that I'm waiting for March 17 for the release of the newest version of Beauty and the Beast. Here's a trailer . . .

Monday, November 14, 2016

Things a Writer Can't Live Without

Certain professions require certain tools of the trade. To be a successful farmer you need a tractor and a great love of country western music. A plumber’s got to have a big, black plunger and a pair of ill-fitting jeans that sag to the nether regions when bending over. Cops require handcuffs and a passion for doughnuts.

But what about writers? What are their mandatory tools? Obviously some sort of writing utensil, preferably a computer, but there’s oh so much more that goes into living as a successful author.

5 Things a Writer Can’t Live Without

1. A teachable spirit.

Without humility, you will wither and die. Here’s why. . .there is always a new writing skill to explore or master. If you think you know it all, then I guarantee you won’t last long in the business.

2. Confidence.

If you can’t defend one of your story ideas, who will? Believing that your writing can possibly help another by imparting some kind of truth or ideal is a requirement, or you’ll never survive the endless amount of editing and polishing that goes in to publishing a piece.

3. Appreciation.

Without readers who love your work, you will wither. Without agents and editors who find value in the words you string together, your writing may eventually fall by the wayside. Even the simple encouragement of a family member or friend is enough appreciation to keep a writer writing.

4. Other writers.

No one understands the unique challenges a writer faces better than another writer. The community of authors is a necessity to thrive.

5. A thick skin.

You won’t last long as a writer if you can’t take criticism, because trust me. . .you will receive critical floggings on a regular basis. Resilience is a must.

How many of those five tools are in your writerly toolbox? Polish up the ones you own and work to acquire those you’re lacking.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Web Tools for Writers

So, how's that NaNoWriMo going for you? Needing a little pick me up yet? Here are some sites for a writerly kick in the pants.

31 Ways to find Inspiration for Your Writing
This is pretty self explanatory. Check it out.

7 Can't Miss Ways to Kick-Start the Writing Habit
Okay, so this on isn't really a site; it's a blog post but it's highly informational.

Share outlines for your pieces with writing partners and editors with this totally free collaboration tool.

Join this network to find publishers, agents and marketers, check out the network blog, join groups and view photos or videos.

An online coffeehouse offering writers a safe space for finding encouragement, taking online workshops, talking about books, and learning about the writing and publishing industries.

Character Questionnaire
A fun and clever way for developing your characters.

Got any other favorites? Feel free to share in the comment section.

Haters Gonna Hate

At some point, every writer looks at their manuscript
with through hate-colored glasses.
Whewie! There's a whole lot of fallout from the Trump election. I'm seeing lots of ranting raves and outright hatred on Facebook and Twitter. Seems like a silly waste of time and energy to me. It's pretty easy to look down your nose at someone else and tell them to stop the hatred.

But it's quite another thing to have to say it to yourself in regards to your writing.

Come on. Admit it. We've all been there. Those first draft blues where at some point, everything you write seems like a steaming pile of literary manure. You hate the characters, the plot, your dog. I'm nearing the end of a manuscript now and I'm despising the wretched thing.

And that's a very good place to be.

No, not in a heap of poo. In a critical mood. Here's the deal . . . great writers are always critical of their own work because they crave to be better.

That uneasy feeling about what you've written, that loathing of your lack of skill, that's what will drive you to strive for excellence. So go ahead and hate on your rough drafts -- and use that passion to polish it into a magnificent piece of art.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Wattys 2016

Looking for a fantastic free read to curl up with this autumn? You're in luck, because over at Wattpad, they just announced the winners of the world's largest online writing contest, The Wattys.

Sidenote: Just in case you don't know what Wattpad is, it's a community of storytellers where users post written works to be read by the world for free.

Now then, there are 10 top winners in each of the following categories for your reading pleasure. Categories are:

People's Choice
These winners were chosen by readers of Wattpad who tweeted their faves on voting day.

HQ Love
This award recognizes stories most adored by Wattpad staff.

New Voices
Gifted writers new to the scene.

Collector's Edition
Stories that were most often added to readers' libraries of favorites.

Talk of the Town
Books with a lot of buzz about them.

Hidden Gems
Stories that haven't gotten a lot of attention -- yet. This brings promising stories to readers' attention.

Extraordinary tales that show risks with the writing.

Visual Storytelling
Those that include graphics in some way, shape, or form.

Which category interests you the most? Pop over to The Wattys and discover some new free reads. You might find a new favorite author.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Three Writerly Lessons from the Presidential Election

Today's a historic day. Finally, after a never-ending campaign eternity, we will have some resolution as to who will usher our country into the zombie apocalypse: a puffy oompaloompa who looks like he's been dipped in orange Kool-Aid, or a screechy criminal with a serious hacking issue (both computer and lung-wise).

But enough of my offensive opinions. Despite all the vitriol slathered around by pretty much everyone, there are some writerly lessons to be learned from this election season . . .

Sometimes You Gotta Fight
Newsflash: critique buddies and editors at publishing houses are not God. While it is wise to carefully consider changes to your manuscript, sometimes you need to dig in your heels and stand up for what you wrote and say why. Respectfully, of course.

Be Prepared Before You Go Public
How about that first debate? Or the second? Did you even make it to the third? Debates require preparation beforehand, and so does your story. Before you sit down to write a rough draft, know the beginning from the end. Have a plan of how you're going to get from point A to B. Do some research on the era, the area, or anything else that requires fact-checking. And for goodness sake, before you show your work to an editor or agent, go over the thing with a fine-toothed comb.

Watch Your Tone
No one likes to hear a ranting politician. No one wants to hear you sniping about a bad review or an editor or agent you feel snubbed you. The publishing industry is a small universe. Be careful about what venom you spew because it could come back to poison your career.

Take these lessons to heart and you'll be well on your way to getting yourself elected to the publishing realm. But besides that, are you doing your part to make history today? If you haven't voted yet, what are you waiting for? Do your civic duty, little cowboy and go vote.

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