Friday, November 28, 2014

Fear and Loathing on Black Friday

True story.

I'm living in New Orleans and it's Thanksgiving. Dianne, my BFF and, at that time, my roommate, decides we should be brave and adventurous and do Black Friday right. Like an idiot who'd had too much Rebel Yell and Coke, I agreed. We mapped out a plan whereby we'd arrive at the Walmart parking lot at 3:30 a.m., rush in when the doors opened at 4 a.m. to grab the doorbuster specials, which as I recall included one of those sandwich press thingies that looks like a grill because, basically, it is a grill. We'd zip through the checkout line and fly down Veterans Boulevard in Metairie to get to Lakeside Shopping Center by the time the doors to Kay-Bee Toys opened at 5 a.m.

You know this went badly, right?

There wasn't a line outside the Walmart. There was a horde. It might have been a Mongolian horde. When fearful-faced store employees opened the doors at 4, they rushed the door like starving junk foodaholics after a Big Mac. I was elbowed by a woman who looked insane enough, wild eyed and jittery, that I didn't dare confront her. I wanted to live to tell this horror story. We wedged our way inside and joined the masses trampling toward the Incredible Sandwich Press.

We arrived just as a store employee put up a "Rain Check" sign.

Dianne and I stared at each other in horror. Half our gift lists had been wiped out with one shortage of sandwich presses. "Let's go to the mall--fast," she said.

Off we go, racing down Veterans Boulevard. Now, if you've ever been to NOLA and the near-lying suburb of Metairie, you know that "racing down" any street is kind of a joke. You'll be happy to know that also applies to Black Friday at 4:30 a.m., when half the idiots in the metro area are jockeying for parking spots at the mall.

We find one in outer Mongolia, aka the Red Lobster parking lot, and embark on a bracing half-mile trek to the actual mall. When we reach the center, near the food court (whose managers hadn't had the foresight to open at 4 a.m. and were closed), we saw The Line. It snaked down two long mall corridors and ended at the door to the toy store. Have I mentioned that I hate crowds? Hate.

I'd had enough. There were no small children in my family for whom I bought gifts, Dianne was the one wanting to go to the toy store, I was exhausted from the Great Red Lobster 5K, and I was over Black Friday. I found a bench. An old man was sitting on one end, reading a newspaper. I took the sports section when he was finished. Then the lifestyle section. Then the news. We talked about the weather. We talked about the Saints. We talked about how ridiculous Black Friday was.

His wife showed up three hours later, at 8 a.m. Two hours after that, Dianne arrives clutching a purple bag of Barbies and a zombie expression. "Shoney's breakfast bar," she gasped. Now, you're talking.

It was my first and last Black Friday adventure. Now, cyber Monday? Yeah, baby. Move away from the keyboard.

Leave a comment here today for an entry for a $10 Amazon gift card giveaway. Extra entries if you comment at my guest post at Romance University and at my blog.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Life Inspirations


I love how life has a habit of happening around me whether I notice it or not. A lot of times, I have my head in a fantasy world of my own creation because I’m a writer. Notice how I phrased that. I write, but I’m not published, yet. I say all this to preface the importance of the real world and how it affects or becomes incorporated into stories. Normal occurrences around me, I ask ‘what if.’

For example: I’m typing on my laptop in the living room while the husband is at work and the kids are in school. Other than the dog, I’m home alone. The dog was lying on the couch but suddenly jumped up and ran to the beginning of the stairs to growl. So what went through my mind? I thought the ghost of my husband’s mother had come to haunt us and only the dog could sense her presence. I did what all good writers would do; I started a new book, only this one would be scary.

Then there was the night my daughter and I drove to my parent’s home in the woods. We stopped in the road when a huge wolf-like dog stood in the way and stared at us. So what went through my mind? I thought about a story of werewolves and big hunky alpha males. Paranormal romance.

So what about you? Do you see a story in strange life events around you? If so, give us an example.

Philisha Byrd Stephens

Friday, November 21, 2014

Welcome to Sunday Cove

Imagine a charming little town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast where Clara Sims bakes the best pecan pie this side of Heaven and her husband Hoot over at the barbershop cuts hair his way, no matter what you say. Then picture Miss Emma at the post office, mixing up the mail and sharing the latest news, whether or not it's the truth.

Now imagine a magical scent that reminds you of citrus groves and sends you in search of orange blossoms. You race around the corner only to discover an empty park bench that leaves you with the feeling you've missed something remarkable.

That's how my new romantic contemporary series was born, fully populated with Sunday Cove's regulars and haunted by a charming little love legend that dates back to the Civil War. There will be eight books in the series, each one a stand-alone that can be read out of sequence, and  each one a classic harkening back to a more innocent time, sporting a spit shine, populated with Sunday Cove regulars and infused with a magical legend.

Watch for Naughty and Nice the first of December. The next three will come in January, February and March.  I hope to have all eight to you by the end of the year. What fun!  Do visit my website for more details and information on the Sunday Cove contests I'll run throughout the year.

And now I want to thank you for putting Risky Brides, A Bestsellers' Collection, on so many lists!  It's still available for a limited time, and for only .99! It has been my pleasure to be part of this multi-author, multi-genre box set.  What a great way to reconnect with long time writer friends and to make new ones!

As always, thanks for stopping by and thanks for reading my books for so many years. Next June I'll be celebrating 30 years as a published author.  There's no telling what kind of party we'll have!



Peggy Webb is the USA Today bestselling author of more than 70 books. In addition to romance and mystery, she writes literary fiction as Elaine Hussey. Visit her at www.peggywebb.com and www.elainehussey.com

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I'm a Fairy Tale Princess...and a Dreamer


I’m a fairy tale princess. You probably are, too. 
I’ve never been the girliest girl. Sure, I wear makeup and dresses, but I don’t do my nails or wear jewelry unless it’s a special occasion. When I was a little girl, I don’t think I ever wanted to grow up to be a princess. Of all of the Disney Princesses, there was only one I could relate to—the redhead with the pipes. I even played Ariel as entertainment for a pageant once.
One of the reasons I didn’t relate well to fairy tale princesses was because they always wanted something they seemingly couldn’t have. My parents always told me “If you can dream it, you can become it.” And I never doubted them.
In fairy tales, dreams come true. They can in real life as well. Even dreams we didn’t know we had.

A few years ago, I’d go to reader events and book signings as an unpublished writer, and I’d look at those authors who’d accomplished my dream. One day that will be me, I’d think.
One day is here for me. If you’re an author who isn’t there yet, hold onto your dream, and enjoy the journey. Those fairy tale princesses had wonderful adventures and made some special friends on their way to realizing their dreams, and they were rewarded with happily-ever-after.

My contemporary romance novel, Play With My Heart, has been nominated for a BTS Red Carpet Readers Choice Award.  When I began my journey, I didn’t know winning an award would be a dream of mine someday. Thank you to all of you who have supported me by voting for my book. If you haven’t, but would like to, please follow this link: http://btsemag.com/redcarpet/2014_ReadersChoice_Contemp.html

It just so happens that Play With My Heart has a fairy tale theme that runs throughout the story.
The heroine’s ex-husband says to her, “I don’t begrudge you a Cinderella at the ball evening, but fairy tales end…” ~Jason
At one point, Liz starts to believe him. But then, a dream she'd given up on comes to life and she gets her HEA.

This is what the hero says to her. “Liz, you are the one who made my fairy tale come true. You’ve fulfilled dreams I never had until I met you. This fairy tale doesn’t end.” ~Ian

To the aspiring authors of the world, dream big. To the published authors, dream bigger. Let’s touch the world with love and live our very own fairy tale, handsome princes included.
Did you ever dream of being a princess? Can you relate to any of them? Are you realizing your dreams?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Finding the Next Big Idea: Creative Inspiration for Historical Novelists

Where do the “big” creative ideas come from? As we all know, there isn’t a simple answer to this question. We all gather inspiration from different places. Maybe we find ideas from people watching or a dramatic report or scene on television. Perhaps you picked up on an archetype that fascinates you in a particular genre. Or maybe you are drawn to fascinating people from the past. If you are someone who falls into this latter category and loves to write all things historical, there are several productive ways to kickstart your imagination if you are struggling for an idea. (But these tips can work for any genre, really!)

One great place to look for inspiration is your own family tree. Even if you can only go back a generation or two, there are so many things you can learn that could lead to your next great idea. Simply finding a census with information about your great-grandparents (or, really anyone) can lead you to construct plot lines in your head. For example, when I was researching my family history, I discovered all kinds of stories, from tales of hardship on the frontier to conflicts between family members when they fought on opposing sides during the Civil War. Census records and historical documents also led me to a fifth-great-grandfather who came from Spain in the 1700s, settled in Pensacola, and worked as a surgeon for the Spanish army. Through searching a bit more through various books and newspaper articles, I discovered much about this man’s personal life (which was quite tumultuous), and suddenly I started to get to know this person a bit more in my head. Though I can’t learn everything about him, and though I wouldn’t necessarily use him as a character in a book, the details I discovered about his life definitely led to sparking my imagination about ways I could create other characters. But even if you can’t find out a lot of information about someone, the smallest details can be enough. Census records, obituaries, letters, photos, army records, family stories--all of these things can lead you down a creative path to discovering your next great character or plot.



Along the same lines, a trip to the antiques store can also help you if you are stuck in a rut. There are all kinds of fascinating things in antiques stores--old photos, letters, and magazines, just to name a few. Old photos are great visuals to help you start to imagine a story. What was going on in the subjects’ heads when the photo was taken? If it shows a couple, were they newly married? Do they look happy? What could have led to their marriage? What challenges had they faced in life? Every detail of the photo can lead to character formation. For example, how are they dressed? What is the background like? Are they wearing jewelry? What do their eyes tell you? Of course, a lot of this could be speculative, but that doesn’t matter. You are just fishing for inspiration! Another fun source for potential ideas is old books--especially if you find one with lots of marginalia. Each time I find a book with writing in it, I always wonder about the person who wrote the comments. What were they thinking? What provoked them to underline something or to write out something personal in the margins? Usually I end up creating some kind of plot line centered around a mysterious love affair--but you get the point.

Museums are also wonderful places to look for inspiration. Because I am part of a romance writer’s group in Alabama, I have to give a shout out to the new Museum of Alabama at the Alabama Department of Archives and History.  This place is amazing, and there are so many personal objects to see that remain as relics of fascinating stories. You can look at clothing worn by people over a century ago, study an authentic Civil War surgical kit (yikes!), view artifacts from the Industrial and Civil Rights eras, and discover many other things that all tell individual stories about someone. And you can find things like this in any museum, of course. The key is you have to be curious and not separate yourself from what is in the glass case--something that is all too easy to do when we go to museums! So, take your time. Slow down, and really try to imagine the person behind the object.

Imagination and finding the next big idea depends on curiosity, I think. Sometimes we need a little help with that aspect of the process, especially when “normal” life and day jobs and everyday concerns tend to take us away from the frame of mind that allows creative inspiration and curiosity. And though I have been discussing inspiration for historical romance/historical fiction authors in particular, these ideas can be useful for anyone. It is time to fire up your curiosity and get your imagination going! Most importantly, have fun! Just let your imagination run wild so that you can find your next big idea.

Susan Sierra is a historical and contemporary romance writer. She loves books and old letters, adores her dog and family, and has a deep and committed love affair with coffee. She spent time as an undergraduate studying (having fun) in Mexico, went on to work for a large regional magazine as a copyeditor, and then decided that she hadn’t tortured herself enough in life...so she went to graduate school. After many years, she walked away with a PhD and an unhealthy relationship with Charles Dickens. She hopes to complete her first full-length novel in 2015.
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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Grandmaw Got Runned Over By Mr. Darcy

Well, here we are in the middle of that most sacred of American holidays - HalloThankMas. The Halloween candy and merchandise is on sale for 75% off ! Okay, the candy is long gone because chocoholics like me swooped in on that stuff the day after Halloween like a ten times bridesmaid after a bouquet fumble. But who doesn't need an Elsa costume marked down to $2.99? Especially as your kid will probably want to go as Miley Cyrus next year, which is a much cheaper costume, trust me.

Stores are wall to wall pumpkin pies, pumpkin rolls, pumpkin cupcakes, pumpkin tarts, pumpkin candles, and pumpkin scented toilet paper. Meat departments have turkeys in every available bunker and stacked to the ceiling of a refrigerated truck out back. Of course if the generator kicks off they're going to need a helluva lot of pumpkin air freshener to clean it up.

The Christmas trees and ornaments have been up since the day after Labor Day and those toy catalogs have been blasting enough subliminal messages at your kids to make A Clockwork Orange look like a Sunday School picnic!

Soon it will be time for that world renowned athletic contest for which we've all been waiting. A test of wills, brute force and strategic thinking. Some athletes train a lifetime for this event and some rank amateurs will fall to injury and mayhem. Yes, I'm talking about that Running of the Spandex - that WWF Smackdown - that NASCAR of the Shopping Carts - that Conflagration known to make grown men run screaming home to their mamas - BLACK FRIDAY !!

Is it just me or has Christmas become an event designed to draw out the Redneck in Americans all over the country? When women old enough to be my grandmother fight over Egyptian cotton sheets at Walmart and have to be separated by a SWAT team, it doesn't matter if those women are duking it out in Jasper, Alabama or Rochester, New York. You HAVE a Redneck Situation.

I write Regency set romance to escape all of the hustle and bustle of the modern world. The genteel society and pretty manners are soothing after dealing with a Bridezilla who wants a five-tier camouflage wedding cake with a deer head topper.

Christmas in Regency England was very different from the holiday we celebrate today. It was actually quite different from the holiday depicted in many of the historical romance novels and period costume dramas we so love. And yet, some aspects of a Regency Christmas make me think Mr. Darcy may well have had to suffer through holiday visits to Pemberley from some of his Regency Redneck Relations.

The Christmas Season during the Regency could stretch from St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) to Twelfth Night (Epiphany / January 6th.) Imagine having to spend a month in the house with all of your relations and any friends who had nowhere else to go? This season was often celebrated with a house party. For those of you who don't know, a house party often meant you had to make room and provide food for your guests, their servants, and their horses for the duration of the party. You know those redneck relatives who come for Thanksgiving and don't leave until after New Year's Day? Imagine doing that with no television, no internet, no cell phones and limited access to hot water.

For some families it might start even earlier as the last Sunday before Advent was called "Stir Up Sunday." On this day the family's Christmas pudding was stirred up and left covered in the pantry to wait to be topped with brandy and set on fire for Christmas dinner. Christmas pudding consisted of thirteen ingredients in memory of Christ and his twelve apostles. Each member of the family took a turn stirring the pudding with a wooden spoon (symbolizing the manger and the cross.) Whilst doing so the stirrer would close their eyes and make a wish.

A Christmas tradition certain to send Walmart CEO's screaming into the streets, decorations were not brought into the house until Christmas Eve Day. They consisted of mistletoe, holly, hellebore, rosemary, and fir tree branches. Red ribbons might be added, but nothing else was bought in a store. And all of this greenery was taken down on Twelfth Night and burned to prevent bad luck. 

There was no Santa Claus and no hanging of stockings. Gift giving was acceptable on Christmas Day, but more often than not gifts were exchanged on Boxing Day (December 26th) or Twelfth Night. Boxing Day took its name from the boxes of food and little gifts made up for a landowners' tenants and for those in need. And in turn a landowner's tenants might bestow a gift on him - usually something to represent the harvest or the service the tenant provided to the master. (So even Regency bosses gave out Christmas bonuses! Are you listening, Walmart?)

Under the heading of a Regency version of "Hey y'all, watch this!" comes the Christmas game of Snapdragon. Raisins were soaked in brandy in a large shallow bowl. The lights were turned out, and the brandy lit. People had to try and grasp a raisin and eat it without burning themselves. I think you'd have to soak me in brandy to get me to try it!

There were no Christmas carolers in Regency England. However, there were wassail groups who would go from house to house singing begging songs in the hope of receiving food, drink, and money. Wassail was a mixture of beer, wine and brandy and was usually served to the singers at each house. I think I've seen groups like this around my neighborhood at Christmas-time.

There were no Christmas trees during the Regency. Christmas trees were introduced to England by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the middle of the 19th century. However, on Epiphany Eve, men would gather round a tree, usually in an orchard, with cider and guns. In an ancient ceremony, they would drink to the tree and fire the guns to drive away evil spirits and promote the vigor of the trees. Horn-blowing was an alternative to firing guns. (Sounds like a Regency tail-gating party to me!)

These are just a few of the Christmas traditions celebrated during the Regency era. As many of you have heard, my publication debut will be coming out by December 3rd. My Regency Christmas novella A PERFECTLY DREADFUL CHRISTMAS is set to be published in the Regency Christmas Anthology CHRISTMAS REVELS along with novellas by three established and wonderful authors - Kate Parker, Hannah Meredith and Anna D. Allen.

This was such a fun project and I am forever grateful to these three ladies for allowing me to join them.

What are your thoughts on Christmas traditions? Do you have any unusual or long held Christmas traditions in your family? Do you intend to gird your loins and venture into the madness that is Black Friday? And do you think you could stand to spend an entire month entertaining your relatives over the Christmas holidays?     

  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Then and Now: Handmade vs. Automatic


As tomorrow is Veterans Day, I found myself thinking about all the men and women over the centuries who have served and/or died for our country. Even before we became a country, there were people fighting to shape the nation we love today. Fighting techniques have changed drastically over those centuries: from hand-to-hand using rocks and sticks, to swords and then guns, and now missiles and precision targeting. That's the trend, to move from doing things by hand to having a machine do it for us.


I love Miranda Lambert’s song, Automatic. Have you heard it? It’s all about how we used to do things for ourselves and now so much just happens with little or no effort. Her point is that we get out of life what we put into it, so having things handed to us lessens the importance or meaning of the item or act. For example, we take it for granted now, but newspapers have not always existed. Yes, I know, some have closed their doors, but we still have many in print and online. However, in the 18th century, they were only beginning to come into their own.

In my American Revolution era romance, Emily’s Vow, Frank Thomson is a Continental Army spy who is undercover in Charles Town, South Carolina, playing the part of a printer. He’s not happy about his assignment, because he’d prefer to be out and about than tied down to one place and then inside to boot. The work of laying out the type and operating the press is hard and tiresome and downright frustrating to this strong, adventurous man. Yet it’s the paper that enables him to relay coded messages to the American forces surrounding the besieged city. It takes time and effort to accomplish his objective, too.
 

Recently, I went to Philadelphia, home of not only Independence Hall (pictured below and the site of the debate and signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution) but also Benjamin Franklin and his print shop replica. I really wanted to see if I'd accurately portrayed the printing business as it was in the 18th century, and thankfully discovered I had. Whew!


The park ranger on duty in the Printing Shop a few blocks away from Independence Hall demonstrated the process of printing a one-sided broadsheet. When the press was active in the 1700s, it took several men doing individual jobs at the press to make each copy.


One man laid out the type in the appropriate channels using the small metal blocks with letters on them. (Interesting side note: The two “cases” of type sat in such a way as to have one on a table (the “lower case”) and one mounted above on an angle (the “upper case”). We still use those terms today, don’t we?) Another man inked the type, a very messy job! Another laid on the wet paper in the frame and lowered it over the inked type, then slid it into the press. The “puller” then pulled the lever to apply the pressure to make the print. One copy of the news or announcement was made. One. The goal was to make something like 20-30 copies an hour. Compare that to the automated presses newspapers use today and I think you can imagine how much more treasured having a broadsheet or pamphlet was then than now.

 

I think Miranda Lambert is on to something. Not that I want to go back to the way papers used to be printed in lieu of the current processes! But there are aspects of our current society’s expectations as a result of how fast things are done or produced that I wish were different. Can you think of something we take for granted that perhaps we shouldn’t? Or, the opposite, something you wish was more automatic? Leave a comment and your email address (as I will need to contact the winner as to format and where to send the book) for a chance to win a copy of Emily's Vow, in either ebook or paperback format. I'll post the winner on 11/14. Good luck!

And please, stay in touch via social media or, better yet, subscribe to my newsletter, Betty’s Broadside, at www.bettybolte.com/newsletter.htm. As a thank you, each quarter I’ll draw one name at random to win a gift. And most important, I promise to not overload your inbox, but only send out a broadside when there is news worth sharing.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Questioning...Well...Everything

From 11 Untranslatable Words from Other Cultures by Maptia 

No question about it--I'm a pochemuchka.

I've had teachers tell me not to raise my hand anymore. I've had family members roll their eyes. I've had shop clerks shake their heads and walk away. I'm a questioner.

I think that's why my family had not one but three separate sets of encyclopedias during my formative years. One Christmas I was even given my very own set!

I want to know those answers. I want to know everything about everything.

And I think that's a trait that, while annoying, makes me a better writer.

Questions make us think, make us wonder, make us plot new worlds. And those new worlds--those can be written about.
  • What if instead of losing land to the white settlers, the Native Americans managed to hold onto the center of the country due to large mechanical wings allowing them to swoop in and win battles against US Calvary?  -- instant Steampunk!
     
  • What if a teenager discovered she was the mouthpiece for the ghost of a local murdered woman, the only person who knew where the treasure was buried  -- Paranormal, anyone? Or maybe Suspense?
     
  • What if a lab assistant realized his boss wouldn't notice him borrowing the time machine during a long lunch break -- Futuristic Science Fiction!
     
  • What if a VIP at a horror convention ended up looking like the victim of the latest slasher flick -- who wants to solve a Mystery?
These are questions I've had. And they've led to  meeting wondrous characters, envisioning elaborate places, and plotting fantastical stories.

So keep up those questions! They're the engine that keeps your plot running!


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AIDEE LADNIER is a writer who loves quirky characters. You can visit her website at http://www.aideeladnier.com or meet her at some of her favorite social media sites: 
Twitter  |  Tumblr  |  Pinterest  |  Facebook



Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Remember, remember, the fifth of November

Today is Guy Fawkes Day, or the Gunpowder Plot Day.  On November 5, 1605, a group led by Robert Catesby tried to blow up the House of Lords in a failed effort to assassinate King James VI. The conspirator most closely associated with the plot was Guy Fawkes who had the task of lighting the fuse to the explosives.  Guy Fawkes is often toasted as "the last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions."

Over the last 409 years, Guy Fawkes has worked his way into popular culture. The main character in V for Vendetta who wears a Guy Fawkes mask.  Dumbledore's phoenix was named Fawkes.

Indulge your inner rebel today as you remember, remember the fifth of November.  

Monday, November 03, 2014

THE IMPORTANCE OF A QUALITY BOOK COVER



I recently retired the printed versions of both my novels because of my increasing unhappiness with the overall product. It hadn’t been a quick or easy decision to make. I was otherwise happy with the distributor. I’d also spent countless hours learning how to design full covers (front, back and spine) and how to set up the interiors using their online templates and instructions—tools that kept a not-so-fun process from becoming an insurmountable task. Their customer service had always been quick and courteous, and their shipping reliable. The distributor had it all … except for a decent product.

That I’m in the process of entering published contests, many of which require printed books, didn’t ease my worry about the untimeliness of switching to another distributor. The transfer process is a lengthy one, which means I may not have books available in time to meet those contest deadlines. But I think I’d rather not make a deadline than turn in books that have crooked covers, faded colors, and/or toner splotches mixed with the print.

Covers are a big deal to me. Not just mine, but all covers. Covers are the first impression our books make on potential readers, and those first impressions count, especially at a time when readers have more books than ever to choose from.

I love a good cover and can name several off the top of my head that I loved so much I bought the books before I even read the blurbs. Since I read so many genres, I’ll stick with my own YA genre to list a few of my favorites:

  • Perfect Chemistry, Rules of Attraction, Chain Reaction, all by Simone Elkles
  • Going Too Far, Love Story, Forget You, all by Jennifer Echols
  • Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess, all by Cassandra Clare
  • Pushing the Limits, Dare You To, Crash Into You, all by Katie McGarry

I’m seeing a pattern here. Lots of pretty couples, or at least an interesting character. I love bright colors, but it’s obvious from this list that I’m often attracted to covers with a darker tone.

How important are covers to you? What are some of your favorites?

I’m also giving away a Kindle version of my book, INNOCENT, to one commenter who includes an email with their comment.




Callie James
Writer of edgy, upper YA romance and dark YA paranormal.
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