Tag Archives: Canadian authors

“As I grew more and more aware of the way social media can really amplify public gaffes, I began to see a comic story emerge about how a situation could really put this marriage on the ropes” | Q&A with writer Mark Sampson on his new novel “The Slip”

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I don’t think I am alone in stating that the world that is now enveloping us feels a bit too fast-paced and artificial. So it may be time to take a step back and look what that realm is truly like. Writer Mark Sampson has given us a starting point for us readers for pondering and discussing our actions in the era of super-hyped-up mass media in his latest novel The Slip. Sampson was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the new book.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of The Slip?

Sure. The novel is about a fictitious University of Toronto philosophy professor and public intellectual named Philip Sharpe who appears in a nationally televised debate with one of his fiercest rivals, a right-wing newspaper columnist named Cheryl Sneed. In the heat of the debate, Philip ends us saying something wildly inappropriate to her as a woman, which gets captured on live TV. His “slip” quickly goes viral on social media, and the fallout becomes a kind of catalyst to expose all the cracks and problems in Philip’s marriage to his much younger, stay-at-home feminist wife, Grace.

There is a somewhat off-kilter constraint on the story that complicates Philip’s situation. He actually says two inappropriate things during the TV debate – the sexist dig at Sneed, but also an earlier comment that is philosophically inconsistent with the beliefs and ideas which Philip has built his entire reputation on as an intellectual. Ever the “absent-minded professor,” Philip spends a large chunk of the novel thinking that the world is in a rage at him over the earlier remarks rather than his misogynous comment at Sneed. It’s a 200+-page obliviousness that is (at least I hope) played for comic effect; but I hope it also points to some heavier ideas about how our words can sometimes cause harm without us realizing it.    

2) Am I correct in assuming that this book is a bit of departure from your previous writing? If yes, how so? Was there anything specific that made you write this book?

It’s a departure insofar that The Slip is a straight-up comic novel in the tradition of, say, P.G. Wodehouse or Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis. It doesn’t have the darker, heavier tones of my previous novel, Sad Peninsula, which was about (among other things) the legacy of sexual violence enacted against Korean girls and young women during World War Two. Still, I think The Slip does touch on some serious matters. It’s about gender dynamics; it’s about the division of labour in a modern-day marriage; it’s about the double-edged sword of social media; it’s a gentle ribbing of academic culture and media culture and Sunday brunch culture of well-off urban yuppies. I like to think that the novel casts a fairly wide satirical net.   

 

3) I know we have talked about The Slip in our last Q&A but how long did it take to write this book? Is there anything you are hoping this book will accomplish?

The characters of Philip and Grace, and their problematic marriage, have been rattling around in my head since at least 2007 or 2008. As I grew more and more aware of the way social media can really amplify public gaffes, I began to see a comic story emerge about how a situation could really put this marriage on the ropes. Once I committed to actually nutting out what happens and sitting down to write it, the book took about two years to complete.  

4) Is there a book/reading tour scheduled for The Slip? If yes, are there any events you are looking forward to participating?

 

Still very much (To Be Discussed) at this point. I do have the Toronto launch booked for the evening of May 31 at Ben McNally Books (come on out, Torontonians, if you’re reading this (Link to the Facebook page for this event)) and one other event planned for my hometown of Charlottetown. Hopefully other events will materialize in the near future.

5) Are you working on any new writing right now or are you taking a break for a bit?

 

Yes, I just finished a very rough first draft of a new book, a kind of a parody of a post-apocalyptic novel. It’s about overpopulation, set in an alternate version of Toronto where the subways are always packed and everyone lives in tiny, overpriced condos. Horrifying, terrifying stuff. I’ve also been working on a new poetry manuscript, as well as a lot of literary criticism. I don’t tend to take too many breaks from writing. I have so many ideas and a finite number of years to get them all out.

 

6) Many of the followers of my blog mention to me that they enjoy interacting with writers over social media. You hinted in the last Q&A you did with me that “The Slip” deals a bit with the darker side of social media but you also mentioned that things like Facebook and Twitter play only a small part in your writing. Do you still believe that?

 

Yes, absolutely – probably more so. There is no doubt that social media has its dark side, with the capacity to bring out the very worst in some people. Can we deny that this is the case, here in this Trumpian age?

7) I am curious about the dynamic that you and writer Rebecca Rosenblum have? I see that you both often post reviews/interviews of each other’s work on social media, but do you both read/discuss/critique each other’s work as well?

 

Indeed. For your readers who don’t know, Rebecca Rosenblum is my wife. (Link to my Q&A with Rebecca Rosenblum  –“(W)e have the privilege of listening to the worst crimes on the news for twenty minutes, then shutting it off and thinking about getting new shoes or what to make for dinner for the next hour. But shouldn’t fiction go deeper, explore the hard parts?” We do take a lot of pride in sharing around each other’s good news on various social media channels. We do read a lot of each other’s work in draft and offer feedback and support whenever we can. It’s pretty great, actually, to have a smart, talented fellow writer living under the same roof to offer a critique on something I’m writing. Sometimes what we can offer each other is a thorough, engaging edit on a story. And sometimes what we can offer is simply the most important thing any author can hear during the writing process: Keep going!    

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Link to Dundurn Press’ website for “The Slip”

Link to Mark Sampson’s Blogger site “Free Range Reading”

“It’s funny how families sometimes repress their best tales. From there, I began to spin a yarn about a rumrunner.” | Q&A with author Emily Schultz on her book “Men Walking on Water.”

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There is something about a story based on family history, especially when that story has a bit of intrigue and vice involved. Author Emily Schultz has given us readers a story like that  with her novel Men Walking on Water. And if this book is like any of Schultz’s previous works, it will be a gripping read.

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1) First off, could you give an outline of Men Walking on Water?

It’s about a gang of rumrunners and what happens to their operation when one of them disappears into the night with a bag of cash. The others believe him to be dead—crashed through the ice in an old Ford used for driving whiskey across the Detroit River. The head of the operation is a corrupt reverend who’s keeping the abstinence movement going with donations from socialites while stockpiling his church basement with Canadian whiskey.

2) Was there any in particular that inspired you to write this book? It does seem like a book that may have required to a bit of research with it – Was that the case? If yes, what kinds of research was involved?

My grandfather was a rumrunner in Detroit. He dropped out of school and started moving booze between Canada and the U.S. at age 14. It was like getting into the family business, and so many regular citizens were doing it. His brother—my great Uncle Alfred—drowned in the river when his car crashed through weak ice. Because I went to university in Windsor, I looked at the river every day for years, but never heard this story until much later. It’s funny how families sometimes repress their best tales. From there, I began to spin a yarn about a rumrunner.

Research began mostly with photo books, images of 1920s Detroit. You can fall into a photo and feel it, and as a fiction writer, that can open up any number of possibilities. From there, I began reading about Prohibition, Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang, the Pullman Porter Union which plays into this story in an interesting way, and of course fashion and music. A curator at the Henry Ford museum gave me a tour of their private collections, and their archives also provided plenty of local tidbits, like how much a ferry ride to Canada cost in the ’20s — a quarter!

3) You have included on your website a book trailer, where you are listed at the Scenarist. How did that come into being? What has the reaction to the trailer (if any) been?

Brian J. Davis put this trailer together for me from silent films that are in the public domain now. As my husband and first reader, he was familiar with the novel and its plot and good at matching up scenes and characters from real films to my story. He wanted to call me the “scenarist” to be true to the ’20s and ’30s. People thought it was a lot of fun. I happen to live with a filmmaker so that made it easy.

Link to the video on Vimeo.com

4) I know these next two questions are ones that most authors hate to answer. But my followers seem to enjoy seeing it answered – Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

We’re hesitant to commit because we use books for inspiration, but that’s not the same as just enjoying a book.

5) So you have a listing of dates that you have on your website for public events in relation to Men Walking on Water. Are public events something you enjoy doing in relation for your books? Are there any upcoming events that you are excited to be partaking in?

I have eight or nine readings in as many days with events from Windsor to Toronto to Montreal. Good thing I do enjoy it!  (Check my schedule here: www.emilyschultz.com/events)

6) You seem to have an active role on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter? How do you like using these means of communication in relation to your writing? Have you had much contact with fans/haters of your work?

I love social media as a way to stay connected with friends, readers, and other writers—but I do have to limit my use of it sometimes. When I’m deep in the writing of a novel, I put a blocker on it so I only have access to it for ten minutes or so per day.

7) Are you working on anything new right now in relation to your writing? If, yes, are there details you care to share?

I’m putting together a short fiction collection. I’m also working on adapting The Blondes for TV series. I’m working on a new novel as well, but I want to keep it close to me for now.

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Link to to Penguin Random House Canada website for Men Walking on Water

Link to Emily Schultz’s website

Reading and Seeing the Souls that Create Great Works | Review of “Portraits of Canadian Writers” by Bruce Meyer (2016) Porcupine’s Quill

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I have dabbled in both the printed word and photography. Both forms seem to have a certain appeal to different sections of the mind. A carefully crafted phrase seems to enlighten a part of the human psyche while an image tends to bring a certain pleasure to the same spirit, somehow making the whole reading experience complete. Bruce Meyer has been documenting Canada’s literary scene in both written word and in photos for over 30 years, and his efforts have come together in a charming manner in Portraits of Canadian Writers.

Introduction pages 19-20

This collection of photographs and accompanying essays is by no means a complete catalogue of the most important Canadian authors of the past thirty years – though many of them are here – but a small measure of the voices who have contributed to the cultural dialogue Canadian literature has grown into during that period. There are so many I wish I could have met and included – Margaret Laurence, Farley Mowat, Morley Callaghan and many more. I met them or corresponded with them, but I never thought to bring a camera along when I was with them in a restaurant or at a reading. It would have seemed awkward and artificial at the time, and perhaps, something in me thought that those I held as personal icons would live forever.

Our literature is still a very young, very immature literature – we are just now making tentative forays into those literary expressions that signal a certainty and a maturity in a national canon, and chief among those expressions is tragedy. We have, as readers and as makers of literary culture, steadfastly refused to entertain tragedy. This is partially because the idea of hope is so very central to our sense of who we are, and partially because our sense of poetic justice is ingrained in our political and social institutions. We cannot accept the destruction of a protagonist as a viable outcome for imaginations. We seek resolution. We still seek a just society. Perhaps we are too comfortable, too content with our own situations to accept the discomfort of tragedy.

It seems almost cheap to ‘blog’ this well-crafted book here but I get Meyer’s joy of enlightening fellow readers to a new work or a new thought in regards to a favourite author. I have been doing that for a short while here now while Meyer has been both interviewing, writing and photographing authors for decades. That is the joy of this book for us fans of literature. That element of enlightenment about writing we gleam from both the words and the pictures, printed on the quality stock that Porcupine’s Quill always uses for the books.

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Scanned image of “Leonard Cohen” (pages 52-53) from Bruce Meyer’s Portraits of Canadian Writers (2016). Published by Porcupine’s Quill.

I took my time looking at this book, sometimes putting it down for a few days and then reviewing sections I had already read. In short I savoured the enlightenment it gave me from both the well-crafted words and the accompanying images. And I have no doubt I will refer this book about writers and their books again in a few months time. There are subtle details and references here that would pique a book-lover’s interest therefore they should not be missed by a “rushed” reading.

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Scanned image of “Catherine Graham” (Pages 86-87) from Bruce Meyer’s Portraits of Canadian Writers (2016). Published by Porcupine’s Quill.

Yes, this is a book that should be in every Canadian library for reference but it is also a book that should be read and discussed. Not in a critical way but one that starts thought process and spawns reflections and considerations. It is a gifted read. And charming one at times.

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Scanned image of “Allan Straton” (Page 180-181) from Bruce Meyer’s Portraits of Canadian Writers (2016) Porcupine’s Quill.

Bruce Meyer has given us readers a serious bit of enlightenment for our minds with his Portraits of Canadian Writers. The combination of writing and images engage any reader’s complete psyche and give insight to some of Canada’s greatest wordsmiths.

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Link to The Porcupine’s Quill’s website for Portraits of Canadian Writers

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“The readers who have contacted me love Harriet almost possessively, and take a few days to forgive me for what I put her through.” | Q&A with writer Cordelia Strube

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Culture is suppose to deal with the ‘human condition’ – to take note of an element in our society and bring it forth for us to consider and discuss. But that rarely seems to happen anymore. We are bombarded with more and more items that seem to be ‘marketed’ to us and our pocket books. So when we come across an item where a person carefully crafts an item to show something about the ‘human condition’ many of us still do take time to ponder that item. And we try to share our thoughts about that item with others.

Cordelia Strube states she is a private person. In being that private person she quietly observes the world around her and then crafts her observations into works for us to consider. Her novel “On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light” certainly became a topic of conversation for my many circles these past few months.  So it not only a thrill but a bit of chance to gain some enlightenment when Strube agreed to answer a few select questions for me.

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1) You seem to have put quite a bit of thought into “On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light”. Was there anything specific that inspired you to write it? How long did it take to write?

I was sitting in a Tim Horton’s, people-watching through the window, and noticed a small boy with an over-sized head. He was gripping his mother’s hand as they walked, both of them ignoring the stares of passersby.  In the mother’s expression I recognized a look all too familiar to mothers a.k.a. if you hurt my child, I will kill you.  There was a grace and nobility about these two seemingly frail people, pushing courageously through their daily grind despite disability.  Once home I googled causes for skull enlargement in children and, shazam, Irwin was born.  Then I started what if-ing, which I do constantly while writing novels.  What if the sick child has a well sibling?  What love and tenderness is left for the well sibling who will always, in the eyes of the mother devoted to the sick child, get better?  How do the well and sick children feel about one another?  I wanted to reveal this complex sibling connection from both points of view, which resulted in two protagonists in a two part novel.

2) A lot of fellow readers in my circle seem to feel a certain empathy for the protagonist, Harriet, or they are very confused by her. How have you found readers’ reaction to her and her family? Are there any reactions to the book that you care to share?

The readers who have contacted me love Harriet almost possessively, and take a few days to forgive me for what I put her through.  I did not set out to write a lovable 11 year-old.  She is prickly, fierce, stubborn, determined and, in her own estimation, unlovable. This devotion from readers surprises and cheers me.  Maybe it’s because Harriet is a rebel and there’s a bit of rebel in us all.

3) Your website lists both books you have written and stage/radio plays you have produced. How do you contrast the two forms of writing (if at all). Is there one form you prefer over the other?

I love all narrative forms.  Radio plays are the toughest because you reveal everything through sound effects and dialogue.  I avoid the the voice-over device to reveal exposition, and never plug dialogue with expository writing, preferring sparse speech.  I put each line through a sieve repeatedly.  Few people talk in huge chunks, and if they do, they’re usually boring.  So it’s just me, the actors and the sound effects crew building worlds and people in listeners’ minds.
Stage plays have actors, sets, lighting and sound effects.  Many choices that are limited only by budgets.   Often the most intriguing stage plays make much from very little.
With film, a primarily visual medium, you have the added bonus of close-ups to reveal subtext.  My screenplays have considerably fewer spoken words than my radio or stage plays.
Novels know no limits.  You can build worlds, civilizations, multiple galaxies.  You can jump in and out of thoughts, introduce characters in one scene then ditch them in the next, straddle continents and time zones in a sentence. Novel writing means absolute artistic freedom.  And you have the added bonus of the reader’s unbridled imagination.  They will envision and feel things you didn’t know you were writing.  Many times readers have mentioned elements in my novels I didn’t realize were there.  Readers come to the narrative with their own histories which add colour and dimension.

4) You have a complex list of literary events in which you are partaking over the next few months. Many writers that I talk to seem to have a level of fatigue that comes over them when they do public events. Are public readings and discussions of your work something you enjoy doing? 

It depends on the crowd.  If they get it, I’m buzzed.  If they don’t, I feel crummy and regret showing up.  With On The Shores Of Darkness, There Is Light, my 10th novel, I decided to only do events that pay some form of honorarium.  I’ve never understood why authors are expected to offer their time and services for free.  This request narrows invites down and slows the pace.  Q and A is more interesting for me than readings because I get to ask questions of readers.  I never stop learning from them.  But yes, you need stamina, both mental and physical, when you’re promoting a book.  Everybody’s a critic and you better be able to suck it up.

5) This is a question I am really eager to ask you. Many writers I talk to about their presence on the internet seem to make a comment about it being something they ‘need’ to do. The only presence I can tell you have as a writer is through your website. (And your comment on your siteIn a world overrun by technology and advertising designed to make us hunger for material gain, the value of human connections cannot be measured” is very reflective of many people’s thoughts around me.) What are your thoughts in relation to the use of the internet with regard to promoting your writing? Do you get many people commenting about your books through your website? Are you avoiding social-media platforms (like Facebook and Twitter) on purpose?

 
I’m a private person.  I don’t like having my picture taken.  It takes me a long time to compose a sentence.  I don’t enjoy staring into screens of any size; don’t have a cell or a TV.  These are not social media-friendly qualities.  I have two laptops, one connected to the internet, the other remains a disconnected island for my fiction.  Briefly, when traveling, I tried a tablet and found myself checking my email accounts frequently because it was so easy.  The checking became compulsive and interfered with my thoughts, and fiction–for me–is all about allowing thoughts to wander.  
 
I’m more comfortable socializing one on one in real life, in real time, with all kinds of people in all kinds of real circumstances.  But even the word real has become unreal, hasn’t it?  Which is why I called the reality show about people who think they’re on reality shows in my novel Milosz “Reality Check”. 
 
 I want people vulnerable around me, not playing a shiny, scratch-proof role they’ve devised for themselves online. Twitter etc works wonderfully for writers who think it’s wonderful.  I’m available to readers via my website and when they take the time to contact me, I always respond, have even made real friends that way.
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‘Crime fiction is about the human struggle. . . It’s the perfect marriage between my love of psychology and fiction’ | Q&A with author Barbara Fradkin

There are many readers out there who are looking for a light story to read yet still want a bit of message about the human condition in the plot. Barbara Fradkin fits that bill. Her ‘Inspector Green’ series of crime novels do have thrills twists but also explore important issues of our time. As she was about to launch a new series of books – the Amanda Doucette series – she answered a few questions for me and allowing some insight into the person who holds the pen.
1) Your website states that you have been writing books since 1995. How did you get involved in writing fiction? How does your background as child psychologist help you in your writing?

I’ve always had stories spinning in my head. I daydreamed in school about adventures with exciting, imaginary friends, and as soon as I could spell, I started writing them down. I had a ton of first drafts and unfinished short stories, plays, TV scripts, and mainstream novels collecting dust in my basement, but it wasn’t until I tried crime fiction that I found my true niche. Crime fiction is about the human struggle, about conflict and dark choices, and about what people do when they’re desperate. It’s the perfect marriage between my love of psychology and fiction, and I think my years as a psychologist gave me not only insight into people’s struggles, but also lots of topics and themes to write about.

2) Has your writing changed over time? If, yes, how so?

I hope so! Each novel and story, however bad, teaches me more about character development, story structure, pacing, and balance. And when my first book, Do or Die, came out in 2000, I became much more serious about my writing. It wasn’t just a private venture and a creative outlet, it was a public story aimed at readers, and I wanted to make sure it was the best it could be. With each book, I have challenged myself further to make it better than the one before. My later stories are more layered, with more points of view, and historical stories woven into the narrative.

3) You have written three books for the Rapid Reads series at Orca Books. How did you like writing for that series? Was it easier or harder to write for Rapid Reads as compared to a regular novel?

I have written quite a few short stories, so I was familiar with tight story lines, minimalist writing, and singular focus. I find writing the Rapid Reads stories are halfway between short stories and novels. The guidelines require a linear plot with few characters and no subplots, all of which shape the story. The most difficult challenge is telling a complex, compelling story within these guidelines, while keeping the language simple.

(Link to my review of The Night Thief)

4) Who are you favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I like the British crime tradition—for example, Kate Atkinson and Denise Mina. However, I like variety and read quite widely, but fairly slowly. With the demands of my own writing and research, I don’t get through as many books as I’d like. This year I had to read several non-fiction books on ISIS for my next book. During the holidays I read God Rest ye Murdered Gentlemen, a light romp by Eva Gates, who is actually my good friend Vicki Delany, and now I’ve just finished reading Fifteen Dogs.
5) How have your books been received by the public? Are there any memorable experiences you care to share?

The challenge for Canadian crime writers is getting exposure, particularly with the reduction in review sites and the dominance of international blockbusters. Much of the growth in my readership has been due to word of mouth, and for this I am very grateful to readers across Canada, and even in the US and UK, who have discovered my books and recommended them to others. People become hooked on the series because they grow to love the characters and want to know what happens to them next. Inspector Green, for all that he’s flawed and exasperating, is a mensch and has people rooting for him. People also care about the other characters and want a say in what I do to them next. Once at a reading, I mused about what I should do next to shake things up for Green, and a reader threatened “Don’t you dare kill off his father!”

Link to my review of The Whisper of Legends– A Inspector Green Mystery

6) You have partaken in public readings of your works in the past. Is that an activity you enjoy? Have any of your works been the subject of any book clubs? If yes, did you partake in the discussions of your books?

In twenty years, a writer can do a lot of readings! Yes, I’ve done readings at festivals, bookstores, libraries, and even at a museum in Yellowknife. I love readings, because I love meeting people who enjoy books. We writers toil alone in our little garret and we send our book out into the world, like bread cast upon the waters. It’s wonderful to find out what becomes of it. That’s the same reason I love going to book clubs, and I have done dozens of them. Most of the time I attend them in person, although occasionally via Skype. Book clubs are great social clubs, and it’s nice to be invited in to share the friendship for the evening. People are very curious about the writing process and what I have in store for Green, but they are always very kind and enthusiastic. If they rip the book apart when I’m not there, I don’t ever find out!

7) I am going to assume that you are doing some new writing and have some new books coming out soon. Are there details you care to share?

Yes, I am currently working on a new series. I have taken a trial separation from Inspector Green, much to the chagrin of some of his fans, in order to explore new characters, settings, and story structures. I don’t want to fall into a rut; I want to stay fresh and continue to grow, so that I enjoy the process of writing as much as those who are reading. The new series is not a police procedural. I’d say it’s a hybrid mystery thriller. The main character is a thirty-something international aid worker, Amanda Doucette, who is back in Canada to recover from a traumatic experience on her last assignment. But her passion for social justice and helping people leads her into tricky situations. The first in the series, Fire in the Stars, (Link to my review) is due out this September, and I am now writing the second one, entitled The Trickster’s Lullaby.

8) You seem to be active on the social-media fronts (Facebook and Twitter) How do you like using those platforms?

I don’t like Twitter, and haven’t figured out how to use it except for retweets and for very immediate notifications. Tweets are lost in a matter of minutes. Facebook, on the other hand, allows for much greater interaction with friends and readers, and I love the way it has allowed me to connect with old friends, family, new readers, and fellow writers. I feel as if I have truly made friends on Facebook, and should I meet them in real life, we would already have a base. I do have an author page, but tend to post only on my personal page, because readers have become friends and friends have become readers.

9) Do you have any advice for any want-to-be writers?

Read, read, and read the type of book you want to write. Don’t worry about trends or hot tips for the break-out novel. Write the story that excites you, because that excitement will shine through and make the story sparkle with life. Also make sure it’s the absolute best story you can make it before sending it out. Ask a few trusted, experienced book people to read it, and give their advice careful consideration.

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Link to Barbara Frankin’s website