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Archive for November, 2009

America Libre
By Raul Ramos y Sanchez
Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 978-0446507752
Copyright August 2009
General Fiction

Dramatic and thought-provoking, America Libre is an ambitious novel.

The story is set in Los Angeles in the near future and begins with our protagonist, ex-army soldier Manolo Suarez, as he is desperately trying to find a job to support his wife and children. Early each morning he goes out in search of work, only to come back exhausted and depressed each evening. At the same time, tension between Hispanic and Anglos is rapidly escalating in the Hispanic communities. When an innocent child bystander gets caught up in a shooting and is killed in El Paso, Texas, the situation begins to turn from ugly to extreme.

Then a mysterious, beautiful blond Hispanic named Jo offers Manolo a job. After a short time, it becomes clear to Manolo that there’s something not quite right about his attractive new boss and the place he’s working in. His suspicions prove clear when he finds out that Jo is a rich woman working for La Defensa del Pueblo, a movement that seeks to re-do the borders between the United States and Mexico, and she offers him a ‘real’ job in the organization as a bodyguard. From that moment on, Manolo is morally torn between two belief systems. Though she doesn’t know the full extend of her husband’s job, from the very start Rosa is suspicious of Jo and doesn’t want Manolo to work for her. Rosa is also jealous, and believes Jo has blinded Manolo.

As Manolo’s involvement in the organization gets deeper and deeper, and the situation in the country between Hispanics and Anglos turns to extreme, the US government decides to take drastic measures to handle the situation, including classifying all Hispanics as ‘Class H’ and putting them in special camps. As all this is happening, the romantic tension between Manolo and Jo increases each day, sending him into an even deeper moral struggle than he ever imagined. Then something horrible happens to Manolo’s wife and kids which serves as a catalyst for making Manolo decide where his loyalties lie.

I have many good things to say about this novel. Sanchez’s gives us a scary and fascinating scenario of what could happen in the future. The book has a powerful premise and the author has set the stage well for the story and the characters. The novel appears to be well researched and all the action scenes and description of weapons sound genuine. The protagonist’s inner struggle and his high morality and sense of justice push the story along and draw the reader deeper into the non-stop action scenario. Manolo is a sympathetic character that made me feel for his predicament. My favorite character, though, is beautiful and enigmatic Jo. She’s strong, passionate, and like Manolo, also possesses a high sense of justice. But for me, she kept the story alive by being more ‘human’, more complex and full of contradictions than Manolo. I guess sometimes, for me, Manolo is too ‘perfect’. But Jo, with all her strengths and weaknesses, comes across as very real.

The relationship between Jo and Manolo, although sentimental at times, is interesting to follow. I kept wondering until the end what was going to happen between them.

The pace is good and the writing flows smoothly; the story drew me right away at the beginning and kept me turning pages until the end. This is a very cinematographic novel and the scenes unfolded before my eyes like a movie. The dialogue is crisp and natural. I found most secondary characters well developed except for Manolo’s wife, Rosa. I’m not sure why, but Rosa never came alive for me. She was completely overshadowed by Jo—I’d say practically invisible next to Jo, and her high morals and role of perfect wife and mother never quite convinced me. If the author did this on purpose to show Jo’s unique character, he succeeded.

In sum, I loved the book and found it intriguing and mentally stimulating. America Libre is one of the books to read this 2009, so make sure you have it on your list.

Read my interview with the author!

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nyI read this book while vacationing on the Turkish Riviera this past summer. It was an entertaining, delightful read — the perfect companion for those relaxing days under the sun. That said, this is a novel that will be enjoyed by chick lit fans anytime of the year and at any place.

The story begins in London, with twenty-something Angela Clark discovering at her best friend’s wedding that her fiancee has been cheating on her for some time. What’s worse, everyone somehow already knew about it — everyone except Angela.

Filled with rage, unhappiness and disappointment, Angela flies to New York City and rents a hotel room for a few days. There, a lot of unexpected things happen. She befriends one of the hotel clerks, who introduces her to her group of interesting friends. She meets two very different men who each in his own way sweep her off her feet. Of course, she also does some serious shopping (It’s New York City, right? Plus, she has a credit card). But most excitingly, she’s suddenly offered an opportunity to do what she likes best: write.

Through a series of adventurous escapades, Angela does some growing up and takes a closer look at herself and her life. Will she go back to London, as her family and friends are urging her to, or will she stay in New York and fulfill her dreams?

The writing is light and fun, making this a quick read. The author brings the city to life, with its exciting coffee shops, night clubs and stores. But the best part is Angela. With all her defects, she comes out as a very real and endearing protagonist.

Warning: I Heart New York will make you want to take the next plane to New York.

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lindseyI’m thrilled to have Lindsey Kelk as my guest on The Dark Phantom today. Lindsey is a children’s book editor at a top publishing house and the author of I Heart New York, a delightful chick-lit novel featuring the incorrigible Angela Clark. I Heart New York is the first book in a series of five. The second book, I Heart Hollywood, is due out January 2010. Visit her website and her blogs, BeautyMecca and BeautyAddict.

Thanks for being my guest, Lindsey. Tell us, how did you come up with the idea for I Heart New York and the series?

I’d just come back from a holiday in New York and was incredibly broke and depressed. New York has been amazing, and I just couldn’t seem to shake myself out of the post-holiday blues, so I decided, if I couldn’t go back (and my credit limit said no, I could not) that I would write about it instead.

I always conceived the books as a series, taking in different cities around the world — I love fiction series, I blame my teen obsession with Sweet Valley High. I never want books I love to end.

nyTell us a little about your protagonist. What about her will women readers identify with the most?

I hope people will like Angela because she and I are a lot alike! Except she gets the boys and, sob, I don’t do quite so well (send any and all viable applicants to my Facebook page please). People have said they like her because she’s funny and down to earth. Of course the book is a fantasy, so it’s not like stuff like that happens every single day, but I like to think that Angela deals with the situations she finds herself in like an actual person would.

That and she really likes shoes. And boys. And karaoke. And cocktails.

Like I said, we’re a lot alike.

Are you a disciplined writer? How long did it take you to finish the first draft? What about the editing process?

I really wish I could say yes, but since I finished I Heart New York, I’ve been terrible. In my defense, I work as a senior editor in children’s publishing so writing, editing and rewriting is my entire life! I Heart New York was really quick to write, the first draft took just six weeks, but I dedicated my life to it. I would come home from work, cook dinner, eat, open the laptop and write until I fell asleep. By the time I had a book deal and was writing I Heart Hollywood, SO much more was going on in my life and I didn’t have as much time. That one took maybe four months? Now I’ve just finished the first draft of I Heart Paris and just to make my life that little bit more difficult, I upped and moved to New York halfway through, BUT it still only took six months. I guess I’m a lot faster than a lot of other writers but, really, I should be more disciplined.

Editing is easier, my editor is AMAZING and always gives the most insightful and inspiring advice, so once I get her comments in, I can turn them around in a few weeks.

Is your second book already finished? I understand it’s scheduled for publication in early 2010.

Yup! I’ve just had the proofs, the cover is gorgeous. My cover designer, Lee Motley, is a goddess. And, yes, I Heart Hollywood is out January 2010. Scary.

Did you move to Paris for a while in order to write it?

I wish! I visited LA and Paris for research, but I wasn’t able to move. I just moved to New York with my job; it’s really a coincidence that I’m following in Angela’s footsteps, alebit a very big coincidence!

How many books are you planning to write for the series?

There are five books planned in my head, three written, two sort of plotted out but who knows? Maybe I’ll finish these five and then come back to it in ten years…

You also keep a popular blog called BeautyMecca. Tell us all about it!

I LOVE make-up! Basically, before I moved into publishing, I used to work in beauty PR, and, while I loved the products, PR wasn’t for me. BeautyMecca was my way of staying involved with the side of the industry I loved and steering clear of calling up journalists and asking if they wanted to try my new wonder foundation.

It wasn’t wonderful, but I will spare the innocent.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?

Aside from BeautyMecca and www.iheartnewyork.co.uk (I write a blog as Angela for the site) I’m all over Twitter and Facebook if you really feel the need to know what I’m up to ALL THE TIME.

Thanks so much Mayra, that was fun!

Thanks, Lindsey, and good luck with your book. I look forward to reading your second one!

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Evenings at the Argentine Club
By Julia Amante
Grand Central Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-446-58162-2
Copyright 2009
General Fiction

Evenings at the Argentine Club is a tale of love and family relationships set in modern Southern California. It centers on two families, The Torres and the Ortellis, who came to the US from Argentina to follow their dreams and ‘make it’ in America. Together with other families, they formed The Argentine Club, a place where they meet on Sundays for entertainment and as a way to preserve their traditions.

The story begins many years after the club was formed and our protagonist, Victoria Torres, is already twenty-eight years old. Victoria still lives with her parents, helping her father with his restaurant business, La Parrilla. From the start, we get the feeling that although Victoria loves her family with all her heart and wants to make her father proud, she also silently regrets not finishing college and pursuing her dreams to become ‘someone’. She feels a bit lost, mostly following the plans set out for her—mainly by her father—and putting her desires aside.

Then one weekend, during an evening at the club, Victoria meets Eric Ortellis, the son of her parents’ best friends. From that day on, Victoria’s life begins to change. The change doesn’t happen overnight but gradually. Eric is considered a ‘black sheep’, a lost son who has come back to his family after many years of being away. Eric had his reasons—to make it on his own and somehow ‘escape’ the fatality of their little town—but no one seems to understand. Soon Victoria is influenced and affected by his ambition and views about life and the Argentine culture. A transformation begins to take place in Victoria’s character, one that deeply affects her relationship with her family but especially with her father, who has never given her total credit for the smart young woman that she really is. More tension arises when Victoria and Eric begin to feel attracted to each other.

The story is told from various points of views, including Victoria’s and Eric’s parents, offering a clear snapshot of their family dynamics. In the end, it is not only Victoria who changes, but her friends and family as well.

Evenings at the Argentine Club is an absorbing novel that sheds light into the Argentine immigrants living in the United States. It is also a love story between two different people who share the same cultural background. The author has done an excellent job in creating everyday, genuine characters that shine on every page. The secondary characters are as compelling as the protagonists. I was hooked from the start by Amante’s simple, smooth prose and by the lives of these people, their culture and beliefs. Even though the story centers on an Argentinean family, the themes and family dramas explored in the novel are universal. Above all, I loved the author’s genuine voice and unpretentious writing style. I recommend you pick this one up!

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Caroline comp

Caroline Addenbrooke was born in Broken Hill, (Kabwe) in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) in 1957, and was raised in the small copper mining town of Ndola.

At sixteen, she attempted, and completed her first work of fiction (unpublished).

She finished her education in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and then moved to South Africa. Here she studied part time to obtain a diploma in Corporate Governance, a national diploma in property evaluation, and her master�s degree in business administration. She has worked on mega projects in South Africa for the last twenty years.

Caroline has a passion for wilderness, and a great love of animals. Travel and adventure are primary in her life. She is based in Johannesburg with her partner, their two dogs and a cat called Virgil.

Question: Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

Answer: Well, I’ve lived in Africa all my life. I was born in Zambia, and I now live in Johannesburg, in South Africa. Africa is my Eden. I doubt I will ever leave.

gatesQuestion: When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
Answer: When I was about ten, I read a book that captivated me. I so admired the writer, I wanted to become like her.

Question: Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

Answer: Yes. Once I read my first real novel, I was hooked. I absolutely remember the incident. The book was called “The Mystery of the Whispering Box”, by – yes – Enid Blyton.
My English teacher had suggested that I visit the library, and take out a book – that this was a good thing. Being an obliging child, I did as she asked, and settled down that Friday evening to comply with the reading exercise. Well, I read all of Friday night, Saturday, and Saturday night, and finished the book on Sunday evening. I have read avidly ever since.
I liked mysteries, and adventure stories as a child, and those are still my favorite, although I have branched out into thrillers, human interest stories and I do so love humor now.

Question: Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story.

Answer: That is an interesting question. I didn’t start out writing this particular book. I intended to write a present day adventure story set in Africa, but as I began researching the early history of the West African coast, and the Congo, the Gates of Hell emerged by itself. I do contend that I didn’t write the story; that it was written by the characters. Essentially it is a story of a family torn apart by war, sectarianism and racism, and it describes the journey of the characters from this tragedy, to their individual resolution. The Gates of Hell, incidentally, is a limestone cataract through which the Congo River plunges on its way to the ocean.

Question: How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

Answer: Well, I come from the Project Industry. I planned it, structured it, outlined it, divided it into scenes, sequels and tactical disasters…. oh, and I researched it to death. Then I started trying to write within the structure – and the first thing that happened was that Catalina turned up, in a part of the world I had no intention of writing about. Portugal. What to do? Well I tried ignoring her, writing her out, moving her to another more appropriate place in my mind. This all took an awful lot of rewriting, re-planning, re-plotting etc. Finally I just gave up, and let her tell me her story. When I stopped trying to write, and started to listen, the book became something I could never have dreamed up on my own.

Question: Did your book require a lot of research?

Answer: About two years of the seven it took to complete it, were spent in research.

Question: Who is your target audience?
Answer: People who like adventure stories. Adults. Anyone who would like to go on an incredible journey, sailing the Atlantic ocean in a small wooden ship to the mysterious land of the ManiKongo, Mbemba a Nzinga.

Question: What will the reader learn after reading your book?
Answer: A lot about the fifteenth century circumstance of Portugal, Spain and Africa; modern age ships; the Mbanza Kongo.

Question: Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
Answer: When I am traveling, I think. New places are all so interesting and engaging.

Question: Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?
Answer: Not sure I have such a thing. When I have written myself into a corner, I get out my notepad and draw mind maps, and what if scenarios till I come to the most intriguing scenario – then I proceed with that.

Question: From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?
Answer: About 10 years.

Question: Describe your working environment.
Answer: I don’t have a specific environment. Sometimes I will work in the study I share with my partner; sometimes on a stool in his workshop (because it’s nice to be with him). Sometimes I fire up my laptop in my car – if I have to wait for something. Any place will do.

Question: Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?
Answer: I edit as I am progressing with the story. If a scene / sequel is relocated somewhere else, I review the section to make sure it makes sense.

Question: They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?
Answer: Well, I think criticism is a good thing, as long as it is honest and constructive. I think if I had a really bad crit, I would consider it, and look for the truth in it. If I felt it was valid, I would address the issue, and fix the problem – if it was in my capacity to do so. If I felt it was not valid – well, there is a rub….. in the end, it is my story, and it is the best I could do.

Question: When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?
Answer: I am passionate about Africa; the magnificence of her landscapes; the humor of her people, and the variety and uniqueness of all of her creatures.

Question: Are you a disciplined writer?
Answer: Yes. I’m disciplined in most matters.

Question: When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?
Answer: Whenever I can fit it in.

Question: What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?
Answer: I think an association with other writers is really useful. However, it’s a bit like the blind leading the blind. In the group I was in, none of us had a clue. We talked a lot about writing, what we were busy with, what we’d found out. And some quite irrelevant stuff… and became really good friends.

Question: Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?

Answer: The laziness of telling and not showing. I stop, empty my mind, get into the characters boots, and describe what is happening through their eyes.

Question: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Answer: If you are doing it for the money, or the fame – you will fail.

Question: Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?
Answer: I have a blog (http://carolineaddenbrooke.wordpress.com), am on the publisher’s website (www.rebelepublishers.com), and have a Face book account.

Question: Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
Answer: Yes, I am busy with another adventure story called Sperrgebiet. It is about the discovery of a fifteenth century wreck off the coast of Namibia, in the Forbidden Zone (Sperrgebiet). It is set in 2010 between Switzerland and Africa, and has a honey badger (inspired by Stoffel the Honey Badger in Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Center in South Africa) as quite an important character.

Question: As an author, what is your greatest reward?
Answer: Living the story through the eyes of the characters.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!
Thank You!

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carol.thumbnailCarolyn Howard-Johnson is the founder of Authors’ Coalition, an award-winning author and poet, a columnist for My Shelf, and an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Her books include the popular titles The Frugal Promoter and The Frugal Editor, both USA Book News’ Award winners. Carolyn is also the editor of The New Book Review, a book review blog with a different twist: authors may submit reviews which have already been written about their books, thus extending the life of the reviews. In this interview, Johnson discusses the influence and effectiveness of reviews in terms of book promotion, among other things.

How influential are reviews on consumers?

For some consumers, they are very influential. My daughter-in-law (she helps me nominate books for my Noble (Not Nobel!) Prize that appears on MyShelf.com) buys her books almost exclusively on the basis of reviews. But different people buy their books differently. I believe that word-of-mouth is more influential and most studies uphold that view. By the way, winning a contest can be a big influence, too. And what a wonderful opportunity a win is to get the word on a book out there.

Do you think reviews can make or destroy an author’s career?

They say there is no such thing as bad publicity. I also think that many authors view reviews as bad reviews when they aren’t. A review will have more credibility if it isn’t all raves and rose petals. A balanced review is more credible. And like everything in our culture, reviews are short-lived. Everyone forgets them in short order. Except maybe the author.

Do you think there’s a lot of ‘facile praise’ among many online review sites?

Facile praise. Quite a term. Yes, I do. But if someone loves a book, who out there should tell them that they are wrong. I’d just prefer reviews to be a little more even-handed. After all, the review process is about learning for the author and credibility for the reader, too.

What is your stand on paid reviews?

I’m against them. Paying for something undermines its credibility. And, yes, that even applies to the paid reviews that Kirkus does.

Do you think it’s okay for reviewers to resell the books they review? What about advance review copies?

No, reviewers should donate their books to libraries. It is a fine point of ethics but an important one.

With so many major newspapers getting rid of their book review sections, how do you see the future of online review sites?

I think there is a place for shorter, quicker reviews online regardless of what the LA Times does with their pages. Still, one hates to see lovely old review sections in journals and newspapers deteriorate.

Do you keep the author’s feelings in mind when you review?

Absolutely. But I also keep the future of her craft in mind.

Have you received aggressive responses from authors or publishers because of a negative review? If yes, how do you handle it?

Not so far. I did quit reviewing for a newspaper who demanded that I write only good things because it was a “family newspaper.” This is a freedom of the press issue. Reviews — once committed — get to say what they want. Only their own standards should affect what they say.

Thanks for the interview, Carolyn!

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carol.thumbnailCarolyn Howard-Johnson is an award-winning author and poet, a columnist for MyShelf.com, and an instructor for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. Her books include the popular titles The Frugal Promoter and The Frugal Editor, both USA Book News’ Award winners. She’s also the editor of Sharing With Writers and Readers newsletter. In this interview, she talks about her books, book promotion, the future of ebooks and print on demand technology, and offers some advice to aspiring authors.

Tell us a bit about yourself. When did you start writing?

I started writing seriously when I was chosen for my high school’s newspaper staff. I mostly wanted to be a part of it because the cutest boys in school (the ones we called the ivy-leaguers) were on that staff. But it turned out that my teacher thought I had talent for journalism. It turned out that others did, too. One of those young men is still a friend and has written several books and screenplays. And it turned out that I had a love for writing, too. Writing in the clear, organized journalistic style was like putting together a puzzle with words.

What type of books do you enjoy writing?

Truly, my first loves are my fiction, memoir and poetry. But I also get a real charge out of writing how-to books that will help others. I’d love it if your readers would look some of my creative work up, though. Many are award winners and they do tend to get shuffled aside in favor of my successful HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers.

This series seem to be popular with authors. What prompted you to write these books and what sets them apart from other similar titles on the market?

I started with The Frugal Book Promoter. I had fallen into so many marketing potholes (some that cost a lot of money!), and I wanted to help other writers avoid doing that. I figured that if I had those troubles with my marketing background, the average creative author with no experience in publicity or marketing or promotion would really be in dire straits. I also needed that sort of a text for the first class I taught at UCLA so I wrote it myself!

BTW, everything in that book is something I did myself. That makes it very, very practical, full of nitty-gritty how tos and lots of resources. I followed that successful model with the others.

Tell us about your newsletter, “Sharing with Writers and Readers”.

I started that newsletter in my search for the perfect promotion campaign for a writer. I resisted a long time because of the work involved but I’m a great recycler and finally figured out how to put out a letter that had the same practical qualities as my books and I share those secrets in The Frugal Book Promoter. I also strongly recommend having a newsletter. Newsletters are great for building loyalty—for both fiction and nonfiction writers.

Your readers who would like to subscribe may send me a request at HoJoNews @ aol.com. Put SUBSCRIBE in the subject line and I’ll take care of it for them.

Virtual book tours and book trailers are extremely popular at the moment. Are they overly hyped, or are they really great tools of promotion?

Well, we’ve all known for a long time that picture is worth a thousand words. So yes, the visual aspect of promoting is important. The trouble is, the competition with these vehicles is steep and so many authors haven’t perfected their speaking and on-camera skills. And it’s really, really hard to make a presentable trailer. One should choose what fits one’s book, one’s pocketbook and one’s personality when mapping out a promotion campaign. I did it all, but no one else needs to. I fell into those potholes for them. Your readers can see a natural how-to video of me at my Writer’s Digest 101 Best Website blog, www.sharignwithwriters.blogspot.com . It was professionally filmed and, I think, that word “natural” is important. Not elaborate. Just doing what you do. (-:

How do you see the future of electronic and print-on-demand books?

It is growing and the future is huge. Digital is rife with new models that suit all kinds of different books for different niches. Aaron Shephard wrote an interesting book called Aiming at Amazon that tells a writer how to skip all the bookstore hullabaloo and concentrate on online sales.

And here’s the thing. We as authors are in fact retailers. We are selling books. We want to offer our books to readers the way they want to read them, not the way we think they should. Both The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success and The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t are available for Kindle and The Frugal Book Promoter is available as a plain old e-book at StarPublishllc.com. I’m working on some other formats now.

What, in your opinion, is the most effective tool of book promotion?

Speaking and teaching by far. That skill carries over to the ability to use TV and radio well. And those videos and trailer you asked about, too. You can learn to do it. Yes, you can!

Do you have a website and blog where readers can find out more about you and your books?

Writers can find lots of lists and other resources on my www.howtodoitfrugally.com Web site, as well as lots about all the stuff I do, including travel and poetry. Here are some blogs that are sure to benefit your readers, too:

Blogs for Writers:
http://www.SharingWithWriters.blogspot.com
http://TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com
http://www.SizzlingBookFairBooths.blogspot.com
http://www.TheFrugalEditor.blogspot.com

It’s a little off the subject but I also blog on War. Peace. Tolerance and Our Soldiers at: http://warpeacetolerance.blogspot.com . That’s because my grandson has done two stints in Iraq and I believe our troops desperately need our support, no matter how one feels about the wars we are in.

What is the best writing advice you would give an aspiring author?

I really think authors should not rely completely on the Web for their education in writing. Take some good classes offered by reputable universities who vet their instructors. Oh, yeah. My favorite. Persistence.

Thanks for the interview, Carolyn!

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