Wednesday, February 14, 2018

NICE TRY, JANE SINNER by Lianne Oelke

As soon as I saw NICE TRY, JANE SINNER, I knew I had to feature it. It's a great selection for high schoolers and college students alike.

The only thing 17-year-old Jane Sinner hates more than failure is pity. After a personal crisis and her subsequent expulsion from high school, she’s going nowhere fast. Jane’s well-meaning parents push her to attend a high school completion program at the nearby Elbow River Community College, and she agrees, on one condition: she gets to move out.

Jane tackles her housing problem by signing up for House of Orange, a student-run reality show that is basically Big Brother, but for Elbow River Students. Living away from home, the chance to win a car (used, but whatever), and a campus full of people who don't know what she did in high school… what more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that understands why she’d rather turn to Freud than Jesus to make sense of her life, but she'll settle for fifteen minutes in the proverbial spotlight.

As House of Orange grows from a low-budget web series to a local TV show with fans and shoddy T-shirts, Jane finally has the chance to let her cynical, competitive nature thrive. She'll use her growing fan base, and whatever Intro to Psychology can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard TV—that she has what it takes to win.

In an article in USA today, you mentioned that a lot of college students read YA, and I love how NICE TRY, JANE SINNER contains content that both high schoolers and college students can appreciate. I work with college students who always think they don't have time to read for pleasure. Along with recommending NICE TRY, JANE SINNER, I'm interested in letting them know that books like yours are ones they should make time for. What suggestions, if any, might you have for these students?    

I know how tough it can be to read for pleasure in college, but finding time for the things you love makes such a difference- it’s what kept me sane. Generally, I turned to fantasy in my free time, because I didn’t see myself in contemporary YA. Thankfully, there are more college YA books out today for students to turn to! FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell is one of the most well-known. THE BIG F by Maggie Ann Martin is also a delight- it hits the sweet spot between high school and college. POST-HIGH SCHOOL REALITY QUEST by Meg Eden seems bizarre and nerdy and wonderfully retro. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the hilarious AMERICAN PANDA by Gloria Chao (available Feb. 6, 2018), and FAT GIRL ON A PLANE by Kelly deVos (June 5, 2018) sounds incredible.


I've heard great things about all those books, especially FAT GIRL ON A PLANE. And, I love how Jane's story deals with what happens when life throws its inevitable curve balls. What do you hope readers can gain from her story? 

Jane goes through so much, from mental illness to expulsion from high school to losing her faith to disagreeing with her family over some pretty big issues to fame and televised humiliation. I’d like to think there’s something there for everyone, but for me, the most important aspect of Jane’s story is that past mistakes don’t have to define a person. Anyone can have a second (or third, or fourth) chance.


That's definitely reassuring! What is one thing you've learned from failure, and in what ways, if any, did it change you?

I used to be one of those annoying kids in school who could write an essay the night before and still get an A. It turns out that writing a book is substantially harder than anything school threw at me. Publishing doesn’t reward the underprepared. Every author experiences failure. For me, the hard part was getting rejection after rejection from potential agents for two years. I’d like to think I’ve learned humility and patience from the whole publishing experience, and it’s absolutely made me a better, more deliberate writer. Now, the thought of turning in a project the day after I finish the first draft fuels my nightmares.


Ha! Still, it's nice to know that persistence not only pays off, but it generates growth. What are some of your current projects?

I’m working on another YA novel- a multi-POV fantasy inspired by saga-age Iceland! Think blood feuds, volcanoes, witchcraft, and dark humour.


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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

SHADOW WEAVER by MarcyKate Connolly

When MarcyKate Connolly's new middle grade book, SHADOW WEAVER, popped up in my social media feed, I completely fell in love with the cover and premise. The book debuted January 2, and it looks amazing:

The shadows that surround us aren’t always as they seem…

Emmeline has grown up with a gift. Since the time she was a baby she has been able to control shadows. And her only friend and companion is her own shadow, Dar.

Disaster strikes when a noble family visits their home and offers to take Emmeline away and cure her of magic. Desperate not to lose her shadows, she turns to Dar who proposes a deal: Dar will change the noble’s mind, if Emmeline will help her become flesh as she once was. Emmeline agrees but the next morning the man in charge is in a coma and all that the witness saw was a long shadow with no one nearby to cast it. Scared to face punishment, Emmeline and Dar run away.

With the noble’s guards on her trail, Emmeline’s only hope of clearing her name is to escape capture and perform the ritual that will set Dar free. But Emmeline’s not sure she can trust Dar anymore, and it’s hard to keep secrets from someone who can never leave your side.


MarcyKate Connolly – SHADOW WEAVER Interview

According to your website, you like weird things, and enjoy writing about them. What is the one of the weirdest ideas you've had for a novel?
The weirdest idea I’ve had thus far has got to be my first published novel, MONSTROUS. The main character has wings, a tail, cat’s eyes and claws who is brought back to life by her father to save the girls of the neighboring village from the wizard who killed her. It was so fun to write the book from her unique perspective as an outsider!


Outsiders are my favorite characters. And I love how SHADOW WEAVER deals with the consequences of secrets. What about secrets do you think can be most difficult to deal with?
The keeping of them, definitely. Especially the bad ones. Those are the ones that eat you up from the inside. They want out, and they always seem to find away whether you want them to or not. Emmeline in SHADOW WEAVER certainly figures that out the hard way!


I'll bet she does! SHADOW WEAVER has a great cover. What do you like most about it?
Can I say everything? No? All right, everything about it is gorgeous, but I particularly love how perfectly the artist captured the scene from the book. At first glance it looks like Dar (the shadow) is chasing Emmeline, but if you look closer at Emmeline’s face you can see her expression is more thoughtful than scared. It’s a perfect fit for the scene, and precisely right for those two characters at that time in the story.


I also like the upside-down A in the title--it seems to indicate that shadows can be conversely related to our true selves. What are some of your current projects?

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to SHADOW WEAVER (title TBD) and unrelated middle grade fantasy novel that I co-authored with Dan Haring (a crazy talented artist and writer!) called THE STAR SHEPHERD. It will be out in Fall 2019. It takes place in a world where the light from the stars is the only thing that keeps the world safe from dark creatures. A boy, his dog, and the town baker’s daughter must race to rescue the stars and find his father, the local Star Shepherd, before too many stars fall from the sky. It will also contain many fantastic illustrations – I’m really excited about both upcoming books!



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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Release feature: THE QUEEN'S RISING by Rebecca Ross

Happy release day to THE QUEEN'S RISING, by Rebecca Ross! I featured this book here, and I can't wait to read it.


When her seventeenth summer solstice arrives, Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron.

Growing up in the southern Kingdom of Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her for such a life. While some are born with an innate talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she belatedly chose to study knowledge. However, despite all her preparations, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—the solstice does not go according to plan and she is left without a patron.

Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, and with no other choices, she accepts. But there is much more to his story, and Brienna soon discovers that he has sought her out for his own vengeful gain. For there is a dangerous plot being planned to overthrow the king of Maevana—the archrival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the northern throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.

With war brewing between the two lands, Brienna must choose whose side she will remain loyal to—passion or blood. Because a queen is destined to rise and lead the battle to reclaim the crown. The ultimate decision Brienna must determine is: Who will be that queen?





Wednesday, January 31, 2018

NOT NOW, NOT EVER by Lily Anderson

I first met Lily Anderson at book event with Anna-Marie McLemore, one of my favorite YA authors. Like Anna-Marie, Lily Anderson constructs stories that many readers can see themselves in, and her newest book, NOT NOW, NOT EVER explores what it means to redefine yourself within the unfamiliar.


1. She isn't going to stay home in Sacramento, where she'd have to sit through her stepmother's sixth community theater production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
2. She isn't going to mock trial camp at UCLA.
3. And she certainly isn't going to the Air Force summer program on her mother's base in Colorado Springs. As cool as it would be to live-action-role-play Ender's Game, Ellie's seen three generations of her family go through USAF boot camp up close, and she knows that it's much less Luke/Yoda/"feel the force," and much more one hundred push-ups on three days of no sleep. And that just isn't appealing, no matter how many Xenomorphs from Alien she'd be able to defeat afterwards.

What she is going to do is pack up her attitude, her favorite Octavia Butler novels, and her Jordans, and go to summer camp. Specifically, a cutthroat academic-decathlon-like competition for a full scholarship to Rayevich College, the only college with a Science Fiction Literature program. And she's going to start over as Ever Lawrence, on her own terms, without the shadow of all her family’s expectations. Because why do what’s expected of you when you can fight other genius nerds to the death for a shot at the dream you’re sure your family will consider a complete waste of time?

This summer's going to be great.


In addition to being an author, you are also a school librarian. What do you love most about being an author, and what do you love most about being a librarian? 

My favorite part of both is getting to share my love of literature with new people. Finding a book that perfectly speaks to someone is such an incredible feeling and one that I'm blessed to experience often. As a librarian, I spend a lot of my day matching books to people. Books that weren't my speed can click so perfectly with someone else. I love being able to say, "Oh, if you liked [blank], then I have the perfect follow up read!" As an author, however, I put my books into the world with very little control as to who gets them, so it's always a pleasant surprise when someone tells me that they loved my story.


I love your stories too, especially how NOT NOW, NOT EVER references The Importance of Being Earnest. How did Elliot's story come to be, and in what ways, if any, did she surprise you?

Elliot's story started with Elliot. I knew that I wanted to write a girl like her--someone tough and sporty, basically the total opposite of me--long before I had a plot for her. Having grown up near an Air Force Base, I wanted to write about a girl who has always known that she's going to enlist after high school and how that effects her relationships with people.

After I wrote my debut novel, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU, my editor asked for another retelling set around the Messina Academy. I was hesitant to do another retelling set at the same school because I didn't want the Mess to seem like a Twilight Zone episode where each graduating class gets stuck living the plot of a famous play every year (although, hm, plot bunny?), so Elliot's story starts with her deciding to use her knowledge of The Importance of Being Earnest to her advantage.

The most surprising thing about the story was how quickly Elliot started connecting with people. I've never written a fish out of water story before and I thought Elliot might be more reserved in getting to know people, but she was so game to put on her fake identity and forge these real, deep friendships.


It's interesting how that ends up defining her too. Your book, THE ONLY THING WORSE THAN ME IS YOU contains a lot of pop culture references, and I love the lists you include on your website of recommended books, comic books, and movies. What is your favorite book, comic book, and movie, and why? 

Oh, goodness. Favorites are hard, but I'll give you what I love most today.

Book: Jenny Lawson's LET'S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED. It's a memoir, but it's also hilarious. Before I read it, I'd never considered being open about how funny my mental illness can be, the ridiculous scrapes I've been in because my anxiety got the better of me. When I run out of spoons, I listen to the audiobooks of both of Jenny Lawson's memoirs to remind myself that I'm not alone.

Comic book: Deadpool, preferably from the Duggan-Posehn run. My love of Deadpool is pretty well documented (I literally have a Mrs Deadpool car license plate). I've always been a sucker for meta humor. It rewards paying attention. But more than the goofs and blowing things up and guest appearances from Ben Franklin, I love Deadpool's tragedy. He doesn't relish his extended adolescence. He's just a lonely screw up, more or less stuck outside of society, but he really does consistently try his best.

Movie: The Bodyguard with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston. It's ridiculous and soapy, but there's something about it that just sucks me in every time.


Excellent choices. What are some of your current projects?

Right now, I'm in the midst of drafting my first drama. All I can tell you about it is that I write a lot slower when I'm not writing jokes.


Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound





Buy: Book Passage ~ Amazon ~ Barnes and Noble ~ Indiebound


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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

THE QUEEN'S RISING by Rebecca Ross

As soon as I saw the cover for THE QUEEN'S RISING, I knew I had to feature it--it's a fascinating YA Fantasy that explores two societies at odds, and different ways of finding one's identity. It comes out on February 6, and I've already pre-ordered it.

When her seventeenth summer solstice arrives, Brienna desires only two things: to master her passion and to be chosen by a patron.

Growing up in the southern Kingdom of Valenia at the renowned Magnalia House should have prepared her for such a life. While some are born with an innate talent for one of the five passions—art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge—Brienna struggled to find hers until she belatedly chose to study knowledge. However, despite all her preparations, Brienna’s greatest fear comes true—the solstice does not go according to plan and she is left without a patron.

Months later, her life takes an unexpected turn when a disgraced lord offers her patronage. Suspicious of his intent, and with no other choices, she accepts. But there is much more to his story, and Brienna soon discovers that he has sought her out for his own vengeful gain. For there is a dangerous plot being planned to overthrow the king of Maevana—the archrival kingdom of Valenia—and restore the rightful queen, and her magic, to the northern throne. And others are involved—some closer to Brienna than she realizes.

With war brewing between the two lands, Brienna must choose whose side she will remain loyal to—passion or blood. Because a queen is destined to rise and lead the battle to reclaim the crown. The ultimate decision Brienna must determine is: Who will be that queen?


According to your blog, you began drafting THE QUEEN'S RISING about three years ago. What sort of a revision process was involved in this book, and in what ways, if any, did it change from start to finish?

The very first draft of TQR stood at 127,00 words. It was very wordy and I knew it was too long, and yet I have always been more of a drafter than a reviser. I also knew that if I was to catch an agent's eye, I needed to cut around 27,000 words, so I began to self edit the best that I could. Miraculously, I got an agent with the book at 115,000 words (by most agent standards, this is still entirely too long), and then she helped me hone it down to 106,000 when we went on submission. From the beginning, I was always whittling and cutting, which can be difficult with a fantasy. It was important to me that my world felt fully realized to the readers, but I also did not want to bog my readers down with needless descriptions.

But I think my biggest shock was when I got my first edit letter. I had no idea what to expect in the letter; it was 12 pages of my editor's questions and concerns. And I read it and went into a daze, completely overwhelmed. I sat on it a few days, and then solutions to all those problems began to bloom in my mind, and I redrafted the book with my editor's notes guiding me. I definitely changed a few plot threads in this revision, and the story that emerged was much stronger than what it was initially.


I think you've pinpointed a challenge that many YA Fantasy authors share--the line between two much and too little. I'm glad you found a happy medium between the two. And I love how THE QUEEN'S RISING confronts the difficulty of choosing between two conflicting lands. What do you hope readers gain from Brienna's journey?

Brienna herself is divided between the two realms in the book. Her mother was Valenian, her father is Maevan, and she eventually has to decide how to bring these two parts of her heritage together. And I think that all of us, in some way or another, go through an experience like this, where we long to figure ourselves out, and know where we belong and who we are and what our mission or purpose in life will be. I hope readers can relate to Brienna, and, of course, enjoy the adventure she takes them on.


I'm sure they will--that kind of conflicted journey affects many of us, especially in establishing our true identities. Speaking of personal branding, I love your website. How did the design come to be, and what, in your opinion, are the necessary elements of a good author website? 

I am so happy to hear you love my website! It was important to me to have an author website that reflected things I love and also appear frequently in my writing (maps, constellations, and flowers). I hired Hafsah Faizal from IceyDesigns to design it for me, and she did such an amazing job incorporating those elements!

When it comes to an author website, I think it really depends on how much the author wants to share of themselves. I have seen some websites that are very minimal (author bio and book description and contact page), and some that are very engaging (events page, blog, FAQ, social media links, etc). The author should definitely go with what makes them most comfortable, but I think it's also important to consider what a reader is going to connect with. I know when I finish a book I love, I instantly search for the author's website, because I want to know more about the author, their books, and even their writing process.

Regardless of how much the author decides to share on the website, at the end of the day, the website should be easy to navigate. Above all else, information about the author's book(s) should be easy to find.


Excellent advice. What are some of your current projects?

I just finished and turned in my first round of edits for TQR Book 2 (I hope to share more details on this soon!). I've drafted bits and pieces of Book 3, so that story is always at the back of my mind. And I'm also scheming up ideas for my next fantasy project. I feel like my mind is always working, bouncing from current projects to future projects, but I guess this is a good thing (as long as it doesn't keep me up at night!).




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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Review of THE HAZEL WOOD by Melissa Albert

When I first met Melissa Albert at a conference, in line for a food truck, little did I know that her book, THE HAZEL WOOD, would be a fantasy story that would knock my world right open. (It's set to debut on January 30, and I just finished reading the ARC.) The book is so deliciously complex, that I'm sure many readers will want dig into it again and again.

From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.


Review:

What makes this story especially fascinating is that doesn't begin with the protagonist--instead, it starts with an article about the Alice's mother Ella, and how the latter was "raised on fairy tales" by Alice's grandmother, Althea Prosperine, author of Tales from the Hinterland. This approach offers a different, more realistic angle of how fairy tales might actually affect real people in their various, fractured ways. Alice, in her own way, has led a very fractured life, never staying in one place for too long, and unable to make real connections with anyone else besides Ella. This is why it's so viscerally painful when Ella goes missing--Alice needs to find the one person she has a connection with. In the process, she gets mixed up with Ellery Finch, an admitted "fan boy" of Althea's; he even has his own copy of Tales from the Hinterland. Finch is Alice's key in finding a past that her mother is now engulfed in--a past that ultimately affects Alice's future. Overall, the characters are extremely well fleshed out, and the descriptions are palpable enough taste how bitter Alice's life is. And while the plot is a bit slow-going at first, it also unfolds in a realistic way, interspersed with a few of Hinterland's tales, a few of which are so gritty and terrifying that they edge more toward horror than fantasy. And the twist at the end, which I won't give away here, is so intriguing that I am determined to re-read the book again to see if there were any pieces I missed. This book seems to be getting a lot of buzz, and rightly so; not only is it pushing the envelope of fantasy writing, it's a story that grabs a reader from the beginning and doesn't let go. I can't wait to see the next in the series, as well as other stories Melissa Albert comes up with.


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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET by Donna Everhart

I've been a fan of Donna Everhart since I first saw her writing in Janet Reid's flash fiction contests. Since then, she's published two amazing books: THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE and THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET, the latter of which released only yesterday. Donna's books are great for anyone, especially those inclined toward Southern historical fiction.


For fourteen-year-old Wallis Ann Stamper and her family, life in the Appalachian Mountains is simple and satisfying, though not for the tenderhearted. While her older sister, Laci—a mute, musically gifted savant—is constantly watched over and protected, Wallis Ann is as practical and sturdy as her name. When the Tuckasegee River bursts its banks, forcing them to flee in the middle of the night, those qualities save her life. But though her family is eventually reunited, the tragedy opens Wallis Ann’s eyes to a world beyond the creek that’s borne their name for generations.

Carrying what’s left of their possessions, the Stampers begin another perilous journey from their ruined home to the hill country of South Carolina. Wallis Ann’s blossoming friendship with Clayton, a high diving performer for a traveling show, sparks a new opportunity, and the family joins as a singing group. But Clayton’s attention to Laci drives a wedge between the two sisters. As jealousy and betrayal threaten to accomplish what hardship never could—divide the family for good—Wallis Ann makes a decision that will transform them all in unforeseeable ways…

According to your website, you write "Gritty Southern Fiction with a Down-home Style." Which authors have most influenced you and why? 


Kaye Gibbons and the book ELLEN FOSTER

This was the first southern fiction book I’d ever read and the catalyst, the impetus for pursuing my writing with some sense of determination.  Published in 1987, I didn’t know about Kaye Gibbons or her books until the early 90s.  She seemed to come out of nowhere, and her character, Ellen Foster, showed me what “voice” meant.  This is Kaye Gibbons’ unique talent, through and through, with all of her work.


Robert Morgan and the book, GAP CREEK

Reading Robert Morgan is like reading poetry, and since I’m not a big poetry fan, it’s as close as I can get.  For me, this book was about the rhythm of sentences and the cadence of word choices.  It was a bonus it was such a great story to boot.


Dorothy Allison and the book, BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA

In my opinion, her writing, among others, launched the whole grit lit, rough south genre.  The book was like peeking in the window at some of my relatives.  I could relate to this story so much, and what I learned from Dorothy Allison was to write without fear.  Write about what we would prefer not to know, what makes us look the other way, what makes us uncomfortable.


Indeed. THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET is set in the Carolinas during the 1940s. What about this story landscape was the most fascinating to work with?   

 There is so much.  First of all, even to this day, there are pockets of people who live much like they did in the 40s.  They are likely hard to find (perhaps intentional), and they simply don’t care to change their way of living.  That’s just for interest, but using this part of my home state to write about gives me, as a writer, so much material.  You’ve got absolutely stunning, beautiful but very rugged and harsh terrain.  You’ve got weather that’s fickle.  You’ve got people set in their ways, hard-working, tenacious, and thrifty.  They sometimes don’t take kindly to outsiders.  In those days -  maybe even today – they call them “foreigners.”  I also love writing about times when it was simpler (or let’s be real – harder!), when there was no running water, no electricity, nothing but what a person could provide for themselves.  Then I like to imagine…what was that like?  If you’re used to it, as my characters were, it’s not such a big deal, but it makes for fascinating research, and then writing about how they did it hopefully makes for fascinating reading.


It certainly does! I like how you've featured a "First Sentence Friday" to preview your upcoming books on your blog. How did this come about, and what has been the most rewarding about it? 

 It’s sort of funny because I came up with it like I do my stories – something sparked the idea from what I read or saw at some point.  Either way, I was trying to think of ways to do something long term, and I wanted it to be engaging.  I had this sort of epiphany, what about first sentences?  What if I share them out?  I liked that idea but then I had to think about when/how often, and I thought “aha!”  Friday.  First sentence Fridays!  That makes it once a week – so it’s not too much, (i.e. daily).  It worked great because so far I’ve written two books that have twenty-eight chapters, meaning twenty-eight weeks of first sentences.  By then, I figure people have me and my book cover tattooed on their brains.


Close to it, anyway. :) What are some of your current projects?

I’ve finished my third book, called THE FORGIVING KIND.  I’m very, very excited about it.  My agent was thrilled with the story as was my editor.  It features a twelve year old girl named Sonny Creech, and her best friend Daniel Lassiter and is set in 1955 on a cotton farm, where after a tragic accident befalls the Creech family, they find themselves financially and emotionally caught up with a reclusive neighbor.  I’m currently working on the revisions and editing of it.  I’ve also started outlining and writing the first three chapters of my fourth book, no working title just yet.  Meanwhile, all I can do is think about how it needs to be as good as FORGIVING – or better if possible.  No pressure.  Not at all.   From here on out, I’ll be promoting THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET, starting January 9th with my book launch at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC and in between all the events planned, I’m head down, working to hit deadlines.

THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET

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THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE

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