Serendipity and Writing Conferences

Tomorrow begins the 69th Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. Last year I had blogged about my experience as a first-time attendee. This year’s fantastic line-up includes J. H. Sullivan as Keynote Speaker and Yolanda Wisher as Opening Speaker. I’m excited to attend again this year since it was such an amazing experience in 2016.

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I have only attended a handful of writing conferences, but I can’t say I’ve been to one and have not learned something, or met someone interesting. I think even getting out there and being surrounded by life-minded people is helpful. I’ve practiced pitching my novel and talked to publishers and agents and have always come away with some new idea. Truly, the atmosphere fosters a sense of community and stimulates creativity.

As we approached the start of the PWC I was mulling over this post and why writing conferences are so awesome.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Donna Galanti, author of Joshua and the Lightning Road and the brain behind Your Awesome Author Life, posted a new YouTube video 12 Reasons Why to Attend a Writers’ Conference. Serendipity much? Take a look at Donna’s 12 reasons and subscribe to her channel. She’s full of great ideas and good advice.

Finally, I’m packing a light, but large bag. I love the swag!

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Revive the Drive: An Interview with Lesley Conner from Apex Publications

Today, I interview Lesley Conner, writer and managing editor of Apex Publications and Apex Magazine.

Apex Publications is currently holding a subscription drive called Revive the Drive. By contributing you not only help an amazing speculative fiction publishing company continue to publish original works, you can also unlock new original fiction, increase the pay for the writers and artists, and help with a website upgrade.

Items for sale start for as little as $3 (the Maurice Broaddus guest edited issue 95).

Onto the interview…

Have you ever received really nasty (or plain crazy) responses to a rejection?

I have gotten some pretty nasty responses to rejections. I’m sure every editor has. Typically when it happens, it’s because the author assumes that their story was rejected due to something personal about the author: snide comments about how we’d buy their story if they were a woman (because we all know women have it so much easier), or they should sue because we obviously rejected the story purely based on their race (which I didn’t know before they responded to the rejection and told me). Those emails really bother me. Honestly, when I’m reading a story, I barely even look at who the author is or where they’re from. And there’s no way for me to know any personal information about them unless they put it in their cover letter. All I’m interested in is whether or not the story is good for Apex.

Now occasionally I’ll get a response to a rejection where the author tells me how much I’m going to regret rejecting the story and it’s already been bought by another magazine and they are going to make that magazine rich and famous because they are SOOOO amazing! Mmhmm, sure you are. If another magazine has actually already bought the story, then you simultaneously submitted to Apex Magazine and the other zine, and we don’t accept simultaneous submissions anyway. Sooo … In this situation, I have not once regretted turning down the story.

 

What do you personally like best about going through the slush pile, besides finding a gem of a story?

Of course finding an AMAZING story is always the best feeling, but I also really like when I read a cover letter and it says that this is an author’s first submission. Or it’s from a young writer in high school and it’s their dream to be a published author. I always try to be really positive—even if I’m sending them a rejection notice—when interacting with these authors. I want to encourage them to keep submitting, keep writing. This is a tough business. It’s hearing a LOT of ‘no’ among very rare ‘yes’s. So if I can do anything to help a new writer out, I’m going to do it.

 

What made you decide to go into publishing?

It wasn’t really a conscious decision. I knew Jason Sizemore (Apex’s EiC) from a few sci-fi conventions that we had both attended and saw him post on Facebook that he was looking for someone to help out. On a whim, I volunteered. At the time I was staying home with my younger daughter who wasn’t in school yet and working on my novel The Weight of Chains, so I had free time on my hands. Despite having no prior editing experience, Jason gave me a shot and I started working 5 or 10 hours a week helping with marketing. Six years later and here we are. Best on a whim ‘yeah, I’ll do that!’ moment in my life. J

 

Do you ever find yourself accepting a story that you like but still needs work? If so, what goes into the editing process between you and author?

Typically the stories we buy are very clean and ready to be published. We work on a very tight schedule, so there isn’t time for a lot of back and forth. This is why it is incredibly important for writers to make sure that their stories are polished and ready to go before they submit. Of course we copy edit every story before publication, but this is only to catch minor things—an awkward phrase or missing word. We aren’t doing major changes.

 

Best tip on balancing work/ home life/social media?

Balance? Yeah … that would be good to have …

I wish I were joking more than I am, but I suck at balancing my work and home life. I work from home, so … it sorta feels like I’m always working. And sometimes I AM always working, because if something pops up it is really easy to just grab the laptop and deal with it. This is not good. It is not healthy. And I am trying really hard to be better about it.

As for social media, I do have tip: Log out. Yeah, I said it. Log out! I used to keep Twitter and Facebook up and open all the time and periodically throughout the day I’d scan through it. That doesn’t sound that dangerous, but it is. When you do this, you have no idea how much time you are spending just scrolling! That’s time that you could be using to write or work or read; all things much more important that liking a photo posted by someone you haven’t seen in 20 years. Also, I feel like in recent months that Twitter and Facebook seriously depress me. Everyone is so angry and negative all the time (some with good reason, some without) and it was really getting to me. I’d be sucked into reading these long posts and emerge completely beaten down. Even when I could tear myself away to work, I couldn’t focus. So for the most part I stay logged out. I check in on things first thing in the morning while I’m drinking my coffee, and may go back one more time during the day. And that’s it. It’s a small change, but it has really helped me be more productive and happier.

 

What changes or patterns have you noticed over the past several years regarding the content of submissions? 

Submissions are a strange, funny thing. Taken individually or just a handful of stories, you won’t see anything, but when you read a lot of slush, patterns do emerge. Not so much patterns as in ‘this is the future of scifi,’ but more a realization after reading a dozen stories, more than half of them dealt with the sea or ocean in some way. Or suddenly a chunk of stories come in that are all flash fiction. Or maybe you get a bunch of stories that deal with monsters. Sometimes the similarity between a batch of stories is oddly specific—cowboys on Mars—and at that point I have to wonder if another publisher was holding an open call for a themed anthology and we’re seeing the stories that didn’t make the final ToC.

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Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Publications and Apex Magazine, and a Girl Scout leader. When she isn’t handling her editorial or Girl Scout leader responsibilities, she’s researching fascinating historical figures, rare demons, and new ways to dispose of bodies, interweaving the three into strange and horrifying tales. Her short fiction can be found in Mountain Dead, Dark Tales of Terror, A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, as well as other places. Her first novel The Weight of Chains was published by Sinister Grin Press in September, 2015. Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 marks her debut experience in anthology editing. She lives in Maryland with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.

February: Spread Love – Picture a Day (2)

My February Project is Picture a Day. Something inspiring, something cool, something to make you smile or think.

Day 2

What says sanctuary more than a cozy cafe? One of my favorite things to do at lunch is take a short walk to the locally owned cafe, Nook Bakery and Coffee Bar and get some writing done. Mike and Edna, the owners, specialize in small-batch baking and ethically sourced coffee. The muffins and scones are warm in the mornings and did I mention the lavender madelines?

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Poconos Writers’ Conference 2017

I had the pleasure of attending the 4th Annual Poconos Writers Conference over the weekend. I love conferences because no matter what your level of writing, you can never (and should never) stop learning. Sponsored by writer and attorney Michael Ventrella and the Poconos Liars Club, this one-day writing event featured three writers and one agent who gave excellent talks on craft and publication.

Michael Ventrella kicked off the conference with his talk “The Biggest Mistakes Made by New Authors.” Some great advice included treating your writing like a job in terms of dedicating your time and learning the business, finishing your work, and his secret to success (exclusive to attendees only, I’m afraid). I jest, but he did emphasize the importance of talent, hard work, and networking.

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Michael Ventrella

Next up was agent Alia Hanna Habib from McCormick Literary who presented on query letters and knowing your genre (with examples of what works and what doesn’t). Every time I go to a talk on query letters I learn something new and this was no exception. Alia’s experience was invaluable (and funny). Highlights included ensuring your query reads something like jacket copy, know to whom you are submitting and, of course, read the submissions guidelines.

After lunch, romance writer Megan Hart spoke on Point of View. She provided clear instruction on each type of point of view. I think my greatest takeaway here was the emphasis on how point of view not only controls what we the readers know, it gives the reader information as the character sees it. Each character is the hero of her or his own story, which affects how they tell the story.

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Romance Author Megan Hart

Dark fantasy author Rob E. Boley wrapped up the speaker line up with his presentation on Worldbuilding, which, as he points out, is integral for all genres, not just speculative fiction. Rob asked members of the audience what they thought worldbuilding included and the responses were phenomenal. Many volunteered answers but then made connections with how that aspect (say, currency) would affect the world and the way characters interact. Rob emphasized that your world must serve the story. Coincidences that screw the characters are acceptable. Those that help are not. There are no silos – different aspects of the world affect other aspects (just like the real world!). Do not cast brushstrokes and don’t see everything in black and white.

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Dark Fantasy Author Rob E. Boley

The audience participation really energized the crowd for the final session – a Q&A panel with the authors where we discussed marketing, networking, and being yourself on social media (please, no non-stop promo tweets!) and at writing events. In the end, sell yourself as much as your work, but be real.

Highly recommended conference, especially if you’ve never attended one and might be feeling overwhelmed at the thought of a large, multi-day event.

PS Huge shout out to the Eastern Monroe Public Library for hosting the event. Support your local library!

PPS I might have bought some books…

poconos-books

Nanowrimo 2016: Are You Ready for an Adventure?

We are exactly one month out from November 1, which marks the start of the annual writing frenzy known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Like Bilbo, I will probably be running out the door without my literary handkerchief (i.e. no novel plan whatsoever) at 12:01.

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Started in 1999, Nanowrimo challenges participants to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Local chapters from around the world bring writers together regionally, both in real life and online, to assist them, motivate them, and inspire them.

This year I am Municipal Liaison along with Ema Timar for the South Jersey region. It’s always a lot of fun to plan events and help fellow writers. 50,000 words can seem daunting and overwhelming, but the goal of Nano isn’t to write a perfect novel. It’s to get the words down, establish a steady writing habit (1,667 words a day will get you there!), let you write with abandon and turn off the internal, nagging editor that will tell you that you suck, your writing is worthless, and how dare you end a sentence with a preposition?

I have been doing Nano since 2002 or 2003. I have only “won” once, in 2014. But I am okay with that. I always have more words on November 30 than I did on November 1 and isn’t that really the goal?

Nano is free (remember to sign up at the website when signups start shortly!) but there are cool items for sale to show your support. As a non-profit, Nano does depend on donations to help fund its writing programs. Not only can you chalk up some good karma, you can get cool swag if you do give!

So, join us! Get that novel out of your brain and onto paper (or screen).

Let go of your fears.

Create.

Let it flow through you into the world (and beyond)!

 

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K. M. Walton’s Surviving Query Quicksand

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This is a long overdue post from June. Training for a triathlon and then some unrelated medical issues forced this blog to go on the backburner for a few weeks. However, I’m excited about this write-up because it’s from the 2016 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference and K. M. Walton’s Surviving Query Quicksand presentation.

To backtrack slightly, I met K. M. several years ago at a social gathering for writers. Not too long afterwards I attended the release party for her debut YA novel, Cracked. Now, there’s this idea roaming around that writers are tortured, lonely souls, always in competition with each other and surrounded by constant backstabbing and jealousy. But let me tell you the truth. In my experience, most writers I’ve met have been amazing people who are kind, generous with their time and knowledge, and rooting for their fellow writers. K.M. is no exception. She’s vivacious, always willing to help, and is a major advocate and force behind the anti-bullying campaign.

Her query presentation at the conference was amazing and I’m afraid my post will not do it justice, but perhaps I can provide you with some helpful tips. K. M. had queried her novel over 128 times before finding an agent. But persistence pays off (assuming you’ve done your homework) and K.M. has been published by a major house and has released two more novels, and other writings, with her next contemporary YA novel, Ultimatum, to be released March 2017 (hint: her website has a timeline about her publishing journey).

Now, I have written a query letter for my YA novel. It wasn’t a bad query overall. I didn’t make any major mistakes and it got the job done. I got nibbles, but nothing more. After leaving this workshop, I realized I had some work to do (actually I had a lot of work to do on the novel in general, but jumping the gun on querying and send out your novel is another post).

Remember, the purpose of a query letter is to have an agent or publisher read your sample chapters and ask for me. So to keep it simple, here we go:

General Don’ts:

  • Do not include your life story
  • Remove all unnecessary tidbits (if you’re a medical professional writing a medical thriller, that’s relevant. Your love of golf when you’re querying a YA paranormal romance isn’t.)
  • Do not mention how much your mother/sister/brother loved it
  • Do not bribe (I guess this is a thing!) or offer disingenuous compliments
  • Do not overstate your accomplishments

General Do’s:

  • Tell about your project
  • Tell about you – what’s relevant
  • Write so that you capture your audience and they want more
  • Be professional. This is a business letter which represents you and your work. Don’t be cute.

Query format:

(NOTE: K.M. shared this format from Elana Johnson’s ebook FROM THE QUERY TO THE CALL with permission)

  • Have a hook (sum up your novel in ONE sentence. Yes, you can do it. Propel the reader to want more.)
  • Provide setup (stick with the main character. Only introduce a second in full if necessary. This should be 3 – 5 sentences, about 75 – 100 words. Only include the most important details that build story or character)
  • Tell about the conflict (another 3 – 5 sentences; 50 – 100 words)
  • Then the consequence (what happens to the main character if he/she is not successful? What is the consequence?)
  • Everything else – your bio, publishing history – only include what is relevant. Word count, genre/subgenre, other similar books – but be careful here! Don’t say “This is the next Harry Potter!” Instead, try something like “I think fans of XX would like my book.”

Other tips:

  • Visit the agency website before you submit
  • Make sure you address an agent personally! (Dear Agent or Dear Sir or Madam is not going to fly)
  • Read and follow the submission guidelines (yes! yes! yes!)

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I know people read these blogs and articles and think, oh, what do they know? How could I possibly reduce my grand fantasy epic to one sentence, maybe two? I need pages to explain the plot and go into detail about all the characters! My book is special and I need space!

No, you don’t. Really.

Agents and publishers do not want to spend an hour reading your query (and they won’t). They want to know simply: what is your book about, what is the main conflict, what happens if the MC fails. Honestly and truly. If you cannot tell someone what your book is about (mind you, NOT the plot, but what it is about) in one to two sentences, you have some work to do. Think elevator pitch. Or conference pitch. Go on too long and your listener’s eyes will glaze over if they haven’t already stepped off. Or tried to get off at any floor. Or jumped out a window just to get away.

Capture them with a hook, an intriguing question. Grab their attention.

K. M. provides several links on her website (hint again) about where you can get more information on writing your query and getting feedback on it.

There are a ton of resources out there. Don’t think the rules don’t apply to you.

So please, even if you are self-publishing, do your homework. If you’re at a book-selling event, or trying to get a local bookstore to carry your book, you need to grab the attention of your audience. Have your “pitch” – your intriguing question ready.

Whether you’re selling to agents, publishers, readers, or bookstore owners, remember – reel them in. Make your query so memorable, so captivating, that they must know what happens!

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We’ve all been there…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Workshopping My A** Off – PWC 2016

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As I mentioned in my first PWC post, the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference offers three-day workshops during the bulk of the day, as well as single sessions workshops in the morning and in the late afternoon. I literally collapsed each night when I got home. The workshops were amazing but intense.

Have you ever tried to make a pita sandwich at home? No matter what kind of pita you buy, all the stuffing manages to fall down the front of your shirt at first bite. That’s how I felt at the end of day: stuffed with new information threatening to spill out (okay, maybe that’s just my lack of homemaker skills, but you get the point). Luckily I took copious notes. I just need to figure out my handwriting.

My three-day intensive workshops were:

My one-session workshops:

Master Class – The Sound on the Page: Finding and Using Your Voice (Ben Yagoda)

I have to applaud the PWC for booking such great workshop leaders (and from what I heard, the other workshops were equally awesome!). To give you a taste of what I learned, I’m going to share a few tidbits of information on writing and story craft. Obviously, I’m not going to recreate every note (I had pages and pages and it wouldn’t be fair to the presenters), but I want to emphasize how attending a workshop can help you, as a writer, learn more, build your writing toolkit, and really pump up your fiction.

Note: I’ve been a reader all my life. As I was discussing with Kathryn Craft, I think voracious readers, if they turn to writing, tend to learn how to craft a story through osmosis in the sense that we pick up some elements of writing naturally. That’s not to say we start writing and it’s perfect or that we can’t consciously learn, but as readers we love story and there are some things we do when we’re writing that we probably don’t think about. For me, I can feel the rhythm of a story when I’m writing and I know when I’m off. I can feel when the opening is dragging, or the middle sagging, or when the ending really isn’t pulling it all together. Now, I don’t always know how to fix it. I may not even be able to pinpoint what’s not working, but I can feel it because I know how good fiction reads, how it makes me feel, how it punches me in the gut when that emotional impact and connection is there.

So onto some randomly selected tips:

  • Story (this happened, then this, then that) vs Plot (this happens therefore that happens, but then that happens). Plot is what drives the story forward and introduces conflict and tension. (I actually learned this is a workshop offered by Barbara Barnett-Stewart last year, but it was good reinforcement). [Pastan]
  • For worldbuilding, think about locations and landscape (sketch a map!), societal hierarchy, cultural elements, weapons and technology, deities, language (curse and swear words!). You’re not going to use everything, but knowing it will provide you as the author a better sense of the world you are building and add authenticity and authority to your writing. [Kashina]
  • Interweave (or connect) characters and conflict as much as possible. How can you add conflict/tension between your MC and a secondary characters? How about between two secondary characters? [Craft]
  • A story isn’t powerful because of events; a story is powerful because of how a character reacts to the events and the emotional impact of the events. [Craft]
  • Ending a chapter in the middle of a scene does not increase tension. It creates a false tension. Let chapters have their own arcs. [Craft]
  • Your main character should have a desire. They can have more than one, but one above all should propel the story forward (the “spark”). [Pastan]

So. Much. Information. I literally have pages of notes I’m reading through, saying to myself, ah, yes, that! And that! Don’t forget that!

What’s one of the best pieces of information you’ve picked up in a writing workshop or class? What classes or workshops have you attended? Did you feel they’ve helped? Let me know in the comments!

Next up: Pitch and Query: the Double-headed Dreaded Dragon.

(Don’t worry. In my last Next Up, I mentioned Asshats. They’re coming. Kelly Simmons‘ speech needs its own post.)

 

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Introverts, Writing, and…People!

 

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I think a lot introverts are writers because we spend so much time in our heads (or with noses in books, in many cases). Some of us may be published, some not, some want to be, some write just for the pleasure of creating a well-turned phrase, or a beautiful image in a poem.

So non-writers might ask, well, why then do so many writing conferences exist?

I don’t claim to speak for every writer. I’m sure there are plenty of extroverted writers (I know a few…I think). But what I can say is that for me, a conference of any sort is justification for learning a few new breathing techniques, spending a week talking myself into going, and popping some extra Xanax.

It’s not that I don’t like talking. Ask my co-workers, or my family and friends. Sometimes I’m overflowing with words. It’s not even that I don’t like talking in front of people. I speak in front of groups all the time for various aspects of my life.

But small talk? Introducing myself to someone I don’t know? Please, I’d rather be chained to a chair to watch Episode I from Star Wars, or forced to drink decaf. It’s painful, I’m awkward, and hey, let’s just drink some wine in silence, while we scan Facebook and Twitter and just look like we’re socializing, okay?

Which brings us back to writing conferences. Why we introverted writers put ourselves in the situation. Simply because a good conference is an amazing experience. We get to learn from some great authors, non-fiction writers, and social media gurus. We listen to opening speeches and keynote speakers that inspire us to new heights of wordsmithing frenzy. We get to hang out with friends (if we’re lucky) and *gasp* meet new ones [Again, personal experience only, it takes me a while to work up the courage and usually it’s because I’m with someone I know already, but I do manage to meet a few people]. Plus, through all this, we get to be immersed with people who get us. People who understand how important the written word is, how addicting good stories can be, and how painful yet exhilarating creating fiction and others works can be.

I’m lucky. Philadelphia is home to the longest-running writers’ conference in the United States, the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (PWC), which just concluded its 67th conference from June 10th through June 12th. My friend, James Knipp, is the current president, a terrific writer with a wicked mind for horror, and all-around great guy. Once again, he helped lead the PWC Board into making the annual conference a memorable experience. Over the next several posts, I will delve a little bit into the weekend’s experience, including the speakers and workshops, the social events, and the cool stuff I bought (books, of course!).

In the interest of transparency, I won a half scholarship, sponsored by the PWC, through the South Jersey Writers’ Group. The PWC offers several full scholarships by application as well as half scholarships to eligible writing groups. For the past several years, we have held a random drawing to determine the winner for our group and this year I was the lucky duck. The SJWG Board of Trustees was inspired that we have added our own scholarship for 2017; therefore, we will be awarding two members of our group a half scholarship to next year’s PWC in fulfillment of our mission as a premier writing resource in the South Jersey region.

Next post: Speakers, Workshops, and…Hats.

 

 

SJWG Annual Holiday Party

Here are a few pictures from the annual South Jersey Writers’ group annual party. Held this year at South Jersey local cafe, The Treehouse, one of our favorite places to hangout, write, and drink coffee, we definitely had a lot of fun mingling and recognizing the great writers we have in the group.

For more information about the SJWG and what we’re all about, please visit us at southjerseywriters.com.

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Gregg Feistman, Board member, presenting awards

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Cake brought by Christine Hardy

Cake brought by Christine Hardy

Christine Hardy with 2 anthologies she appeared in for 2014

Christine Hardy with 2 anthologies she appeared in for 2014

Na-nono-Wrimo? Or, AKA…December

It’s December. National No Novel Writing Month for me. Yes I am coming down off the high from my Nanowrimo win. A Stitch in Time clocked in at 50,001 words. Although not finished, I’m well on my way to completing it. But you will not see me writing 50,000 words in December.

As Lisen Minetti, pointed out in her blog post, What About December?, it’s a tough month for writing what with holiday shopping, decorating, and partying plus year-end work pressures. But, if you’re like me, you’re geared up creatively from the November rush and you’re looking forward to January with new goals and *gulp* resolutions.

I thought I’d take a page from Lisen and bullet out my December project wish list. Of course, I’d LOVE to get all this done in December and take 2015 by storm. But history tells me reality will be quite different. But here goes anyway:

  • Complete A Stitch in Time (looking at about another 10,000)
  • Revise Small Town Ghosts based on Jennifer M. Eaton‘s detailed feedback (and a big shout to Jennifer,whose book Fire in the Woods, is, well, on fire lol)
  • Revise The Whistling Man short story for entry in a competition due January
  • Resend out another short story which received rave comments from beta readers, but can’t seem to find a home
  • Write reviews for several books I’ve read over the past couple of months.

*whew* quite a list. No one could ever accuse me of not being ambitious. And of course with all this, I also need to prepare for Christmas and my son’s 8th birthday, which reminds me that I need to scroll through Pinterest for Minecraft cupcake ideas…

Yeah...I'll get right on that

Yeah…I’ll get right on that