Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 2: Surprises

Part two of my ‘Lessons from Debut Authors’ series continues this week, with the theme of what was the most surprising about the publication process and the shift from being an aspiring author to becoming a published author.

For me, the most surprising thing was that nothing drastically changed. My daily routine is pretty much the same. I go to my day job, I walk my dog, I write, except now it’s a different project. I have a little less writing time because of marketing. I think I thought I’d get a lot more attention, like people asking about my book or my sales all the time, but no one really cares and I mean that in a good way. On the flip side, I do occasionally and irrationally feel like a fraud, but that’s probably mostly because writing the next book didn’t magically become easier. However, slightly contradictory to my earlier comment that people don’t really ask me about it too much, sometimes when they do, I get weird reactions that I don’t enjoy very much. I’m looking at you various middle-aged men who feel the need to comment on how my book has the word ‘mistress’ in the title. I’ve stopped bothering to point out that it has a different meaning in context.

One of the most surprising things about the publication process was how busy it was. It was a little over a year from the time St. Martin’s picked up my novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, to when it actually hit the shelves, and I thought there would be a lot of quiet time in between those dates. In truth, I was constantly working on things, whether it be confirming things via email with my editor, fact-checking, copyedits, marketing planning (turns out you do a lot of marketing). All fun and exciting, especially getting to see the cover for the first time.

So what other surprises did other debut authors discover? Read on and find out!

Surprise!

 


I still feel like a fraud almost six months after my book was published. I feel like I’m playing “lets pretend” that I’m an author. It is strange to be on the other side of a book club where they are looking at me like I’m a trained monkey with all the mysterious answers to books in general.

But you know what? Meeting with book clubs and visiting with people after my author events has been the absolutely BEST part of all of this!!!

The downside is that although I knew the marketing/promoting/selling-of-the-soul part after your book is published…I knew that part was a lot of work. However, it came for me at a time where the rest of my life was super-busy too (day job, family things). Do what you can to clean up your life-slate before your book comes out because the marketing (to me, anyway) is exhausting!

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club


I mean, nothing can prepare you for the thrill of seeing your book on a table at Barnes & Noble!

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping


Here are my “surprises”….

THE AMOUNT OF MONEY SPENT ON “STUFF”:  When you come down to it, you’re building your brand.  But spread this out over time so you don’t feel like you’re draining your bank account dry.  Money I’ve spent includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Website
  • Postcards to hand out to friends/family/coworkers once my cover was finalized
  • Save the Date cards to mail out to my Christmas list prior to my launch date
  • Swag items that included:  bookmarks, 2 sets of magnets, custom adult coloring pages, candles, keychains, boxes for the swag items (I made “thank you” boxes for my CP’s, editor, etc.).
  • Business cards
  • Gift cards for various giveaways during launch week and beyond
  • A Kindle Fire for launch week giveaway (that I got on a Black Friday deal—so watch sales for stuff, too!!)
  • PR firm to handle my launch week (which I’ll talk about below)
  • Mailing supplies to mail out prizes from launch week
  • Postage
  • Stickers with my author branding
  • …and probably more that I’m forgetting

HAVING TO DO PROMO—LOTS AND LOTS OF PROMO:  I knew going with a small pub meant having to do a lot of my own promo.  However, it is misleading to think that if you’re published with one of the Big 5 or bigger/on the rise publishers that you won’t have to do promo.  You will.  Most publishers work with book blogger or bookstagramers (book “bloggers” who use Instagram for a visual post).

But if you want your book to get out there, you need to be planning AT LEAST a year in advance.  Get active on social media (but don’t be spammy) and connect with other authors in the same boat as you so you can have strength in numbers.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars


The publication process is very long and there is so much to do. Especially promotion. LOTS of promotion. And even being published doesn’t stop you from worrying about selling the next book or idea.  You actually have more work to do now.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover


It’s a slow process. For me it’s been about three years from writing the book to seeing it on a bookstore shelf. So the shift is gradual. But you can take advantage of that time to learn everything you need to know about publishing, marketing, social media—and work on your next big ideas for new books.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing


What still surprises me is the amount of time it takes to promote my novel! I feel like a full-time PR person rather than a writer! I spent an insane amount of time designing my website, bookmarks, postcards, creating a Facebook author page, and writing articles and interviews. It’s been fun, but I miss the days when I could shut the blinds and immerse myself in my writing. The other surprise is that some people look at you a little bit different after your book comes out. I’ve heard comments like “I’ve never met a real author before” and such. It’s surprising because I don’t see myself any different than before the novel was published.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 


I was not prepared for how much writing to an outline and a deadline would change my method! I’ve always been something of a pantser, and having to write an outline for my editor has actually been quite helpful for me. I find I spend a lot less time floundering around in the middle trying to figure out what happens next! That being said, my method is still evolving. Writing to deadline is also a change—I find myself thinking differently about a book when I know it’s going to my editor. (The way of dealing with that stress, for me, is to write something completely different—it’s SO liberating!) Another adjustment is writing another book in a series when the first one’s already out getting reviews!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land


One of the biggest surprises in the transition from aspiring author to published author is the camaraderie with other writers. The road to publication often felt like a solitary path filled with twists and turns. After signing my first book contract, I connected with several other writers, both new and experienced. By the time Second Chance in Laguna launched in March 2017, I had a new network of not just colleagues, but friends. Today, I’d say more than half of my daily interactions are with other authors. This newfound sense of community is a welcome silver lining to a dream come true.

Claire Marti, author of Second Chance in Laguna 


The biggest surprise is that in the end, nothing changes. After the rush and the hoopla, no matter how many forms of validation, big and small, you receive along the way, you still get insecure about your work. And you haven’t solved any puzzles. At least, that’s how it is for me. It’s wasn’t like I figured out a formula for how to write a book, and now, I can do it again. The next book is another, very different challenge, equally grinding. And it’s just as invigorating to feel the words come together, coming to fruition. In the end, it all comes back to writing.

Renee Rutledge, author of The Hour of Daydreams


Experienced any surprises of your own? Been surprised by any of these ones? Share in the comments or on social media!

Stay tuned for part three of this Lessons of Debut Authors Series, focusing on tips for author signings and release day celebrations.

 

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Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 1: Submissions

In terms of writing goals, 2017 has been a rewarding, exciting, and sometimes intimidating year for me – my first book was published and that milestone brought with it a whole bunch of other new experiences, like the terror/joy (joie-de-terreur? Can I coin a new phrase?) of actually reading in front of people for the first time. One of the things I’ve been most grateful for this year is the camaraderie and support I’ve found with a group of fellow 2017 debut authors, called ’17 Scribes. Without all these wonderful authors with whom to share advice and experiences, I think the roller-coaster of becoming a published author would have been a lot more intense.

With that in mind, I’ve got a three part series of shared advice from many of them. Aspiring writer? Maybe we’ll have some helpful advice for you here. Seasoned author? Perhaps you’ll smile and reminisce about having similar experiences when your first book came out.

For a writer seeking traditional publication, being on submission is one of the toughest parts. You’ve likely already gone through the minefield of patience, rejection, and partial requests that comes with searching for an agent, and then it pretty much starts again when it comes to sending your beloved manuscript out to publishing houses. The waiting period can be very long. Sometimes a rejection comes with constructive feedback, maybe with an invitation to revise and resubmit, but other times it might be a formulaic, vague response.

Finding a balance between patience and positivity is key for getting through submission

So what’s the best way to cope with the stress of being on submission? Most authors recommend focusing on a new project. I think this is good advice, and it gets you invested in your next book, making it a little easier to keep the other one at arm’s length. I also tend to find a new TV series to obsess over when I’m in that nail-biting stage of waiting to hear back from editors – while The Wardrobe Mistress was on submission, I discovered and fell in love with Justified. Of course, since my book was on submission for a year altogether, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you definitely should move onto another project. It might even get finished before you make that sale!

Several debut authors from ’17 Scribes kindly agreed to share their experiences of being on submission, as well as their tips for getting through.


I’m not a patient person. Just ask my husband. But I have learned patience with writing and becoming an author since not a single step moves fast–unless it is THEM wanting something from YOU!

Stress busters for me are: running, iced mochas, chocolate, and spending time with friends. Seriously, the running and chocolate helped keep me from completely freaking out. For me it is the whole lack of control I have over so much of the process!

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club


I was so nervous while I was on submission! I jumped every time I got an email notification; I could hardly sleep. I did a lot of yoga, and I watched a lot of Netflix. (I think I watched like two seasons of House of Cards in a week; it really took my mind off the stress of being on submission.)

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping

Editor’s note: I can’t help loving the irony that the author of a (fantastic) book called Are You Sleeping couldn’t sleep while on submission. 


Tips for submissions: Do it and move on. Whenever I subbed to a publisher, I would note it in a book but then not look back. If I got a pass, I’d jot that down too but I tried not to dwell too much on if they’d want the book. If I hadn’t heard, I could pretend it was still a possibility.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover


When querying agents, don’t give up too early. I have heard of authors giving up after a handful of no-thank-you’s. I would encourage those writers to persist, and keep trying. You might contact dozens of agents before the right person reads your query and sees the potential in your book. Tweak your query as you go along, if needed. Patience is necessary, because the process can take a long time.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing


At the beginning, being on submission was very exciting for me. When my agent shared the names of the publishing houses or editors who were reading my novel, I would look them up and try to find out as much as possible about them and the kinds of books they had acquired in the past. After a while, I realized this was unproductive because some of them said no or didn’t get back to us. I stopped researching and started focusing on other projects. The only way I felt good about my writing during the submission process—with its ups and downs—was to get excited about my other novels.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 


Everybody says that you need to work on something else when you’re on submission! I think this is generally helpful, though I’d suggest, if you are trying to sell a series, not necessarily working on a sequel or even something in the same genre. Most people also develop a Pavlovian response to checking their email (which probably starts when we’re querying agents and then carries over effortlessly to editors), so I’d suggest using an app like Freedom to force yourself to take breaks from the breathless anticipation. This is also a good time to write by hand, if that’s something you enjoy. And meditate. Practice gratitude. Exercise. Whatever means you have to get away from staring at your email—use it!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land


Community provided a safe place to share the publishing journey, in all it’s glory and sometimes staggering lows. Without community, human society fades. My advice to any writer is three-fold:

  1. Read widely
  2. Write as often as you can
  3. Find your community

Renee Dahlia, author of To Charm A Bluestocking


Community can definitely get a writer through anything, from an unkind review to writer’s block! Got any other advice or experiences? Share in the comments! Next week I’ll have Part 2 of this series, all about what was most surprising about the publication process and the shift of moving from aspiring to published author.

And if you’re in the finding an agent phase of being on submission, check out this super detailed infographic with query letter tips!

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Happy Halloween, courtesy of Marie Antoinette’s Head

I came across this image of an impression of Marie Antoinette’s head, made by Madame Tussaud shortly after the queen’s execution. It’s eerie and a bit gruesome – perfect for Halloween.

During the height of the French Revolution, Madame Tussaud’s services were in high demand. Known for her unique talent for creating realistic wax figures, she was often commissioned to depict notable figures of the French Revolution. To accurately model the facial features of the person, she sometimes made a ‘death mask’ of the person to work from. She was often obliged to make wax figures of notable people who’d been executed by the guillotine, which is why she had to use death masks instead of modeling from life. Marie Antoinette wasn’t the only one to undergo the process of having a death mask taken; apparently Madame Tussaud also arrived on the scene of Marat’s murder, to make his death mask, so quickly that his assassin Charlotte Corday was still being processed by law enforcement.

Also gruesomely appropriate for Halloween

Since we’re on the subject of Madame Tussaud, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend you read the novel of the same name by Michelle Moran, if you haven’t already. It’s a tense and sweeping depiction of a fascinating woman and the turbulence of the French Revolution. And if you’re looking for a bit more on doomed queen Marie Antoinette and the escalation of the revolution, please don’t forget my own The Wardrobe Mistress!

Happy Halloween!

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Apple Cake to Celebrate Autumn

One of my favourite things about autumn is that apples are in season. I know you can get apples year-round at the grocery store, but there’s something special when they’re local and freshly ripe, and they smell amazing. I love snacking on apples on their own, but baking with them is also wonderful. It’s been a long time since I posted a recipe on my blog, and this cake recipe is dangerously delicious enough that I need to share it. It keeps well for a few days (assuming you can restrain yourself from eating it all before that much time has lapsed) and is easy to bring to potlucks or other fall gatherings.

Caramel Apple Cake

Ingredients

Cake:

¾ cup butter or vegetable oil

¾ cup applesauce

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup brown sugar

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp backing soda

½ tsp salt

3 ½ cups diced apples

1 cup chopped walnuts

2 tsp vanilla

Caramel icing:

½ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup light cream

¼ cup butter

Dash salt

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions

Combine butter and sugars, then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add dry ingredients, and stir well. Fold in chopped apples, walnuts, and vanilla. (Walnuts could be omitted if anyone is allergic). Pour into a greased and floured 10 inch tube pan. Bake at 325 for an hour to an hour and a half or until a fork or toothpick poked into the cake comes out clean. Cool in pan for about ten minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the icing, melt brown sugar, cream, butter and salt until in a pot over low heat. (You could probably do this in the microwave too). Cool to room temperature, then beat in confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Drizzle the icing over the cake. Feel free to let it drip casually down the sides; it will give the cake a rustic appeal.

Devour with coffee or tea and a good book!

 

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Physicality in Fiction

Recently, I read a thought-provoking and helpful article on Writer’s Digest on using physicality to bring your characters to life. There’s some great advice here. Incorporating different senses and the physical signs of emotion can help immerse the reader in the setting, even in the mind of the protagonist. Being grounded in the story world makes it feel that much more real – and exciting – as a reader.

 

I think this can be especially important in historical fiction. The genre brings its own unique challenge of trying to recreate a time long past, and sometimes, as a writer, it feels like grasping at echoes. Of course, one of the joys of historical fiction – both as a reader and writer – is that once the details and story click into place, you do slip into another world entirely. I love the way being drawn into a historical world feels like new, uncharted territory, but history has left just enough imprints on the present for it to feel a little bit familiar. You might know the bare bones of the time period, but not what happens to the protagonist, or maybe you find comforting kernels of ‘sameness’ in the characters. People haven’t changed so much, really. Three hundred years ago, they still wanted to find love, or worried about their children, or struggled under the weight of family pressures.

Trying to capture the sounds and textures and the smells of the story’s setting bring it to life. For me, while I’m writing, trying to show those things end up helping me connect more strongly to the world, help me to better polish it for the reader. It makes the setting more vivid, so a reader can easily imagine the acrid black smoke from the burning Réveillon wallpaper factory, or airy softness of one of Marie Antoinette’s muslin gowns, or picture the scum of half-congealed blood tarnishing the Tuileries after it was violently mobbed, to use examples from my novel The Wardrobe Mistress.

That last one was a little dark. Sensory depictions can be delightful, too, especially if they’re food related. I still think fondly of the way Crystal King’s description of kitchens and food in her Roman historical novel Feast of Sorrow made me clearly imagine I could smell the mouth-watering aromas of Parthian chicken or the tang of mustard beets. Sounds and music can pull readers into the world, too. I can still remember the rebellious thrum of music in the Prohibition ‘juice joints’ that Bonnie (of Clyde and Bonnie fame) frequented in Jenni Walsh’s novel Becoming Bonnie.

A story or character can also be deepened by plot, as the Writer’s Digest article that sparked this whole post suggests. The article mentions a Stephen King novel where the narrator is diagnosed with cancer. Another example I can think of that I particularly enjoyed is Julia Heaberlin’s novel Lie Still, where the protagonist is heavily pregnant throughout the story. It added an extra layer of tension. As danger escalated all around her, I feared not only for her, but for her soon-to-be-born child.

Habitual gestures or nervous tics can strengthen characterization, too. Outlander fans know that Jamie Fraser often taps his two stiff fingers (from being broken) against his thigh when thinking. In Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network, her character Eve struggles with a stammer, which sometimes intensifies during moments of high stress. While reading, it makes you ache with sympathy for her – especially because the high stakes WWI environment makes everything extra scary and intense.

What physical description or sensory element has really stood out to you in a book? Please share!

 

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Worst Literary Characters to Sit Beside at Dinner

As autumn arrives and winter sneaks ever closer, the seasonal changes seem to bring lots of opportunity for family meals and friendly get-togethers. It’s a time for Thanksgiving and making lots of things with apples and inviting people over to eat them. The idea of big holiday gatherings got me thinking about which characters from literature would be the worst to sit with at a formal dinner, and why. I came up with a few examples, where if I was seated next to them, I’d certainly be thinking of excuses to move.

Mr. Collins

Ever wondered if Lady Catherine de Bourgh enjoys poached salmon or glazed carrots? Well, you’d be bound to find out, willingly or not. Mr. Collins would delight in regaling his supper captives companions with all the details of meal preferences at Rosings. Of course, the dishes in that beautiful house are also much finer, as he’d describe in detail, adding that Lizzie Bennett could have been basking in the generous favour of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, being served meals on her porcelain supper dishes almost every week! What regret she must feel.
(On the opposite of this list, Lizzie Bennett is definitely on the list of people I’d like to sit beside at an imaginary dinner of literary characters).

Hamlet

David Tennant is the only way Hamlet is slightly bearable

You knew he’d be on this list, didn’t you? My dislike of Hamlet as a character is pretty well documented on my blog. No doubt he’d sigh and push his food around his plate without really eating it, probably splashing you with soup and not even noticing. Even that would be better than if he launched into a mournful soliloquy about how he’s the only one who’s ever had an emotional crisis – he’d stare at you so intensely that you wouldn’t be able to keep eating until he finally concluded his speech. Just sitting there, waiting, with your soup hovering in the air. And it would probably be even worse if Ophelia was present – his remarks to her would doubtlessly be uncomfortable for the whole table.

The one bright side, you could possibly fashion your napkin into a little ghost and see how he reacts.

Miss Trunchbull

Pity the poor person stuck sitting beside Miss Truchbull at a dinner party, particularly if cake is served at dessert. She’s also described as a “gigantic holy terror” and is known to be cruel, so I’m sure she would bash her elbows into your sides quite vigorously, probably waiting until an opportune moment when your knife is poised over your plate.

However, she’s also very superstitious and frightened of ghosts – perhaps banishing her and Hamlet to the ‘awful dinner guest’ version of the kids’ table could be interesting!

Hercule Poirot

Look, Hercule Poirot is a nice man, overall. He’d have some fascinating stories to regale the group with at supper, and I think anyone sitting near him would automatically feel safer. “No chance of me accidentally ingesting poison or ground glass,” you might think, blithely scooping stew into your spoon. “Monsieur Poirot would certainly notice, save my life, and solve the crime before cake.” But his obsession with symmetry and his, frankly, kind of judging attitude, could spark a lot of self-consciousness while you’re trying to slice a tough bit of beef or spear a carrot with your fork or spoon a little sugar in your coffee.

Mrs. Danvers

She might actually be a great dinner companion if you’re on a diet, because I can’t imagine having any appetite with the sinister, gloomy presence of Mrs. Danvers looming over my shoulder. I also can’t imagine her remaining in her seat for the duration of the meal. “Does anyone need more coffee?” she’d intone ominously, already rising to her feet. “I’ll just fetch some more. My dear Rebecca always had a cup after the dessert course. She was like coffee itself, in a way. Vital and irresistible.” Her cold breath would skim the back of your neck. “Oh, look at that. There’s none left for you.”

Miss Havisham

Poor Miss Havisham. And poor you, if she was hosting the dinner! After being jilted, she stopped her clocks at the precise time she received the letter from her ex-fiancé, and left all the wedding food and the cake out on the table. Sounds appetizing…for maggots. Ugh!

And if someone else hosted this theoretical dinner, I still wouldn’t much fancy sitting next to Miss Havisham, since she also wore her wedding dress ever since that fateful day. Based on this dedication to preserving the moment, and her lack of hygiene where the food is concerned, I’m guessing laundry isn’t high on her list of priorities.  Although, she did repent of her ways (and their effect on Estella and Pip) later on, so perhaps she might offer some surprisingly deep conversation.

Tigger

Have you seen Tigger? His propensity for constant motion means that all the explanation you’d need to imagine the results of a dinner with Tigger at your side can be summed up with gifs.

Have I missed anyone? Which character from literature would you hate to be stuck beside at dinner?

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Flash Fiction: Secrets

I’ve been meaning to post a new flash fiction for ages – finally, here it is! Inspired by a photograph of a letter and a mysterious key. They seem full of secrets.


Now that I’d reached the back of Gran’s closet, cleaning it out became slightly less painful. Like pressing on a bruise instead of stabbing with a hot needle. The dresses and skirts here were old items, obviously treasured, but I had no memories of her wearing them. I pulled out a black dress beaded with jet and flecks of silver. It could have belonged to a stranger, for I’d never seen it before. It smelled faintly of potpourri, the last ghostly linger of perfume.

I laid the dress on the stripped bed, smoothing my fingertips over the straight skirt. I could picture Gran as a flapper, sort of – I’d seen pictures of her with a sleek bob and matte lipstick. The short fringe dangling from the dress’s hem would have swished and trembled with each shimmy of the wearer’s hips, and I smiled to think of Gran dancing in it.

That smile turned into another pulse of pain, mourning sharp in my veins, leaving a salty taste in my mouth. I’d never again hear Gran singing Edith Piaf as she baked strawberry pie, or humming as she picked flowers from her garden to donate to the hospital. That emptiness ached, squeezing the air from my lungs, closing my throat.

I lifted the dress to my cheek, as if it could somehow bring me closer to her again. The fabric crackled under my cheek, which lead me to discover a hidden pocket, cleverly sewn at the hip and just large enough to hold a small piece of paper, folded four times. The heavy creases had grown soft as silk over the years, and I opened the paper with caution, afraid of tearing it. The once-black ink had faded to tea-stain brown, but I could still read the narrow script.

Rosie, it began, addressed to Gran:

After tonight, we’ll never have to see each other again. The plan hasn’t changed, but the time is confirmed. Create a distraction at exactly 9:05. Make sure the back door is unlocked before that. The diary will be hidden at our usual meeting place, and you may reclaim it any time after tonight.

I don’t think I need to say that this secret never leaves us two.

J

My mouth gaped. This mysterious letter didn’t seem as if it could have anything to do with sweet, unselfish Gran. Did it refer to a crime? Worriedly, I checked the other side of the dress for more letters, and instead discovered a hard, tiny bump. I almost tore the skirt’s lining in my attempt to get it free, and then I held a small metal key in my hand. One that would probably unlock a diary.

I gingerly placed the key and the letter on the bedside table. I knew where the diary was. I’d found it once years ago, while playing dress up with Gran’s shoes. She made me promise to never say anything, and I’d childishly agreed, putting it from my mind for the promise of a trip to the park.

If I read it, anything I learned could never be forgotten. Curiosity yanked me toward the diary, nestled in a shoebox, but fear held me back. The contents of the diary could change my view of Gran, snatching her away even more than death already had. My teeth fretted at my lip.

Eventually, I burnt the letter in a green tea scented candle I found on her dresser. I shoved the diary key into my pocket, and turned back to the closet. The tiny key poked me as I moved, its edges sharp, its presence unforgettable.


 

This flash fiction was full of surprises for me. First, it’s longer than I expected. I also meant for this to be a nice story, about someone discovering a pleasant secret about a lost loved one, and it morphed into something ominous. I think indecision is one of the worst feelings, and I’ve been mulling over a couple things in my own life recently, so maybe that’s a factor.

Have a great week, everybody!

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