Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

Archive for January, 2014

When Your Characters Torment You

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 30, 2014

Characters can torment you, the writer, for a variety of reasons. Secondary characters may want to have their stories told. Main characters might whisper in your ear to tell their tale. And when you’re in the midst of spinning your web of deceit, the characters live within your head, unwilling to let you go.

Silver Serenade is an example of main characters who wanted their story to be heard. Rookie assassin Silver Malloy and desperate fugitive Jace Vernon are both after the same man, terrorist leader Tyrone Bluth. Silver’s assignment is to kill the man while Jace needs Bluth alive to prove his innocence. For Jace—a diplomat turned desperado and a crack pilot—bigger political issues are at stake that could lead to galactic war. For Silver, the issue is personal. Tyrone’s Marauders destroyed her family and her research. Revenge fills her heart, and she’s vowed nothing will stop her from her goal. Forced to team up in their pursuit, Silver and Jace realize that when they catch Bluth, one of them must yield.

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These characters whispered in my ear to tell their tale until I couldn’t ignore them any longer. They’d been the subject of my option book after I wrote four scifi romances for Dorchester. As the market for futuristics took a dive, Dorchester turned down this fifth title. Years passed, and the cycle came around. Paranormals and its various subgenres made a resurgence. I finished Silver Serenade and sold it to The Wild Rose Press. Finally, their story was done.

Now I’m in the throes of torment again. I am fifty pages away from finishing Peril by Ponytail, my twelfth Bad Hair Day mystery. When I go to bed at night and when I wake up in the morning, the characters are swirling in my head. What’s going to happen in the next scene? Am I considering all the angles? Could I be forgetting to follow through on one of the suspects? Did I remember to have a funeral service for the first victim? What about his wife, who stands to gain a substantial inheritance from his death? Did we examine this motive in the course of the story? How will Marla and Dalton find their way through the maze of underground tunnels in the mine scene?

And always, there’s the underlying anxiety—Will I have enough to reach my word count?

I am driven to finish this story. The characters won’t let me have any peace until we’re done.

Does this happen to you?

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Poison: Friend or Foe?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 23, 2014

Poison: Friend or Foe?

At the American Museum of Natural History in New York City is an exhibit called The Power of Poison. First we entered a section on Poison in Nature, where plants and animals may use poisons as a natural defense. For example, the golden poison frog from the Chocó Forest is highly toxic. It almost looks like a porcelain figurine until you see it breathing. Native humans use the frog’s toxin to make poison darts. This poison stops nerves from transmitting impulses. But don’t fear frogs; this particular species gets its toxicity from the diet it eats, likely beetles.

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Plants have natural defenses, too. Think about poison ivy or other plants you touch that cause an allergic reaction. And some plants are so toxic that even the smoke from burning them can be harmful. So how can some animals eat toxic plants and not feel the effects? Howler monkeys eat toxic leaves, but they also eat clay that binds poisons.

The next section describes Poisons in Myth & Legend. Snow White, the witches of Macbeth, Emperor Qin, and the Mad Hatter are displayed. The latter doubtless got its name because hat makers were exposed to dangerous mercury levels during the manufacturing process. Some poisons can mimic death, hence the legend of Snow White and also Romeo and Juliet.

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Villains & Victims talks about famous people like Cleopatra. How did she really die? And was Lucrezia Borgia an infamous poisoner like her reputation claims? Who are some famous authors who employed poisons in their tales? Agatha Christie mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, and Harry Potter are some of the stories mentioned.

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Detecting Poison has a live demonstration. We moved past this to sit at the interactive displays at Poison by Accident to solve a mystery at three stations as to what had accidentally poisoned each victim. A family pet, a British sea captain named Captain Cook, and an owl were the victims. Clues were in sight for you to detect through observation at the scene. I got all three correct!

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The most interesting section was Poison for Good to find cures for diseases. For example, a drug made from a Gila Monster’s venom is used to treat Type II diabetes. While yew tree needles can be deadly, a chemical found in the bark helps provide an anti-cancer medicine. Research is providing more treatments and hope for future cures.

Visit http://amnh.org/poison to learn more about the role of poisons in nature, human history, medicine, myth and legend.

View all the photos here: http://fw.to/00nuTlP

Posted in The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 11 Comments »

New York City: The Food

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 21, 2014

New York City: The Food

You can’t go to New York City without experiencing some of life’s best dining. The first night, we ate at the Fig and Olive. For appetizers, we got a bowl of olives and a mushroom dish that was heavenly. Our main meal was salmon with side dishes that were fairly meager. Don’t expect big portions here. The restaurant was crowded so we were glad we’d made a reservation.

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Friday morning, we ate breakfast at Carnegie Deli. My daughter had a smoked salmon platter with a bagel and I had a boloney and egg omelet.

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After spending half the day at the museum, we ate lunch at one of the Le Pain restaurants where you get served. We got like an appetizer platter of cheeses and such and nibbled from it for our meal.

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Friday night was dinner with the mystery writers’ gang at Sammy’s Noodle Shop.

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Saturday, I dined alone with the MWA folks at Bobby Van’s Grill. The filet mignon and side dishes were excellent.

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On Sunday, we grabbed a bite to eat on our stroll to Rockefeller Center, shared a hot dog from a food vendor on Broadway, stopped in to the Hershey store to buy chocolate to bring home, checked out the Cellar at Macy’s, and had lunch in Lord & Taylor.

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Their tomato soup was delicious, and it paired very well with a grilled cheese sandwich. Again, we were too weary and burdened down by our heavy coats to want to shop. I hated that part when I lived up north: dressing for the cold weather and dying from the heat when you went inside. I love the South, where you can run outside in short-sleeves for most of the year.

We bought croissants and Danish at Grand Central Station and a piece of chocolate layer cake at the Strip House to bring home.

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Temptation abounds with the best looking pastries in New York wherever you go, cupcakes and crumb nuts (square donuts), fresh breads, and more. You could get fruits and vegetables at many of the markets, but I think we do better in Florida in this regard, at least in winter. I really liked the Hale & Hearty soup places in New York. That’s great for cold weather, not so much for their heat waves in the summer. So if you go to New York, leave room in your suitcase to bring home some treats.

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Dinner on Sunday was New York pizza at John’s Pizzeria, just down the street from the Minskoff Theatre where we needed to go to see The Lion King. The medium size was more than adequate for both of us.

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Finally, we left on Monday and ate breakfast at the airport. All that walking helped when I got on the scale at home. I’d only gained one pound. Now it’s back to a healthier diet.

View all the photos here: http://fw.to/00nuTlP

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New York City

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 19, 2014

New York City: The Sights

Recently I went to New York for orientation as incoming President of the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. This job also put me on the national Board of Directors. Friday night, I met the other chapter presidents and at-large directors as we mingled at the Mysterious Bookshop and enjoyed dinner together at Sammy’s Noodle Shop. The next day was filled with one long meeting where we learned about the organization and more about our roles. I found the sessions interesting and informative. A delicious dinner at Bobby Van’s Grill followed.

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The rest of the time was spent sightseeing. On Friday, we ate breakfast at Carnegie Deli. It was snowing! Thank goodness for my inherited mink coat. I wouldn’t have been warm enough otherwise.

Then we took a cab over to the American Museum of Natural History. Standing across from Central Park, I admired the wintry view.

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Jacket-length outerwear doesn’t work in this cold climate. You need a coat that covers your butt. I also wore a knit cap, gloves, and a cashmere scarf. Plus three layers underneath. The only problem was the heat that hit when you went inside a building. Four layers went on and off so often that I hurt my shoulder.

More on the museum exhibits later. My next free day was Sunday, so we strolled outside to see some of the main sights. It wasn’t our first visit to NY so we could skip all the places we’d already seen and just soak in the atmosphere. We sniffed roasted chestnuts and pretzels as we walked along.

We viewed the skaters at Rockefeller Center and nearby Radio City.

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Then we walked over to Times Square.

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We had to visit Macy’s with its nine floors but were too exhausted and hungry to go shopping. From here we walked to Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue and had lunch. The NY Public Library makes an impressive sight.

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Then we dipped into Grand Central Station to watch the people scurrying to make their trains and to visit the food markets.

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That night, we saw The Lion King. The costumes were spectacular. The way the actors depict the animals was fantastic. It’s a show worth seeing if you can meet the steep cost.

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New York is always fascinating, from the architecture to the eateries, to the jumble of people, and even to the trash waiting for curbside pickup. Steam issues from vents, trucks rumble by, taxi drivers honk their horns. It’s a maelstrom of humanity, but one you can never get tired of joining.

Yet it sure was nice to return home to the quieter life with palm trees, green grass, and balmy breezes. However, I’d better not put away that fur coat. It’s supposed to go down into the forties here. The good thing about our cold spells is that they don’t last long.

View all my photos here: http://fw.to/00nuTlP

 

Posted in The Writing Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

A Sense of Setting

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 16, 2014

A Sense of Setting by Sally Wright

Why is a thing I do, that some readers say they like, so hard for me? Descriptions of landscape and setting, I do those passages over and over before I can get them even close to being right. And what I mean by “right” starts with, “Is it clear? Can it be interpreted any other way? Could a reader really visualize what you’re describing?” – even before I get to “Is it interesting prose?”clip_image002

Part of my difficulty probably comes from having an overactive visual memory that demands unattainable perfection. For instance: I can still see a tiny arched wooden bridge over a miniscule shivery stream edged with wild watercress, beside a dark forest, in front of a wood-beamed cottage in Connecticut I haven’t seen since I was four (and only saw five or six times then) – and I rewrote that description more times than I’ll admit, even though it’s nothing special now.

And when settings hand you your stories, you can’t just blow by. Several Ben Reese mysteries popped into my head because of a particular place – in Scotland, England, Tuscany, Georgia and the Carolinas, Ben’s small-town Ohio home – and I’ve spent countless days revising and polishing and choosing details to try to describe them well.

Breeding Ground, the first Jo Grant mystery, got into my blood years ago when I spent time in Lexington, Kentucky researching a Ben book. I stayed in beautiful old farmhouse B&Bs, surrounded by pastureland and fast running creeks, and as I grilled the owners about the houses’ history, and local characters as well, it made me want to write a new series immersed in that lush green world where Thoroughbreds graze the hills.

If I’m working at a real place, I take a ridiculous number of photographs. I use travel books, novels, reference books and magazines, even biographies and journals, if the scene takes place at an earlier date. Movies too, if they exist. If I wanted to place a book in Kenya, I’d certainly watch “Out Of Africa,” once I’d read the book.

I use maps, real and imagined by me, depending on whether the setting exists, or I’ve altered something real, or made it up entirely. I draw floor plans and elevations and arrange furniture on the plans, because unless I can see it myself in incredible detail I’m not going to describe anything so someone else can picture it.

That’s a big part of why we write – right? To draw people in to our created worlds – in, on so many levels, and to such a degree that they can see and feel and care about what happens to the people they meet.

And when we’re writing, caught up in that world ourselves, it’s one of the great pleasures in life – at least for me (even if I write the blasted description another hundred times).
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Sally Wright is the Edgar Allan Poe Award nominated author of six Ben Reese mysteries, as well as Breeding Ground , the first Jo Grant mystery. Sally lives with her husband in rural northwestern Ohio.

Book Blurb:

clip_image004“To borrow a beautiful phrase from her own work, Sally Wright’s Breeding Ground is a story that is as small as a wren’s nest and as wide as the world. There’s murder along the way, but Breeding Ground aims at a larger target and hits home remarkably well.  It’s a tale of families and the ghosts that haunt them, of heroes and horses, of the age-old battle between those who value honor and those who do not.  The prose is gorgeous, and the setting—the stunning horse country of Kentucky—has never been more beautifully rendered.  This is a book you will absolutely be glad you’ve read.” — Kent Kreuger

Buy Links:

Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/Breeding-Ground-Sally-Wright-ebook/dp/B00G69OF3M/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386626608&sr=1-1&keywords=breeding+ground

BN, http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/breeding-ground-sally-wright/1117272099?ean=2940148839170

Follow Sally Online:

Website: http://www.sallywright.net/

Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/SallyWrightAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sally_Wright5

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Advice for the Floundering Writer

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 7, 2014

Are you procrastinating about your writing career because distractions take you away from your work? Do self-doubts inhibit you? Are you unsure how to get started? Do you take too much time rereading your work and never moving ahead?

writing

Assuming you’ve determined your characters and setting, follow these steps:

  1. Write a complete synopsis of your story. This will be your roadmap, and you’ll see if you have any plot holes to fill in. Include your protagonist’s personal angst and character growth. Each scene should have a purpose, whether revealing character or advancing the story. Don’t worry about how to get from Point A to Point B in detail. This is where story magic comes into play.
  2. Now set yourself a writing schedule, whatever works for you, even if it’s one page a day.
  3. Sit down in your chair and write, sticking to your quota, until you finish the first draft.
  4. Give yourself permission to write crap. You can fix what’s on the page, but first, you must write it.
  5. Focus on one book at a time. Don’t get distracted by other projects. If you get fresh ideas, jot them down for later. Concentrate on completing this particular work. If you’re unsure which project to develop, do the one that sings to you and ignites your fire.
  6. Keep moving forward. Don’t second guess yourself. If your synopsis is detailed enough, it will show you where to go. How your characters get there is up to them, and they may provide detours. That’s a good thing, and you can revise your synopsis accordingly, either along the way or when you finish the story. Why do you need a synopsis at all? It’s a sales tool. You may have to present it to your editor with the submission or later to the art department to help in creating your book cover.
  7. Make a firm career decision. You’re either going to become a professional writer, or it’s a hobby for you. If your decision is serious, treat novel writing like you would any career. Get some training, i.e. attend workshops and conferences, join a critique group, and participate in professional writing organizations.
  8. Learn the business aspects because it’s not all about writing the book, it’s also about marketing.
  9. Follow the 4 P’s: Practice, Professionalism, Pursuit, and Perseverance. Keep writing every day or several times a week to fulfill your quota. Always be professional and courteous to others in the industry. Pursue writing as a serious career choice. And never give up your dream. Persistence pays, and eventually you will call yourself a published author. Remember the BIC-HOK motto: Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

Contests

Enter to win “A Taste of the Virgin Islands” cookbook or 1/2 decks of tropical recipe playing cards. http://nancyjcohen.com/fun-stuff/contest/ Deadline: January 25

Enter to win a $25 Amazon/BN giftcard or 1/5 free ebooks, including a copy of Keeper of the Rings, at Booklover’s Bench: http://bit.ly/13qZ4oF  Deadline: January 18

Posted in Fiction Writing, The Writing Life, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , | 15 Comments »

Turkey Tetrazzini

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 5, 2014

I had some ingredients to use up and so modified a recipe I’d found online. Here is my version of the finished dish. It’s enough to last several nights.

Turkey Tetrazzini (640x480)

TURKEY TETRAZZINI

16 oz. whole wheat spaghetti or vermicelli
2 cups chopped, cooked turkey
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 chopped onion
1 chopped green pepper
12 oz. package sliced mushrooms
10 oz. can Healthy Choice cream of mushroom soup
12 oz. package frozen mixed vegetables, defrosted
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
¼ cup white wine
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Paprika

Cook spaghetti according to package directions, drain, and set aside in large bowl. In a large skillet, heat oil. Sauté onion, green pepper, and mushrooms until wilted. Add to spaghetti along with mushroom soup, mixed vegetables, cheddar cheese, white wine, and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well to blend. Pour into greased 11 x 14 baking dish. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese and paprika on top. Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes, or until heated through. Serves 4-6.

 

 

Posted in Food, That's Life | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Small Press Does Not Mean Small Editing

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on January 2, 2014

Small Press Does Not Mean Small Editing by Victoria Pinder

I started out my writing journey and went to RWA Nationals after finishing my first novel. I learned my writing sucked. I tried to fix it, but I’ve never sold those earlier books. To me, life is about growing and moving forward. I wrote more and decided that I had enough of waiting a few years with nothing happening. I decided to self-pub, and I chose a faux name writing as Greta Buckle. Victoria, my name, was reserved for traditional publishing. Then I discovered self-publishing wasn’t the only alternative path. Small press was another viable option.

It’s a relief to go small. And I’m glad I chose this route.   Mything You

I paid someone to edit Mything You. I love the story, but that editing wasn’t nearly as brutal as the Zoastra Affair. I rewrote that novel so many times my head spins. My editor corrected me on so much that my writing will never be the same. The growth and care I received from Soul Mate Publishing is something I’m grateful for experiencing. These were real editors who told me I needed to work on my craft, and I wasn’t paying for their services. If my editor said “rewrite,” I had no choice. I had to think deeper. Change. Say yes.

And I couldn’t ignore it.

Publishing is a business. Amazon is so profiting off indie authors, and Amazon cares more about Amazon than it does me. Play the game and play it well. But let’s not forget there are people out there also looking to make money WHILE publishing a good book that is not Amazon. I’ve learned more from editing than I did in a year of independent publishing. And I can focus on writing, not everything else it takes until the media giant takes 100% of all profits.

Small Publishers can answer the phone, and listen and help. Publishing is a business and it’s not all about you controlling everything. What are you willing to trade? I want my time to write. Don’t jump into one type of publishing because it’s easier than the other. There are pros and cons to everything. With publishers, there is time to write.

The Zoastra Affair
, December 2013, Soul Mate Publishing
Chaperoning Paris, 2014, Soul Mate Publishing
Borrowing the Doctor, 2014, Soul Mate Publishing
Mything the Throne, 2014, Double Dragon ebooks.
Electing Love, 2014, Soul Mate Publishing

And more books are out there at the moment.

I’ve created a list of small press and e-publishers from a variety of sources. I’ve put it on my site, as a tribute to Nancy’s awesomeness. Go here: http://victoriapinder.com/?page_id=1411

Oh, and special thanks to Nancy Cohen. She’s the newly elected President of Florida Chapter Mystery Writers of America as well as Vice President of Communications for Florida Romance Writers. I just chose to be Vice President of Programs for FRW, and I can’t imagine where she has the time. But besides all that, she’s a good person with a positive attitude. She’s one of the people I’m most thankful for in real life for knowing. She’s amazing.

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The Zoastra Affair by Victoria Pinder   The Zoastra Affair
Published by Soul Mate Publishing
Science Fiction Romance

YouTube Trailer:
http://youtu.be/Buah-LGT4tA

Blurb:

A hundred years from now, Earth is a trading partner with alien beings, mostly humanoid. However, going into space brought forth an unknown enemy who attacks Earth at will.

The Zoastra are part of the Earthseekers, an organization originally designed to go into space. Its new mission is to find Earth’s enemies.

Ariel is stuck on a Victorian planet and steals Grace’s body and life to get off the planet. Grace must get her body back before Ariel bonds with Grace’s husband, Peter. Then there is Cross, the man on a mission to find those who killed his family. Ariel is attracted to Cross, but she’s stolen someone’s life.

Excerpt:

 I’m going to have to steal someone else’s body to get out of here.

“Ariel, are you listening?”

Ariel Transcender stared dumbfounded at the mother superior of her prison, a/k/a Aulnale School for Orphans. “Yes, mistress.”

She had no idea what happened, though she pasted a fake simpering smile of appreciation on her face. Ms. Rochelle walked away.

A few minutes later, Ariel looked out the window again, tuning out Rochelle’s mind numbing lecture on what was proper behavior when near a man. The boarding home on this planet gave the stupidest lectures of the galaxy. Her lips curled into a sneer. Women were not excited to be bound to men.

Could I do this to someone else? Do I have any other choice?

Lenchena, the teenage girl who’d stolen her adult body and taken off on Ariel’s ship, needed to be found. And Ariel refused to listen to the daily drivel about always listening to a man.

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About the Author:

clip_image004Victoria Pinder grew up in Irish Catholic Boston before moving to the Miami sun. She’s worked in engineering, after passing many tests proving how easy Math came to her. Then hating her life at the age of twenty four, she decided to go to law school. Four years later, after passing the bar and practicing very little, she realized that she hates the practice of law. She refused to one day turn 50 and realize she had nothing but her career and hours at a desk. After realizing she needed change, she became a high school teacher. Teaching is rewarding, but writing is a passion.

During all this time, she always wrote stories to entertain herself or calm down. Her parents are practical minded people demanding a job, and Victoria spent too many years living other people’s dreams, but when she sat down to see what skill she had that matched what she enjoyed doing, writing became so obvious. The middle school year book when someone wrote in it that one day she’d be a writer made sense when she turned thirty.

When she woke up to what she wanted, the dream of writing became so obvious. She dreams of writing professionally, where her barista can make her coffee and a walk on the beach can motivate her tales. Contemporary romances are just fun to write. She’s always thinking who’s getting hurt and whose story is next on the list to fall in love. Victoria’s love of writing has kept her centered and focused through her many phases, and she’s motivated to write many stories.

Member of Florida Romance Writers; Contemporary Romance; Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of RWA; and Savvy Authors.

Visit Victoria online at:

Website: http://www.victoriapinder.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Victoria-Pinder-also-writing-as-Greta-Buckle/294685373900979
Twitter: http://twitter.com/victoriapinder
Tumblr: victoriapinder.tumblr.com
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/victoriapinder/
Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=200859737&trk=hb_tab_pro_top
Google+ https://plus.google.com/105161432419802350109/posts/p/pub

Posted in Business of Writing, Self-Publishing, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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