Stalking the Interesting   10 comments

Are there other writers you ‘stalk’ on social media? Who and why?

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Disclaimer

I don’t follow celebrities very often. Once in a while, I wonder what ever happened to an actor I used to like and I’ll google them, but generally, I don’t have any google alerts for celebrities. I have other things to do. I don’t seek them out on social media.

Exception

For a long time, my one exception was the comedian Christopher Titus. He was a funny guy in his performances and equally hysterical in his social media interactions. Unfortunately, Donald Trump destroyed him. He does a periodic podcast that is painful to watch. It starts with the Great Orange is evil, dwells on “the Great Orange” did this (6, 5, 4, 3, 2 years ago), and then slams a Great Orange sighting. The Great Orange has not been president for two years now. Could you find another topic that’s actually funny? Chris, I loved your rants about your family, your ex-wife, and the human condition. You managed to treat sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in a humorous way. I didn’t mind if you threw in an occasional political insight. When Trump was running in 2016, you were mildly funny on the topic and I expected you to move on after the election, but you just kept focusing on rage rather than jokes. A steady six-year diet of “hate Donald Trump” has gotten stale. Meanwhile, Biden is just the sort of person you used to eviscerate hilariously and you never deal with it. There’s nothing to distinguish you from the majority of comedians not being funny and I’m sorry you’re one of them. I no longer watch you and I wish you were still worth stalking. If you insist on focusing on politics, go back and review some of your hero Johnny Carson’s monologues. He knew how to tell jokes about politicians that made both their opponents and supporters laugh. Frankly, though, you should find some human condition topic and let fly. Do what you excel at and I might stalk you again.

My current exception is probably the fantasy author Kate Elliott, aka Alis Rasmussen. Not only does she write great books, but she actually interacts with her readers via Twitter and I love her insights about her characters and the plots they live through. She even managed to make a romantic cyberpunk hold my attention for three books in part because she threw little bits of trivia out on Twitter that created intrigue for the next book. I admit, her young adult novels don’t interest me, but that’s just a matter of taste. I still like her Twitter interactions and her book set to publish this spring The Keeper’s Six looks like vintage Elliott worth reading.

So now you know what gets my attention.

Posted January 30, 2023 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Long-Term Metaphors   4 comments

Do you include any inside jokes or Easter eggs in your work?

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Definition, please!

I guess I wasn’t paying attention because I didn’t really know what an Easter egg is in literature. I was aware the some of my favorite authors link their books in the same universe by leaving hints of them in each book, but I didn’t really know that was a widespread practice.

And it’s not one I use deliberately.

First, my fantasy series Daermad Cycle is not in the same universe as any of my other books. It is literally in an alternative space, so I can make magic work without offending my own rationality. I think the only “Easter egg” in that series is “who killed Prince Maryn?” That question can get a little muddled from time to time, but solving that mystery matters to understanding the series.

I suspect the reason why I don’t deal in literary Easter eggs much is that metaphors are hard to manage and they can become tiresome and strained over the stretch of many books. They’re fun as a one-off, but as a long-term strategy…okay, I figured out who Jon Snow’s mother was in the first book and every time George RR Martin dropped a hint in subsequent books, I wanted to scream …. yeah, if you haven’t guessed it for the books, I’ll not ruin it for you.

However….

Jon Dracines, a reporter for a New York newspaper, gets a mention in both Transformation Project and What If Wasn’t. You never meet him in either series (well, so far). He exists in a long-neglected WIP that may well never be published, but when I needed a reporter for Javier Chavez to reach out to, I used the character name and I am getting to a point where it might make sense for Jon to show up.

He also shows up as a reporter in What If Wasn’t series when Alan Wyngate wants to leak information about his son to the press. Maybe someday, he’ll show up as a fully-fledged character.

Recurring Themes

I use some themes repeatedly in my writings. “Objects in View” is the title to the 2nd book in the Transformation Project series. It’s a phrase that gets used pretty often by the characters. You know a character knew Jacob Delaney if you hear them say or think the phrase. Jacob Delaney’s libertarian philosophy is a throughline in the series.

What If Wasn’t is the title of a series and probably will be the title of one of the books in the series, and it’s also a philosophy I have main character Peter developing as he goes through rough times.

Individual freedom, even in a feudal society, is a consistent theme played out in different ways throughout all of my books. While my people are often surrounded by healthy communities that work together to get through challenges, I try to make the case that they are not forced to participate, but choose to do so.

Another theme that my son recently pointed out to me is that I pay homage to female empowerment outside the lines of women’s liberation. An ongoing theme in Transformation Project is “My partner is a bad-assed mercenary. Of course, I can take care of myself.” This is not necessarily because the female characters want to take care of themselves, but because their male counterparts are often dealing with other crises at other locations and therefore unavailable to protect the women they love, so their women learn to take care of themselves and to overcome the damage they experience when they physically aren’t strong enough to defend themselves from the bad guys. So, while (for example) Jazz couldn’t prevent Paul Osmowitz from raping her, she had the strength, anger, and gun skills to blow his face off later in the series. In my current WIP, she’s developing into a good backup for her bad-assed mercenary partner Shane Delaney. Meanwhile, Keri Lufgren had to shoot a man who tried to hurt her, but she doesn’t want to do that again, which causes her protective husband Alex to rise to the challenge of defending her. I like to show women as strong and capable, but still feminine. With the possible exception of the elfling Ryanna in Daermad Cycle, my female characters can only best a man if they are possessed of superior firepower, because that’s the reality I see in the world and I don’t think that diminishes my own gender in the least.

I don’t know these are Easter eggs (especially since some of them I didn’t even realize I was putting into the books), but they are themes that undergird my plots. And since I’m not going for metaphors, hopefully they stay fresh through the series. I admire writers who can deal in metaphors with panache (CS Lewis, for example), but I’m not him, so I’ll probably not leave a bunch of Easter eggs in my books, because I don’t want to become a slave to a literary technique.

Posted January 23, 2023 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Several Roads Divide in A Yellow Wood   4 comments

What is one thing that you wish you’d known about writing before you started?

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What a Hard Question!

First, I was 12 when I started writing. That is to say, that’s when I started putting ink on paper. Before that, I was making up stories to entertain myself and friends. So there was a lot I didn’t know about writing. I think I didn’t really know grammar when I started writing.

Let’s fast-forward a bit. I started thinking about writing books for other people to read when I was in my 20s. I was studying and then working as a journalist, but fiction always called to me. And there was still a lot I didn’t know.

There Is More than One Way to Publish

Frankly, in the 1980s, there wasn’t more than one way to publish. The Big 5 were it. Sure, you could do a vanity press, but you’d never sell the cases of books the press would sell you unless you had a publisher to help you with marketing, so there was really only one way to publish where other people were going to read my books.

I didn’t know about KDP for quite some time after it became a reality and it took me a while to get over my snobbery about “vanity presses.” I wish I’d gotten over those hurdles a couple of years sooner. Instead, I wasted time with traditional publishing.

The traditional route to publication involves submitting your manuscript to literary agents and hoping one of them likes it well enough to secure representation. I am a Christian who writes non-Christian literature that doesn’t fit neatly into the categories, which literary agents didn’t like. I kept getting advice about The Willow Branch which always said it was a great book, but I should rewrite it to be one or the other. It couldn’t be both. That left me unable to go forward because I wasn’t willing to turn my high fantasy into a Mitford novel or the Left Behind series. And that made me realize that I really didn’t want to wait forever while my agent submitted my manuscript to editors at publishing houses who would then tell me to rewrite the book.

There is nothing wrong with this approach, but there were new options. There are small publishers and digital-first publishing houses that put out high-quality books and many don’t require authors to have a literary agent to submit manuscripts. Unfortunately, they wanted money, which felt a lot like vanity press and we also didn’t have the cash to spend on that sort of long shot.

Self-publishing is the option I chose because I could work with others in an authors’ cooperative to produce a great product. The cooperative created a boutique press that allows all of us to appear as if we’re part of a publishing house. But the cooperative doesn’t own my copywrites, which I’ve come to absolutely love as I’ve had friends have to fight their way through a rights battle with small presses that fell apart. Self-publication is definitely not a shortcut, but it helps to be able to set my own deadlines and make my own decisions. It’s a lot of hard work but to be a successful author requires a lot of hard work no matter what route you take. I might as well do it for myself rather than for an editor at a publishing house.

Posted January 16, 2023 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Playing with Fire   8 comments

Jan 9, 2023

Have you or any of your characters experienced cooking disasters?

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Adventures in the Culinary Arts

I tried to give some deep thought about cooking disasters my characters might have had. In Daermad Cycle, it’s a medieval society, so they cook in open fireplaces. In Transformation Project, they’re living through the apocalypse and are grateful for whatever food they can get. In What If Wasn’t, well there’s a kettle of fish there.

In Daermad Cycle’s third book Fount of Wraiths, a blind Tamys prepares a meal for himself and Padraig and he refers to a near cooking disaster. He’s blind and still unused to his condition, but gifted with special psychic abilities. He still nearly fell into the fire.

I haven’t actually written a cooking disaster into Transformation Project. It’s more like adventures in the culinary arts as Jill Delaney attempts to feed a houseful of people with dwindling resources. Shane mentally remarks on it once that the meals are getting “creative” and involves potato slices swimming in a yellow broth. Since Shane doesn’t know, I don’t actually identify what they’re eating, but yes, it’s a thing if one lacked corn starch to thicken the sauce.

It’s not been published yet, but a great deal of it has been written — an episode in What If Wasn’t when Peter is first out of prison and trying to remember how to make himself breakfast. Suffering from culture shock and genereally finding it hard to think, Peter struggles to remember how to adjust the toaster to end up with palatable toast. This is based directly on a friend’s experience of his first morning after being released from prison. Thank you, Bern, for being willing to share that even simple things are a struggle when your whole life changes abruptly.

How about me?

Like everyone, I’ve overcooked a few meals and I once meant to shake a sprinkle of cinnamon in waldorf salad, but the screen wasn’t tight and I ended up putting half a bottle of cinnamon in the salad. Not particularly good eats even after I spooned most of it out.

But the most memorable kitchen disaster I’ve ever had didn’t occur in a kitchen. We go annually to get our winter fish supply to Chitina, Alaska, on the banks of the wild Copper River, where the wind rarely stops blowing. Usually Brad and I subsist off MRE’s or pilot crackers and tuna when we do these trips, but one year we went with our friend Ray, Brad asked me to make breakfast a priority and I knew Ray’s favorite breakfast was pancakes and bacon.

First I built a firepit from the slab rocks that break off the surrounding cliffs and tried to shelter it with the more rounded river rocks on the beach. And then I built a fire. All went pretty well with that and my cast iron skillets are great for campfire cooking. I put the bacon in the high-sided 9″ skillet and started the pancakes on the griddle. The wind gusted violently, sweeping down off the mountains to our west and then a second wind rushing hard along the river to the north, turning the campfire into a blast furnace with flames shooting several feet out the leewind side of the pit. I managed not to set myelf on fire, but it was a near thing a few times and even above the fire and on far side, the fire was HOT! The bacon cooked really fast and was black in some places and raw in others. Fortunately, that’s how Ray likes it. (I swear the man was raised among cavemen).

This cooking technique didn’t work for pancakes however. They were also black in some parts and raw in others — earning them the nickname of glue-cakes. I’ve never attempted to make pancakes over a campfire since, not even in the windless Interior where I’m sure I wouldn’t have to same problem. We now usually stick to cereal or bananas. Way more predictable results and you don’t risk burn injuries.

This is what I mean by adventures in culinary arts.

Whatever Sticks to the Wall   8 comments

Does anyone do cover reveals as part of your publicity for a new book? Do they work anymore?

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What Works and What Doesn’t

Cover reveals can be a great marketing tool. At least they were when I first started publishing eight years ago. Admittedly, I had a really pretty cover and that drew a lot of attention. Some of my later covers are just as pretty, but I have to admit the cover reveal — like so many other marketing ideas — is a hit-and-miss thing. Timing is everything and sometimes you just can’t time the timing right.

Wrapped in Plain Vanilla

I like the strip tease. Wrap my cover in a plain vanilla wrapper, publish the blurb, and ask people to tune in for the slow-motion reveal. I start about a month before I publish the book by announcing the cover is ready and then a week later I offer the hidden cover. Then a week later, over a period of about one week, I reveal it bit by bit. Then I start publicizing the publication date for the book, using the cover as the avatar.

Results?

I do notice a bump in activity on my blog and occasionally a few sales of earlier books in the series or a bump in reads. So I know it has an effect, but it’s hard to quantify. Like so many things, cover reveals seemed to have changed during covid — it’s now harder to get attention. Maybe it’s because my series has an ongoing pandemic and people are done with pandemics. On the other hand, a reader sent me a note recently that complimented me on a pandemic with real consequences rather than what real life has provided. So it’s hard to know what effect cover reveals have on early sales in this era. I’m still going to do one if I ever get the next book finished.

Why? Because it worked in the past and I’m hoping things will return more to normal in 2023. We’ll see.

Planning   2 comments

Do you set monthly/yearly goals for your writing? What are your goals for the coming year?

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Open to Edits

I have a loose goal to publish a book every year. That said, I am my own publisher so I am not held to any dates. I don’t advertise release dates until the book is finished and I’m just doing last-minute cleanup, so I don’t have to sweat that goal.

So far, I’ve been really good at keeping it, and I usually publish two books a year. During covid, I published three books in a year. But it’s a loose standard, subject to revision as conditions allow.

When I published Worm Moon last summer, I turned my attention to the next book in What If…Wasn’t and immediately hit a writer’s block. I don’t get those very often because if I can’t write one story, I’ll turn to another which usually gets me going on both.

And it was understandable for this book because it’s the first full-length romance I want to write and, well, yeah, me and romance aren’t really close. I’m feeling my way through it. And it was also summer in Alaska, so wanting to be outside would have slowed me down a bit anyway.

In September, I realized I needed a break. To give myself some time to marinate the story I was struggling with, I decided to start work on the book that comes after Worm Moon (title tentatively “Inalienable Liberties”). Turns out, it wasn’t just romance that had me down. Writing the most-complicated book in the Transformation Project series turned out to be a struggle. Or maybe it’s writer’s block in general because I haven’t written much nonfiction either. Anyway, throughout October and November, it was like writing through molasses. I wrote a bunch of scenes in no particular order and felt like I was scattered and never going to finish. But then on Thanksgiving, I had a lovely conversation with some of my alpha readers and they gave me a bunch of ideas that provided the climax to the novel. Because everything is out of order, it still feels scattered, but I’m getting to a point where I can actually organize the story and then work on what is missing and what can be trimmed.

Whew! I still need about 40,000 words to make it a novel, but I know that’ll come once everything is organized.

So the point is, I will probably still keep my loose schedule of one book published per year, but it probably won’t be two books in 2023.

Beauty in Flexibility

I am still working my full-time job and trying to live life. I refuse to be a hermit-writer. So naturally, I can’t be too ambitious about writing goals. I strive to write somewhere between 350 and a thousand words a day about anything, but it’s not always my novels that get the attention. I try to finish a book every six months and publish yearly, but I’m not going to kill myself doing it. And sometimes, I go through dry periods when writing doesn’t flow like normal.

There’s beauty in flexibility because I don’t need to freak myself out if I’m not producing like normal. I did this once before a few years ago, where I watched TV instead of writing for about three months and then wrote the rough draft for the next book in six weeks. I don’t know that I’ve ever had a more productive period of writing. Sometimes we need to take breaks to recharge our battery/muse.

I still do have a couple of dates marked on a calender that tell me when to start pushing myself hard to complete my loose goals.

Bright Spots

The good news is that Cai Delaney may be talking to me again. The character had stopped talking to me a while ago and I put him in a position where he could die at the end of Worm Moon, but now I’m getting slivers of a future story, so I might need to resurrect him. I try never to kill off a good character unless they stop telling me their story. And I really love Cai. He’s such a nice guy and I put him through hell. I think this resurrection isn’t going to be a walk in the park. I’m not a capricious god-creator, but bad things definitely happen to good people in my books.

And then there’s what I’m working on over in What If…Wasn’t. I put Peter in prison, where I don’t really want to write his story. Even with my friend Bern giving me insight into the experience, I don’t want to write Peter in there. But the story of what happens later in his life is almost entirely written. I thought I’d concentrate on what happens to the people he affected, but that’s where I started struggling. I know Lily and Ben fall in love while Peter is away, but writing it as a traditional romance is s struggle. I know the other stories too and they will be easier, but I have to get past that hurdle first. Maybe finding a dead body is the answer. Or, er….

And then there’s Daermad Cycle. The fourth book is largely drafted and I just have to find time to write it. Fantasy takes time and a lot of immersion compared to writing real-world fiction. It also requires a reset in my own thinking because I’m entering a different world with people who think very differently from ordinary people.

The point is, I have lots to work on, so I shouldn’t have any difficulty with keeping up with my goal for a few years.

Posted December 27, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Serenity   8 comments

What did you want for birthday/Christmas that you never got and might be bitter about? Have you bought it for yourself?

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The Things I Cannot Change

I tried to comply with this question and couldn’t come up with anything I never got and am, or could be, bitter about. I know that sounds weird, but it’s a basic principle I subscribed to in early adulthood and have practiced for 40 years. I try to leave the past in the past. I even named a book series after this philosophy – What If…Wasn’t. That alternative past I might have liked better didn’t happen, so I ignore it and move on with reality. Oddly, this makes my present more tolerable.

What if didn’t happen, so why dwell on it?

My disappointments are rarely tied to monetary items anyway, so I couldn’t buy them for myself. Last year, our daughter blew us off for her birthday (12.21) and Christmas. Why? Who knows? Itinerate musicians tend not to pay attention to the calendar. But I missed hearing from her and I could let myself get bitter about it. But if she calls this year, I’ll forgive her for past indiscretions and never bring it up. I wouldn’t be bringing it up now except I needed a disappointment to discuss. That’s the second part of my philosophy, which plays a big part in the Delaney family in Transformation Project. After someone asks for forgiveness, they never bring it up again. You hear it often from the family members — You can’t change the past. Move on. Do better. You’re going to walk off a cliff looking over your shoulder.

My mother would always bring up things from 30 years ago and revisit it over and over again and I didn’t like living that way. It made for a ready-made topic of irritation and I saw that as destructive. It wasn’t even directed at me and I knew it was a fruitless way to live your life. As a young adult, I read this Amish writer who explained that the Amish impart grace to those who have hurt them by forgiving and never bringing up the hurts of the past. That seemed like a great way to live and I resolved to do it. If I’m telling stories about a difficult time in the past, I try to tell the funny ultimately uplifting story. When I’m arguing with my husband of three decades, I don’t bring up that time he did that, though I do remind him that if he wants to bang on me about something I did 30 years ago, I have a lot more ammunition I could launch at him. He usually settles down because he absolutely knows I do and he acknowledges that I have never used it. Nowadays I can just give him a look that says I’m about to break my rule and he shuts up because he’d rather I didn’t. Mostly, after I’ve forgiven it (whatever it is), I’ve been blessed to forget it (I could access it, but I have to work to bring it to mind), and when I don’t, I resolve to never use it.

A tribal ancestor, the Sachem Tarhe, described it as

“burying the hatchet under a tree.”

The North American Indians had a long tradition of burying hatchets as part of making peace treaties with other tribes and the Euro-Americans. The peace would hold for a little while, but always fell apart eventually. Tarhe, being both a renowned war chief and a grand Sachem, said past parties left the handles sticking out of the ground so it was easy to unbury the hatchet. He wanted to plant a tree of peace (the white pine) on top of the hatchet. You could get to that hatchet again, but it would be more hard work than it was really worth. History records the Wyandot and Shawnee never picked up arms against the American government following that particular treaty.

I try to bury the hatchet and plant a tree on top of it. For the most part, I am successful at imparting grace to those around me. And when I’m not (usually because the other person dug up the hatchet and used it against me) I don’t beat up on myself for not being perfect, although I will continue to strive for that bar.

I think my life is happier this way. Intentional grace to hurtful situations and people means I don’t have to waste energy retrodding paths that will never be resolved. Yeah, there are things that aren’t always lovely, but they don’t have to be a central part of my life. This leaves me free to change the things that I can address in the present and that makes all the difference.

And, no, it’s not as easy as it sounds. At first, it was hard. As with most things, it got easier with practice.

Merry Christmas.

Posted December 19, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Locally Sourced   7 comments

Tell us about something local to where you live. Have you ever made it part of your stories?

Rules:

1. Link your blog to this hop.

2. Notify your following that you are participating in this blog hop.

3. Promise to visit/leave a comment on all participants’ blogs.

4. Tweet/or share each person’s blog post. Use #OpenBook when tweeting.

5. Put a banner on your blog that you are participating.

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Write What You Know

They say this and that’s kind of true. I didn’t choose Alaska as the setting for Transformation Project or What If Wasn’t. I wanted to chance of strangers showing up in my town and I knew that wouldn’t happen in Alaska during the apocalypse. Alaska doesn’t have a lot of elitists and they mostly live in Anchorage, so I didn’t feel like Fairbanks would be a great setting for my coming-of-age drama. I chose the location of Transformation Project’s town because it was near the middle of the US contiguous states, had a website where I could investigate the town, and was able the same size of the community I was writing. I chose the community for What If Wasn’t because we visited it briefly during a trip and it was the right sort of community for the family I was writing.

But I’m not actually writing those towns, so a lot of the details are actually borrowed from my personal life.

The main street of Emmaus has several buildings that exist in Fairbanks, on our main street called 2nd Avenue. Alex Lufgren’s dairy barn is roughly based on a historic dairy here in Fairbanks. The dance studio in What If Wasn’t is essentially the Firehouse Theater where my daughter studied dance. There’s an ice cream shop in the fictional town of Port Mallory that actually existed here in Fairbanks, although it is now in a standalone building and I used the original location in a little stripmall because I just like it better.

In the series Transformation Project, I have one book Winter’s Reckoning that centers on a blizzard and has a scene set in the Fairbanks International Airport. The scene at the airport was written while I was waiting for my husband to come back from visiting a family member. The sensations and views Shane experienced are all real experiences I’ve lived through. The blizzard was somewhat modified to fit the geolographic location of Emmaus, but I know snow and cold, so what I describe is mostly what I’ve experienced.

There’s so much in life that writers can borrow to use in their writing. Our own experiences provide authenticity to our characters and its lovely when we can find locations in our real lives because we can make them seem so real in fiction.

Posted December 12, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Open Book Blog Hop – 28th November   Leave a comment

Stevie Turner

Welcome to another blog hop. Today’s topic is:

Do you use real or fictional cities in your writing? How do you incorporate them into the story?

I sometimes use fictional cities in my stories, as due to any possible future litigation it’s easier to malign a place or a building. For example, in ‘Examining Kitchen Cupboards‘ I did not want to name the actual college where I read that exam question, and so I created the town of Daxton. It’s at Daxton College where administrator Jill Hayes finds strange exam questions for 16 -19 year olds which are more suited to children ten years younger. In ‘For the Sake of a Child‘ I created the town of Arlborough and the fictional company ‘PhizzFace‘ rather than use an actual town, as Arlborough is home to the Veck brothers who are serial child molesters. Could you imagine…

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Posted November 29, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Using The Windy City in my Stories   Leave a comment

https://snapdragon0blog.wordpress.com/2022/11/28/using-real-cities-in-my-stories/

Posted November 29, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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