#SundayReview: The Underachiever’s Manifesto by Ray Bennett

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There I go again, reading nonfiction.

My boss gave this book to my husband. At first, I’ll admit I was a little pissed. I mean, look at this book:

All I kept thinking was, great, here’s a good ol’ boy telling my husband how to get away with being a lazy ass, which he already is.

OKAY BOSS. THANKS.

As it turns out, it’s not quite what it looks like. It is, but it isn’t.

This is a tidy little book you can read in 20-60 minutes, and it’s basically about not taking things too seriously.

The Ten Commandments of the Underachiever:

  1. Life’s too short
  2. Control is an illusion
  3. Expectations lead to misery
  4. Great expectations lead to great misery
  5. Achievement creates expectations
  6. The law of diminishing returns applies everywhere
  7. Perfect is the enemy of good
  8. The tallest blade of grass is the surest to be cut
  9. Accomplishment is in the eye of the beholder
  10. The 4% value added principle

It was an interesting little read. Much like with Crucial Conversations, though, I feel as if I know the principles, it’s just a matter of applying them. The basic principles of the book are these:

  • Don’t over-invest so much in achievements. Take the time away from your pursuit of achievement to enjoy life, spend time on your relationships, and pursue personal happiness. To ignore these things in the pursuit of accomplishments is to ruin one’s own life. In the scheme of things, our footprint on the world is a tiny thing and few people actually care what we do, whether we succeed or don’t, so don’t be miserable while you are here.
  • Being an overachiever makes people hate you and it only makes you crazy as you keep trying to achieve.
  • Being awesome in the work places only means people will try to take advantage of you and you’ll basically work yourself to death for attention.
  • Expend the proper amount of energy on the right things; that is, the things that will return the most personal reward and overall improve your life. Maybe don’t kill yourself over a deadline, but make sure you get enough sleep and do take the time to sit and have a beer with a friend, even if you’re late finishing a project on time.

I mean, in the overall scheme of the world…how great of an effect does each of us have on it?

How I Interpret This Book

I already feel as if I am doing a lot of this in my own life. My father started preaching some Alcoholics Anonymous tenets to me some years ago. “Expectations breed resentment.” Letting your happiness hinge on whether or not something goes right just sets you up for a ruined day. That statement rather changed my life. “God help me accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” In AA, this is known as the serenity prayer. It’s critically important to keep in mind as you walk about in the world. Can you change it? Can you control it? Because most things, we cannot. The one thing we are in control of is our attitude and our reaction to such adversity.

For example, I cannot change the terrible decisions my mom continues to make. She’s autonomous. She will have to fix this herself. What I can do is seek to control the pain it is causing in me. I can let go, and I’m working on that.

I have goals set for 2017 to dial back my work stress, learn to say no more, relax, and pour more into writing. Yeah, I want to achieve book completion, but really want I want out of that is the joy I get from creating. Writing balances me.

Furthermore, I think that Writer Sam holds true to all of the commandments in the Underachiever’s Manifesto. I know I’m not in the top 5%, and no amount of effort is going to put me there. Some people are just more gifted than me, more practiced than me. I’ll just keep doing my best and be happy that anyone is reading what I write.

I don’t have expectations about how my book is going to sell. It’s just there in case someone wants to read it, and occasionally I like to remind people of that. I have a job that pays me pretty well, so it’s not like I need the money that badly. I write for me, and I write for you. I don’t write for profit. Profit is just a nice little bonus once in a while. It is my true belief that most everyone that reads my books will enjoy them. That is why they exist. I believe by me NOT pushing them, my actions speak to that.

I think everybody should read this book. It takes almost no time at all and is briefly brilliant at providing a little dose of perspective.


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in printand short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out our #SundayReview category to find out what we are reading, watching, or learning about storytelling in all of its forms!

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#SundayReview: Salt in the Water by J. Ray & S. Cushaway

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I have about a billion books in progress on my reading list. It’s kind of cool because it means I am reading a lot more than I used to, but it also means I finish pretty slowly. But if I don’t finish, I don’t get to write reviews! BUMMER.

I knew pretty early on that I WANTED to review this one, though, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to finish it. It became my commute book, and I read it on my half hour to and from work (my roommate drives us in). And last night, I finally finished.

A while back, I mentioned I was invited to be a part of a Book Launch Party. It was my first one, and I was tickled to have been included. As part of the event, I was given this free copy of Sarah Cushaway’s debut novel, SALT IN THE WATER (Lesser Dark: Book 1).

How I Found This Little Gem

Sarah is a Traverse City author. Whenever possible, I like to be able to help out my peers. We support each other when we can, through NaNoWriMo and beyond. So when she gave me her book, I was thrilled. I haven’t met a lot of TC authors who write fantasy (which is pretty much all I will read). However, it was a little slanty-like from my usual fare. I warned her of this, as I have found it increasingly difficult to enjoy fantasy lately. It all starts to look the same after a while, and I quickly get bored and put the book down.

Sarah assured me that this would be a little different. SALT IN THE WATER is a “Weird Western,” a subgenre that takes elements from Westerns and combines them with another. This book is basically a fantasy novel set in a fictional border town. I was intrigued enough to give it a shot, but Western isn’t really my thing, either, and I went into the book skeptical. What I love about fantasy is how far removed it is from the modern world. I don’t want to be anywhere near it.

But, for friends and fellow TC writers, I’ll try my damndest. Represent.

The Plot

The blurb for this book is as follows:

There are a thousand ways to die in the desert—desperate outlaws, deadly predators, murderous elements, and betrayal. . .

Kaitar Besh, a veteran scout as legendary for his cynicism as his skills, is ordered to brave the deadly Shy’war-Anquai desert one last time. Escorting Leigh Enderi—a greenhorn Enforcer with a reputation as shady as his own—he soon realizes the ghosts of his past have come to haunt more than his nightmares.

When the mission breaks down in the wake of bitter hatred and mistrust, even Kaitar’s fabled skills may not be enough to bring them home again. Stranded in the red wasteland without contact, food, or water, they uncover a betrayal that could bring all they hold dear crumbling to the dust. . . and tear down the wall of lies surrounding them.

Basically, the plot follows a small group sent to investigate the disappearance of a fellow Enforcer, and while they are tracking him in the desert, conflict happens. Meanwhile, all around them is a multilayered battle over territory, and power and authority is shifting hands. Of course, when you’re isolated out in the desert and cut off from communications, it’s kind of hard to keep your finger on the pulse of politics, so nasty surprises abound.

It reminded me quite a bit of Mad Max. Water is important. Whoever has it is king. There are guns and sand rovers. And somewhere in the desert there are sand pirates who will kill you and take all of your stuff, and maybe eat you. Not to mention the desert is dangerous anyway.

What I Liked

Sarah was right. This is a bit of a departure from typical fantasy fare. Actually, it has a little more science fiction in it than I was expecting.

There are multiple races, and they generally hate each other. There are the usual humans and races of sentient humanoids collectively referred to as Enetics (although to be fair, one of the Enetic races is basically velociraptors called Threk, which I am totally fine with). There’s a universal mistrust of Enetics that’s strikingly relevant to the modern age, although there are some that are able to look past that. The border town of Dogton keeps quite a few Enetics employed, for which the city’s leader is given a lot of shit.

I quite enjoyed the interactions between the races. There’s a deep hatred between Leigh’s people and Kaitar’s people, the Sulari and Shyiine, respectively, which causes a lot of strife as they travel together, despite the fact that neither of them are particularly fond of their own people. Both of them have some deep issues and neither of them ever want to talk about it until they want to fight about it.

I love the Shyiine. The two that appear in the story, Kaitar and Senqua, are both entertainingly pissy. Kaitar is like a harassed school chaperone. He’s out there like, “Don’t touch anything, don’t lick anything, don’t wander off” but no one wants to listen to him. He’s used to being on his own, so having to keep two other people from getting themselves killed is exasperating and amuses me. Senqua is a greenhorn scout paired up with a total drunk. She’s a constantly boiling over fury because she wants to learn and basically has to figure it all out on her own. I get the feeling that at some point her mentor was better to her, but now she’s disgusted. It has created this interesting dynamic where she won’t let him drink himself to death and is oddly protective, even though she is constantly bitching, like she can’t help herself.

I love irritable characters. And SALT IN THE WATER has tons of them. I was also quite fond of Zres, but I’ll leave him for you to discover.

It’s often difficult when writing such a large cast of characters to keep them all separate, different, and interesting, but this book absolutely nails that. There are plenty of unique character-character interactions. A book is supposed to make you feel like there was a story before this and there will be a story after it, and maybe there is more story running in the background. It’s supposed to be real, like you’ve landed smack dab in the middle of everyone’s personal dramas. This did not fail to deliver on that.

What I Didn’t Like

Surprisingly little. Usually I’ll have some kind of complaint about writing style and believability of character development, maybe worldbuilding, but nah.

If anything, I’m left wanting to know more about Kaitar’s past. There are little bits and pieces in flashbacks and nightmares but not the full picture. There keep being hints at some kind of dark, horrible secret from his fighting pit days. I get the feeling it’s all in the second book (which has yet to be released), but I was impatient for it now. Same with Leigh’s backstory. There’s a little of it.

And I really, really want to know who Verand was, really. In this book he’s sort of a shadow of his former self but he was apparently a pretty big fucking deal.

Oh, and maybe it was the copy I received or something in formatting translation to my MOBI reader on my phone, but there were quite a few missing periods. I’m smart enough to figure out when a sentence ends. It wasn’t even distracting enough to slow me down, but worth mentioning I suppose.

Conclusion

I’m definitely looking forward to book two. It’s called GHOSTS IN THE GLASS.

I have no idea when it’s released, but I follow Sarah on Twitter and I’ll be looking out for it.

SALT IN THE WATER was a great detour from my usual book fodder. I kept snorting and laughing out loud at some of the arguments the characters had and I couldn’t stop telling my roommate about what was going on. I’m trying to get him to read it now.

This book is free. You should totally pick it up. And then review it, because that’s what you do to support the artists that you like.


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in printand short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out our #SundayReview category to find out what we are reading, watching, or learning about storytelling in all of its forms!

Poll: Help Us Work out the Best Way to Connect With You!

If you could please take a few moments to answer 6 short questions, it would help Sam and I greatly with future content on both our sites! 😀 Thank you!

New! Dedicated Author Newsletters!

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I think there is no better brew than a hot cup of tea. Sam, on the other hand, thinks a strong coffee is better. I love My Little Ponies, whereas Sam loves video games, especially JRPGs.

I love a good old thrilling adventure story, characters with grit and determination and good old heroes. Sam likes stories with slow destructions and doomed love. So much ANGST!

The thing is, everyone, likes something, and it might not be the same as the next person. So we know that not everyone who follows our blog is interested in both of us or perhaps every article we write. Sam and I write different genres, we have different styles and different interests. It’s only natural that people want to follow one or other, sometimes even both.

Taking this into consideration, we decided it was time to split…emails. We now have dedicated email newsletters, one each, so that you can keep up to date with whoever you want to! We will both be posting a newsletter perhaps once a month or so, therefore we won’t flood your inboxes every day. We hope to use the newsletter to make announcements or release important information about our writing and upcoming books and such. We might even use it for polls or behind the scenes information on our characters and stories.

So if you are interested in hard-hitting, psychological science fiction, with complex characters and exciting plot, follow Frankie’s newsletter!

If you like Grimdark, adult, woman-centric epic fantasy with the occasional toxic romance or medical sci-fi, follow Sam’s newsletter!

And share them around with people you think might be interested!! We might even offer the occasional free peek in the newsletters! 😀  Links also added to the top pf the page 😀

Share it! You know you want to! 😀

#WriteTip: Keeping Track of Your Series

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Hey, all!

I have always been a planner. And I’m not usually over the top–although I can be–but some amount of planning goes into every one of my stories. It’s usually just a rudimentary outline (see 7-point story structure) and a rough idea of setting, conflict, and characters. Most of the time, that’s enough to keep me on track.

However, as I’ve been diving into Book 2 of my series with ACHILLEA, I’m trying to crack down on a lot of what I know my weaknesses are. Chronology and seasons, how much time does my book actually cover, little hints and breadcrumbs, military details, where I put Rauden’s scars, etc. As my books have evolved, I’ve added a lot of minor characters and I have apparently drifted slightly from where my main characters were. For example, I looked back over my notes on Lyda, Sielle, and Naniha, a group of three friends and Achillea’s first recruits. In my mind now, they’re older than I originally intended. Fun thought experiment, I asked my friends at the Dead Pete Society how old they thought my characters were, and I got a range of reactions:

Kathi said 17-20. Jori said 16-18. Frankie said 20-26. I had them written down as 18-22, and in my mind, they’d become somewhere between 20-24.

Then I asked who they thought was oldest, and who was youngest.

Kathi and Jori agreed Naniha was the oldest, Lyda the youngest. Frankie thought Naniha was the youngest, and Lyda the oldest. Originally, Lyda was the youngest, but now my brain thinks she is the oldest. I find it interesting…Kathi and Jori have a closer handle on where I originally placed my characters, but Frankie seems to share my now-brain.

I clearly had some work to do.

I have character sheets for all of my characters in Scrivener, but as each of my books has its own file, this became a bit of a pain. And yeah, I know I can export/import from one book to another, but even that became a pain as I added and subtracted characters because I had to make sure it was consistent across all of my books.

And since I plan to take the series into at least seven books with a set of spin-offs, I knew I had to be more organized this time. You can’t just race off into the sunset and chase a series without being completely, one hundred percent in control of your setting and your characters. If people fall in love with my series as I hope they will, they’re going to catch on. I need to know this world and these people better than anyone.

So I made another book. A physical one. I have a weakness for office supplies, and that most certainly includes blank journals and notebooks. So I repurposed a journal that my friend got me for Christmas into a character reference. Every character gets a page, even if I only put them in the book to kill them off later. If I need to, I’ll start another journal, but so far this one has everyone in it with about half the pages to spare.

I gave each character the following details:

  • Name, with pronunciation and applicable nicknames
  • Nationality
  • Age at the founding of Vaethrre (my city), including birthday (because I might need that) based on what I think their astrological symbol is. (Okay, look…I don’t REALLY ascribe to this belief…but there are people who read this that might). For example, Lyda sounds like a Virgo, so I put her birthday in that range. This will help me keep their ages straight as the books progress, provided I can keep my damned timeline straight (this is the challenge).
  • The top of each page has their D&D alignment (Lyda is Lawful Good), their Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator (Lyda is an INFP), and who I think would be a good actor/actress for them (right now Lyda is marked as Natalie Dormer…her inability to properly smile because she always smirks is a shoe in, and Natalie looks badass with short hair)
  • Physical appearance, especially important if someone changes theirs later (like Heike does, or when Lyda gets new tattoos).
  • Personality; this is their concrete personality, what is less likely to change. PTSD or character shifts are added in later to the Notes section. Sielle hates apologies and refuses to apologize herself. This won’t change. But her extreme bitterness to the point of potential self-destruction is an added change and will go into the Notes section. That’s something that may eventually be undone. I haven’t decided that yet. For her to suddenly appreciate apologies would be out-of-character, however.
  • Family connections
  • Motivations; What are they trying to achieve? Everyone is motivated by something, even if their ultimate goal is just to be left alone.
  • Conflicts; what adverse forces are working against the character? Lyda takes issue with cruelty, and she steps in when she believes those around her are acting unfair or vindictive.
  • Love interest(s), including whether or not they have an ‘aya’, the equivalent of a True Love in my stories (in ACHILLEA, ‘true love’ is a very real thing. Kind of.).
  • Their opinion of the Warden (more or less ‘God’), if they have one.
  • Secrets; Lyda is a very private person and she keeps a lot of her own desires to herself.
  • Fears; Myen is afraid of heights and horses
  • Dislikes; Heike hates cheese
  • Likes; Kirae has a fondness for conversation and company
  • Skills
  • Weaponry; Heike has 54 different bladed weapons. At some point, I intend to list them all, but I don’t want to accidentally end up with 58 in case anyone is counting.
  • Notes; I left a big blank space here for most of the characters depending on how long I intend to keep them around. Myen and Heike get several pages each, but cameo characters like Carme (who works at the hospital) only get a page.

Then I put a Table of Contents at the front, and voila! I’m good to go! Now I can use this handy dandy notebook for all of my books. And hopefully, I’ll never get lost again!


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print) and short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!

#FrankieWIP Editing and New Digital Illustration!

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Editing of Emergence is going well! Took a couple of days off writing to draw, and I’ve included it in this video! Tell me what you think of it! It’s also under the video 😉
It took me a couple of days and I created it on my Cintiq and Artrage 😀

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F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE

#WeCreate: SLIP Subway Dance

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I’ve told you all before that I have a real weakness for performance art. I have no talent at all for it, so it strikes me in emotional centers that are pretty well starved for beauty. So for this week, I just wanted to share this little gem. I was reminded of it recently and dug it back up to show a friend, and I was blown away all over again by just how gorgeous this is.

Enjoy!


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in printand short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out the #WeCreate category on Saturdays for a little art appreciation from Frankie and Sam!

#SamWIP: 12K Day and a Trip to the ER

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WHEW, I had a big day! 😀


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in printand short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out the #SamWIP category every Monday to hear about Sam’s current projects!

#WriteTip: One Free, One Cheap, One Real

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Last week, our eBook retailer, Pronoun, surprised us all when they doubled our author royalties, released the long-awaited Author Pages, and opened the door to Free eBooks. I had always wanted to offer something to my readers for free, but previously Pronoun’s lowest price had been $0.99. This, as you can imagine, was big news for Frankie and me.

Almost immediately, I dropped the price to FREE on my fresh publication, A SHINY FOR TRICK. Then I flung it to the masses and more or less forgot about it.

Today I checked my email. Pronoun has been sending me updates on how my sales have been. Since I dropped the price to free, I’ve sold 29 copies. Granted, I’ve not turned a profit on any of these books, but 29 is about as many digital copies that I’ve sold of THE BLOOD OF NERYS.

I had hoped this would happen. I am so glad that it did.

I turned to my roommate this morning and told him about my discovery. We discussed something he had heard somewhere about marketing. That it’s best to have one free product, one cheap product, and a lot of your real product.

(Note: The prices I’ve listed here refer to eBooks only. Printing incurs the cost of paper and ink, so print copies naturally cost more. I won’t be covering print with this blog post.)

Free Books as a Marketing Tool

Most people will pull the trigger on a free book without so much as a second thought. They might never read it, but they CAN, and that’s all that matters at the moment of purchase. Offering something for free seems counter-intuitive. After all, at this point you’ve spent hundreds of hours on the thing and likely had to pay for editing, cover design, or other services.

The important point to keep in mind though is that almost anyone will pick up a free book if they are even slightly interested in it. With your free book, you are casting a net far and wide, hoping some of the readers you reach stick around.

Your free book should be, in my opinion:

  • Short (mine is 17K, about 58 pages)
  • In your primary genre
  • Readable by everyone you ever hope to reach with any book (kids? Adults? Both?)

This is the appetizer. At this point, anyone who took the time to read your free book should know what to expect from your writing. Plus, they’ll be done with the free book quickly, and hopefully want to read something else.

That’s when you bait them again with the cheap product.

Cheap Books Are Your Chance to Prove Yourself

Now, give them a real novel. In my opinion, your cheap book should be:

  • Between $2-5
  • A standalone novel
  • In your primary genre
  • Directed at your primary audience
  • A good example of what you’ll typically write about

You might want to have 2-3 of these directed at different audiences. If you’re planning on writing books for both adults and young adults, you would probably want one of each. If you have to choose one, choose Young Adult (YA). A lot of adults enjoy these.

But start with one, and then move on to your Real Product.

The cheap book should be a singular example of what you’re about here. Develop a full story, hook and hold a reader, give a satisfying conclusion. They should read this thing and want to read more books.

Alright. Give ’em Everything You’ve Got.

Time for the real thing. Your crowning achievement. That beloved world you’ve been dying to write that you plan to spend a lot of time exploring. This should be where you put your series.

In my opinion, your real story should be:

  • Between $4-10
  • A series in your primary genre
  • Directed at your primary audience
  • About whatever your heart desires

You might have more of these later. This is what you’d mainly be writing from now on. Keep working on major standalones or major series directed at any of your audiences in the genres you will write. Basically, you’d want to write a free book, then a cheap book, then a real product, and then spend the rest of your career rounding out your listings.

How This Looks for Me

  • My Free Book is A SHINY FOR TRICK. It’s directed at all audiences and reads like a grim (not Grimm) fairy tale. It’s mostly lighthearted at the surface, but it does dabble in some darker themes like obsession and starvation. It’s 17K and written for a younger audience, but to adults it might feel like a Pixar short. Rather adorable and entertaining. It’s pure fantasy–magical creatures, other worlds, magical boxes and magical treasures.
  • My Cheap Book is THE BLOOD OF NERYS priced at $3.99. This was actually my first book. It’s definitely for an adult audience. It has a little gore and a lot of swearing. The setting is dystopian with a blurry sense of setting (this is intentional. Whether or not this is our world gone awry or another world is entirely up to your imagination. Either works). It deals with large philosophical concepts like God, magic, and science. It’s medical science fiction with a twist of fantasy, with blood as a main component, and finished in one book.
  • My Real Product is ACHILLEA and the books that will follow. This is not published yet, but will be a trilogy, and then a later trilogy, and then some. I will be spending a lot of time in this world. I have built a familiar sense of place and person. I know these characters as well as I know real people, and I love them dearly. ACHILLEA was the first book I ever finished, and I’ve poured countless hours into refining it to make it perfect. This is an adult epic fantasy, rife with powerful female characters, espionage, and turmoil. ACHILLEA sits at 137K. The second book is in progress and currently at about 38K. (My foolish writer brain thinks writing book 4, the first of the second series in this world, is somehow a great idea, so that’s sitting at about 8K, too).I cannot wait for all of you to meet these characters. They’ve been with me a long time. Heike, Achillea’s surly captain, is my belligerent muse.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you enjoy the work Frankie and I do on this blog, the best way you can support us is to share the posts and share our books. Even if they aren’t your thing, but you believe in what we’re doing here, sharing them with someone who might is a huge help. As with any new author, exposure is always the biggest challenge. (And reviews!)

Thanks everybody! Have a great weekend!


S.K. Balk lives in the frozen wasteland of Northern Michigan. She is the author of the dystopian medical sci-fi THE BLOOD OF NERYS (also available in print) and short fantasy A SHINY FOR TRICK (forever free for your entertainment!).

Check out the #WriteTip category for more writing advice and tools from Frankie and Sam!

#FrankieWIP Long Time No See!

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A quick update about Emergence and why I’ve not been around much.

F.R. Donaldson lives in scenic Scotland. She is the author of the psychological sci-fi MALEVOLENCE