Monthly Archives: May 2013

Game of Thrones: Writing Lessons from HBO’s Cult Show

Posted by May 31st, 2013

A guest post by fiction author and editor Barbara Rogan.

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My name is Barbara, and I’m an addict.

I’m addicted to Game of Thrones. That’s not all; I’m also hooked on Bates Motel, and just recently I kicked Downton Abbey—not through any effort or willpower of my own, but because the supply dried up.

The Game of Thrones trouble began with the George R.R. Martin books. I was writing A Dangerous Fiction at the time, and was in search of a bit of light reading as a palette cleanser. I started reading the first book in the series, and several million pages later, I looked up blearily from the last and realized that three weeks had passed and I hadn’t done a lick of work. The TV series only made the situation worse. I started out watching each new episode on Sunday nights. Before long I was mainlining repeat showings two or three times a week. Continue reading

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Meet NAL’s Editorial Director Claire Zion

Posted by May 29th, 2013

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“Nothing about publishing is magic; it’s all hard work.”

We are thrilled to welcome acclaimed editor Claire Zion to the blog today. She is a vice-president and the editorial director for New American Library. She has previously worked at Pocket Books, Warner Books and iPublsh.com. She has edited bestselling authors such as Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jayne Anne Krentz, Linda Howard, Philippa Gregory, Susan Wiggs, Jo Beverley, and Karen Rose.

 

Nevena: Thank you for joining us, Claire. You’ve been in publishing for many years, so I’d love to get your perspective on today’s publishing landscape. How has the industry changed during your tenure? 

Claire: The biggest and most exciting change I’ve seen in publishing is happening right now. EBooks and the rise in self-publishing that has gone along with them have really revitalized the industry. I think more people are reading now than ever, and there is more room for new talent and new ideas then there has ever been before. For publishers it is an exciting time because we are expanding all our programs and reaching more and more readers. For writers it’s an exciting time because there are so many more readers out there for them to connect with. Continue reading

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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Timothy Maguire

Posted by May 28th, 2013

Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A

timothy_maguire_writerThe simple act of creating your own setting can often give you hundreds ideas for unique stories you can tell.

Timothy Maguire has been writing for years; he’s finally gotten to the point where he thinks he’s onto something. He lives in Leicester in the UK with some friends and a lot of books. He’s been using Book Country for years, and is probably best known for his “Science!” thread, explaining various bizarre parts of current scientific understanding.

So, if you want to know more about time travel, energy, string theory, or black holes, head out to the discussion forum!

Nevena: Thanks for joining us, Timothy. Why did you become a writer?

Timothy: I started writing ‘seriously’ when I was still in school. I borrowed David Weber’s Heirs to Empire (the last book in a trilogy, so, of course, I read it first) from the library, and I found myself thinking, “This is what I’d write.” From there it’s simply been a forgone conclusion that I’d be a writer.

Nevena: How do you fit writing into your life?

Timothy: Badly. I’m not the best organized of people at the best of time, so I tend to crowbar it in wherever I can. Ordinarily, I can be found pecking away at my laptop during lunch breaks or when I’m supposed to be socializing. When I’m up against some sort of self-imposed deadline, I head out of the house to a coffee shop or the local park to work until my battery dies. Continue reading

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Last Week on Book Country, May 20 – 26

Posted by May 27th, 2013

A Book Country weekly update

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Did you know?

Some of the stories you might have missed this week:

Member Atthys Gage chatted with us about the “writing bug” and following his characters’ needs.

We finished the first week of this summer’s #write53k write-a-thon. You’re doing great, guys! And it’s not too late to join us.

We unveiled a drawing of the new Cozy Mystery flag,  preview of what’s coming to Book Country this summer. You can admire it here.

Fresh off the press:

New projects that haven’t been reviewed yet: (C’mon, give them a read.)

The Aspie’s Revenge by Little Terror

This story tells of an 11 year old child with Asperger’s Syndrome who has a hard time at his new school and at home. So he decides to do something about it.

The Timekeeper’s Son by EC Barrett

A runaway from the factory cities of the Kingdom of Ulde is trained in the arcane arts and becomes a deadly weapon against the spreading Ulden threat.

Mind Over Matter by C Ragon

In the future where murder is all but a memory, a senator is killed prompting an investigation by a rookie homicide detective.

Till next week!

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Unveiling a Book Country Mystery: The Cozy Mystery Flag!

Posted by May 23rd, 2013

It’s time to unveil the mystery… of the Cozy Mystery flag!

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Once a writer chooses a genre on the map, it becomes a home. Cozy mystery writers, we want to give you a home… and a friend you can cozy up to while writing.

Cozies are a subset of the mystery genre often populated by crime-solving cats. You may also see knitting needles, baking sheets, and chopping boards—the accoutrements of hobbies of all kinds.

In a cozy novel,  a small-town’s utopia is disrupted when one of the residents drops dead. The protagonist, an amateur sleuth, is swept into the crime investigation—because she’s implicated or because she fears for her own life. The sleuth is not alone on her quest for justice. A male counterpart—often a police investigator or a reporter—comes along for the ride and lends his professional expertise. Of course, there are sparks flying, but the romance isn’t the primary reason the cozy mystery reader is turning the pages. Continue reading

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Last Week on Book Country, May 13 – May 19

Posted by May 21st, 2013

A weekly update on what’s new and noteworthy on Book Country.

Book flying in the sky

 

Did you know?

Some of the stories you might have missed this week:

Member Rebecca Blain chatted with us about her love of fantasy and her debut epic fantasy novel, The Eye of God.

We welcomed author Sam Weller and The Summer Writer’s Club community of writers to Book Country. Join us in a commitment of 500 (or 250) words a day over the summer.

Saint-Germain series author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro shared an excerpt from her new writing guide, Fine-tuning Fiction.

We unveiled a drawing of the new Regency Romance flag last week. Isn’t she beautiful?


Fresh off the press:

These are new projects that haven’t gotten any reviews yet. C’mon, give them a read.

Secret Desires by Mallory Miller
Michelle is sexually inexperienced for a 21 year old, but between Mike and Sam, Michelle will have an awakening like no other.

Everywhere That Mary Went by Shannon Celebi
On the 25th anniversary of his cousin’s disappearance, Jesse answers the phone to hear the last person he ever expected.

The Exceptional Child by Paige Adams
This is a fictional memoir that depicts the life of a young man coming of age in the segregated South to achieve excellence in education.

Till next week!

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Member Spotlight: Meet Writer Atthys Gage

Posted by May 20th, 2013

Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A

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The light is dim sometimes, and you can only see a little bit of the path ahead.  –Atthys Gage

Atthys Gage has been writing novels for the last seven years while living on the North Coast of California amid dogs, kids, redwood trees, and one long-suffering wife. He’s been a member of Book Country for about two years. The current tally is four and a half novels, a memoir about adopting a child from China, and a handful of shorter works.  

Nevena: Thanks for chatting with me, Atthys. When did you start writing? What inspires you to carry on?

Atthys: Seven years ago I decided to try writing a book.  It was an out of the blue “I wonder if I can do it?” kind of challenge. It turned out I could. I wrote it all in long hand in a couple of spiral-bound notebooks before I even touched the word processor. Since then, I’ve had the bug.

Nevena: Is fitting writing into your life a juggling act?

Atthys: My wife works full-time (and then some), so I’ve got a house to run and three teenage kids to mismanage. But I get a few hours to myself nearly every day. Unfortunately, I’m a hopeless procrastinator, so most of that time gets wasted on a lot of nonsense, but I have no one to blame for that but myself. And the Internet.

Nevena: Haha, don’t we all… What’s your writing process like? Do you plot extensively or let the characters lead the way?

Atthys: I need to have a pretty good outline, but I’m always open to change. The light is dim sometimes, and you can only see a little bit of the path ahead. Once in a while, a character you thought was just a walk-on will force her way center stage and start grabbing all the good lines. When that happens, I try to get out of her way.

Nevena: The muse takes over! You’ve posted three fantasy books on Book Country. What is it about the genre’s tropes and conventions that speaks to you as a story-teller?

Atthys: Actually, I’m not all that fond of traditional fantasy. I am attracted to books where extraordinary or unexplained things happen. I like the tension, the way the various layers of reality rub against each other. Everyday life, of course, can be just as weird, just as beautiful, just as fantastic as the wildest otherworldly fantasy. It’s all about the writing. And those impossible, unexplainable elements, I try to write them just the same, always anchoring the magical in pure, vivid realism.

Nevena: What’s your “pet” project at the moment?

Atthys: I guess the book I’m most passionate and hopeful about at the moment is The Flight of the Wren.  It’s the story of a sixteen-year-old girl who is given a flying carpet. Yeah. That’s the nutshell version. My formal pitch is a lot more exciting than that, but ultimately I think I lose a lot of readers with the words ‘flying carpet.’ Probably they are expecting something like a Magic Treehouse adventure and a lot of mucking around with Aladdin and his monkey.

Of course, it’s nothing like that. The protagonist is painfully ordinary—disaffected, disconnected, utterly disinterested in school, family, even friends. She is, in short, a typical teenage mess. She has no special powers, no special insights, not even a belief in herself. Because I am a benevolent (if inscrutable) god, I toss her a lifeline. A gift. An impossible gift: a magic carpet. But there are strings attached. With it comes both a community (other members of her flock) and a purpose, a mission.

Love, of course, also waits in the wind. Love is what drives everything that happens in the second half of the book. A flying carpet, once you get past the absurdity, really is a heck of a gift.  It represents two extremely valuable things for a young person: freedom and independence. For Renny, it also comes to represent two things she thought she didn’t want but which turn out to be a lot more important than flying: connection and responsibility. In other words, people she cares about.

Nevena: Which part of that book was the most challenging to write, and how did you handle it?

Atthys: Not to downplay the agony of creation, but the hardest part has been trying to get the book read and published, though I guess I have myself to blame for that one too.  All of the most cherished and repeated advice from agents and marketing people—make your book high-concept, write to a target audience, know your genre—I’ve failed at all of those things! My books don’t sit comfortably in any particular genre. I can’t even identify an appropriate age group.  I call my stuff YA because it concerns younger people as characters, but I don’t tailor my writing to that audience. Understand, I’m not saying I won’t. I’m saying I can’t. I admire the discipline that would be needed to write well within the constraints of a traditional genre, but I don’t seem to possess it.

Nevena: You’ve reviewed quite a few books on the site. How do you switch gears from writing fiction to reviewing it? Does reviewing change the way you see your own writing?

Atthys: I love reviewing, partly because I love the editing process. The whole process of vetting and re-vetting every combination of words appeals to my obsessive compulsive nature. I’m afraid it makes me a pushy sort of reviewer, but I find rewriting a lot easier than trying to explain in abstract terms why something isn’t working for me. I don’t know if it helps the original writer, but I think going through that process makes me a better writer. Of course there are lots of terrific writers on Book Country who need no help from anyone, and reading good writing is the best learning experience of all.

Nevena: So why are you on Book Country?

Atthys: Colleen and I go way back. We worked at the same brick-and-mortar bookstore back when such things were common. Fast forward twenty years. I’m querying agents for my first book and I see her name. We reconnect. She almost represents my book, then chickens out.

Needless to say, I’ve never quite forgiven her for that, but we stayed connected. When she started posting about this site, I decided to check it out.

Nevena: Haha. Is there anything else you want to share with the Book Country peeps?

Atthys: Eat well. Get plenty of rest. Go outside once in a while. You’re all welcome take my advice because I’m not using it.

Nevena: You’re a funny one. Hope Renny finds a home soon!

Connect with Atthys on Book Country and give Flight of the Wren a read. Follow him on Twitter at @AtthysGage.

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The Regency Romance Flag

Posted by May 15th, 2013

A Taste of What’s Coming to the New Book Country

I’m so pleased to get to show you the first of many of the exciting changes coming to Book Country.

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This is the gorgeous new drawing for Regency Romance.

Once writers choose a genre (or a genre chooses you), it becomes a home. It’s where writers spend days and nights creating characters and stories for the world to embrace. Your genre is the country filled with people who love to read and write what you do.

Every country needs a flag.

While we love the current genre map, we wanted to give you a flag that you could hold high as you imagine your book. A flag that could become your calling card as you connect with other writers just like you. A flag that you could carry as you workshop your book and navigate peer review. A flag that could fly outside your home as you hold your published book in your hands.

That’s what we’re unveiling today. Regency Romance writers, we hope you like your new flag.

I’ll share more in the upcoming weeks.

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Chelsea Quinn Yarbro on Creating “Presence”

Posted by May 14th, 2013

Establishing a Solid Environment for Your Story

This post is a special excerpt from FINE-TUNING FICTION by the award-winning horror author Chelsea Quinn Yarbro.

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You’ve covered the basics: you have characters and a story-line. Now you need an environment to put them in, which is what Presence is all about. Presence makes the situation immediate and real, and provides the back-drop against which the story will be played out. The environment of a story is as much a character as the people in it.  You do not exist in a vacuum, and neither can your characters. Presence is what pulls the reader in with your characters and convinces them that their experience is complete. […]

 

Presence supplies the answers to the basic questions of Who (are the characters involved), What (are they doing), Where (is the setting for the action), When (everything from time of day to century of the story’s events), Why (are they there), and How (did they get there both physically and psychologically). Also there is the question of familiarity: are the characters familiar with the setting, or is it as new to them as it is to the reader? Is it new to some and familiar to others? How different is the setting, if it is unfamiliar? Are the characters prepared to deal with the setting? These questions need not be answered in a block, but in the first third of any unit action, or scene, there should be some narrative elements to provide those necessary elements.

The time and place questions may be addressed in dialogue, such as:

“Goodness, Nicholas, what are you doing here at this time of night?”

“Sorry; the storm blew a tree down and it’s blocking the road.”

That is the basic information, and it tells us a great deal. For one thing, the two characters know each other: Nicholas is identified by name. It lets us know it is late at night and the weather is—or has been—bad. It establishes an unsettled mood, but not much else. We do not, for example, know the relationship between the two characters or their feelings about Nicholas’ arrival—and at this time of night—whatever time that might be. We do not know the implications of the arrival for either character.

The addition of a Presence will create the setting and situation that can draw the reader in, as well as establishing a framework for their interaction. How you present the dialogue can be as essential as the dialogue itself, for that is what conveys the Presence to the reader. Enlarging on the information to include the environment and character demeanor can fill in the gaps as well as change the tone of the meeting without altering a single word of dialogue, and relatively little exposition that is not incorporated in the characters’ responses, so that the place the action is occurring is part of the whole.  Bear in mind that the Presence reinforces character and story-line, providing what some call authenticity to the story, meaning that the sense that what is happening in the story is real. One of the ways Presence and character interact is through reaction: reaction is always a good source of information in regard to characters. Note particularly those variations which imply that Nicholas belongs in this place and those in which it appears that he does not.

1) “Goodness, Nicholas, what are you doing here at this time of night? Jeanne demanded in vexation as she held the door against the gusting wind. “It’s past three.”

The porch-light cast long, angular shadows on the man’s face. “Sorry; the storm blew a tree down and it’s blocking the road.”

2) The jarring summons of the knocker brought Jeanne running to the door, her bathrobe thrown over her pajamas and untied, her bare feet growing cold on the tile floor. “Goodness, Nicholas, what are you doing here at this time of night?” She held the door to keep it from banging closed in the wind. “It’s past three.”

“Sorry,” he said as he fumbled in his pocket for his keys, “the storm blew a tree down and it’s blocking the road.”

3) “Goodness, Nicholas,” Jeff said, a sardonic note in his voice as he finally answered the adamant knocking on the door, “what are you doing here at this time of night? It’s past three.”

Nicholas grinned sheepishly. “Sorry; the storm blew a tree down and it’s blocking the road.”

4) “Goodness,” said Jeff, peering out into the blustering dark, “Nicholas, what are you doing here at this time of night?” He braced the door with his shoulder. “It’s past three.”

Nicholas shoved his way into the dim light of the entry-hall. “Sorry; the storm blew a tree down and it’s blocking the road.”

5) “Goodness, Nicholas, what are you doing here,” said Jeanne as she looked past his horse toward the east where the sky was a mass of clouds blocking out the moon, “at this time of night. It’s past three.”

“Sorry,” he said, shrugging out of his cloak as he stepped into his grandmother’s house. “The storm blew a tree down and it’s blocking the road.”

Each of these examples creates a different atmosphere for the dialogue to occur in, and puts a different slant on the characters of Nicholas, Jeanne and Jeff. In the first example, we discover that Jeanne isn’t very happy to see Nicholas, no matter what excuse he may have for being there—and in that context, the downed tree does seem a bit like an excuse; the way the light falls on his face implies that.  In the second example there is more importance on the fallen tree, for it may account for the lateness of Nicholas’ arrival; clearly Jeanne has been worried about his absence, or someone’s absence—she may not have expected Nicholas at all. In the third example Jeff is more unperturbed than Jeanne; by shifting the narration to a slightly different part of the dialogue a subtle change in tone occurs—there is the feeling that Nicholas has done this kind of thing before and Jeff regards his lateness as annoying but minor shenanigans. In the fourth example, the character of the night once again becomes important and Nicholas somewhat less welcome in the two previous examples, or perhaps Nicholas is more desperate than in earlier examples. The fifth example moves to what is probably an earlier or fantasy time, and it is the establishment of that other time that becomes the focal point of the dialogue; the specific information in the dialogue, while important, is secondary to the horse and Nicholas’ cloak and grandmother’s house.

Each of these examples shows the Presence in a slightly different way, all of which show a different aspect of this late-night arrival. Yet all establish a context and a spirit for the reader to use to enter into the environment of the story.

Excerpted from Fine-Tuning Fiction © 2013 by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. Excerpted with permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. 

 

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Meet Writer Rebecca Blain

Posted by May 13th, 2013

Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A

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“I like the idea of leaving behind the mundane for other worlds.”

Rebecca Blain is a fantasy writer from Montreal, Canada; she’s also a speed-reader, freelance editor, artist, and fantasy fan girl. Rebecca has been a Book Country member since we launched, and we always recommend her wonderful how-to guide for new members. We wanted to catch up with Rebecca and find about her debut novelThe Eye of God.

Nevena: Thanks for joining us, Rebecca. The Eye of God will be released in July. Congrats! Tell us more about the story.

Rebecca: Thanks for having me.

The Eye of God is the story of Terin and Blaise. Terin’s a slave in a world that’s reminiscent of ancient Rome, and Blaise is someone—something—that has been watching over the world and a few of its more interesting denizens for a long, long time. When the balance of power in the empire is shattered, it falls to the two of them to restore order before everyone close to them has their souls devoured.

Nevena: How has the novel evolved over time? What was it like working with an editor and a cover designer? (The cover is gorgeous, by the way.)

RebeccaThe Eye of God is the novel in which I really figured out how to write. “Showing versus telling” clicked for me, and I got a much better grasp of immediacy and limited third point of view. My developmental editor loved the story—the characters, the plot, and the general arcs, but it didn’t have the base writing of my other WIP, Storm without End.

My marching orders were simple: Rewrite the book from the ground up, but recapture the same plot and characters.

Working with my editor is a lot of fun. She’s a great sounding board for me, and she isn’t afraid to tell me when something just isn’t working. And, she deals very well with me when I’m bullheaded and don’t want to make changes I need to make, which is exactly what I need in an editor.

As for the cover art, this was my favorite bit of the process. I met the cover artist, Chris Howard, through one of my editorial clients. We hit it off right away, and I hired him. I told him a little about the world and about Terin, and he started sketching over his lunch break.

The sketch of the cover came back almost perfect; I asked him to change the style of shirt and make Terin’s hair a bit longer. The rest is history. A very short time later, I had cover art that I am really, really proud to have on my book.

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Nevena: So you have a great team helping you! The book you’re currently working on, Songbird, is a romantic fantasy, which is a new direction for you as a writer. What’s been the most challenging part of the writing process so far?

Rebecca: Writing the female perspective. The vast majority of my books have male points of view. Writing Kara has been a huge challenge. Ranik, the main male character, comes a lot more naturally to me than Kara.

Nevena: To say that you’re a huge fantasy buff wouldn’t be an overstatement. What draws you to it?

Rebecca: I like the idea of leaving behind the mundane for other worlds, for things that make me ask questions, and that make me see a little bit of magic in our own world.

Nevena: That’s quite poetic. Are there any fantasy conventions or clichés you’d like to see disappear?

No. Even the most boring cliché can be turned to magic in the hands of a skilled writer. When I encounter a cliché in my clients’ works, I don’t tell them to remove it—I tell them to enhance it so that it becomes original to them. If they can’t do that, then they should consider cutting it out.

A cliché or convention exists because many people love the same thing. It isn’t that you use them that matters it’s how you use them.

A perfect example is Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris. I didn’t realize it included zombies until he told me when we met at World Fantasy Con. That is skill, and turning something old into something new.

Nevena: Let’s switch gears. Tell us more about yourself. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

Rebecca: Me? I’m boring—okay, well, maybe not. I am a natural-born punster. (You got off the hook this time.) I have a spouse and four cats. I turn thirty on the 16th, and I’m really excited about it!

As for what started me wanting to be a writer, I blame Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon. The Black Gryphon nailed the coffin closed for me. Valdemar just ensured I’d never leave the Science Fiction / Fantasy section of the bookstore ever again…

Nevena: Happy birthday! You work as a freelance editor and writer. How do you manage to fit your own writing into the mix?

Rebecca: A lot of dedication, discipline, effort, and heartbreak. That, plus 12-14 hour days.

Nevena: What’s your Book Country story? How has it helped you grow as a writer?

Rebecca: I came to Book Country with one of the waves of beta fishes. I’d followed Colleen because I wanted to query her when I was ready, but then she upped and changed career paths! Still, it worked out for the better. I think Book Country has been a huge influence on me in terms of honing my writing skills.

I regret nothing!

Nevena: That’s awesome! You’ve written a couple of amazing pieces—on the forums and on your website—about how to use Book Country. What is the #1 thing you think new members should know about the peer review process?

Rebecca: Thank you!

All I can say is this: pour your heart and soul into the peer review process. Sure, your help doesn’t make your book immediately better, but it’ll help you open your eyes to your own writing with time. The more you help others with their writing, the more you will be helped. It’s true—it’s really, really true.

Let me say this again: Give your honesty, your integrity, and your professionalism to others. Pour everything you have into it. Give it your absolute all. Sure, you may not get a review out of it, or a publishing contract, or a job as an editor, or even a thank you, or some form of gratification, but you will learn. That learning will help you find the problems in your own writing.

Nevena: Amen. Is there anything else you want to share with the community?

Rebecca: Writing is hard. Don’t give up—good things happen to those who put in the effort and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and their fingers bloodied making their stories come to life.

Nevena: Thanks for chatting with me, Rebecca. Good luck with The Eye of God!

Connect with Rebecca on Book Country and follow her on Twitter at @rebeccablain. Visit her on the web at her website. Oh, and Rebecca has graciously invited everybody to help themselves to a copy of the wallpaper of The Eye of God’s cover art.

*Cover art by Chris Howard

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