English Majors Unite!

The other day there was a bit of a kerfuffle on Twitter. I know, quelle surprise!

A very successful writer was asked for a bit of advice from a young fan as a new English Major.

The writer’s response? English Major = “Do you want fries with that?”

I mean.

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She told the fan to get a degree in something that would get them a lucrative job and write on the side.

Yeah. Sure. Some people totally do that. But to completely belittle the fan’s already chosen path while also tearing down the service industry? REALLY?

You won’t be surprised to find out that I, myself, was an English Major. I have a loverly BA in English with a concentration on Creative Writing. A major I created myself because it didn’t exist at my school at the time. I was very lucky that my adviser was also the department chair at the time so getting it approved wasn’t quite the battle it could have been.

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I am damn proud of my degree. I have both dyslexia and dyscalculia. Believe me, getting dyslexia under control has been much easier than my dsycalculia–there was no way I was going to be a math or science or business major. But guess what? As a self-published writer, I am running my own business. My husband also runs his own business, but I also help with that. I run the office for both of us. And my degree helped me, believe it or not.

English degrees teach you critical thinking, creative solutions, and so much more.

Now, do you need an English Degree to be a writer? Of course not. I know many writers who are also something else. Writing isn’t paying the bills just yet for them. But it might some day.

Did I need an English Degree to be a writer? To be a good one, yes.

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I can say with a little confidence that I had “raw talent” when I was younger. When I got to be creative with my English assignments, I always did well. I actually remember my senior English AP teacher writing “I can’t wait to see what happens next!” on a paper I turned in. It was an amazing feeling. I really thought I could write. I thought I was a good story teller.

Then I went to college.

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I had professors who were published novelists and playwrights and poets.

And they let me know raw talent wasn’t enough then and it wouldn’t be enough in the future. They tore my papers apart. I had one professor (the aforementioned adviser) who knew I was turning in the first drafts of papers and would automatically deduct a full letter grade because of it. I went to him, demanding to know why I kept getting B’s on my papers and he told me. He told me even if the paper was an A on the first try, that just told him the second try would be that much better.

My poetry was ridiculous. It was flowery and vague, like I didn’t want my reader to know what I was talking about. My professor shredded my poems until I learned to paint a damn picture that he could see.

I am the writer I am today because of the lessons those professors gave me. It was well worth the time and money. Maybe I would have gotten to that point as an English Minor, or just taking a couple of classes for fun, who knows? But I know being an English Major changed my life and I am damn grateful for it.

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Do you need to be an English Major to be a successful writer? Of course not. Or maybe you do. None of us are the same. Some of us need the instruction, some of us don’t. Some of us will write a NYT bestseller in our 20s and others will do so in their golden years. You are special and different and need to decide what is right for you. Don’t let some random person–even if they are a NYT bestseller themselves–tell you what is the right path for you.

Oh, by the way, I was a waitress all through college. It was the most thankless, degrading job I’ve ever had and I worked in insurance after college. Never tear down the service industry. Customers are assholes and service industry people are overworked and treated like shit every day. Everyone should have to wait tables on Mother’s day, or run a cashier over the holidays. People would be far, far nicer and learn some damn manners.

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Now. Thanks to that English degree, I’m putting out my 16th novel (under this name), and it is up for pre-order now! If you were a fan of my Ash & Ruin Trilogy, this is a companion novel, maybe you’d like to take a peek?

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Crutch words – Self editing

Crutch words, or phrases, plague all writers. It doesn’t matter how many books you write, you will always have words or phrases you abuse.The key to being a good writer is not being perfect, but recognizing your weaknesses and trying to fix them. And always remember, that is what editing is for.

I have published some 20+ titles between my two names and I’m still falling into the trap of crutches, so, I thought I would share a few with you. Maybe you’ll recognize some of these issues in your own writing and they’ll help.

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There are a couple that new writers will always fall into. One that’s very popular with beginner writers is having your characters releasing breaths they didn’t know they were holding. Yeah, we all hold our breath in a tense moment but it’s amazing how many fictional characters aren’t aware they’re doing it. I mean, you’d think a few would faint once in a while. An easy fix? “I released the breath I was holding.” Boom. No need to pretend you didn’t know that you weren’t breathing.

Another common crutch for new writers is “suddenly.” Suddenly often becomes redundant. “She suddenly screamed.” Right, as opposed to gradually screaming? “He suddenly burst into the room.” When is bursting ever not sudden? See how you can eliminate the word without hurting the action? Slice and dice that word from your MS.

Now, here are a few from my current WIP that I, and a few of my writing friends, all admit to using.

  • Just.

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This is an actual note from my editor after she line-edited this book. 350+ uses of “just”?! DUDE. The book isn’t even 350 pages in Word. Let’s just put one here, and just there. Okay, just one more. No, not just one more because I just need another. BAH! You pretty much never need this damn word. Slice and dice!

  • Stating the obvious, especially when describing actions.

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Yes, my character crumpled the paper in her hand. As opposed to crumpling it in her feet? You’ll find yourself “nodding heads” or “waving hands”. We know how the body works and how actions work. You can just nod. Or just wave. Look for these, again, it’s being redundant with action.

  • Still and not being concise.

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Here is a double-whammy edit. “Still” is another one of those “just” words. You very often don’t need it. See how the sentence works as well as it does with or without “still” in there? And the end of the sentence, see my editor’s change? Obviously they both work, but you do need to be aware of the economy of words, especially when writing an action scene. If you’re building tension you want to make sure you’re not dragging things out.

  • Adverbs.

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New or old-hat, we all love adverbs. Again, they are almost never helpful. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but if you have an abundance of adverbs you’ll need to take a critical eye to them and really decide which ones help and which ones are fluff. This one? Quickly? It’s fluff.

  • That.

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Oh, that. Just, still, that. That is a tough word because we do need it a lot in the English language but you’d be amazed how often we use it. When you’re editing, be mindful of “that”. If you’re not sure if you should slice and dice, read the sentence out loud, does it work with or without “that”? Then delete.

There are so many more crutches we need to be aware of, but sometimes they’re very specific to the writer. One that was mentioned to me was relying on metaphors. I remember the first time I wrote “his cheekbones were so sharp, I could cut my wrists on them.” Oof, I loved that line. I loved it so much I used it three or four more times in different books with different characters. Yep. Crutch. If you use the same metaphor more than once that first awesome impact gets muddied and loses its impact. Don’t fall victim to this.

Don’t fall victim to any of these!

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Have you come to recognize your crutches? Share them in the comments, you might just help out your fellow writers who are still looking for crutches to kill like ants on the page.

Resist || Create

Hey guys. How’s it going? Are you doing okay? It’s been a whirlwind, right? Everyday we brace ourselves to see what else is going to happen. It’s exhausting, right?

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We haven’t been political on the blog, not because we don’t care and not because any of us are supporting the current administration, just because sometimes we all need an escape for a few minutes and there’s nothing wrong with that. So we’ve tended to post lighter things, stuck with topics about writing and craft. Tried to make this a nice break space for you.

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But holy shit does each week get harder and harder to keep that up.

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On Saturday I participated in my local march, like many of you did around the world. It was inspiring and invigorating. I tend to be one of those borderline introvert/extroverts who is happy to say yes to making plans but then is secretly really happy when you cancel so I don’t actually have to go.

On Thursday night, I found out our little town was in fact having a march (yes, I could have gone to LA but crikey that one was crazypants huge), so I was going to go! I was so excited and rage-faced and ready! Then Friday night I waffled. My husband couldn’t go because of work and I didn’t know anyone going (which turned out to be wildly untrue) and did I really want to go? I’ve donated and spread the word about causes and called my reps weekly, I don’t have to do this one thing. I was going to talk myself out of going. But then as it came closer and closer to go to bed to wake up in time to get downtown I knew I had to go. I had to. I couldn’t miss this. This was important.

And then, when I was standing in our crowd as it got bigger and bigger the closer to the start time we got, the organizers said we were one of nearly 700 marches, in every single state, in 80 countries. Can you imagine if I’d convinced myself to stay home? I would have missed being part of history. I would have hated myself.

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It was a great day. And I was so wonderful to see so many diverse faces and when people honked and waved at us as we marched, we were pleasantly surprised to see so many of the drivers were men–cheering us on!

But then the week has gone on and while we’re still fighting and spreading the word, every day something else comes out to steal a little bit of our fire. It’s hard. I was fully ready and excited to start work on a new witchy story this month and can’t seem to find the inspiration for it.

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I have 4 other story ideas on deck for current series I have out that I could work on and save the new story idea. But I’m finding it so hard to find my motivation to actually do it. The last time depression and sadness worked for me as a muse was when I was a teenager. People think pain pain makes good art, and it does, but security and support and happiness can make some amazing art too.

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But we have to try, right? Just like I couldn’t talk myself out of going to the march by myself, I can’t talk myself out of writing, out of creating art and escapism for myself and my readers.

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So, I guess that is the point of this post. Don’t give in to the sadness. Don’t give up. Keep up the resistance. Rise and rise again, everyday, get up and keep moving. Even if it’s just one step, one page, one action. That’s how they win this, through attrition. Do not give in.

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This year, it’s a killer

So. No one wanted to write this week. We’ve been doing so good with the holidays not screwing up our positing schedule, but this week it was too much.

Twenty-four hours ago we found out that Carrie Fisher, prolific writer, unapologetic badass, mental health hero, General Organa, and destroyer of the patriarchy has become one with the Force.

Ten minutes ago we found out that her mother, beautiful, hilarious, talented, Debbie Reynolds, died of a broken heart, from the pain no parent wants to endure.

After a year of so many profound losses, who would want to write a blog post? Anything would sound pithy and trite.

I know I speak for all of the Scribes when I say our hearts and thoughts are with Billie Lourd at this breathtakingly difficult time and hope that she has the love and support she needs to survive it. And poor little Gary.

It’s difficult to know what to write today. It’s difficult to find words and light when this year, this fucking year, seems to want to steal our childhood heroes and destroy our hope for a better, brighter future.

But Carrie never gave up. Even when she lost her mind, she fought back. So we’ll fight back. We’ll get up, pick up our pens, and we’ll fight.

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And, I don’t know about you, but I am going to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve this year. Just so I can watch this mean sunnovabitch of a year end.

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Now. Excuse me while I go watch Singing in the Rain and hug my dogs.

Yuletide

So I’m not gonna lie; I had no idea what to write for today’s post. It’s probably the stress of waiting for next week to see what’s going to happen in the world. But. We’ve agreed not to get political on here, so that leave me wondering what the holly to write.

We’re ten days away from Christmas Eve, so I guess I should be talking about something holiday related, right?

This week I was very excited to join The Young Podawans on their episode talking about the various creepy Santa Claus’–giving a little extra time to my favorite: Krampus. If you’ve got time, I really hope you’ll check out the episode.

Speaking of Krampus, I have my own story featuring the grinning devil as the Big Bad. The third book in my Matilda Kavanagh Series: Yuletide. The story is episodic enough that, if you haven’t read the first two, I don’t think you’d be lost if you wanted to pick up a creepy and fun Christmastime read. It explores the crazy scene of the Krampus Los Angeles Fest while giving a moment to wonder what has become of the demigod. I also try to shed some light on some of our appropriated holiday traditions, so hopefully it’s entertaining and informative and funny and creepy all at once!

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If you think you might want to pick it up, here’s a little taste featuring our favorite witch explaining the real tradition behind “kissing” under the mistletoe…

Copyright Shauna Granger 2014

“Something was happening behind the bank of registers, but I couldn’t tell what. I leaned forward to hear what they were tittering about, but then a man stepped in front of me, so close that he popped my bubble of personal space. He looked human enough in his tennis shoes, jeans, and grey Black Witch White Magic T-shirt. But looks were deceiving. His aura pulsed against mine so that my senses were filled with the feeling of open spaces, the scent of bark and grass, and the warmth of sunshine. But under all that was the push of primal, animalistic allure. Tree nymph.

I jerked back and hissed, “Toads!”

“Well,” he said, dragging the word out with a waggle of eyebrows. “What do you say to a little Yuletide cheer?” He leered at me, leaning in and giving his head a shake so that bells jingled overhead.

I looked up, feeling my face pull in a grimace as I eyed the mistletoe and bells attached to his Santa hat by a thin wire. “Oh good gods.” I leaned back, almost touching the guy in line behind me as I tried to put some space between me and the randy nymph.

“Whaddya say? Bet a pretty little witch like you could really renew my Christmas spirit.”

He winked at me, and I felt as though I was trapped in some sort of cheesy vaudeville act. Even the bouncy version of “Mr. Heatmiser” overhead added to the surreal moment. The nymph wiggled his hips to make the bells jingle again, and I knew he wasn’t asking for a kiss.

“Seriously? You think it’s okay to talk to women like that? Beat it, creep,” I said with a flick of my fingers, zapping him with a controlled flash of power.

It snapped at his face, making him yelp and jump back. A hand flew to his face as if I’d slapped him. I kinda wished I had.

“There are kids around here, for the love of frogs!” I pointed at the crying child and her mother, who was now sitting on the floor with her, defeated.

“Take it easy,” he said, all good humor gone from his face and voice. “Just a little joke.”

“Yeah, real funny.” I threatened him with another jolt of power, but he turned and ran before I could zap him. I heard a snicker behind me, and I looked over my shoulder to see a guy with just one small box in his hand.

“Sorry,” he said, putting up his empty hand in surrender. “But why did you say there were kids around? I know he was being gross, but it’s just a kiss.”

I eyed him for a moment, letting my aura touch his. He was just a human on the supernatural side of town. “It’s not, though.”

“How’s that?”

“Humans think it’s just a quick, innocent kiss, but really the tradition is a lot more…” I paused to think of the right word. “Uh, graphic, if you get my meaning.”

He furrowed his brow, so I lifted mine, giving him a pointed look. His eyes went wide and I knew he got what I meant.

“Wait, you mean…?”

“Down and dirty,” I said with a nod. “In front of people usually.”

“Whoa.”

“Right.” I bent over to pick up my items, seeing a register clearing.

I watched the guy’s eyes dart over to a display of joke mistletoe items. Some were innocent enough, like the cheesy Santa hat the nymph wore, but others were less discreet, like the ones that hooked onto a belt buckle so the mistletoe hung right in front of…

“Happy holidays!” I said, overly cheery, as I walked away from the dumbstruck human.”

Revising, editing, and all the rough drafts.

As I sit down to work on yet another rough draft, I thought it might be interesting to read about how I revise and edit a new book. Because I also offer manuscript critique services, I see a lot of books before they’re ready from new writers. It’s always hard to know when a book is done and it’s time to let it go out into the world and flourish or die by its own merit, but you do need to spend a significant amount of time on it before that happens.

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First, I outline the story. I like to do this long hand, with a pen and a legal pad. I use the longer legal pads and, usually, one page = one chapter. It’s lame and mundane and in a bullet point list, just so I know what’s happening and how in each chapter. The magic happens when I’m actually writing. When I was a new writer, I didn’t outline because I lost the urgency to tell the story, so if you’re not an outliner, don’t freak out; everyone is different and things change from book to book.

Once the outline is done, I fast draft the book. This means I write daily, usually taking 1-2 days off a week so I don’t burn out, until it’s done. There are some days where I might just get 500 words or 1,000 words, but my goal is 2-4k words a day. But, again, every book is different. As long as I make some progress, I’m happy.

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Then, when that first draft is done, I back up my work in 2-3 different places. I like to email myself the document every day so I don’t ever lose any work. But when I finish, I email myself again the completed document. I also save it to a memory stick. This way, if something happens to my computer, my book is safely stored in two places that can’t also be damaged by whatever killed my computer. When I was writing my fourth book, Fire, my hard-drive crashed and I lost about 20k words because I wasn’t in the habit of emailing myself on the daily, just at the end of a draft. It was devastating. Never again!

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Then I walk away. I close the file on the computer and I don’t look at it again for at least a week, sometimes as much as six months. Again, it depends on the book (and deadlines). But I get away from it and do other things. I clean the house, I read other people’s books, I relax. I do things that have nothing to do with the book I was writing. I may even start writing (and finish) another book before I ever come back to it. There’s a few reasons for this but the main reason is so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes.

You just spent a couple of months to the better part of a year focused on this one story, it’s been loud in your head, the characters alive and and controlling. If you come back too soon, you’ll remember everything and you won’t see mistakes, you won’t find the plot holes, you won’t pick up on the weaknesses or the thin characters. You need to read your rough draft as though you weren’t the one who wrote it.

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I like to print out a copy of the MS to go over it the first time. This way I’m not working on it in the same medium that I wrote it. I am familiar with it on the computer screen, so my eyes and mind might trick me into reading it the way I wanted it to be, not the way it is. By printing it, it becomes a new book and I can take a bright red pen to it and make corrections and notes to transcribe back on the computer. That’s the second draft.

Now, depending on the book, this is the right time to give it to beta readers to go over. I like to have at least two readers, but three is ideal. You want readers who will give it back to you in 2-4 weeks. This gives you another break away from the book, but also ensures your readers focus on your book so they don’t forget what they read in the first half because they took so long to finish it.

Wait to make any changes to your MS until you hear back from all betas. This gives you the chance to see if critiques are just personal preference or if you really missed something because they all mentioned the same thing(s).

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Now I go over the book again, this time on the computer, comparing beta notes, seeing if I agree or not. If I agree with a change, I have to make sure I thread it through the whole book. That’s the third draft.

Now I put it on a tablet to read it as an ebook. You may need another break or you may be ready to just dive in. So, again, I’m reading it in a different medium and more like any reader who bought it would read it. I use the highlight and note function to keep track of issues and changes I want to make. Once I make those changes, I’ve got a fourth draft.

Only on the 3rd or 4th draft does my editor get the book. Because I self-publish, I pay my editor for her services, so why in the world would I send her a book before it’s ready? I wouldn’t, and neither should you. I often get MSs that are not ready and people are paying me a fee to go over the book and 90% of the time, most of my notes could have been caught by the author or by a beta reader to be addressed for free.

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Once I get my MS back from my editor and implement the line-edits and content-edits, I am up to the fifth draft. Guess what? It goes back for a proof-reader to comb to make sure we didn’t miss any tiny mistakes.

So, in the end, I’m publishing the 5th or 6th draft. I don’t always use beta readers because sometimes I’m up to the 5th, 6th, or 7th book in a series and I can’t expect friends to do that much work for me. But the first book in a series? A stand alone? A trilogy? Yes, I use beta readers for all of those.

You will get to the point where you start to hate your book because you’ve read it so many times, but that’s what it takes to polish it, to develop those characters, to make the plot compelling. This is the work that goes into a book. Getting that first draft is the easy part, making it a book is where the hard work really is.

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Writing is re-writing. This is the rule you should be living by.

And, speaking of working on a new, revised, and edited book, I just published one this week! If you’re a fan of witches and magic set in modern day, might I recommend my Matilda Kavangh Novels series. I just published the seventh book!

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TL;DR: Wanting Diversity Won’t Hurt You

There’s a very strange argument going around on book twitter right now. Meaningful, important, but strange. And I don’t want to be silent about it.

TL;DR – Only a white supremacist or a bigot would see people wanting more diversity in popular fiction as a personal attack on them.

For a while now people have gotten better and better about being louder and informative about the issue of the lack of diversity in mainstream books. While a lot of us can remember reading diverse books in high school (for me, The Pearl and The Good Earth stand out as assigned by teachers. And stolen from my mom’s shelves, I remember Sacred Ground, the Valdemar books, and Elfquest), if you look at books on the shelves that are more for pleasure reading, popular books that have a lot of publishing house money behind them, giving them more media coverage, there is a startlingly lack of POCs, LGBTQs, disabled, religious, etc diversity.

Now. No one is forcing anyone to write any one thing. No one is saying anyone HAS TO write characters with different skin colors, ethnic backgrounds, various religious beliefs, or sexual and/or gender differences. All people are saying is it is important that we allow people who are writing these things a fair space on those shelves and maybe try to do a better job of portraying the real world we live in.

People are asking publishers to acknowledge that these books are just as good (if not better) than some of the books we see again and again.

I mean. I love witches. And I love vampires. They’ve been written again and again and often look and feel similar. But if there are authors out there with different viewpoints, different backgrounds who can bring a fresh perspective to these two types of stories, I want to see them!

Books should be innovative and different and that means we, as readers, should be open to reading about characters who might not look like us. Because they look like other people, people we know, people in our world who want to see characters who look like them. We all deserve that chance to find that book that resonates with us, no matter the genre.

Obviously everyone is entitled to write their own story. And, if your story happens to look like the cast of Pleastantville, then fine, but if your cast of characters looks like Sense 8, maybe publishers could give it a fair shot too.

I don’t understand why that thought process is controversial. And for most people, it’s not. So here’s where the strange part of the argument comes in. Some people are super pissed off that other people are asking for fair representation. Yep. They’re hearing “we’d like our voices heard too” or “please at least try to write a realistic representation of our city/state/country/world” as “you must write this way!” or “you must write this kind of story/these kind of characters!” or, even worse, “you’re being unfair to white people!”

Which is not true.

You don’t have to write anything in particular. No one does. But what’s wrong with wanting to show the world as it really is? I mean, listen, I have not been the best at balancing my casts of characters. I try to. I have tried from book one to include POCs and LGBTQ people, but I won’t lie to you and tell you my books are balanced. Yeah, I’m more than a little scared I’ll screw up the representation, but still I try and I’m trying with each new story to represent more, to do better. Because that is the world I live in.

I went to a high school where the majority populations were Latino and Pilipino. As a matter of fact there were such a small percentage of white kids at my school that we were lumped in with the other smaller percentages of races at my school as the “other” ten percent. So, while your mileage may vary, for some of us, seeing POCs as the majority is already normal.

I know it’s a little scary for some people. They see it as erasure, but for some reason can’t see the irony there. Trying to keep people from publishing books with characters that don’t look, think, and act like them is actual erasure. All people want is a seat at the table. And I promise, there is room. You acting like they’re trying to take something away from you is bullshit, plain and simple. White people have taken a lot of things from a lot of people and white people have an abundance of representation. You will be fine.

I know I’m lucky that I grew up reading diverse books. Hell, I didn’t even think about it at the time. I read books by Jewish authors and Native authors and black authors and they wrote characters that looked like them. I didn’t even give it a thought, if the story was good, that’s all that mattered. And it helped evolve me, helped me see other people I might not have experience with as no different than me. And I think that’s the ultimate goal; to raise a generation that doesn’t treat people differently for who they are, where they come from, what they believe, but at the same time celebrates how everyone adds to the tapestry of our world.

Now, I can remember which books I read when I was younger that featured LGBTQ characters because there were so few and honestly I think they were just LGB, no Ts or Qs. And, sadly, I can’t recall reading any books that featured a disabled MC. I wish I had. I want kids and teens to get to read like that—where it’s just normal to see all of these types of characters because it builds empathy in real life. People are people and just want to be accepted for who they are. Books help us with this process.

So calm down. If you don’t want to read books with characters that don’t look, act, or think like you, I promise, there is no lack of books for you. They’ve been published a lot and will continue to be published. But stop freaking out at people who want the people who control the money to know we will buy these books, we will read them, we will go see their film adaptation. They will get a return on their investment. And you will be fine, it won’t hurt you one little bit.

Now, if you’re on Twitter go check out these hashtags to start building your TBR lists. #ownvoices #istandwithdiversity

If you want to leave some book recs in the comments, please do! I can give a shout out to a few I’ve read recently: An Ember in the Ashes, This is Where it Ends, and the Don’t Get Mad Series. And speaking of witches, I’m excited to pick up Labyrinth Lost.

Let’s hear your recommendations!