On Being Stuck

The subtitle of this post should be: thoughts on how to regain forward motion.

Here’s the thing. In the last year, I’ve finished two books with my co-writer Irene Preston and a novella set in that same world. Before I edited this paragraph, the line read “I’ve only finished…” but I took the “only” out, because a novel and two novellas are definite accomplishments. In fact, you’re probably thinking I should be happy with three completed projects, and I am.

It’s just that I could have done more.

 

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In between the finished novel/novellas, I sliced and diced an old project, trying to make it work better, and began two other stories, only to stall out every time.

That’s a lot of crap, lemme check Facebook to see if I can shake something loose.

Those stories I fizzled out on? One is almost 200 pages long, and the other is just over 100 pages. (That’s double spaced, 12-font TNR, ~ 300 words a page.) The old project I fiddled with is even longer. My point is, I’ve invested a fair amount of time, creativity, and emotion into each of these and I don’t want to see all that energy go to waste.

Any time you’re doing something creative, false starts are part of the game. I’ll get an idea, slap it down on the page, and see what comes of it. I’ve got several of those; two or three thousand words sketching out a main character along with some bullet points regarding the plot, the kind of thing I can throw together in an afternoon, then set aside to see if anything roots.

But you figure if – at best – I write 5000 words a week, it probably took me 3 months to get to 200 pages. That’s too much for me to toss aside, and while I’m one of those writers who loves the process of editing, I can’t fix what isn’t on the page.

So now you know a couple of my dirty secrets. I give up too easily and then whine about it.

Oh, and to complicate matters, I’m doing Camp NaNo this month, the abbreviated spring version of NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I committed to writing 20,000 words in the month of April. I’m at 17,600 words with three days left, which means I need to get one of these projects moving again.

 

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Basically I made this post in the hopes I’d find a way out of this pickle.  I did a google search for “how to get unstuck fiction writing”, and in the interest of helping others in the same situation, I want to share some of what I learned.

The author of an article on The Center for Fiction website said her blocks usually come from not knowing the characters well enough. She recommended doing some free writing from the main character’s point of view, asking them why they’re so pissed off. (That’s not as crazy as it might sound. Jump HERE for the full post.)

An article on the website thinkitcreative.com also recommended focusing on the characters to move the plot forward. The author here suggested working on the backstory to get insights into what could happen next. One of their ideas involved going to an online dating site to get a list of questions for the characters to answer, which kind of cracks me up, but just might work. (Jump HERE for the complete post.)

I also liked an article on the Writers Digest website, because it recommended brainstorming “what could happen next”, then choosing the option the reader is least likely to expect. The article’s second bullet point was even more succinct:

Kill someone.

Heh. Yeah. That’d definitely shake things up.

Finally, they suggested meditation, to let your mind go quiet and see what ideas wander in.  “Stillness is the native language of creativity, yet it’s astonishing how we try to avoid silence.” (Jump HERE for the full article.)

So yeah, maybe I’m not really stuck. Maybe I’m just giving my ideas more time to blossom.

Or maybe I should spend less time on Facebook, and more time exploring. I’m going to go walk the dogs and see what I can come up with. If you’ve got ideas for how to move through a block, share them in the comments. Would love to learn from you!

 

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My Muse: New Orleans

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Last week we had an adventure. (“We” meaning me and the family.) We spent the week in New Orleans, and I’ll tell you what, I love that city. I love the history. I love the people. I love that there are so many layers and nooks and crannies and things to play with – especially when it comes to writing.

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Urn at Lafayette No. 1

Plot bunnies are easy, you know? I pretty regularly stumble over ideas that could make a decent story. Some you’ll get to read, but most never get off the dream list. The tricky part is figuring out the right setting, the one place that’ll make the story pop.

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Paddle wheeler on the Mighty Mississippi

I have to really know a place before I can write about it. (Ask me how much fun I had writing the swamp scenes in Bonfire since I’ve never spent any time in a swamp. Or maybe ask Irene how much fun she had *correcting* my misapprehensions in those scenes. There are no hills, or rocks, apparently.) I have to be able to capture the truth of a place, or some facet of that truth, to make the story believable. To do that, I tend to set my stories in one of three cities: Seattle, Los Angeles, or New Orleans.

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This house in the Garden District inspired Thaddeus Dupont’s First St. house.

Seattle’s a no-brainer because I’ve lived here for most of my life. Maybe because of that, I take the romance of the place for granted. That said, I have an upcoming super-secret project that’s set here. (More about that later!)

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Ready for a parade on St. Charles Avenue last week!

I choose Los Angles for stories because, like New Orleans, it has all kinds of angles I can work with. I don’t think anyone could capture all of L.A. in a single sentence, or even a single book. Because of that, it’s unfortunately possible to set a story there and turn it into Anytown, Anywhere, USA. It’s just so much better if you drop in a few details to bring the place alive.

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Staircase to choir loft at St. Mary’s Church – Ursuline Convent – NOLA. Imagine climbing those steps in a nun’s habit…

My sister lives in L.A., so when I need some nitty gritty factoid to get to the truth of a story, I’ll try and plan a visit. And if I don’t have the time or money for travel, she’s awesome about brainstorming-by-text. She works in The Industry, so she’s very understanding about my creative craziness.

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French Quarter courtyard.

FWIW, I didn’t have the same kind of connection with New Orleans when I started setting stories there. I’d never visited, didn’t know anyone who lived there, and tbh most of my experience with the place came via Ann Rice’s novels. That’s changed now! Last week was our second visit, and “subletting a French Quarter condo for six months” is now on my bucket list.

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You meet all kinds of people during Carnival!

Thank you for exploring NOLA with me. We had a blast last week, and if you’ve never been to New Orleans, you really must visit someday! Or, you know, you could check out my newest release, Change of Heart. It’s a historical romance set in the French Quarter in 1933, a distant prequel to the two Hours of the Night novels I co-wrote with Irene Preston. I’ll put the blurb and buy links below, just in case. Happy travels!!

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Preacher always said New Orleans was a den of sin, but of course Clarabelle had to see for herself…

A body reaps what they sow, and Clarabelle’s planted the seeds of trouble. The year is 1933, and not much else is growing in the Oklahoma dirt. Clarabelle’s gone and fallen in love with her best friend, so she figures it’s time to go out and see the world.

If she’s lucky, she’ll find the kind of girl who’ll kiss her back.

Clarabelle heads for New Orleans, and that’s where she meets Vaughn. Now, Vaughn’s as pretty as can be, but she’s hiding something. When she gets jumped by a pair of hoodlums, Clarabelle comes to her rescue and accidentally discovers her secret. She has to decide whether Vaughn is really the kind of girl for her, and though Clarabelle started out a dirt-farming Okie, Vaughn teaches her just what it means to be a lady.

Change of Heart is an Hours of the Night story, an early prequel to Vespers and Bonfire. It’s not a paranormal, but a certain vampire may have a role…

Find Change of Heart on Goodreads HERE

Available for a special pre-order price of $0.99!!

Amazon  /  Barnes & Noble  /  Kobo  /  iTunes  /  More Stores

AND, make sure you enter the giveaway to celebrate Change of Heart’s release!

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The Re-Release of Change of Heart

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Happy January! I hope you all survived the Holiday Hoedown and are ready for a brand new year. I will confess that I’m finding some of the elements of 2017 more exciting than others.

(*stifles political rant*)

Yeah, um, so okay. One thing I’m really looking forward to is the re-release of my novella Change of Heart. I wrote it last spring for an limited-run anthology, and now I’m self-publishing it on March 1st. So yeah, I’m excited!

I’ve had the cover art tucked away since early last summer, and as much as I wanted to show it to everyone, I also wanted to do a proper cover reveal. That happened yesterday on The Novel Approach. I showed it off there, and now I can show it off here! See?

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Ta da!!! Isn’t it pretty?

Since this is a re-release, there are readers out there who may already have Change of Heart on their kindles. The thing that’s different, though, is that they may also have had the chance to read Vespers, the m/m vampire story I co-wrote with Irene Preston. I wrote Change of Heart in the middle of editing Vespers, and a certain vampire basically walked right onto the page.

I’m calling Change of Heart an Hours of the Night story, even though it’s NOT a contemporary and NOT a paranormal like Vespers & Bonfire. It *is* set in 1933 New Orleans, and it tells the story of Clara, a young woman who leaves the Oklahoma dust to find love in the French Quarter. Here, check out the blurb…

Preacher always said New Orleans was a den of sin, so of course Clarabelle had to see for herself…

A body reaps what they sow, and Clarabelle’s planted the seeds of trouble. The year is 1933, and not much else is growing in the Oklahoma dirt. Clarabelle’s gone and fallen in love with her best friend, so she figures it’s time to go out and see the world.

If she’s lucky, she’ll find the kind of girl who’ll kiss her back.

Clarabelle heads for New Orleans, and that’s where she meets Vaughn. Now, Vaughn’s as pretty as can be, but she’s hiding something. When she gets jumped by a pair of hoodlums, Clarabelle comes to her rescue and accidentally discovers her secret. She has to decide whether Vaughn is really the kind of girl for her, and though Clarabelle started out a dirt-farming Okie, Vaughn teaches her just what it means to be a lady.

~*~

Change of Heart is a story about secret identities – because the vampire’s not the only one – and about finding your true self. The romantic pairing is different than the other Hours of the Night stories, because instead of m/m, Change of Heart is f/trans-f. {f = female, and if I explain much more it’ll take away some of the surprise.}

I’ve put Change of Heart on sale for $0.99 from now through the first week of the release. If you’ve read Vespers, I think it’ll be fun for you to see Thaddeus Dupont before the Church really got ahold of him. And if you haven’t? Maybe you’ll want to after you read Clara’s story. Thanks so much!!

Preorder for $0.99!

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | More Stores

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What is there to look forward to?

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A couple weeks ago, Facebook offered to show me a video they’d made of my highlights for the last year. I was all, “Why would I want to revisit the shitshow that was 2016?”

No thank you.

Looking back over the last 12 months, it’s easier to find the lowlights than anything else. I mean, what can you say about the year Prince died? He started hitting big when I was a sophomore in college, and honestly, he was my 20s. Of all the celebrity deaths this year, he’s the only one who got me ugly crying.

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Another reason for tears was the death of my good friend and critique partner, Amanda. She was only 35, she was in the middle of writing at least a couple books, and damn it, I know in my bones she wasn’t done yet.

I still catch myself composing emails to her.

And then there’s the national and international political scene. It’s hard not to absolutely panic when I think about it. This presidential election has brought a me number of firsts. Until this November, I’d never called a senator. I’ve never felt compelled to speak up about what I believe in or to get involved with the political process.

I’ve never prayed so hard for my country as I have in the last month.

Yeah. 2016. Good times.

Not.

Even though I have to dig a little deeper to find the bright spots, 2016 wasn’t all bad. Irene and I self-published Vespers and the holiday novella/sequel Bonfire, and readers have been very supportive, which is awesome. The husband and I celebrated our 21st anniversary, and both our kids are becoming amazing young adults. After almost 20 years, my day job as a nurse practitioner is still satisfying.

Honestly, I have little to complain about.

And you know, there are a few things I’m looking forward to in 2017. Irene and I are already working on the next installment of our Hours of the Night series, and we’re hoping for a release date in late June or early July. The husband is planning another big and very cool home improvement project, which I’m excited about. And with a little perseverance, our oldest will graduate from high school this spring.

So yeah, there’s reason to hope that 2017 won’t be as bad as this year. New year, new beginning, blank slate, right? I’ve got family and good friends who support me, and an outlet for my creativity that continues to challenge me and force me to grow as a person and as a writer.

Just as important, as a cis/het, middle-class, white woman,  I’m protected from most immediate threats brought on by the change in our government. However, if things go crazy politically, I’ve got the means, the resources, and hell, the responsibility to help others fight back.

Every so often, I just need to remind myself how very, very lucky I am.

Cheers, mates. Here’s to a better 2017!

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Politics aside…

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Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re about to have an election here in the US. Actually, if you haven’t heard about our election, I want to be where you are, because I’m so ready for it to be over. Maybe not the election itself, but the divisive rhetoric we’ve been drowning in just needs to stop.

I’ve already voted, so no amount of advertising dollars – or November surprises – is/are going to change my mind. And if you haven’t cast a ballot yet, I’m pretty damned sure nothing I say in this blog post will change your mind, either.

Though to listen to some blogging gurus, it might keep you from buying my next book.

And I’m not really sure how I feel about that. See, I write because I have something to say, and to an extent, I believe that anyone who’s going to be interested in reading about Thaddeus the gay, vampire, monk probably won’t come down too hard on my liberal leanings.

Because the stuff in Vespers will likely require a more open mind than the occasional #ImWithHer meme.

There are writers I follow who’ve been very vocal about their support for the Democratic Presidential nominee and a slew of other socially progressive causes. Other writers I know keep their Facebook and twitter feeds full of writing-related posts, cute kid pix, and kittens. Or sometimes puppies.

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PUPPIES!

I believe two things. First, now matter how you’ve approached this extraordinary election, you do you. I know people both from the internet and in real life who are voting differently than I did, and I respect their right to do so.

However, it’s important that whatever public platform I’ve been able to develop expresses my values. To me, that means sharing thoughtful articles or thought-provoking memes, making it clear where I stand on the issues. It doesn’t mean trolling someone else’s discussion threads and blasting everyone who’s opinions are different than mine. It also doesn’t mean un-friending people who share thoughtful or thought-provoking material from opposing points of view.

This election’s going to be over soon (please God) and we’ve all got to live together afterwards.

True confessions: I’m more likely to be aggressively liberal on Twitter, because stuff goes by so fast and as a medium it doesn’t seem as substantial as Facebook. I’m @LivRancourt. You’ve been warned. (lol!)

In the end, I think it’s like that rule we learned for taking multiple-choice tests: if the answer has ‘always’ or ‘never’ in it, it’s probably wrong. One of the guiding principles behind social networking is to allow others (like, you know, potential readers) to see the real person behind the novels. And well, this real person votes Democrat.

To say “never post about politics” is unrealistic, at least, and potentially harmful. Social change requires all of us to participate, and to speak up. Although, you know, we might need a time out from now until a couple weeks after the election.

Peace out…

Liv

Hey, in case you’re ready for a holiday read, check out Bonfire…

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Silent night, holy hell.

Thaddeus and Sarasija are spending the holidays on the bayou, and while the vampire’s idea of Christmas cheer doesn’t quite match his assistant’s, they’re working on a compromise. Before they can get the tree trimmed, they’re interrupted by the appearance of the feu follet. The ghostly lights appear in the swamp at random and lead even the locals astray.

When the townsfolk link the phenomenon to the return of their most reclusive neighbor, suspicion falls on Thaddeus. These lights aren’t bringing glad tidings, and if Thad and Sara can’t find their source, the feu follet might herald a holiday tragedy for the whole town.

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My Newest Addiction

You know what I just did?

I just hit ‘refresh’ on my kdp page. That acronym stands for Kindle Direct Publishing, and it’s one of the sites my co-writer Irene Preston and I used to self-publish our newest release, Vespers. And you know what?

That page is POWER!

It gives us instantaneous feedback, both on the number of units sold (like, how many since midnight last night, for example) and how much we’ve earned in royalties. None of this “dropping your book in a black hole” thing, like when you’re working with a publisher. A couple of the Spellbound Scribes – Shauna and Nicole, in particular – have some (or lots of) experience with self-publishing, but this if my first rodeo.

And I really, really like it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good things about working with a publisher. There’s less cash outlay, and most of them have a much bigger promotional reach. That said, Irene and I are doing okay with our promotional efforts so far, and while we won’t be making the USA Today bestseller list, we’re pretty happy with the sales we’re getting. (We’re also working our butts off, and we have been for the last few months. Please don’t think self-publishing is some kind of point-and-shoot game.)

The thing is, when you sign a contract with a publisher and your book is released, the only way you can tell how it’s selling is by watching the Amazon sales rank. There are a few services – novelrank.com is one I’ve used – that can give you a ball-park figure for how many books you’ve sold, but I haven’t found them to be particularly accurate. If there are better ways of making a guestimate, I haven’t found them, and the thing about kdp is, it’s easy. Just, you know, hit refresh.

See? I sold a book while I was typing that last paragraph.

The other thing is, most publishers only pay royalties every three to six months, so having a snapshot that updates with every sale is very reassuring. Yes, we’re selling books, and yes, we’re earning back the money we spent on editor, cover art, and promo. It’s all right there on the kdp page.

I’m not going to give up on submitting books to publishers, because there are definite benefits. Ideally, though, I want to build a career doing a combination of traditional and self-publishing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go hit ‘refresh’…

(lol!)

 

And since I brought it up, here’s some more info about Vespers...

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Blurb

Thaddeus Dupont has had over eighty years to forget…

The vampire spends his nights chanting the Liturgy of the Hours and ruthlessly disciplines those unnatural urges he’s vowed never again to indulge. He is at the command of the White Monks, who summon him at will to destroy demons. In return, the monks provide for his sustenance and promise the return of his immortal soul.

Sarasija Mishra’s most compelling job qualification might be his type O blood…

The 22-year-old college grad just moved across the country to work for some recluse he can’t even find on the internet. Sounds sketchy, but the salary is awesome and he can’t afford to be picky.  On arrival he discovers a few details his contract neglected to mention, like the alligator-infested swamp, the demon attacks, and the nature of his employer’s “special diet”. A smart guy would leave, but after one look into Dupont’s mesmerizing eyes, Sarasija can’t seem to walk away. Too bad his boss expected “Sara” to be a girl.

Falling in love is hard at any age…

The vampire can’t fight his hungers forever, especially since Sara’s brought him light, laughter and a very masculine heat. After yielding to temptation, Thaddeus must make a choice.  Killing demons may save his soul, but keeping the faith will cost him his heart.

Vespers is a complete novel with no cliffhanger. It can be enjoyed as a standalone or read as the first book in the Hours of the Night series.

 

You can pick up a copy here…

Amazon | ARe | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | More Stores

And if you’re really inspired, check out THIS LINK for reviews and guest blog posts.

Thanks!

New Release + Cover Reveal + Giveaway!

This has been one of the busiest weeks of my life! Between the day job and the family and the new release last Monday and the cover reveal for my upcoming release, it’s been just crazy. For the most part, though, it’s good stuff – well, accept for the barfing German Shepherd yesterday – so I can’t really complain.

Or at least I try not to.

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At any rate, I’m going to start with some info about the anthology that released last Monday. My story is called Change of Heart, and it’s a female/trans-female love story.

The germ of the idea for Change of Heart came from a scholarly article I read about Dr. James Barry, a 19th century British military surgeon. He was incredibly gifted, accomplished, and known for being rude, and after he died, the serving-woman who prepared his body discovered he was a woman.

His story has been claimed by feminists, and more recently by students of trans history. It’s impossible to know how Dr. Barry viewed himself – as a highly intelligent woman who did what was necessary to practice medicine at a time when women were forbidden to do so, or as a man who happened to have a different biology. Either way, Dr. Barry fascinates me. There are very few records of trans people from before the 1970s, and I wanted to explore how it might have been to live with that kind of secret. We’d agreed to set all our stories in New Orleans, and since few US cities have a more colorful history, I basically just picked a year and went with it. I hope I captured something of the time and place, and I hope you enjoy my sweet and spicy little story.

 

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Here’s the blurb…

Momma says a body reaps what they sow, and Clarabelle’s planted the seeds of trouble. The year is 1933, and not much else is growing in the Oklahoma dirt. Clarabelle’s gone and fallen in love with her best friend, so she figures it’s time to go out and see the world.

If she’s lucky, she’ll find the kind of girl who’ll kiss her back.

Clarabelle heads for New Orleans, and that’s where she meets Vaughn. Now, Vaughn’s as pretty as can be, but she’s hiding something. When she gets jumped by a pair of hoodlums, Clarabelle comes to her rescue and accidentally discovers her secret. She has to decide whether Vaughn is really the kind of girl for her, and though Clarabelle started out a dirt-farming Okie, Vaughn teaches her just what it means to be a lady.

I’ve read a few of the stories in the anthology, and they’re all pretty good. Some paranormal, some contemporary, with a range of heat from relatively sweet (like mine!) to whips & belts of the BDSM variety. If you’re interested in checking the anthology out, here’s some links…

Amazon US| Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo

 

And now…

Irene Preston and I have been sitting on our hands for the last few weeks.

Sitting. On. Our. Hands.

Because we’ve had the cover for Vespers and we weren’t allowed to show it off till after the cover reveal. But now it’s revealed and HERE IT IS!!!

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Choosing a favorite cover from amongst my books is sorta like choosing a favorite child, but…

No it’s not. This is my favorite cover so far. It’s pretty damned perfect in capturing the vibe of the story, and I might have a bit of a crush on Hooded Dude. Here’s a bit more information about Vespers

Thaddeus Dupont has had over eighty years to forget…

The vampire spends his nights chanting the Liturgy of the Hours and ruthlessly disciplines those unnatural urges he’s vowed never again to indulge. He is at the command of the White Monks, who summon him at will to destroy demons. In return, the monks provide for his sustenance and promise the return of his immortal soul.

Sarasija Mishra’s most compelling job qualification might be his type O blood…

The 22-year-old college grad just moved across the country to work for some recluse he can’t even find on the internet. Sounds sketchy, but the salary is awesome and he can’t afford to be picky. On arrival he discovers a few details his contract neglected to mention, like the alligator-infested swamp, the demon attacks, and the nature of his employer’s “special diet”. A smart guy would leave, but after one look into Dupont’s mesmerizing eyes, Sarasija can’t seem to walk away. Too bad his boss expected “Sara” to be a girl.

Falling in love is hard at any age…

The vampire can’t fight his hungers forever, especially since Sara’s brought him light, laughter and a very masculine heat. After yielding to temptation, Thaddeus must make a choice. Killing demons may save his soul, but keeping the faith will cost him his heart.

Working with Irene on this story has been a fantastic experience. You may be thinking I’m just blowing smoke to promote a book, but truly, tossing the words back and forth and learning how another writer works was tremendously satisfying.

And FUN!

We’ve got Vespers at a reduced preorder price of $0.99, so if you’re interested, click on over…

Amazon     –     Barnes and Noble     –      ARe     –      iBooks     –     Kobo

 

Giveaway

And finally, I promised you a giveaway, so here it is. For the chance to win a $25 gift card PLUS 7 (seven!) paranormal romances by authors like Alexis Hall, Claire Cray, and Jax Garren. Click HERE to get to my website where you’ll find the rafflecopter thingy to enter. The books in the prize package are SO COOL.

So that’s what’s going on in my life? What’s up with you? 🙂 I promise next post won’t be quite so me-me-me-me-me. It’s just been an exciting week.

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Why yes, this *is* the dog who was barfing. He’s much better now, thank goodness!