Monthly Archives: August 2012

Visualize Your Way to Success: Guest Post by Vaughn Roycroft

Visualizing: the author at work.

Heather here. Today I want to introduce you to one of our favorite tribe members, Vaughn Roycroft. Vaughn is one of the most supportive, humble, and talented writers I know and I was thrilled when he said yes to guest posting for us. If you haven’t visited his blog, you should. You’ll be blown away by his wisdom and insight. I hope this won’t be the only guest post he does for hugs and chocolate. 😉

Visualize Your Way to Success

Undaunted or Foolish? Writing a guest post for Hugs and Chocolate is a daunting prospect. If you’ve been here with any regularity, you know what I’m talking about. H&C is authored by six outrageously talented bloggers who routinely post knockout articles. Last Saturday, I allocated some time to ponder a topic for my post, and spent the morning perusing the site’s archives. The sole result of this exercise was a feeling of foolishness for having so blithely accepted their gracious invitation. What was I thinking?

Write What You Know, Dummy: So I thought to myself: “Self, write about what’s going on in your writerly life.” Which is revisions for book one of my trilogy (again/yet). With this in mind, I glanced back through the H&C site again to find… a virtual boatload of absolutely brilliant posts about the revision process. Seriously, if you’re revising, dig back through these archives. Great stuff awaits. Which was of absolutely no help to my search for a fresh topic.

I hate to admit it, but I gave up (for the moment). It was only Saturday; I still had a few days. And the other item on my docket felt more pressing. The prior day I’d finished my first-ever scene outline for my rewrite. It may seem strange to some that I would outline each scene for a nine year old project on about the seventh attempt at rewriting it. Long story, but suffice to say I’m a pantser who’s finally coming around to plotting. I’m working to adapt a rather long and complex work to the elements of story structure, and it’s really paying dividends.

In any case, with the help of a mentor, I finally had an idea for a new opening scene. My goal for last Saturday was to get a firm grasp on that opening scene—to envision it with the best possible clarity. As I made ready to do this, it dawned on me: This is what I’ll write about for H&C! My process for envisioning a new scene.

One Man’s Napping Is Another Man’s Writing Technique: That’s right, rather than writing this post, I set about making ready for a nap. But this wouldn’t be just any nap, and I knew it probably wouldn’t involve actual sleep. I was planning on Visualizing. It’s a technique I developed during the writing of my first draft. There have been many studies and articles done on the effect sleep and deep relaxation have on creativity, including here. I’m sure many of you have your own way to facilitate access to your creative mind, such as meditation, yoga, exercise, long showers, etcetera. And some of those work for me as well. But nothing puts me in a scene like a nice uninterrupted Visualizing session. So I thought I’d share my process.

Making Ready: If you want a good Visualizing session, it’s important to get yourself and your surroundings prepared. You have to find a time when you won’t be interrupted, and a place you know you will be at ease. You’re looking for what I call a TCS (Total Contented State). To get to a TCS, I try to adjust and control as many external variables as possible.

Last Saturday was a good example. I’d had my morning walk, my coffee, and an early breakfast of cereal with fruit. But it was getting to be late morning by the time I ditched writing this post for visualizing. It was time for Second Breakfast (remember, you’re shooting for TCS, and a grumbly stomach just won’t do—hobbits know a thing or two about TCS). So I set about making a batch of fresh salsa. I find the mechanical aspects of chopping and preparing a dish like salsa to be soothing and mind-clearing. Once the salsa was ready, I prepared a nice plate of huevos rancheros, made with farm-fresh eggs, melted Monterey Jack cheese and locally-produced chorizo. Topping it off with not only a heaping dose of fresh salsa, but a dollop of sour cream to boot, definitely helped to nudge me toward TCS.

Other Externals: A big one for me is temperature. And Saturday was delightful in Michigan—mid 70’s and low humidity—perfect for our sleeping porch (no need for A/C or blankets to achieve TCS). Other variables: Internet—caught up and shut down; Phone—off; Dog—business done and inside; Clothing—comfy tee shirt and shorts (Side-note: it was a bit too warm for socks, which would’ve made it perfect, but sometimes you have to make due). You get the idea. Control whatever you can to obtain TCS.

Only Readily Available Tools Required: Another important element of TCS is blocking distracting sound. Some days in my neighborhood are quiet enough that I can focus on the wind through the nearby pines as I drift toward slumber. This would definitely not be the case on a Saturday in August in a beachside community (nearby kids, dogs, lawn mowers, etc.). So an iPod and headphones were in order. Picking the right music here is vital. It has to fit the scene, and you don’t want to be startled by a jarring song change. My choice on Saturday was the new Dead Can Dance album—full of dark atmospherics, perfect for the scene I planned to Visualize.

Other Tools: Notebook and pencil, for immediate jotting of anything and everything that comes of the process; baseball cap or any hat with brim, for pulling down over the eyes; Big pillow for propping yourself into position for ease of writing; nearby beverage of your choice (I avoid alcohol for this process, as it tends to increase the soundness of sleep, defeating the purpose).

But Seriously Folks: In spite of my lightheartedness here, I really do believe this works. The goal is not a morning of gluttony followed by a slothful nap. In this case, gluttony and sloth have a purpose—finding your way to the deep end of the mental pool. Steven Pressfield had a great post the other day about finding your way past Resistance to your Deep Mind. This is a technique that actually works for me. Resistance is manifested in the waking self. The goal is not to actually sleep, but to get to the periphery of slumber, and to let go of everything that is day to day.

If I achieve it—getting as close to sleep as possible while still maintaining the vision of the setting and characters in question—I am there, in the scene, watching it play out against my closed eyelids. And much has come of it. Once I’ve Seen the scene this way, the memory of it often remains quite clear to me.

Epiphany Along the Periphery: Just for the record, Saturday’s session produced several insights, including a few snippets of dialog and an epiphany that ties to the introduction of my Story Question to the opening scene, for which I now have a finished draft. I actually Visualized my way to what I believe will be a successful scene.

How about you? I’d love to hear your techniques for getting to TCS, and for facilitating access to your creativity. Do you ever get epiphanies along the periphery of slumber? 

About Vaughn

In the sixth grade, Vaughn’s teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud.  After many milestone achievements, the pair grew tired of the hectic life of the business world. With the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Craft, Inspiration, Writing


Cursing the Blank Page

The cursor winks, mocking me as it looms above the blank page.

“Come on. Do it. Write something.”

Dark and evil it blinks, a beacon of my own inadequacy, each beat a challenge.

“I dare you.”

Fear grips me, anger too.  My mind is blank. I wipe sweat from my forehead with a sleeve. I take a sip of water, to ease the dryness in my mouth. Ideas swirl through my thoughts, I grab at them, one by one examining them in my mind, then throw each back into the ether. None of them are good enough. None of them worthy of the demands of that damned cursor. I curse. Damn you. I look at the clock. 12:20 pm. Time and the cursor are in cahoots with their taunts.

I have deadlines! All I really want to do is give the cursor the finger, escape into a game of Skyrim, and devour a bar of chocolate.

“Quitter.” The cursor sneers.

Heat rises in my cheeks. I grit my teeth. I am not a quitter.

There’s only one thing that can guarantee our failure, and that’s if we quit.–Craig Breedlove

The cursor stares at me, shocked.

Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I start to write.

Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until have accomplished a purpose – not the one you began with perhaps, but one you’ll be glad to remember.–Anne Sullivan

Word by word.

Other people and things can stop you temporarily. You’re the only one who can do it permanently. –Zig Ziglar

I will not let the blank page, that blinking cursor, win.

All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail. That is the talisman, the formula, the command of right about-face which turns us from failure to success.–Dorthea Brande

Act as if it were impossible to fail, act as if it were impossible to fail, act as if it were impossible to fail…the mantra for today. The thing that’s getting me through this blank page is the encouragement found in the words and the works of others. It’s the friends that I’ve made online, the support from my peers and family and the belief that I have a calling. This passion for the written word isn’t for naught. There is poetry in my soul aching to be released. I must learn to trust it. I grab onto that idea. I hold it close and let it feed me the determination to never give up, to act as if it were impossible to fail. I open myself up and let the words pour onto the page, without fear, without limits. What is there to lose?

You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.–Beverly Sills

What talisman or formula do you use to break the inertia and frustration of the blank page? I would love to hear your thoughts. Keep writing, all! Harness the poetry and the passion in your soul and never give up.


Letting the Story Lead

In this age we live in, productivity is the name of the game. We take hold of our stories by the balls and get them written now, get them written right, and get them out the door. I don’t know about you, but to me, this is intimidating. I read blogs all the time about authors who write several books a year when I can barely finish one over two years. When writing that quickly, there seems to be so little time to let the story grow organically and instead, we push out the words and get from Point A to Point B in the shortest amount of time possible (in the storyline and on our career timeline) whether our characters like it or not.

I’ve tried to do this. It’s not working for me.

The novel I’m rewriting now is the one I started during National Novel Writing Month of 2010. As usual, I started with an idea and an outline. I had a timeline of when I would finish and a Chris Baty-imposed deadline.

I wrote that first draft like a champ. And then I got stuck.

Because unlike the seasoned authors I read about, my first drafts are junk.

But I’m okay with that.

See, I don’t feel like I truly know my story and my characters until I’ve written the first draft. Sometimes, not even then. In this case, the first draft taught me that I didn’t know my characters and, by extension my story, at all. The inconsistency of my MC’s choices and actions proved it. I didn’t know how to fix it. I tried to push through the pain for the sake of my timeline but eventually I had to set it aside, had to stop forcing it. But I knew this was “the book” for me–the one that will get published–so it was always in the back of my mind.

Every once in a while, over the year or so that I let it sit, I did some character building exercises or some brainstorming with a friend, waiting for the “click” to happen. I so desperately wanted to get writing again but the last thing I wanted to do was write another trash draft. I wrote various outlines on the nights I felt inspired but ended up tucking them away again because it just didn’t feel right.

A couple of months ago, after a bout of familial chaos, my life returned to normal and I knew I had to pull it out and face it for real this time, regardless of how I felt about my mess of ideas. With all of them swirling in my mind, I just began to write without much knowledge of where it would lead. I was interested to find that much of it stayed the same, save a change of location here or minor character there. Yet, after all the subconscious simmering I’d done, I was surprised at how much had changed. The little details about their backgrounds and how they carried themselves and how they reacted to things finally made them feel real. And through those changes, the new story began to emerge.

And this is when the panic set it.

But my outline! But my timeline!

I pulled out some of my old outlines to try to force my story back into the can I had originally opened and laughed when this “new” idea I had was the same as one of my previous outlines. Clearly my characters were trying to tell me something I hadn’t previously been prepared to listen to. They were trying to tell me the real essence of my story…whether I liked it or not.

I called my brainstorming buddy just before midnight saying, “I’m having a writer identity crisis. Can I do this?” The story was so much more dramatic and so much darker than I originally intended to be but no matter what I did, I couldn’t turn my mind back. It was like the story had rolled itself out before me–a single path that I had to follow to the end.

So I closed my eyes and took the first step.

Maybe many authors, especially seasoned ones, listen to their characters better than I do (it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of being stubborn or having a one-track mind *cough*Taurus*cough*), but I wonder if there are some authors out there so focused on getting the book written that they forget to take the time to listen to those quiet voices of their characters as they point the way.

I wonder if I would have missed the opportunity to write a truer story if I had only been looking at my timeline…if I hadn’t stopped trying to lead.

Photo by woodleywonderworks


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Training Tools – Websites for Creativity

El grito de la gaviota – Seagull Scream by Dani_vr on Flickr

I’ve wanted to use that image since I first saw it. Not sure how it applies to today’s post, but hopefully it made you smile 🙂

I’m coming off my post-Olympic high. I miss coming home and watching elite athletes fulfill their dreams. I don’t know about you, but I found it inspiring. It gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling in my core. Those people worked hard, sacrificed, trained, and look where it got them. Writers aren’t that different. We have to go through a lot of the same things (but with more wine and chocolate and less laps and pushups).

Our minds are constantly being pushed, our imaginations stretched. We’re honing our craft. If you’re like me, you’ve pretty much given up sleep. Learning, we’re always learning. And what is this “free time” you speak of? Yet we do it because we love it. We have goals and dreams, and we won’t stop until we make it.

What does all this have to do with creativity? Well, as writers, creativity is kind of important to the whole process. I have a bookmarks folder titled, “Websites for Creativity,” and I thought I’d pass along some of my favorites. Think of them as training tools. (There, I totally tied this back to the Olympics 😉 Sneaky, right?)

Critters is a part of but for horror (here’s looking at you, Brian), fantasy, and sci-fi writers. How awesome is that? It can be hard to find critique partners for genre fiction; thankfully critters helps writers connect.

Creativity Portal – If you want to read articles about creativity, and I do this sometimes to better understand the creativity process, then creativity portal is a good resource.

Easy Street Prompts – Like writing prompts? Check this one out.

Six Sentences – This website invites you to tell a story in six sentences. Kind of interesting.

Plot Scenario Generator – This is one of my new favorites. The whole website is really good.

Five Free College Level Writing & Lit Videos – Who says you have to pay to learn?

InkPageant – A collection of blog posts for writers.

80 Journal Writing Prompts – I’m a sucker for journaling and writing prompts. What more could I want?

That should be enough to keep you busy for a while. What about you? What are some of your go-to sites for creativity?


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The Small Things

Image by Jenny Kaczorowski

As much as I love the plots, premises, arcs, and over-all storyline of whatever novel I’m reading, be it published or unpublished, there’s something I love just as much. The smaller details of a story.

What I mean by this is all the little things you as a writer add to your story to give it more personality. When we talk about fleshing out a novel, this is one of the things I think about, but these little things are also what give your story character and personality. It’s your novel’s freckles, the torn jeans it wears, the tiny house it shares with its too big family, and the kind of movies it likes. You know, the little things.

Sometimes it’s the smaller things that make me love a novel that much more.

You guys know I like being interactive and learning about all of you at the same time. So last week I tweeted and asked if one or two of my follower would want to help me out with this week’s post. What I asked them is to give me five things they like about their novel. But I wanted the small things because this is not about promoting a novel, this is just about sharing what you love with somebody else and what makes your story that little bit more special to you.

Below are the fantastic answers from people you know and some you don’t. Some of these writes will be published next year, some of them are in the middle of querying, one or two are still working on their novels.

After reading these wonderful reasons, leave us a comment and give us five random reasons you love your novel. I would love to learn more about you and what you’re writing.

– My MC wears purple Converse sneakers with her prom dress.
– She still makes wishes on dandelions.
– There’s a poster for Wicked, The Musical on my MCs bedroom wall.
– Writing the mother/daughter scenes were the hardest. They broke my heart a little, but the book wouldn’t be the same without them.
– I loved writing my version of the afterlife.

– It’s my first attempt at contemporary
– I love that Evan rides a classic motorcycle (I’ve always wanted to learn to ride).
– Writing a strong, sexy girl like Ginny has been a blast. It’s been even more fun to make her a lot more broken than she appears.
– Setting it in SC. I love the East Coast, and the South in particular. Having it on the beach and getting to mess around with the local history has been amazing.
– Retelling a classic was SO much more difficult than I ever expected, and way more exciting.

– The MC and her family used to perform in an exotic circus similar to the Cirque du Soleil.
– When the MC captures an escaped lab rat in her room, she names him Ratticus, because “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of her favorite books.
– The MC’s love interest works in his mom’s cafe and tries to win over the MC by offering to make her a chocolate cheesecake.
– While trying to hide from security, the MC and her love interest are forced to hide in a tiny shower stall and use it as an excuse to flirt with each other.
– The last line of the book is one of my favorites: “Nope. It’s just a really big cockroach.”

– The damsel-in-distress scene: but here the one in distress is the hero and the one doing the saving is the heroine 😉
– My heroine has a ninja bike!
– The hero’s brother keeps hitting on the heroine right in front of the hero. It’s always funny.
– The fair scene: the hero takes the heroine dancing and she doesn’t know how to dance (she’s from another realm). He laughs because she’s a fierce warrior and kicks ass when it comes to fighting, but she can’t coordinate her feet and legs and arms when dancing (what he doesn’t know is that she’s nervous about being so close to him!).
– The heroine lost her older brothers and has a younger one that hates her. The hero also has a younger brother and they are always bickering. Without realizing, the heroine wants to fix the hero and his brother’s relationship.

– PDN Is told in dual point of view. I loved listening to both Aaron and Quinn while writing. It was fun getting different insights from both MC’s
– Marcus. He’s Aaron’s best friend and a supporting character, but I LOVE him. His voice came to me out of the blue and he makes me laugh out loud. With such a strong personality, sometimes it was hard to keep him from taking over a scene.
– Quinn’s decent into madness. Is she crazy? Are the demons that torment her real or figments of her imagination? As her nightmares slowly bleed into reality, she begins to question everything, even herself.
– *evil laugh* I put Quinn through so much in this book to see what she would do. I’m not one of those writers who has trouble putting their MC in peril. I know there must have been moments when she was like. “Hey! Can you cut me a break? Seriously?”
– Writing the creepy, dark, scary scenes.  I’m not allowed to go into any detail right now, but I managed to scare myself silly one night writing a particular scene near the end. Creeptastic!

Go on. Share with us what you like about your story. Can’t wait to read your things.


A Gift of Grief

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” – C.S. Lewis

“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses. ” -Colette

I’m writing this early. Usually, I’m up late the night before my post is due, frantically writing. But not this time. I don’t know what life is bringing this week. My life will be changing, along with that of my family. Things can go one of two ways, but regardless of the outcome, life will never be the same. I know you have no idea what I’m talking about and that’s okay.

Right now I’m dealing with the anticipation of grief, which is a form of grief in itself. My father is extremely ill. This week there will be one of two outcomes, he lives or he dies. That’s it. Two options and no in between. I guess the same could be said for all of us. We live or we die. However, we don’t typically think of our mortality in such a blunt manner.

People offer advice as a means of consoling. I’m being kind when I say offer, because it’s not something I can give back or turn down. I wish I could. I had someone tell me that I’m lucky I’ve had as much time with my dad as I’ve had, because some people never get that much. So I’m supposed to feel selfish for not wanting my dad to die? In the back of my mind I know it’s not meant that way, but my emotions are so raw right now. I know people mean well, but words are powerful. Another favorite of mine is when people tell me to take it one day at a time. How does one do that exactly? Everyday I watch him fade further away. He’s in horrific pain and there’s nothing I can do about it. Yes. Every single day is imprinted in my brain in excruciating clarity.

I’m a writer and more than likely, if you’re reading this, you are too. We should know how to express grief. We should be able to write with compassion and make grief pause, even for just a brief moment. But we’re human and grief is a subject that makes most people uncomfortable. So, let me help a little. The smartest writers and non-writers I know use two very simple words, “I’m sorry.” They don’t give advice or wax poetic. They acknowledge the hurt without resorting to cliches.

If you’ve ever written a scene of grief, I want you to take a look at it. I’m not an expert, but I want to share with you some of the thoughts and feelings I’m having right now. Here are a few in no particular order:

I can’t concentrate on anything. I try to read, but I stare at a page or the computer screen and have no clue what the arrangement of words is trying to convey. I’ve read about writers who use their emotions to their advantage and write amazing things. I can’t seem to do that. Every word is a chore. Every idea takes too long to process. Then I start worrying that this means I’m not a good enough writer, which starts the cycle all over again.

I’m confused. Everyone knows their parents get old, but less than a year ago, my dad was fine. Now he’s sleeping in a hospital bed, has to use a walker and is having trouble with his motor skills. Tonight, I watched him fall because I couldn’t get to him fast enough when his walker tipped over. Luckily, he fell back into his chair and didn’t get hurt. My mind can’t seem to reconcile my dad as an old man who needs help to stand. When did it come to this? He’s 62.

I feel guilt. I watch my mom, who has health problems of her own, take care of my dad with love and patience. This is affecting her health now. I should have been more successful in life and career. I should be able to take care of them completely, but I can’t and that slays me.

I’m overwhelmed. I hardly sleep through the night anymore, just as when my son was a baby. Only now, I listen for my dad. I let my mom sleep through the night and I stay awake, listening and waiting. When I do get to sleep it’s not restful because I’m always listening for my mom to cry my name when she goes to check on him. It scares me, but at the same time, I don’t want him to suffer anymore.

I’m nervous. If I deviate too much from the relationship I’ve had with my dad, will it make him suspicious? Instead, I try to keep cool and do what needs to be done without making him ask. I don’t want to embarrass him or make him self-conscious.

I hurt and am afraid. I won’t tell you how many times I’ve broken down while writing this. Seeing the man I’ve grown up with, always in awe of his strength and ability, reduced to a man barely able to stand on his own – it hurts in a place so deep. I can’t tell you what it’s like to think of a world without him. It takes my breath away.

I’m irritable. How dare life go on for everyone else when mine is falling apart? Irrational, I know. Life keeps going whether we’re a part of it or not.

I hope this helps you in some way. Write grief as true as you can. Don’t gloss over it, it’s insulting. Without going through the process of dying yourself, to lose someone or watch them fade is as close to feeling mortality as you can get. Write it.

Update: He made it through surgery 🙂



Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Craft, Emotion, Personal Experience, Writing


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Give Your Characters Quirk

He’s quirky and he knows it. 🙂

I used to shine shoes in a truck stop. I did this while pregnant with my son because it earned tips like crazy and I enjoyed it. For the most part, drivers were polite and lonely. Not a few of them were the best story-tellers you’ll ever meet. When business was slow, I read or people- watched. And I watched and met some of the most colorful people.

As odd a job as it may seem to the vast majority, I’ve come to appreciate the experience for all the reasons mentioned. I learned a lot about people’s quirks.

There were some brilliantly flamboyant characters, yes. I loved that they were larger-than-life and how their presence seemed to wake up the people around them. Truck-driving vampires(the kind with prosthetic fangs), transvestites, and conspiracy theorists sat at my booth. Each of them had a story, and many of them had personality traits I admire- principles, compassion, strength, and resilience.

All of us have our little quirks. I’m a David Bowie nut and we adopted our shih tzu- lab mix because I fell for the ugliest dog I’ve ever seen. I have an otherwise reasonable and mature friend who still can’t stand for any of her food to touch and thinks fireworks are the coolest thing since sliced bread.

When I read a book, I’m looking for something outside of my cozy little world. I want to feel something strongly one way or the other about the characters- endearment, recognition, inspired. Even the most vile characters should do this for us. I recently read Darkly Dreaming Dexter, the book that inspired the Showtime series. Dexter is a serial killer, but his principles and blundering ways make him not only real, but almost relatable.

Quirks enhance the voice of our characters and add depth to our writing style. The following is a list of types of character quirks I hope you find useful:

* Unusual talents. Some people can sign their names using their feet.

* Friends, family, pets. All of these can reveal a lot about a character.

*Habits/ routines. Does your character fidget? Do they have to sleep on a particular side of the bed?

*Bucket lists. Some people want to see Paris, others want to see the world’s largest rubber band ball.

*Sense of humor. Every character needs one. Are they sarcastic or slapstick?

*Favorite foods, colors, perfume, etc.

*Addictions. This could range from the serious like drugs to minor obsessions like Farmville or chocolate.

*Beliefs. Does your character believe in aliens or life after death?

*Fears/Weaknesses. Nobody’s perfect in real life, and shouldn’t be in fiction either.

*Background. What’s your mc’s relationship to his/her mother? Are they from a rural community or a parallel universe?

*Hobbies/Areas of expertise. Does your character know every stat about the Lakers? Can they tell you everything you’d ever need to know about solar energy?

What are some of your favorite quirks? They can be real or fictional. What role do you think character quirks play in a good book?


Posted by on August 17, 2012 in Characters, Just For Fun


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