Category Archives: Books

My Favorite Hugs and Chocolate Posts

Sometimes, a hug is all what we need – Jesslee Cuizon

What a good year it’s been over here! I though that the best way for me to end off things would be to share a few of the post by the wonderful ladies I share this blog with. If any of the links go to places they shouldn’t, please let me know.

It’s been such a pleasure getting to know all of you this year. I’m giving all of you big virtual bear hugs. I can’t wait to see what next year will bring us.

It’s been an honor, ladies and gentlemen.

Jamie Raintree

My Romance With Writing

Who Cares About Writers?

Instruction Manual for a Full-Time Writer

Why Character Archetypes Aren’t Just About Commercialism

Why I Heart Scrivener for Outlining

How to NaNoWriMo During Thanksgiving

Tonia Marie Houston

Bring Your Shovel

St. Patrick and the Writer’s Trinity

Gift Ideas for the Writer in Your Life

33 And It Feels Divine

Give Your Characters Quirk

Synopsis Fundamentals

Heather L Reid

Learn to Love Writing Queries

Dream Big and Never Give Up: How I Landed a 2 Book Publishing Deal

The Third Perspective: Why I Love Third Person Narrative

The First Editorial Letter: Let the Revisions Begin… Again

Riding the Revision Coaster: Completing My 30 Day Deadline

Rebecca Fields

What If…

Luck of the Irish?

The Magic of Fairy Tales

A World of Ideas

Pardon Me, Social Media

Read A (Banned) Book

Courtney Koschel

Filtering Filter Words in Your Writing

Questions to ask When Hiring an Editor

I Suck Syndrome: Recognize it and Beat it

Giving and Getting the Most Out of Critiques

Common Comma Issues

Manuscript Formatting

Jani Grey

Support from the obvious places

Need a little motivation or inspiration? I have some of that for you

Personal Perspective: Why I write 1st person POV

Let me tell you why you’re a winner

The Small Things

Why the subject of your blog post is so very important

Guest Posts

Visualize Your Way to Success: Guest Post by Vaughn Roycroft

DIY Editing and Proofreading Part 1 with Karen S. Elliot

Editing, Proofreading, and a Contest with Karen S. Elliot

Pants on Fire: Guest Post by Laura Long

Guest Post by Brian Taylor: Take a Walk… On a Tightrope: One Writer’s Journey

I’ll see you next year. Have a happy and safe new year!


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Reading as a Writer

medium_302558059I read a book not too long ago. It wasn’t a good one. I don’t say that often, but I had to make myself finish this one. When I was done, I closed it and sat and thought about the what had made it almost unreadable. The plot was confusing. After the first chapter, I thought it was about a girl who was looking for her dream guy, but then the main character stated how happy she was being by herself. Her relatives thought she needed to meet someone. Okay, that could be fun, except we never met the family. The reader was told about a phone call.

I kept reading, thinking I missed something and the plot would be clear later on. I was wrong. The ideas were there, but it wasn’t pulled together. I tried to relate to the character, hoping that would keep me interested in the story. However, it’s hard to relate to a woman who’s drop dead, supermodel gorgeous and only wears designer clothes. The name dropping through the book got annoying. She was wealthy and drove a luxury SUV that one of her many admirers bought for her. She had several stunningly handsome boyfriends that she rotated between. Yes, the main character and I had a major disconnect.

The ending was anti-climactic. The main character finally succumbed to alleged familial pressure and went out on a date with the man her family had chosen. She fell madly in love and married him that weekend. There was no drama, other than when the main character had to tell her other boyfriends that she’d met someone else. There was no danger, no risk and by the time I got to the end, I wanted to throw the book across the room. So why am I telling you all this? Because the germ of a good idea was there. When I read the synopsis, I was picturing a My Big Fat Greek Wedding type story, but the author didn’t follow through. What could have been done differently?

Plot. I know plotting can be difficult. I don’t read a lot of romances and it’s usually a struggle to get through a story that doesn’t have a chase scene or unsolved murder in it, or, better yet, strange creatures wreaking havoc. Anyway. This story had none of those, but I was looking for something to read that didn’t require any thought and would just let me escape for a few hours. This story required more thought because I was constantly trying to fill in the blanks about what happened. The plot could have been as simple as: girl is looking for Mr. Right and after a series of humorous mishaps, finds him. Instead, it was: girl has perfect life and is perfectly content, but out of implied pressure, finds Mr. Perfect with no problem. Give your reader some drama. Life isn’t this easy. No, we don’t want all the gory details, but let us relate to what the character is going through.

Characters. The main character was so one dimensional it was hard to like her, much less, read an entire story about her. She had everything – unlimited money, successful business, the clothes, the shoes, the designer sunglasses, cars, apartments, vacation house, men begging for her attention, friends who adored her every move. It was unrealistic. I’m not saying this doesn’t happen, but if you want your reader to pull for your character, give her something to lose and something to work toward. Put obstacles in her way and let the reader see who she is by how she deals with these situations. Everyone has a weakness or two, characters should also. Dig deep into your character and find out who they are. All the stuff I described above was just the surface. I still don’t know who the character was and what drove her. Perhaps she wasn’t as happy with her life as she let on, but even though it was first person pov, there was nothing to indicate she wanted anything to change. Imagine going out to lunch with your character. What would you talk about? Would you want to be friends with them? What about them interests you? Show as many layers to your character as you possibly can.

Setting. The setting from this story ranged from an office, to a luxurious apartment, a glamorous party, a vacation home and then a honeymoon suite. I know that because that’s what I was told. I never got lost in the setting or pictured it in my head. Take your reader on a journey and make them feel like they’re watching from the same room or wherever they may be.

Writing sounds like the easiest job in the world. You sit down at your computer or pick up a pen and paper and write. Except it’s not that easy. All things you see and hear in your head have to come out and sometimes that’s harder than you can imagine. A reader can’t get inside your head, you have to show and tell us. Outline a clear plot and then write it. You don’t have to follow the outline exactly, but know where your story is going. Give your characters depth. Even if the reader isn’t supposed to like the character, show us why. If you find yourself with flat characters, reconsider their importance to the story. Take the reader somewhere they’ve never been before, even if it’s just a strange living room. Make them feel like they’re there.

photo credit: <a href=””>Sister72</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


Posted by on December 17, 2012 in Books, Characters, Plot, Setting, Uncategorized


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What’s So Good About Goodreads Anyway? Part 1: Using Goodreads as a Reader

I don’t know about you, but most of my Twitter, Facebook, and other social media connections revolve around other writers. I’m sure I’m not alone. 99% of the friend requests I get come from other writers. We share a common passion and that’s what brings us together. I LOVE my writer friends. We challenge each other, support one another, and keep each other sane. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They are each integral to getting through rewrite hell and on the road to publication. But what do you do when the book is finished? Promoting to the same circle that helped you on your journey is futile. As much as they might love you and your book, other writers are not your primary audience. It’s time to connect with readers. REAL readers.

‘But writers ARE readers,’ you cry. Yes, we are, but we’re also busy getting our own books out there, being critique partners, bloggers, publicists, editors, social media guru’s, ect. Let’s be honest. How many of us have as much time to read for pleasure as we used to? I know I don’t. I still read every night, but instead of a book a week, I’m now lucky if I get through a book a month. I study books, looking for what’s working, what’s not. Books have unconsciously become more of a learning tool instead of something that relaxes me. These days, a book has to be exceptional to make me forget I’m a writer. I am no longer an average reader and average readers are the ones that will want to read your books.

So how do I find my audience? The good news is it’s easy to connect with average readers. Most of you have heard of it and I know a lot of you already have accounts, but are you using Goodreads to its full potential? In my opinion, you should all but forget Twitter and Facebook in your search for an audience. If you want to connect with real readers, you need to go to them, and let me tell you, the real readers are on Goodreads.

Now, before you start preparing your marketing blitz, stop. I said Goodreads is where you go to CONNECT with readers. It is not where you go to sell your book. It’s not a spamfest or a place to drop your book title or cover in every conversation. It is true social media built around a common love of reading. To make Goodreads work for you, you have to be prepared to participate in conversation. If you love books, this shouldn’t be hard.  On Goodreads, you should always be a reader first and a writer second. And you know what, it’s so much fun!

What’s so great about GR?

1)      It’s an amazing research tool. Seriously, this is the best place to go to find out what readers in your genre are reading, what they like, what they don’t, and why.

2)      Helps you keep the pulse of what’s going on in the market. Forget what industry professionals say, it’s all about readers. They drive the market. Why wouldn’t you want to find out what they’re saying? Use GR to find what real readers think about current books.

3)      It’s fun and brings the joy of reading back. Nobody cares about market trends, editing, agents, or the publishing industry. Readers care about stories and their love of the written word and it’s refreshing to stop being a writer for a while and to be a reader again.

4)      Groups, games, finding new authors and books, making new friends.

Tips for adding books:

1)      You can add books you’ve read by either typing the name of the book or the author in the search bar, or you can download the GR app for your smartphone. This allows you to scan the barcode on all the books on your real bookshelf and it will automatically add it to your GR shelf. How cool is that?

2)       As you add books, GR will give you the option to rate and review each book. I didn’t have time to write reviews for every book, but rating is easy and only takes seconds. You can also add the dates you started and finished each book. I didn’t bother with this for my older books, but started using this feature for everything I read going forward. It’s a great way to keep track of what I’ve read and when I’ve read it.

3)      You can also re-order the books on your virtual shelf anyway you like. Do you like to keep your genres separate? You can add shelves and title them anything you wish.

4)      Once you’ve added books you’ve already read, you can start adding books you want to read. This is a great feature to keep track of books you’re interested in. Again, type the title or author into the search list and add to you ‘to read’ shelf.

Tips on adding friends:

1)      Obviously you want to start with people you already know, but don’t limit yourself.

2)      Look at your friend’s lists. You’ll be able to compare books with each person on their list. If you see someone who reads a lot of the same books as you do, send them a friends request.

3)      Mention that you noticed they like George RR Martin or that you have a lot of books in common. This helps make the connection more personal.

4)      Add people that you see participating in the same conversations as you do.

Tips on joining groups:

1)      Join some groups that read in the genres you’re interested in.

2)      Click the ‘groups’ link and type in your interest into the search bar.

3)      Once you found a group that looks good to you, join it. Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself and start adding to the conversation. Some groups will have a special folder for authors to add their book titles, but they don’t tolerate spam in any other discussions.

4)      Games. This is a quick and fun way to get to know others. Most groups have a few games they play. You’ll see them listed as a discussion. Be sure to read the rules before you play. J

5)      Group reads are popular. Most groups I’m a part of will choose a book to read for the month. You don’t have to participate, but it’s another great way to connect with readers.

Tips for joining conversations:

1)      GR will display ongoing conversations about books you’ve added to your bookshelf on the left hand side of your homepage. If a conversation looks interesting, join it. This is another great way to start making friends and adding to your friends list.

I know I’ve focused on how to use Goodreads from a reader’s perspective, but I feel that’s the first step to connecting with your audience. As an author, Goodreads has some amazing tools and I’ll be talking about the GR author platform, using Listopia to gain exposure, creating events, linking your blog, and more. Join me for part 2:Using Goodreads as an Author on the 7th of November.

Do you use Goodreads? I would love to hear about your experiences.


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Oh, the Horror…

It’s October, so of course we need to talk about writing horror. How do you write something that can scare your readers, without coming across as cheesy or trying to hard? Some writers do it so easily that you don’t realize what’s coming. Writing horror is an art. The best advice I can give to you is to read horror. Does that mean you need to read every single horror book out there? Not at all. There are many different types of horror and some may appeal to you and your readers more than others. Me? I prefer genuinely scary monster stories. I won’t read or watch anything with a lot of gore. I prefer the unknown versus the visceral, serial killer type horror.

On that note, I’d like to share a list with you. This list is from my go-to craft book on horror, “On Writing Horror.” It’s by The Horror Writer’s Association and edited by Mort Castle. This is a list of the classic horror stories they recommend for all aspiring horror writers. It’s by no means complete and I’ll add a few at the end which I personally recommend.

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  2. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  3. The Ghost Pirates by William Hope Hodgson
  4. The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James
  5. Burn, Witch, Burn! By A. Merritt
  6. To Walk the Night by William Sloane
  7. The Dunwich Horror and Others by H.P. Lovecraft
  8. Fear by L. Rob Hubbard
  9. Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson
  10. Conjure Wife by Fritz Lieber
  11. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
  12. Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
  13. 13.  Richard Matheson: Collected Stories, Vols. I, II, III
  14. Hell House by Richard Matheson
  15. The October Country by Ray Bradbury
  16. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  17. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
  18. Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg
  19. Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  20. The Stand by Stephen King
  21. Watchers by Dean Koontz

These are the books they recommend you read. How many have you read? I used to read a lot of horror and have found there are some common threads that seem to emanate from the ones I’ve never forgotten. Here are a few I would add to the list:

  1. It by Stephen King. I read this book when I was twelve and slept with my light on for a month. I still don’t walk within reaching distance of sewer drains. That, to me, is a sign of an excellent horror story.
  2. Anything by H.P. Lovecraft.
  3. The Alienist by Caleb Carr. This one is a little different. I read it and couldn’t read it again. It bothered me on such a deep level, but again, that’s what I think makes a great horror story.
  4. Taken by Dean Koontz. This book wasn’t one of his most popular, but when I read it, I had to keep putting it down. For that reason, I have to put it on the list.
  5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This is a different kind of horror, but one that reads well with the underlying tension of a possible reality.

I know there are a lot more that I’ve neglected to mention, but off the top of my head, these are a few I’d encourage you to read, if you want to write memorable horror. Of course, the best way for a writer to learn their craft is to read. Read horror, suspense, mystery – anything that will teach you the nuances of the craft. Pretty soon, you’ll start to see what works and what doesn’t. What books would you add to this list?



Posted by on October 15, 2012 in Books, Craft, Horror, Inspiration, Writing


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Common Comma Issues

A lot of people seemed to like my post on how to use past perfect tense, so I wanted to continue today with another grammar rundown. I’m going to go through some common comma issues I see in manuscripts. I know we are getting into the weeds a little with grammar, but it’s amazing how some small tweaks to your manuscript will help sentence structure, story understanding, and an overall better reading experience for your reader. Misplacing or misusing a comma can alter the meaning of a sentence, so yeah, they’re pretty important.

Comma Splice: Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet). A comma splice is when a comma without a conjunction joins two separate sentences. A comma splice is incorrect. There are a few ways to correct a comma splice. One way is to use a semicolon to connect the two clauses without using a conjunction. You can also break the sentence into two separate sentences.

Examples that are all correct:

  • My favorite book releases soon, and I am so excited.
  • My favorite book releases soon; I am so excited.
  • My favorite book releases soon. I am so excited.

Serial Comma: Use commas to separate words and groups of words with a series of three or more.


  • This book has awesome dialogue, plot, and characterization.
  • Sebastian, Biggie, and Loki are my four legged babies.

Using commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun: This is a big one all writers should pay attention to. Use a comma to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun. Be careful not to add a comma before the final adjective and the noun or between non-coordinate adjectives. Here’s a helpful hint: if the word and can be inserted between the two adjectives, use a comma. If you can swap the adjectives around and they still make sense, use a comma. A coordinate adjective separately modifies the noun that follows it. Cumulative adjectives do not modify the noun that directly follows it.


  • This is a strong, funny manuscript.
  • He wrapped me in an amazing power hug.  *You do not use a comma here because they are non-coordinate, and you can’t say, “He wrapped me in an amazing and power hug.

Comma to separate essential phrases and clauses: An essential phrase or clause is used to modify the noun. It also adds critical information to the sentence. You do not set essential phrases or clauses off with commas.


  • The people who work in publishing are awesome.

A nonessential phrase or clause adds extra information to the sentence. The phrase or clause can be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence. You should always set nonessential phrases or clauses off with commas.


  • Hugs and Chocolate, an awesome blog, is a great community. *Hugs and Chocolate is named, so the description is nonessential.

I could go on and on. There is so much information out there, but this is a good start. Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll answer them in the comments.


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How Reading is Important to Writing

Before my regular post today, I want to take a minute to thank Karen S. Elliot for visiting our blog last week, as well as everyone who participated in the contest to win a sample of her services. A winner was chosen at random on From all of us, we extend our congratulations to Darlene Foster! Karen will contact you to claim your prize!

In On Writing Stephen King said, “if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Clearly, Stephen King wasn’t nursing a baby twice a night and taking a toddler to the ER for stitches. These days, our responsibilities are endless. Most days, I don’t have the luxury for both reading and writing, and for a girl who has dreams of publishing one day, the writing has to get done.

Even so, I have been reading a lot more lately and I’m glad for that. I’ve discovered some incredible authors, many of which are in the genre I write, so not only does it help me relax after a long day, I feel like I’m learning a lot from those who have already successfully done what I hope to do one day. So I understand what King is trying to say. Reading is the quickest way to teach us how a story should be told.

A Lesson in Writing

For instance, last week I finished reading the book The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue by Barbara Samuel-O’Neal. (If you like Women’s Fiction, this is a must read.) It was one of those books I never wanted to end because I was so entranced with her writing style and the characters and the story. I felt completely comfortable in her world and I wanted to wrap myself up in it for just a little while longer.

Facing reality, I started working on my novel again. After reading the work of a clearly seasoned author, I was jarred because in my head my story had that same smooth tone, that same mature voice, the same character development, but somewhere on the journey from my mind to my fingers it had gotten lost in translation. Clearly, Barbara has a few more books under her belt than I do so this was a great opportunity to learn something.

Troubleshooting time.

Concerns: I was still getting comments that my main character was immature. She often felt snarky when she was supposed to be kind. I didn’t feel as rooted in the story as I would have liked. The beautiful setting in my head wasn’t landing on the page. In general, something wasn’t quite connecting.

So, what was it about The Goddesses that connected the reader (me) to the character? What could I implement in my own novel to bring it to life the way it is in my head?

Are you seeing the red flashing light I finally did? Point-of-View!

Up until recently, I used to always write in 1st person, but after reading lots of books in my genre, it seemed like everyone else wrote in 3rd person. For a while, I liked it too because it kept me from getting too wordy. But after a while, it kept me from saying much at all so that most of the time, it was impossible to know how my character was reacting and what had happened to her in the past to make her react that way. The Goddesses is written in 1st person and it gave a sense of being the character instead of just watching her. The story is also written in present tense–something I had never tried and I thought might help me sort out the past perfect tense I kept stumbling on.

Over the last week, I picked up chapter one (again!) and started from scratch, taking the same scene, but changing the POV, tense, and adding in thoughts, background, and opinions of my character. Going over this chapter again for about the tenth time in the last few months almost killed me, but I was happy about the new feel and I sent it off to my writing partners tired but satisfied.

And they were floored by the improvement. Mission accomplished.

Lessons You May Not Know You’ve Learned

It isn’t always easy to make time for reading when writing is so time consuming, but books are the blueprints for building a great story–especially a publishable story. And in this case, I think it saved mine.

Here are some other thoughts about how reading helps you become a better writer:

  • Do you ever read a book and about 50 pages in, think, it feels like it’s about time for a plot point? That’s because years of reading has taught our subconscious mind the natural beats of a story.
  • Do you ever use a word while you’re writing that you didn’t know you knew, or if you’re using it correctly, only to look it up and find out you are? That’s because reading expands our vocabulary every time we pick up a book by a new author who writes with words we’ve never heard before. Context clues implants these new words in our minds, almost without our knowledge.
  • Do you ever finish a book and feel that fluttering in your chest, that excitement? That’s because reading is what made all of us want to be storytellers in the first place. Reading books in your genre reminds you of what inspired you to write this story.

What books do you feel you’ve learned from? What are you reading now?

Photo by shutterhacks


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Read A (Banned) Book

September 30 – October 6 (Source:

I have an addiction. I love reading banned books. There. I said it aloud. How did this start? A few years ago there was a big uproar about a book that had been released and was being made into a movie. I remember watching the news and seeing one mother in particular. Her face was flushed and her voice was high with righteous indignation. She said this book should be burned and no school should be allowed to hold within its walls the dangers this book taught. She went on to say, as her voice got higher, that if this book wasn’t stopped, then there were going to be roving bands of witches overtaking the schools and witchcraft being practiced on a daily basis. The book? Harry Potter.

That day I went to Barnes and Noble and bought every book in the series that had been written at that point in time. I read them and fell head over heels in love. I still read those books. I have them in hardcover and some in paperback. I own every movie. I’m still amazed at the beauty J.K. Rowling put into those books. They’re truly magical.

What is it that causes books to be banned? Should certain books be banned? If so, who decides who can read them and who can’t? According to the American Library Association, here are the top ten books that were most frequently challenged and why in 2011:

Out of 326 challenges as reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom

  1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
    Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence
  4. My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler
    Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
  6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint
  7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
    Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit
  8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
    Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit
  9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
    Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit
  10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    Reasons: offensive language; racism

(Source and link:

As you can see, the books have a variety of reasons why people may not like them. However, does that give anyone the right to demand a library or school not have the book on the premises? I have a hard time with this for several reasons. I go back and forth with this in my head. Here’s my argument, both sides.

As a parent, I feel it’s my job to decide what is appropriate for my child to read. He’s read The Hunger Games and To Kill A Mockingbird. We had long discussions after he read each one. He had a hard time understanding the racism in To Kill A Mockingbird, he couldn’t understand the hatred and fear set off by the color of a person’s skin. As for The Hunger Games, that spurred a huge soapbox event by me about why I despise reality television. I asked him how far away are we from a society where this could be a possibility. Those were really interesting conversations.

As a reader I just hate the idea of someone telling me what I’m allowed to read. After reading the Harry Potter books, seeing the movies, dressing like Harry for Halloween, walking around saying the spells – I’m not a witch (darn it) and my son isn’t a wizard. He was quite disappointed that he never received a letter of acceptance to Hogwarts.

The flip side of this argument is this. In 2010 someone self published a book on Amazon called, The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct. Do I believe this title should be banned? Absolutely. This is an extreme example, I know. To me, this book could harm a child physically and emotionally. Yet, to the woman I mentioned in the first paragraph – that’s what she was convinced the Harry Potter books would do – on a different level. There was a lot of controversy about this title and people boycotted Amazon until they removed it. Some people, who didn’t agree with the title or the content, defended the author’s right to free speech. It would seem like common sense not to write a book like this, but the line between common sense and free speech is often very murky.

Where do you stand on banned books? Do you read them? How would you feel if your book made it onto the list?


Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Banned, Books


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