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Fear of the Filled Page

Fear of the Filled Page

One of the most common fears a writer can have is fear of the blank page.  The stomach clenching, heart racing, sweaty palms fear that comes with the pressure of literally taking nothing and turning it into something.  It can strike at any time, trying to write an e-mail to your mother-in-law or while penning the draft of your 23rd novel.  Hopefully, many of you have been kicking this fear to the curb during NaNoWriMo, and have now filled all those blank pages with wonderful words.  Sadly, as writer’s, this fear of the blank page is just the first step in a long line of anxieties.  Now that we are stepping out of the drafting stage and into the editing stage, it is time for a new fear to take hold:  Fear of the filled page.

Fear of the filled page is the opposite of fear of the blank page.  A draft has been written,  a sketch has been drawn, or a painting has been made at one of those fancy wine and canvas nights (I am not artsy you guys and that is the most creative I get outside of writing), now you are faced with the challenge of taking that draft/sketch/not sure if you had too much wine or too little wine painting, and turning it into something worthwhile.

Anybody can put something on the blank page.  I could type for days, rambling on about pretty much any subject.  The hard part is taking that and making it into something people actually want to read or look at.

I believe this is also the root cause of fear of the blank page, many authors think their first draft needs to be beautiful, polished and ready for the world.  I have a secret for you, lean in super close…closer – seriously put your nose against the screen so you can hear me whisper this – FIRST DRAFTS DON’T NEED TO BE GOOD.

Sorry, I’m not sorry that I just yelled in your ear.

So that probably wasn’t a secret, but it is a truth that writers who fear the blank page need to remember.  If you find yourself stuck behind a writer’s block, chances are it’s because you are too concerned with writing something good, and not just writing something.

Most of the time, I can keep this perspective while writing a first draft.  The blank page is full of dreams and possibilities.  I can put anything on that page and nobody has to see it except for me.  Sometimes I love this process so much that I will write out scenes for my stories, that I know would never happen.  This usually involves steamy make-out sessions that lead to teen pregnancy and twin unicorn babies being born who will one day grow up to save China or something of the like. Sometimes I don’t even put these ideas into writing, but I will draft them out in my head, pretending the characters I already know and love would fall into that situation.  I know it is wrong for my characters and my story, but gosh darn it if it isn’t fun to imagine.

Where I struggle, is editing my draft.  Currently, I am in the third round of revisions on my novel and the first round of revisions on a short story. The process has seriously been crippling my writing.  Suddenly the words are clogged up, my ideas feel stale and my fingers hover above the keyboard too terrified to type because now they don’t have the freedom to put whatever they fancy on the page.

It should be easy. I should be able to patiently wade through the brutal first draft, making steady improvements. But I can’t! I want to take my caterpillar of a first draft and BOOM make it a butterfly, skipping the slow, steady, and BORING cocoon stage.  But, of course, that doesn’t work.  Sigh.

So how do we keep our fears of the filled page in check during the editing process?

  1. Edit in stages:  Just like you can’t write a perfect draft all at once, you can’t fix everything all at once either.  Start by editing one thing, plot, characters, and pacing are all good starting places.  If you improve just one thing on every round of edits you’ll avoid becoming overwhelmed and rage quitting on editing altogether.
  2. Get some help:  Writers, though solitary by nature, need buddies.  Find someone who will encourage you and point you in the correct direction when you lose your way.  It also helps to have a devoted fan.  Find someone who will only tell you positive things about your work, and send them sections whenever you need a boost.  They won’t help you with the fine tuning, but they will remind you that what your writing is already awesome, cause you are awesome.
  3. It’s ok if you make it worse:  Sometimes I’ll spend hours revising a scene, only to discover that my revisions are garbage.  It can be frustrating to ‘waste’ time this way, but often times the only way to know which path to take is by taking the wrong one first.  If your rewrites take you in the wrong direction that’s ok, you can rewrite it again.  Just as first drafts don’t need to be perfect, neither do your revision drafts.
  4. Take a break:  When editing gets you down it is ok to take a day, or a week working on something new.  I love jotting down a short story or typing up a blog post to refresh my creativity while I am in the editing trenches.  This mini timeout is usually the boost I need to push through an editing roadblock.

As both Kayla and I have discussed, writing is scary and every writer is going to struggle with different fears at different times.  More than that life is scary too (germs, dinosaurs and having to do my own taxes are some of my big non-writing fears) but we can’t let our fears keep us from living our lives, and living out our dreams.

What’s something scary that you have to do this week?  What can you do to make that task less intimidating?  As hard as editing is, it is a necessary step towards completing your novel.  Keep your chin up, your book is going to be fabulous.

Stay Amazing my Friends.

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 1: Comic-Con

Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events Part 1: Comic-Con

Last year I blogged about how fall is the best time of year for book events in the Twin Cities (for a blast from the past click HERE). This year is no exception! Welcome to the three-part series I will be devoting to this beautiful season and our marvelous lit community. Part 1: Comic-Con

Thank you, Midwest Comic Book Association, for bringing us the awesomeness of a Twin Cities comic-con every year without fail. MCBA is an all-volunteer organization. Without those comic book geeks, we wouldn’t have a con. Take a second to contemplate what a tragedy that would be. I love you TC comic book geeks! Never change.

The con is held at the State Fair grounds and is 100,000+ feet of comic book mayhem and goodness, over 200 guest creators, huge variety of comics/collectibles dealers, and free kid activities! Can I get a…

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MCBA will be celebrating 30 years of cons this upcoming spring, so mark your calendars for the sure to spectacular weekend of May 19th and 20th. I haven’t been attending the MCBAcon for thirty years or anything but I happen to be coming up on a decade since my first visit. I know this is going to make me sound old, but the con was a much different scene back then. My first time I brought the then 8- and 6-year-old little sisters. They loved it, one got a flash comic and the other got in trouble. Which is typical.

When I brought my sisters all those years ago they were anomalies. In fact, I was a bit of an anomaly. There were zero children and only a very small handful of young women.

It’s a much more tiny human-friendly event these days with designated kid areas and kid activities: coloring, photo ops, free stickers, all the things kiddies love.  And this year there were just as many women as men. The high rate of costuming made for an ocean of exposed breasts and thighs. Which is why the only pic that is safe for work is my little Batman with the poster-version Spiderman. Every other hero we posed with was nearly nude.

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The costumes really were out of this world. I’m talking all out cosplayers, handmade cloaks/weapons/armor, and a legion of storm troopers. I cannot begin to contemplate the level of sewing skills required for the marvels on display. There was a man who looked so much like Hagrid and was dressed so much like Hagrid that for a moment I truly believed that he was there to give me my letter and all these years in the muggle realm truly were a mistake. Sigh. He wasn’t there to give me my letter. But he may well have been the real Hagrid. We may never know.

Because I was a slacker and didn’t prepare until the day of, my kiddo wore batman pjs and I wore a TMNT t-shirt with a red bandanna because Raphael is the best. A Naruto scolded me for dressing the family in contradictory universes. Next year I’ll try to be more on top of it, Naruto, jeez.  

Little bats had the time of her short life. She was toddling around screeching with delight and waving at the fellow con-goers. She made lots of friends. I never made random friends at events the way I do with kiddo in tow. She’s like a magnet for happy, personable passersby. I highly recommended a baby as an accessory to all social misfits. It’s a sure way to make more friends than you can handle.

One woman I chatted with had an itsy-bitsy human tethered to her chest with one of those natural baby carriers. She told me that a few months ago she went to a con out of state and dressed up as pregnant Amy Pond. That lady was one cool mom. I’ll probably never be that cool, but the number one reason I love comic-con is because I get to rub elbows with the coolest, most magical, creative, awesome humans this side of Hogwarts.

As I wandered between the booths – ogling the art, admiring the new graphic novels, making friends, and taking in the novelty of professional drawings of dogs as superheroes – I realized how incredibly important, albeit downright wacky, this festival of comic and graphic books really is. Writers, artists, and fans come together for a day of fun and leave inspired to create new stories, new art, and new cosplays.

I walked away from comic-con inspired and dreaming of the year I’ll have a booth of my own, showing off my art and rubbing elbows with the local creators I’ve long admired.

There was a bit of poignant symmetry this year at comic con. My first year I was living at home, dreaming of college, and taking my little sibs out for a day of adventure. This year I’ve got my own kick ass adult life and the cutest baby in the universe.  Nearly a decade of con-going framed by two vastly different, but similarly inspiring, outings with tiny humans. Happy memories, happy present, and – if the force is with me – many more happy cons in my future.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Kayla Goes to Fall Lit Events!

Peace & Love,

Kayla

 

Here are a few links to some of the awesomeness I experienced at comic-con: insert hyperlinks

Writing Rules with guest writer Katie Zezulka

Writing Rules with guest writer Katie Zezulka

Big news guys!  Silversky Press in debuting our first ever guest post!  Introducing Katie Zezulka, here to shed some truth on the “writing rules” you think you need to follow, but really don’t.  Katie has been writing for 15 years (wowza that is a long time) and spends most of her time in the romance genre, though she also loves a good fanfic piece.  You can find some of her fanfiction here and you can check her out on facebook here.  Bonus, she’s also got a short story in the works that she will be sharing soon.

Now without further preamble, check out what Katie has to say about the Writing Rules!

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You can find rules about writing everywhere. Numerous authors and writing sites have lists of their top ten. They proclaim right and wrong, black and white as if writing isn’t a deeply personal experience. My list of writing rules is a little different because when it comes to writing there aren’t any rules! I am going to give you a list of common (and mythical!) rules and tell you why I don’t think they work.


  • False rule: If you want to improve your writing, write every day
  • Actual rule: Write when you can, and you will get better

You don’t need to write every day to be successful. I attended a conference a few years back and the speaking author, Anne Ursu, was asked if she writes every day. She responded no. She said some days, if she didn’t feel like writing, she would do other needed things, such as cleaning or laundry. That way, when she had inspiration, there was nothing stopping her.

That spoke to me. I completed NaNoWriMo and I did write every day that month, but I remember one day when I wrote maybe 60 words in half an hour. That is two words a minute people.

I can’t tell you how many times I have sat staring at a blank screen because I had nothing to say. It would have been more helpful to do the chores that needed to be done. That way, when the words were flowing from my fingertips I wouldn’t have to stop to wash the dishes or throw in a load of laundry.

This isn’t to say you should never sit there and make yourself write. That will happen more than you want to admit, but occasionally real life rears its head, so don’t beat yourself up. You can always write tomorrow when you might not have the urge to toss your computer out the window. Also, maybe life and kids make it so you are lucky to write once a week. Then simply write once a week. Don’t feel bad, you are already writing so much more than most people do.

You are a better writer every day you write, not only when you write every day.


  • False rule: Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialog and never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”
  • Actual rule: Don’t let your dialogue tags do all the work

Okay, this one has some logic behind it, but it is a simple, lazy way of preventing you from being lazy. Here’s what I mean.

“Don’t you dare walk away from me!” she screamed angrily.

“And don’t think you can tell me what to do,” he laughed back.

Now read this one.

She stomped her foot angrily. “Don’t you dare walk away from me,” she said.

Turning around he smiled at the sight of her standing there with a scowl and her hands planted on her hips.

“And don’t think you can tell me what to do,” he said.

The humor in his tone made her glare.

The idea is that when you use “said” you have to use actions as well. You have to show that she is angry, rather than just saying it. That leads to better writing. Show not tell and all that good stuff.

This is one of those rules that, once you understand it, can be broken. Of course, there are conditions to breaking this rule. The main one being keep your characters busy. Keep them moving and gesturing while they talk.

She stomped her foot angrily. “Don’t you dare walk away from me!” she raged.

Turning around he smiled at the sight of her standing there with a scowl and her hands planted on her hips.

“And don’t you think you can tell me what to do,” he retorted, the humor in his tone making her glare.

The second and third versions are basically the same except for the dialog tags. Keep characters moving and your writing can be great without using said a dozen times each page.


  • False rule: You need an outline before you start writing
  • Actual rule: Do whatever it takes to write the first draft

Here it is, the pantser vs planner debate. As a pantser I can guarantee whoever made this rule must have been a planner. I’m sure of it.

When I go into a piece, I do it with an idea, a few characters, and perhaps a setting. Nothing drawn out and nothing written down. Just bits in my head. A lot of the time I start with a scene somewhere in the middle and work from there. That works for me. I tried planning one year for NaNoWriMo and by the time I got to writing the story it wasn’t long enough and I got bored. I simply didn’t care about it anymore. As a result, I never finished it.

If you pants your work you should be prepared to do massive revisions not needed by planners. Your timeline might not add up and you might realize who your character is halfway through. You might even decide to chuck half the novel and rewrite it.

In the end, if having an outline works for you do that. If you want to go in with a single line of speech that is fine too.


  • False rule: The first draft of a book – even a long one – should take no more than 3 months, the length of a season
  • Actual rule: The first draft of a book should take as much time as needed – as long as you FINISH

The fact of the matter is a book is going to take however long it takes. Not everyone has the time to devote to writing an 80k word manuscript in 90 days. Also, not everyone writes in the same way.

The point of this rule is to not get hung up on things, but I would rather spend more time on something and have it be something I am proud of.

Still, always remember if you never finish a first draft you will never have a story you can do anything with. Spend the time you need shoveling sand in for the first draft, but you do need to finish shoveling if you’re ever going to build the castle. Make that the goal rather than giving yourself a timeline.


  • False rule: Work on one thing at a time until it is finished. Start no more new books
  • Actual rule: Be careful that voice, character, setting, etc. are unique to each story. Make sure nothing blends from one story to another

Like all rules, this one has a method to the madness. First off, it encourages you to finish what you start so you won’t have 3 dozen stories saved on your computer like some people do, cough me, cough cough.

Another thing it does is help prevent your characters and settings from bleeding together. If you have three stories going on at once that means at least three main characters and three different settings. You want each of your characters from different stories to stand out and be individuals. With so many main characters things can start to get fuzzy. It can be hard to keep straight which story has a woman seeking her dream job and which has a woman doing everything she can to hide from a traumatic past.

But sometimes I need a break from a story so I move on. Other times I am stuck and want to actually accomplish something, so I go to a story I do have ideas for. Or maybe I just wrote a really hard, heartbreaking scene and I need something light-hearted to distract me.  Find the right balance for you, Work on as many things as you feel you can, trying your best to actually finish what you start.

Final words of caution. It can be dangerous to follow every little plot bunny that hops by. Make note of plot bunnies for other stories somewhere, and only go deeper if you really have to. Also, you should avoid jumping around too much. Don’t work on more than one story in a day, and certainly don’t hop around during a single writing session. My advice is to take a break with something new when you need it, but never forget where you were. Always go back to your work in progress because nothing is more heartbreaking than writing for years and having nothing finished to show for it.


  • False rule: Write in the 3rd person unless a really distinctive 1st person voice offers itself irresistibly
  • Actual Rule: Tell the story how you think it needs to be told. No one knows it better than you do

It is easier to tell a story in 3rd person. You never have to worry about the reader not knowing things because the main character doesn’t know them. Still, sometimes, to find the right way to tell a story you have to try different angles. I have one piece I have rewritten twice, or maybe it was three times. I tried it in 3rd person and then in 1st person from two different characters.

My issue with this rule is that sometimes it isn’t clear how best to tell the story. Unless you play around with it you could miss something amazing.


  • False rule: If it is boring to you it is boring to your reader
  • Actual rule: You might need a beta reader to determine if your story needs some extra spice

You will reach a point where you wonder if your story is boring, or if the emotional scenes fall flat. You wrote it. You have read it countless times. Don’t even try to guess how many times it has played in your mind, because it is probably a million. You know who is going to die and that the shy kid in the back is going to save the day. You know the villain shows his heart of gold by the end, and you know who gets the girl. You are too close to guess how someone else is going to view your story. Good news! Beta readers are here to help with just that. Find a beta who reads your genre and let them take a look. Only by handing your story to a few pairs of fresh eyes will you know if it needs a little more zing.

Here are the “rules” you need to follow. Do what it takes to get yourself to write. If you want the TV on playing a movie on repeat for 3 days (me) great. If you want to write while listening to opera wearing some headphones to block out the real world, go for it. Face a blank white wall or stare out a window. Use a typewriter or a pen and paper. Write love stories or horror stories or children’s board books. Write every lunch break or maybe just Saturday morning while the kids watch cartoons. Wear a Santa hat or just your underwear. Use the word said or the word shouted. Write from any point of view. Write from EVERY point of view. Take a week to write a story or a decade. What matters is that it works for you. Nothing more and nothing less.

Thanks for reading our first guest post!  And a huge thank you to Katie for writing it!  Keep writing friends, we believe in you!

 

Kayla is Back with Thoughts on World Building

Kayla is Back with Thoughts on World Building

Hi everybody, Kayla here, anyone remember me? It’s been ages since I’ve been on the blog, sorry about that. But not really that sorry since you lucky ducks have had extra awesome Brooke posts in the meanwhile, and it doesn’t get much better than that, am I right?

This summer I put a hold on structured writing projects and took a break from blog deadlines so that my creative energy could focus on the launch of Mama Terra Gardens. That’s right people, I’m successfully self employed now!

Fortunately I am in a seasonal business and now that fall temps are moving in to kill the plants I get to scale back the garden design/install business and scale up the writing.

That means jumping back into revisions of Witch Girl right where I left off; world-building and the pursuit of making it feel real.

I know what you’re thinking – world-building is for writers of elf-dwarf fantasy and alien universes populated with space unicorns.

But guess what? It doesn’t matter if your protagonist is surviving high school or surviving a quest to Mordor – your story needs a well built, diverse world to be believable.

If you are writing a story then you are building a world.

And if you’re building a world, THEN BUILD A WORLD and make it a good one. A world is diverse, fascinating, real. A world is not a few towns, it is not one accent, it is not one race. That is what makes world building so downright overwhelming and why most writers shy away from fantastical worlds and beasts and socio-economic-political discords.

But world-building is also a lot of fun. As readers we love being transported to impossible, incredible places filled with characters we want to meet or be or strangle. And as writers there is nothing better than making a world come alive in your head and in your heart and then finally upon the page.

So yes, world-building can feel overwhelming, afterall a world is overwhelmingly diverse, but it doesn’t have to drive you crazy. You don’t have to pin down every far flung detail all at once (that’s a good way to drive yourself bonkers). Here’s a simply two part formula that works for me.

One: Start by identifying the core element in your story

The core element might be the main theme, the main character, or the BIG IDEA/AHA moment. The core element is the central beating heart of your story. It is the reason you wanted to tell this story in the first place and it is the reason you stick to this story when the going gets tough and the world building gets tricky.

Two: Spiral out

Once you have that core element, spiral out. Build upon the central idea with relevant details. Then build upon those details. Spiral outward until you have the bones of a world. Spiral out still further until you have the flesh. Your central idea is the pulse and your job is to give it a body.

I started Witch Girl with my main character powerfully alive and ready to live. It wasn’t difficult for me to build a world for my sassy protagonist Skara – teenage orphan/refugee turned runaway/tree-house-building/freedom-fighter. Her character was dynamic, her plot demanded setting and props and side-kicks. First I had my character and then I built  a world for her to inhabit.

Not every writer begins with character but the best worlds begin with a core idea/theme/character and spiral out from there. Building upon the big ideas with colorful, vibrant, sensual details that make the world real.

As you spiral out here are some things to consider:

RESEARCH:

Trust me, as you spiral out from your core idea the key is research. Research, research, research, research. Ok, once more so you know I’m serious, RESEARCH! You have to know everything you can know about a few things before you can even begin to layer in all the complexities of a world. Of course making things up is the goal, but you need to build the meat of your world on a skeleton of true info so people will understand and believe. Most writers of fantasy love non-fiction. They love military history, linguistics, obscure texts on petticoats… They love this stuff because it helps them write believable make-believe.

RELEVANCE:

Don’t get overly hung up on research. I mean…a petticoat is a petticoat and I’m not very interested in them. A big part of world building is choosing what details to focus on and when. Trust your readers, they can extrapolate quite a bit from a small tid-bit. That’s why I recommend keeping your core element in mind at all times and spiraling out from there. If the details are relevant to the core element they will push the narrative forward. Don’t slow your readers down with the irrelevantMost of the time we don’t need to know (or care to know) the weather patterns and pollen counts in the village two rivers over.

DIRECTION:

Even with your core element in sharp focus world-building can still feel daunting. Afterall, you could spiral out from any given element in hundreds, thousands, nay, infinite directions! The choices I made at this point of infinite possibility were mostly just about what I wanted personally, and that is a legitimate way to make a choice as a writer, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you want to write about petticoats then knock yourself out and don’t let the likes of me get in your way. So what do you want to talk about? Loss, love, birth, death, kissing? Or maybe the practical details of your world get you excited – family groups, funerary rites, currency, technology, recreation, food… I love writing about food. Do you have any idea how many speculative fiction books I’ve read where nobody ever eats anything? Too many. I personally would love to know what people eat in space or if werewolves are gluten intolerant. Also, why does everyone eat ‘stew’ in questing novels and what is in the stew?!?

Spiral out in the directions you find most interesting (and relevant). Then Research, refine, expand. Steal from the real world. Steal from Napoleon’s battle tactics. Steal from your parent’s year book. When it comes to world building, inspiration is literally all around you.

In summary, there’s a pretty simple formula that makes world-building less overwhelming. Start by asking yourself: What is the beating heart of this world I am making? What is the why? And then spiral out from there.

Best of luck on your world-building quests! I’d love to hear from you in the comments about your literary journeys into worlds beyond.

Peace & Love,

Kayla

 

 

Writing Takes Courage

Writing Takes Courage

This year I did something really crazy.  I published my first e-book.  It’s a short story titled “Expiration Date” you can find it here .  The first few hours after officially putting this story out there to the world I was excited.  I am officially a published author – self-publishing e-books is so simple – yay go me.

Then fear set in.

Why did I just do that?  What if the story wasn’t ready?  I know my story could have been better, I should have waited.  What will people think when they read this?  What if they think I’m weird?  What if they don’t want to read anything I write ever again?  What if they laugh at the typos I didn’t catch?  What if what if what if!

What’s funny is I’m not afraid of the criticism of strangers, we live in a judgemental world, and I know some people will hate my story and be mean enough to tell me about their dislike in a rude way.  I know I’ve done it before.  It’s easy to forget that behind every story good or bad there is an author who worked super hard and loves that story and feels heartbroken every time somebody insults it.  If I’m an author and forget this, how much easier is it for those that don’t write to forget this.

Much worse than a stranger’s criticism is the thought of having my close friends and family read my story.  These are people who know me, who I see on a regular basis.  I’m not worried about their insults, I’m worried about their hidden thoughts.  They may tell me my story is great while laughing at me on the inside.   What if they think I’m incredibly immature because of my ideas, or think my romance scenes are pathetic, or overall are just disappointed in me and think it’s cute that I’m interested in this writing thing but don’t think I’ll ever become a “real author”.

I know, a lot of those thoughts are a little dramatic, but I’m a writer, being dramatic is what I do.  

I wish I had a magic solution to this problem of fear.  I think all authors and all artists struggle with it.  Sadly, I don’t think we will ever get over our fear completely, but it never hurts to throw a little reason into the fear tornado either.

So next time you are afraid of what people will think of your writing, remember these things:

  1. Not everybody is a writer – They will be proud of you just for trying, and they won’t see all the flaws as clearly as you do, because it’s not how they are wired.  Just like if you don’t play sports you can’t tell an ok player from a great player, or if you don’t paint you can’t see the flaws in an artists technique the same goes for writing/reading.  Non-writers won’t notice the flaws in your story so don’t stress about it.
  2. You can learn a lot from failure – I published this book as an experiment, and in some ways, it’s good if I fail – because I can learn from it.  I intentionally didn’t spend an excessive amount of time on this story because I wanted to get it out there.  If you are going to fail, do it fast so you can get closer to success.
  3. Your friends and family love you – if the people in my life are going to secretly judge me behind my back then I haven’t picked very good people to share life with.  Knowing my friends and family they probably won’t have a single negative thought about anything because they love me and will be blinded to errors in my story by that love.
  4. This story doesn’t define you – This is my first published work!  If it stinks and gets terrible feedback that doesn’t say anything about me as a person or a writer.  I am always growing and changing, so what I send out into the world on one day cannot define me the next.  Just as the outcome of your first t-ball game doesn’t define what sort of baseball player you’ll be, neither does your first book.

I’ve been using these arguments to work up the courage to shout from the mountaintops that I’ve published an e-book and I’m charging money for people to read it because I take myself and my art seriously.  But the fear is still there.

That’s the thing about fear – it’ll always be there.  At some point, we have to have the courage to kick fear aside and do what needs to be done.

This whole post I’ve wanted to make excuses for my work in case it’s bad, but that’s not how you sell a story.  I loved writing this short, I think it is a fun and exciting tale that will leave you thinking. So I’m going to stand up for it.  This is an awesome story that I think you should read!  So feel free to buy it here, here and here 😉

Stay Amazing my Friends,

Love, Hate and Guilt

Love, Hate and Guilt

Summer has been crazy. You might have noticed Kayla and I have been a bit behind on our blog posts and for that we sincerely apologize. We do have some super exciting things coming up including a guest post and a “How To” on writing female characters! While getting these posts edited I was digging through my blog drafts and found this beauty that suffered the pitfalls of the editing spiral. I have rescued it from that dangerous whirlpool just for you all, feel free to applaud.

We’ve posted a lot of writer advice lately, which means it was high time for some fun, and what is more fun than talking about story elements that we love and story elements that we hate and story elements that we shouldn’t love but do. Not sure which is more fun to discuss, so here are my top three loves, hates and guilty pleasures when reading books.

Loves

1.) Romance: I love a good romance, where the characters are perfect for each other, when they pine after each other, help each other, rescue each other, and are better because of each other. There is a very fine line here where the romance gets too cheesy, or too unrealistic or just plain desperate, but when it is done right it is amazing and gets me every time.
2.) Fantasy: One of my favorite things about reading and writing is how it gives us all the ability to live lives we never will, or never could, live in the real world. When I read I want to be transported to a storyline that I couldn’t experience outside the pages of a book. Fantasy is the easiest way to do this, so I read a lot of it. But it’s not the only way. There are lots of good realistic fiction and even nonfiction books that can do the same. But the fantastic elements such as dragons and wizards and unicorns are always my favorite.
3.) Humor: I love unexpected humor in a book, those funny characters that brighten up a really serious scene, or books that don’t take themselves too seriously and allow their characters and worlds to be caricatures instead of real people. Fred and George Weasley from Harry Potter, The Martian, and pretty much every book I’ve read by Janet Evanovich are like this. With these books I’m not looking to gain some deeper knowledge about the world, I’m getting a quick and easy read that is an awesome adventure. This is also a good reminder to me as a writer to lighten up a bit. We don’t all have to write the next great American (or any other country) classic. Sometimes we can write purely for entertainment leaving behind all of the rules and just having fun!

Hates

1.) Love Triangles: These have not only been overdone, but they have been overdone poorly. Not only are love triangles unrealistic – what person in their right minds spends all of their efforts fighting over a person who can’t properly reciprocate their feelings of devotion – but they kind of make the feminist within me mad. It is almost always a girl in the middle of a love triangle with the males fighting over her like she is property. Newsflash, if you can’t pick one man, then probably neither of them is who you really want to be with and you can find someone better. Cut your losses and move on, you are better than this. Sorry, that got kind of ranty. I have read a few books that had done love triangles in a way I can tolerate, but in most cases I dislike them and have even stopped reading books because I saw a love triangle developing (I also hate these because the plot will revolve around the triangle and a love triangle does not a plot make). I know some people find love triangles romantic and wonderful and that is totally fine, they are just not for me.
2.) Descriptions that Don’t match Actions: This relates to characters in a book and how they are described. I really, really hate when a character is described as being super smart and thoughtful, but then spends the whole book making stupid choices. Or when characters are said to be confident, but then spend the whole book questioning their choices. I understand characters can change, but in the stories I’m talking about there is no progression. They are just described one way and then act another. I recently read this one book, that had this amazing plot and storyline and pretty much every element I love in a book, but the main character was described completely in contrast to how she acted. She was said to be a thoughtful, rational person who had been super sneaky and spent the past five years going full Mulan and posing as a soldier in the king’s army. But then, when her story began she immediately began making rash decisions and stupidly revealing herself as a girl to everyone she met. A character who had successfully lied about who she was for five years would not have made those choices! Grr, inconsistencies.
3.) Suspense Driven Plots- with no suspense: Ok, this is hard to summarize, but I went through a long streak this winter picking books that had this problem. It goes like this, a new boy moves into town he is mysterious and maybe a bit dangerous. The heroine is inexplicably (and I mean inexplicably) drawn to him he pushes her away at first but little by little she chips away at him. The whole time she is aware that something is off with him, he can do things regular people can’t do. And even though she knows he is bad news she continues to pursue him anyway. Then at the very end, when she finally gets a little self-esteem and demands to know what is going on, she discovers that her love interest is a werewolf or vampire or alien or fill in the blank. Now, I am aware this is a story trope, and on the surface it’s not too bad (besides the female character usually being a super obnoxious mary sue). My real hatred of this story is it takes the entire book for the heroine to figure out the male is a mythical character, but if the reader has done so much as look at the cover or, heaven forbid, read the back of the book they already know this. So, the reader is forced to endure endless pages of the female wondering what this male character is when they already know! It is supposed to be suspenseful and dramatic, but when the reader knows they are reading a vampire novel it is just boring and annoying. If the author had done this whole dance in the first three chapters of the book that would be fine, we could move on and enter into an interesting story right away instead of wasting an entire book just setting up the premise that a human and a fantasy being have fallen in love.

Guilty Pleasures

1.) Attractive Characters: I have probably been brainwashed by Hollywood, but I really enjoy reading about characters who are attractive. Even if a character is described as less than sexy, in my mind I always picture someone pleasant looking. I don’t love when everyone is described as perfection with super model builds, but I don’t mind when every character in a story is appealing with nice hair and a pretty smile. I know characters are supposed to be flawed, realistic and relatable and all that jazz, but I’m superficial and I like pretty things. Feel free to judge me.
2.) Happy Endings: I am a sap for a happy ending, even in a story that doesn’t need one. I also looove a good epilogue. I don’t want to be left hanging to imagine what happened to the characters after the book ends, I want to know how the author envisioned their happily ever after. I understand when books have sad or even neutral endings and I don’t hate it (unless the author does it literally for no reason besides shock value) and I can even enjoy a tragic ending when it really adds meaning to the story, but I almost always prefer a happy ending.
3.) Sequels, Sagas, and Series: These aren’t really bad things, they are just becoming a new norm, especially in YA fiction, which makes them sort of cliche and of course can get over done. But when authors write a good book, with great characters and keep coming up with different plot elements that work I love love love series. Once I am attached to a character I never want a story to end, and I would pretty much read about those characters mowing their lawns if that’s what the author wrote about.

What about you? What story elements do you love, hate, and hate to love? Tell us about them in the comments below.

Stay Amazing my Friends,

5 Lies Authors Need to Stop Believing

5 Lies Authors Need to Stop Believing

As writers we all doubt ourselves from time to time.  Writing stories is hard, messy, overwhelming and overall insane.  Imagine if pregnant moms had to piece their babies together by hand, every cell, every bone, every organ and get it all in the right place – that is essentially what we as authors do.  I would totally go for growing a book in my belly and having it come out perfectly formed 9 months later.  Hmmm….interesting alternative universe idea right there.

Anyways……

Because the writing process is so difficult we start to doubt ourselves.  Can we really do this?  Are we good enough?  And we begin to believe lies about ourselves and our writing.  I am here to tell you these lies need to stop!  You, dear author, are amazing.  Your story is amazing and you can do this.  

Here are the five doubts and lies you need to stop believing so you can start loving yourself and your writing.

1.) You’re Only a Real Author/Writer if You are Published:  This lie could not be farther from the truth.  Listen to me.  If you write (once a year or once an hour) then you are a writer.  You are an author if you write.  Even the dictionary says so.  

 Stop saying you are an “aspiring author”, stop putting down your stories.  Be proud of who you are, what you write, and where you are in the writing process.

 2.) To be a successful writer you need a degree:  This is a real insecurity for me.  I don’t have any formal education in writing, and sometimes that creates a lot of self-doubt.  After all, I’m competing against other authors who have master’s degrees in creative writing, and others who know all the grammar, structure, and styling rules inside and out.  I was educated on the taxonomy of invertebrates #lifeskills.    The only way to combat this self-doubt is with a serious reality check.  You do not need to be formally educated in something to be successful at it.  Were your parents formally educated in raising you?  No?  You turned out pretty okay (I mean I assume so since you are reading my blog).  Was Oprah formally educated in running a talk show?  Was George Washington formally educated about how to start a new country?  Was your cat formally educated on how to be the cutest thing in the whole wide world?  No, no, and no!  A formal education is great, but it doesn’t equal success.  Do you know how many writers have a formal degree but spend their days sitting at a desk job?  Me neither, but I bet it’s a lot.  More important than education is drive.  If you have the drive, determination, and grit you’ll make it.  The skills will come.  What matters more than your knowledge is your character. NOT the characters you create, but you.  Beautiful, wonderful, amazing you!  If you want this you won’t let anything stand in your way.  Still don’t believe me?  Check out these successful authors who all made it in the publishing world without writing degrees: Harper Lee, Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Danielle Steele, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.

3.) You’ll Never Finish:  As I’ve mentioned before, writing books is a lot of work.  It can feel like an insurmountable hill.  There will always be edits to make, things to improve.  It can start to feel like you won’t ever be done with your story.  This isn’t a lie I permanently believe, but it is one that can really discourage me in moments of weariness.  The finish line can seem so far away that I can’t see the path that will lead me there.  The good news is we don’t need the whole path right now.  We just need our next step.  Not the big next step, the small one.  If I write this sentence, what sentence comes next.  That is it.  Word by word, line by line, page by page you will build your book and you will finish.  It might take 1 year, it might take a lifetime.  I promise it will be worth it, don’t give up.  You’re almost there.

4.) You can’t write because your writing isn’t good enough:  This lie is similar to the lie we tell ourselves about a degree, but can be so much more crippling.  That feeling of fear you get as you stare at the blank page, hating every word you try to put down, comes from this lie.  Every writer experiences this, and do you know what that means?  Every writer hates the way they write.  We are all in the same boat with this one and I have three notes of encouragement for you.  

  • The more you write the better you’ll get.  You might have a 6th-grade education and an idea to completely rip off your favorite novel.  Write that.  Write it terribly, write it shamefully, write it so awfully that it doesn’t even make sense when you reread it.  Then, keep writing, the next story you attempt will be better.  You will start at the bottom, but it will get better from there.  The only way to get better is to practice.
  • You don’t have to do this alone.  Do you ever read the acknowledgments section of books?  I always love reading that part, because it reminds me that every author needs a team.  No author writes, “I’d like to thank myself because I did all this on my own, oh and maybe my cat, she’s cute.”  No, often they have so many people to thank they can’t include all the names.  They have editors, beta readers, cheerleaders, mentors, publicists, and so much more.  You don’t have to bring your story to the finish line on your own.  Find your team.
  • You have a biased viewpoint about writing.  You can only read books written by other writers.  It is physically impossible to read something that wasn’t written by someone. That’s hard.  This means that we are only exposed to the champions of our field.  We read these completed works and think there is no way I can ever do that.  But, reading published books and thinking you are terrible in comparison is like these Olympic swimmers thinking they are awful compared to Katie Ledecky.swimming    We see that they are in the pool at the Olympics, they just see the bubbles from Katie’s feet. We need to remember that most of the people who read our books don’t also write.  They are just readers, on the sidelines.  As writers we are all in the Olympic pool, and that’s pretty darn amazing.

5.) My Story Doesn’t Matter:  Sometimes it can be hard to see how one story in a sea of books could actually be worth writing.  There is no book shortage, there aren’t even any truly original ideas for stories out there anymore.  Why spend so much time and effort just to add one more story to all the noise?  This lie and the following train of thought steals the joy you get from writing, and all the hope your story possesses.  Even in a world full of stories, yours matters.  You are a unique individual and even if you wrote the exact same plot as another thousand stories, you would tell it differently and your version would have value.  Your story might struggle to make it farther than your computer, it still has value.  You might be the next J.K. Rowling, that story matters too.  You might write a serious piece about the political climate of our world, that matters.  You might write werewolf romance novels full of bad puns and teen drama, that matters too.   Your story matters because you matter.  

Writing is hard, but it’s your passion and mine.  So, we soldier on, stop believing the lies, and write write write.

Do you have any lies about writing you are sick of hearing?  How do you boost your writer confidence?  This feels like a place to insert a sappy quote, but I think this post is sappy enough.

Stay amazing my friends,

Books & Beer

Books & Beer

There’s an old writing maxim, often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, that will forever wed the worlds of beer and books: Write drunk, Edit sober. 

A recent Twin Cities event dared to re-imagine that old quote: Write sober….Market drunk.

Ladies and gents, may I introduce you to the Books & Beer Pop-up Bookstore. Love books? Love beer? Love meeting local authors? This is the event for you.

Mid-May I popped in to see the pop-up (hey, you’ve read this blog long enough to know some amount of shameless word play is to be expected) and an impressive line up of Minnesota authors were in attendance. Now, most (not all) writers of literature are painful introverts but the authors at this event were chatting happily over their pints, promoting books, and acting unnaturally extroverted. I think the beer had something to do with it. Hence the new maxim: Write sober, Market drunk

Some Kayla trivia of the day, my favorite things start with B. Baths, bikes, books, blog, beer, baby, oh yeah and Brooke of course. I could go on (but I won’t, you’re welcome). This seemingly incongruous event combined three of my favorite B’s in one awesome literary evening: Books, Beer, and Baby.

The baby was, of course, optional. Husband and I both wanted a beer, and a babysitter – yes, another favorite B – could not be obtained on this particular evening.  But we were not the only parents desperate enough for a creative book-beer pairing to venture out of doors with an infant/toddler. No indeed. Three tiny humans under the age of two were in attendance and Lake Monster Brewing  had a child play area set up. Way to be inclusive Lake Monster! Sweet babies, please take from this experience a love of books and do not grow up to be drunks.

With dark beer in hand and husband/baby in tow, I browsed the long tables and mingled with  Minnesota authors who had set up shop. It was an awesome experience and I took home an important lesson: Drinking local is fun, reading local is awesome.

Our  community is home to so many talented folks. I met fantasy novelists with epic trilogies for sale, youthful poets, and writers of every genre imaginable. I was duly impressed. It was inspiring to see local authors, many self-published or published with small, local presses, confidently promote their books. Many offered friendly words of encouragement when they found out I too was a writer. I am happy to know that when my book is ready I have a warm, open-hearted community to share it with.

Readers and writers connecting, personally and intimately over a brewksi, is not a common occurrence. We often connect over the internet while remaining isolated in reality. But for most of human history storytellers were part of the village. They were community members, just like their listeners. They weren’t celebrity stars who lived far away in a Manhattan tower – inaccessible, unknowable, glamorous – they were your neighbors, regaling you with tales over fermented beverages. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still love connecting over fermented beverages. We still love stories, particularly when we know the teller.

Go to Paris, Rome, St. Petersburg, New York or any other literary hub and you’ll find café bars where great writers, past and present, started their day with a caffeine hit and moved on to something stronger. Perhaps Lake Monster is destined to be the next Les Deux Magots. I for one hope beer and books become regular and happy bedfellows in our literature community.

The Books & Beer Pop-up Bookstore created an atmosphere where writers and readers could enjoy good books, good drinks, and the company of fellow booklovers and I can’t wait for the next event later this summer. Stay tuned on SS Press and I’ll let you know when it’s happening.

If you’re in need of a book to pair with your favorite beer, check out the local authors who participated in the Pop-Up:

PARTICIPATING AUTHORS:
Kimberlee Ann Bastian
Kate Bitters
Julien Bradley
Scott Burtness
W.S. Datko
J.D.Delzer
Anthony Eichenlaub
Jeff Falkingham
William Fietzer
Angeline Fortin
Kara Jorges
Kim Kane
Briana Lawrence
Catherine Lundoff
Patrick W. Marsh
Annie Meehan
Kenneth E. Olson
Dave Oppegaard
Marcie Rendon
Sam Richard
Ozgur K. Sahin
Jeff Smieding
P.V. Tkach
Tony Writ

Indie First! Buy Books Local

Indie First! Buy Books Local

Independent Bookstore Day is a one day national party celebrating indie bookstores and local book culture. Every year on the last Saturday in April indie bookstores open early and play host to author appearances, live music, doughnuts, costume contests, readings, temporary tattoos, and…literary condoms. That last one is a real thing.

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Yep, the Indie Bookstore scene in the Twin Cities sure is virile. For the second year in a row the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association has printed an Indie Bookstore Passport for the big day. This year 18 booksellers signed up to be included and book lovers like yours truly spent the day collecting stamps, earning coupons, entering drawings, participating in events, and eating free doughnuts.

Everyone who collected five stamps won a limited edition Twin Cities bookstore map created by Kevin Cannon. Check out this beauty:5e41d9c335802ffc7f0736c8f3da5465

I scored an artsy map, was entered into some pretty sweet drawings, and collected eleven stamps for my passport. That means 11 bookstores in one day with baby in tow. It was a marathon but baby loved it and so did I. We visited many of my favorite shops – Magers & Quinn, Once Upon a Crime, Dreamhaven, Moon Palace Books – and had a blast with face painting, folk dancing, door prizes, bookshop bingo, A Wrinkle in Time read-a-thon (baby loved this especially, that a girl), temporary tattoos, and tasty treats. Besides visiting my favorite places I also discovered a few shops I’d never heard of – Birchbark, Addendum, and Paperback Exchange.

Indie Bookstores aren’t just for in the know hipsters. They stock all the mainstream, pop culture, and YA novel dorkiness you crave. Speaking of which, young adult lovers must check out Addendum. Get this, it’s a bookshop solely devoted to the awesomeness of YA!

If you can believe it all eleven of the shops I visited were within a six mile radius of my house. I am so spoiled. We really do have one of the best literary scenes in the world. Next year baby will be a lot sturdier and I’m hoping to bike us between the shops.

There’s growing public awareness and support for independent businesses. The buzz around buying local is loud and getting louder, but are we being loud enough? Not many among us are willing to call out the biggest threat to local bookstores – Amazon.

Amazon is the evil Empire to the Independent Bookstores Luke Skywalker.

Amazon.com is responsible for a third of online sales, and that number is growing every day. This triumphant success is owed to unfair business and labor practices. I’ve attached an infographic at the end of this post if you want more details.

Melville House was one of the first independent publishers to confront Amazon  over predatory and escalating fees assigned to small publishers, as well as the clandestine war on the publisher Hachette, which it carried out by deliberately delaying shipments and hiking prices. Not cool, Amazon. Melville House is now speaking out against Amazon’s  new physical bookstores, which they take issue with because they don’t employ booksellers. I find Amazon’s aggressive efforts to dodge the collection of sales tax particularly distasteful.

Amazon isn’t your buddy. It’s a giant monopoly that will stoop real low to make a profit.

To avoid sounding overly negative I’d like to be fair and point out some of Amazon’s redeeming qualities. It is the biggest book retailer in the world and they get books to places that people used to not be able to get books. I’m all about books getting into hands! And almost every indie author over the past three years has gone into business online, where they can cheaply and easily publish their work as e-books. I’m all about the empowerment of self publishing! (Shameless plug to please support SS Press’s own indie author Brooke Stewart on Amazon!)

I’m not saying NEVER shop at amazon, I’m just saying shop at indie bookstores MORE. Amazon is wreaking havoc on the book industry and local book culture. It’s a challenging economic climate. If we book lovers don’t support the bookstores than they’re going to disappear.

Independent bookstores are not just stores, they’re community centers run by passionate book lovers who want nothing more than to spread the joy of reading. When you enter an indie bookshop you enter a carefully tended universe of ideas, adventure, and serendipity. They are lively performance spaces, with our Twin Cities shops offering weekly readings, signings, live music, children’s storytime, and family games. Indie bookstores connect authors and readers and foster a book-loving community in a way that Amazon never can and never will.

If we support the local shops then they will flourish, grow, expand, multiply. And that’s the kind of world I want to live in. That’s the world I’ll be voting for with my money.

If you’re journeying into the wild waters of self-publishing consider other options besides Amazon. Did you know that you can buy eBooks at your favorite indie shop? All you need is a Kobo eReading app on your device and you can buy eBooks through many independent bookstores in Minnesota. And when you self publish on Kobo your readers can support an indie shop when they buy. In my experience indie shops are also very open to physical copies. I’ve approached local Moon Palace Books and Boneshaker Books and they’re both willing to take on a short comic or story (in the form of a zine) on a consignment deal. Small peanuts, I know, but it will get my stuff out there and gain me connections with local booksellers, a valuable ally.

Choose local whenever possible. You can bypass big business in favor of local entrepreneurs by: choosing farmers market over target, local cafe over caribou, and family bookstore over amazon.

You don’t have to do it every time, but a little effort from all of us will go a long way.

If you’re tempted by the price at Amazon, check with your local shop, their prices are competitive too. In my experience the local place is never more than a dollar or two over what Amazon is offering. A few extra bucks  from your wallet is worth it when you think of the local jobs provided and the awesomeness of having a corner shop in your hood. And if your local place doesn’t have a book in stock they’ll order it for you. I’m on a first name basis with a few shops and I love that. They treat me like family and I return the favor.

“Consumers control the marketplace by deciding where to spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”

― Ann Patchett, bestselling author and co-owner of Parnassus Books, an Independent Bookstore for Independent People

I’d love to hear about your favorite bookstores, shoot me a comment with any recommendations both here and abroad. If you’re not sure where to find a store near you check out the Indie Bookstore Finder

Here’s that infographic I promised about the evilness of Amazon:
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An Hour a Day is Better than No Hours a Day

An Hour a Day is Better than No Hours a Day

photo

Brooke and I are big NaNoWriMo enthusiasts and we write about it a lot here at SS Press…so if you’re sick of reading about NaNo then this isn’t the post for you. Because I’m going to talk about Camp NaNo like the happy little camper I am. Ok, you’ve been warned.

It is day 30 of Camp NaNoWriMo and I just hit the validate project button. Boo-ya.

More than any other NaNo, this Camp helped me start and maintain a daily writing habit. And, yeah, I know I should have developed such an obviously useful and wonderful habitude before now, but hey, better late than never.

I got a lot done this month and the only thing that changed is that I shifted my focus from writing a lot (word count) to writing often (hour count).

My goal was to write one hour a day, everyday in April. That might not seem like much, but that’s the point! One hour a day is only .0416% of the month. The thought was if worst came to worst on a busy day I could always just stay up an extra hour after the family went to bed. One hour of sleep isn’t a lot to sacrifice. I mean, in college I would do anything for an extra hour of sleep but I’ve evolved since then.

Not only did I write everyday, but something magical happened, as something magical ought to do when you plunge into the ocean of imagination, sometimes when I sat down to write an hour…I ended up writing 2…or 3…or 6! Yep, sometimes all you need to do is show up and let the magic happen. And of course there were days when I forced an hour and quit as soon as the timer hit 60 minutes, but more days than not I got on a roll and just kept rolling.

Here’s how it worked. By showing up everyday I developed discipline. When developing a new skill or ability the key is not how much you do it, it’s how often. If you start out spending an exorbitant number of hours in one sitting you’re going to burnout. When a person goes to the gym for the the first couple times, should they A) Workout all day pumping the iron, or B) Do several short workouts a week. B, of course. If this gym newbie gives their wimpy virgin muscles time to heal and grow they’re going to see results, and if they hit the gym a couple times a week and keep that up for a month or two they’ve got a habit. And pretty soon they’re going to be working out for longer stretches and then, voila, you’ve got a Hulk look-a-like.

Here’s advice for those of you struggling to build discipline and form habits:

Don’t write a lot. Just write often. 

Habits practiced once a week aren’t habits. They’re obligations. Like calling your mom. And if you only do something once a week it’s likely only a matter of time before you stop doing it altogether. Unfortunately writing isn’t like your mom. It’s not going to hunt you down and mercilessly attack with disappointed mom face until you are sufficiently guilt ridden and ready to give her as much quality time as her majesty demands. (Mom, in case you are reading this you are an angel and this paragraph is pure FICTION)

Show up, do the work. It’s that simple.

And yeah, it’s also that hard. But I did some amazing stuff this month, and trust me you’ve got an hour per day. It’s only .0416% remember.

Peace & Love, Kayla