The McCallister Series – Review

Full disclosure time! I signed up to review the four books in the McCallister Series through Silver Dagger Book Tours. They provided me with Kindle copies of each of the books in exchange for my honest review on my blog, on Goodreads, and on Amazon.

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The McCallister Series is a 4-book mystery series by Canadian author, L.V. Gaudet.  She also writes under the pen name Vivian Munnoch. She has 7 books published as L.V. Gaudet and 2 as Vivian Munnoch.

The McCallister Series focuses on a serial killer in a small, semi-rural city. She writes in a way that allows you to see inside the killer’s head without revealing his identity until the end of book 1.

 

McAllister 1 - Where the Bodies Are_372x600Where the Bodies Are – The McAllister Series Book 1

This book begins with a body in an alley but the girl isn’t dead. Jane Doe is kept in a medical coma in the hospital while police work to find her identity – and stop the steadily rising body count.

L.V. Gaudet writes several scenes from an unknown POV – the killer’s. Referred to only as “he” or “the man”, we get to see inside his head without discovering his identity – we get to watch his mental deterioration and see what is driving him.

The pressure really starts to build when Jane Doe goes missing from the hospital and the police find a massive burial site with bodies dating back generations.

 

McAllister 2 - The McAllister Farm_377x600The McAllister Farm – The McAllister Series Book 2

Book 2 takes place almost a full generation before book 1 – but to avoid spoilers I strongly suggest reading book 1 first.

The McAllisters live on a small farm on the edge of a small but growing town. They keep to themselves. William McAllister, the father, goes out of town often on business trips.

This book takes us into the mind of the man who one day creates a serial killer when he’s still an impressionable boy and examines the circumstances around his childhood and early adulthood. This book answers a lot of the backstory questions from book 1.

McAllister 3 - Hunting Michael Underwood_373x600Hunting Michael Underwood – The McAllister Series Book 3

Michael Underwood was introduced in book 1. He is a police officer, and he was working undercover as an orderly at the hospital where Jane Doe was being cared for. It was his job to keep an eye on her in case the killer returned.

Now, both Jane Doe and Michael Underwood are missing and it’s up to Jim McNelly, the detective working the serial killer case in book 1, and Lawrence Hawkworth, a newspaper reporter, to track down both missing people. Both men are convinced there’s more going on, things they aren’t seeing. They have one man in custody, but there are too many questions unanswered yet.

McAllister 4 - Killing David McAllister_391x600Killing David McAllister – The McAllister Series Book 4

In the series finale, L.V. Gaudet wraps up multiple loose ends over multiple story arcs. What becomes of David and Jason McAllister? What about the rest of their family? What is Jane Doe’s fate (I don’t want to post spoilers here so I won’t refer to her by name)? Will justice be served and in what form, or will the killer escape to disappear and become someone new?

The clock is ticking and always there is the fear of another body.

 

 

REVIEW

I have individual reviews of each book posted to Goodreads. I’ve given each book 4 out of 5 stars.

My main reason for the 4 star rating was the simple, often repetitive language of the books. The pacing, story, and mystery were all great, but I found often a word was used twice in a sentence (and not words like ‘the’ or ‘a’), or twice in consecutive sentences.

I found the author’s habit of writing each chapter from a different 3 person POV made it hard to connect to the characters. The chapters were short – you never got to spend enough time with any character to build rapport, and a few times, you were with a POV character only once through the book. I felt I didn’t know anything about the police office, Jim McNelly, or his assistant, the undercover officer, Michael Underwood, or the nurse caring for Jane Doe.

Book 2 was better for character building because it focused less on twisting the reader through a mystery and more on the development of the characters.

Book 3 returned to the POV shifting, but now that I knew more backstory and now that I was further in the series I was able to pick up a little more about the characters.

The series is written in the present tense, which made things interesting. I’m not used to that. It wasn’t bad – she writes it consistently and avoids the major pitfalls of that style choice. I just found that because I’m not used to third person present tense it was difficult to slip into.

Overall I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a dark mystery. There are some gruesome descriptions of dead bodies throughout so I wouldn’t categorize this as a cozy mystery.

 

Thank you to Silver Dagger Book Tours for arranging this review tour and providing the pictures and needed files.

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A Long Time Coming

Way back in high school (okay, I’m not that old but it was half a lifetime ago) I met this girl and somehow, even with me being a complete dufus and so socially awkward it was past laughable, we became best friends.

She started this story with her two best friends from middle school who she didn’t see anymore, sort of as a way to keep them all together. She added me to it and eventually, the other two were dropped.

We started putting real work into it, instead of just “wouldn’t it be cool if we were princesses from another planet!” We created a map (she drew it, I did the labelling), a language, cultures, races, magical systems, and an entire history. We worked on it so much that she’d dream about it at night. She’d tell me the dreams and I’d record them, compiling them and blending them to create a consistent story line.

We tried a comic adaptation but that didn’t work out.

We started work on a novel but the story shifted too much.

And then we graduated.

I kept tinkering with the world and the story and we’d meet up every few months to chat about it and hash things out. I got married and had kids. She got an awesome career. And at some point, our world was put on a shelf.

Until now.

With her permission, I took it down, dusted it off, and started cleaning up the mess of storylines and versions and adaptations we’d created.

I’m now working on book 3 in the series that we always dreamed of writing. And you can learn all about it here.

The world is called Thelara. The series is called The Zoedavian Chronicles. And her name was Steph. I wish I could see more of her but kids, work, books, friends … life has gotten in the way. But I hope, someday soon, she and I will be getting together for drinks to celebrate the publication of the story we once dreamed of writing.

The Power of People

Writing is a solitary endeavour. Writers are required to sit down in front of their writing implement of choice for extended periods of time and write. We need at least moderate isolation so we have the focus we need to string letters into words and words into sentences and sentences into stories. Fiction or non-fiction, any genre, it’s really the same story.

Sure, there’s the getting out and getting inspiration part of writing. Reporters need things to report on. Novelists must experience or at least listen to human conversation so they can translate those interactions into their stories in some way. We need to hear and see and taste and touch things. But the actual writing? Mostly solitary.

Organizations like National Novel Writing Month do seek to make the writing more communal with an online group and with local write-ins and gatherings. But even when we sit in a huge room full of people all writing, we are all isolated in our own worlds doing our own writing.

Our stories are intensely private. For writers of fiction we are creating people, worlds, cultures, you name it, out of thin air, out of thought and will. We are magic. We are powerful.

And we are stuck, alone, in a world no one else knows anything about. Because no one else has seen it yet. We’re still writing it, still creating it.

But creation cannot happen in isolation. I’m discovering that more with each passing project.

My biggest project to date – the Zoedavian Chronicles – is teaching me this. I’ve been working on this project for years. At first I was working with a dear friend, but she stopped writing fiction and moved on with her life and left me full control of this world we’d been crafting. To be honest, she was the flash-point of creation, the one who put forth the ideas and the creatures and the snippets of plot and person. I was the chronicler, the sorter. I was the one who asked the questions that allowed us to meld these shards and scraps into a quilt. Together we were building raw inspiration into a coherent world.

But I don’t have her to work with anymore. She has moved on and I rarely see her. This story was too good to be abandoned. And so I worked through the raw material, picking and choosing, changing and reordering, adding and subtracting, until I had something strong and unique and cohesive. It wasn’t right yet, it wasn’t done, but it was a strong start.

A few months ago I printed off the first 100,000 words and gave them to friends of mine. They read it over and we started working through the draft, pulling apart the story again, rebuilding it in a way that left it even stronger. I was hoping it would make it leaner too, but that was not to be. Instead the story has grown again and again and maybe once more.

I just spent 10 hours at my friends’ apartment pouring over drafts and outlines and time lines and maps. We hammered out several huge holes in the plot and timeline. We sorted out 8 cultures, magic systems, and religions. And we have about 8 more hours of work to do on the balance of power between one of the churches and the king. This is work I never would have been able to do alone. This is work that needed more than one set of eyes, more than one sparking point to create, more than one set of ears listening for discrepancies, and more than one sense of humour.

I’m glad I found my people, the ones that will sit with me for an entire day and sort out the implications of allowing a 13th century style culture educate their women, what happens to global climate when you change the land-to-water ratio, what happens when you forget that North isn’t actually the top of this map, and what happens when you have 3 moons. I’m glad because I get stuck in a rut. This is the way it is. I forget to ask “yeah, but what if” and they are glad to ask it. And because they ask it the story has grown some very unique and new features that I look forward to exploring.

Of course I have to finish the Rose Garden books before I can progress with the Zoedavian Chronicles (a working title only). And I will. I worked out what was giving me writer’s block on Rose from the Ash the other day too. With a little help from my friends.

PIECES COVER REVEAL

Long story about this cover. This is a novel, in part, about the pieces that make up community. The first idea for a cover was images of community, friends hanging out, a family at Christmas, etc, and each image was a puzzle piece. Cute, right? A jigsaw mosaic?

My graphic designer (who is also my talented and exceedingly patient sister) vetoed that. Too busy. Too difficult. The images will be too small.

Fine.

Second idea. A school photo of the main character with a jigsaw overlay and the pieces near the bottom falling apart. We tried it a few times. We couldn’t find the right image. Her expression was wrong. Everyone in my support team vetoed that idea.

Okay. Deep breath.

My sister came up with the idea of taking the first idea and omitting the jigsaw overlay. She made it look like Instagram instead. Or Pinterest. Only we still couldn’t get the right images. And it was too busy. And my husband thought it looked unprofessional, like a cover for a family memoir or a photo album.

After a ten minute squabble with my husband we finally talked a little about the book itself and he comes up with this idea of a shattered picture frame. A photo of the sisters’ hands, them holding hands, and the photo being in a broken frame on the floor.

Shit.

So simple. So exactly what I needed. And here’s why.

Rachel grabbed the framed photo from her bedside table and waved it at her mother. “She was my sister! My only sister.”

“That’s enough!” her mother screamed, lashing out with one hand.

The picture went flying and hit the only clear spot on the floor. The glass cracked. The frame split at the corner.

“Rachel, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“Get out of my room!”

She hesitated, ready to say something more, but she turned away instead. As the door clicked shut Rachel dropped to the floor in tears. Carefully she picked up the broken frame. There was no saving the glass but the frame didn’t look too bad. Maybe some glue would fix it. I have to be able to fix it. As she pulled the photo out a piece of paper fell in her lap. With trembling fingers she picked it up and unfolded it.

So I talk to my friend and marketing guru about a photo of two girls holding hands, just elbows down, outdoors, summer-y. He says he has something and will dig through his old stock photos to find it for me. I get back to the computer that evening to a cover. Not a photo. A cover.

And damn if it isn’t the right cover.

I will take a moment to side-step the topic at hand and make a note about graphic designers. They only do what you ask them to do. When it came to making what I asked for, my sister did it exactly right. I just wasn’t asking for the right thing and I didn’t know what I wanted. I was the worst kind of client. So, cover artists out there, be assured, I paid her for the half dozen mock-ups she made for me because she spent a lot of time and effort trying to translate a cloudy vision into a clear reality.

Okay. So, this isn’t the first time I’ve paired up with this graphic artist, marketing guru, illustrator (and he cleans my computer too!). His name is Andreas Ganz and he illustrated my children’s book.

garbage can

Everyone who has picked up Nelly-Bean and the Kid Eating Garbage Can Monster at sales these last few months, even just to look, has commented on the quality of the illustrations. “Eye-catching.” “Cute.” “My grandson would love this.”

He’s currently illustrating a book for my editor, Angil Grafton and then he will be illustrating the sequel to Nelly-Bean and the Kid Eating Garbage Can Monster (titled Nelly-Bean and the Missing Bear).

And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Drum roll please. An instant success. A cover for a best seller if I ever saw one. Here it is. Pieces, by Casia Schreyer. Cover by Andreas Ganz.

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When your boss is a slave driver …

… and you’re your own boss.

That’s self-publishing in a nutshell I guess. You set your own deadlines and you force yourself to stick to them. And then you fall behind and you work your ass off trying to catch up but life has a way of throwing everything at you when you near a deadline.

My next novel, Pieces, is a prime example.

I set the publishing date for late 2015. I didn’t finish the second draft until yesterday. Two months behind and counting. And I could have done it, really, but life got in the way.

I picked up two freelance contracts to fill in the gaps in my income. I started a new job that was supposed to be casual, 20 hours a week tops, for the summer – it turned to 40 hours every week by the beginning of August, but JUST for the summer. And in September it was a full-time permanent job. And I went back to school.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I love the ladies I work with, and it’s good to have a regular paycheck. And I really do enjoy being a student. But it pushed the writing down the list a little and as my own boss I could let it go.

Two months behind schedule and counting. Sheesh.

At least it gave my cover artist more time to deal with some design issues. And it meant my editor had time to switch day-jobs and get the renos on her apartment taken care of before I needed her. And now the marketing guy has time to do an animated gif ad (I didn’t even know this was a thing). So it all worked out in the end.

But I’m still kicking myself. Because I could have done it on time. I could have gotten that one more book published in 2015. Now I’ll really be pushing it in 2016 to get a novel, two novellas, and two kids books out. The kids books are written at least, just waiting on illustrations. The first novella is halfway through the first draft. The novel is started. I have a schedule. I can do this.

Of course I am a student and that means homework and exams for the next two years so who knows if this doable schedule will stay doable for any amount of time.

And those are the trials and joys of self-publishing and trying to work and raise a family while self-publishing. You push yourself as hard as you can, because  you’re the boss and you have to push. But you miss deadlines and that’s okay too, because you’re the boss. Boss.

Nothing, Everything, Nothing – Update

I finished my novella at just under 40k and sent it off to a close friend for a good read through. I was so pleased with the response that I have to share it here:

Dearest Casia, I have read this now 3 times and am having a terrible time editing it … to be honest having suffered from depression for a great deal of my life I didn’t feel that the severity of the angst of a teen confronting this illness was adequately relayed. I had to put it down and really lay aside my own experiences and reread it coming form the prospective of a teenage girl living in the time of Facebook. I am always astonished by your writing, the characters are really engaging, the conversations so real sometimes I forget we are in a book going somewhere. I find myself wanting to get to know more about who mom, or Marlee are as individuals, sometimes even more than I am about where the story itself is going. If that says anything at all it is that you need to be writing novels. you need a much broader canvas. In the end however it feels like an outline, like there is a deeper darker story here, as a reader I felt denied. As a friend I can tell you this is the hardest topic to write about, I have not succeeded. I think that takes a courage and vulnerability I am not graced with. After reading your story I found myself incredibly upset over Rehtaeh Parsons and Megan Meier (again) and outraged at the number of similar stories. This is why its important to write about. Spell and gram check says its okay… you seriously don’t want me checking that

As you can see, not exactly a glowing “Go publish that puppy” sort of review, but it may be the most helpful set of comments I’ve ever received. Taking the first comment to heart, I was worried that the experiences, and there for the depth of the suffering, of the main character were rushed. That ties in to the next critical comment – that it felt like an outline and that it should be longer.
Well, there’s something I can do about that and I’ve spent days contemplating and outlining and I think I have a better grasp of the story now. I’m not yet ready to edit it, there is more I want to consider and work through before I tackle the story itself, mainly the bulimic best-friend sub-plot, but I feel confident that the story is now headed in the right direction.

As for the comment that there is “a deeper darker story here”, I think there is too, but I was afraid to write it. I was afraid of scaring off the reader. But if pussy-footing around the hard truth of this character’s experiences is going to leave the reader feeling denied, then I’m going to have to face the darkness and write what needs to be written.

There is a quote for writers, something about “killing your darlings”, which means not being afraid to cut out your favourite scenes, lines, or even characters, if they serve no purpose in the story. There will be some of that when I edit, I’m sure. But I think most of what I have is salvageable for the rewrite.

I’m glad I took the time to get a second opinion before releasing the novella (which may really turn out to be a full 60-80k novel) to the public. I don’t think I would have been happy with it, or its reception. Now I have the chance to make it what it can be, what it should be, and what I am capable of allowing it to be.

The Elusive Title

EDIT: Thank-you everyone for your votes. The title will be Nothing, Everything, Nothing.

As I have mentioned before, I am writing a teen/YA drama dealing with depression and suicide and the general nastiness of teenagers. Unfortunately I’m beginning to doubt the title I first chose. So, I’ve done a little brainstorming and have come up with a list of possible titles.

If you don’t like any please comment as to why. If you have a different suggestion I’d love to hear it.

Here’s the book blurb:

Self-conscious Marlee craves the attention and approval of her peers. When the boy of her dreams asks her out all her desires are handed to her. She starts stepping further outside her comfort zone to keep her grasp on the popularity that has befallen her. But is she really on the fast track up the social ladder? Or is she about to find her life out of her control?

How to Save a Life

What do you do when someone you love is threatening or attempting suicide?

In this case it’s my younger cousin. The situation is complicated. My aunt is adopted but had some contact later in life with her biological siblings. Her biological sister has 3 children that we know of. My aunt adopted the first two, the third one had major developmental issues and my aunt just couldn’t keep her. 

So, my cousin, she was born premature, has always had some development issues stemming from severe FASD, and is now on meds. I’m not sure what the meds are for but they’re the type that make you feel good and stable, like you don’t need meds, like you aren’t sick anymore. Once she’s off her meds she has major freak-outs. She doesn’t like taking her meds because they’re making her gain weight. She throws them down the sink or threatens to take all of them. 

She tried that once and ended up in the hospital. This was after cutting for months with the blades from pencil sharpeners. 

Then, because of an argument with her mom, she held two knives to her stomach and threatened to kill herself. She’s now with protective services.

Yes, they have her on a list of psychiatric help. Yes, we are all trying to be positive and supportive. You know what makes it really hard? All these damn depressive memes on the internet. “No one hates me more than I hate myself”. “My friends mean the world to me but I feel like they wouldn’t even notice I was gone”. “I’m only pretending to be all right”. And on and on and on.

I fully support freedom of speech and self-expression. I think it’s great that people are working out their issues. But this stuff is feeding the depressive, self-indulgent, attention-craving attitude of teenagers. They’re all posting this crap so people will pat them on the head and say, “we love you, don’t die”. I fully support suicide intervention, and positive reinforcement, but when this crap is fueling her suicidal thoughts it’s hard to stay unbiased and accepting.

And before you suggest taking her off the internet, take a quick guess what the above mentioned fight was about. Her only friends are on Facebook and Instagram. The only people who care about her and understand her are on the internet. Anyone who takes that away is cruel and mean and heartless. Yeah, it gets that bad.

So, what do you do when someone you love is threatening or attempting suicide?

How do you convince them that you would love them? How do you find all the subversive jerks in their life and make them stop being jerks? How do you build their self-esteem? How do you make their skin thicker? How do you make them see themselves as important people instead of as victims? How do you put value in their lives? How do you make them believe they are valued?

I don’t know.

I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a counselor. I’m not a social worker. I’m not a doctor. I don’t even get to see her that often.

I am her godmother. And her cousin. And my heart is breaking because there is nothing I can do. 

So I’m doing something.

I am doing the only thing I’m good at. I’m writing a book. I’m writing a book about a teenage girl who is mildly overweight but not fat, who has a kick-ass punk haircut and a beautiful smile, and is named after my cousin. I am giving that girl friends who use her, and friends who care about her. I am giving her a loving and supportive family. I am going to show her hitting rock bottom because my cousin hit rock bottom, you can’t deny that or turn back the clock. And then I am going to have this girl claw her way out of that hole. She is going to hate it. She is going to kick and scream and try to stay depressed and alone and her friends and family are going to love her until she sees the love around her. This girl will be surrounded by love. Because it is the only way I can think of to show my cousin that she is surrounded by love.

I’m going to give my cousin a copy as a gift.

And then I’m going to sell this book as an e-book (perhaps the only book I’ll ever self-publish) and I’m going to give the proceeds from the first week of sales to Kids Help Phone, the kids and teens crisis hotline center. Because I support suicide intervention. I support organizations that support teens and children. And because I believe they, and other professionals, have the power to change lives for the better. 

And because I want to show my cousin that her story isn’t over. I want to show her that the bottom isn’t the same as the end. I want to show her that people care enough about the issue of teen suicide to read a story that is based on her, to help her and teens like her.

And because it’s the only thing I can do to show her that I love her and that I would miss her. She is beautiful. I wish I could post a picture of her for you to see her beautiful smile. I might just use her photo for the cover of the book. 

Writing is about inspiration. I have found mine. 

*Note* Originally this said all the proceeds would go to Kids Help Phone but has been edited to give the donation period a deadline. I’m not being greedy, I swear. I don’t have time to monitor and constantly send little donations as sales maybe trickle in. So I’ll do one big push and give one big donation. Thank-you for understanding.

BIG Projects in the Works

I have two massive deadlines looming all of a sudden. Two windows of opportunity have opened and I’m going to try a double-jump and get through them both without crashing into the glass.

First, there is a script writing competition that closes on August 8th – OR – when they reach 200 entries. And last night they were almost at 100. So I have to MOVE.

Second, a good agent just opened up to submissions and I have a romance novel she might like – except it’s still a first draft. That means typing the second draft (the first draft is hand written), doing all the edits, and putting the submissions package together by August 31 because she closes her submission window on September 1.

Third, the script writing contest only requires 3-5 sample scenes (along with a summary and a screen treatment) so once the romance novel is done and sent I have to finish the script. The story is DONE already, I just have to transfer it from prose to script. And winners are notified around November 14th so I have to have it done ASAP in September, just in case.

If I get picked as one of the five winners I’ll be spending A LOT of time on rewrites and marketing stuff for that project over the next year. The only other thing I’ll be working on is that romance novel series IN CASE it gets picked up by the agent.

Of course it’s more likely that neither will get a bite and I’ll be back to the drawing board.

In any event, I’ll be absent for a few days as I complete the script package. But, here’s the logline for the script:

As global superpowers unleash hundreds of deadly viruses, a Chicago art teacher backs a revolution to prevent a dystopian future from becoming a dark reality.

Any comments or suggestions? I’m not 100% happy with it yet. But off I go to get it all done.

The Very Best Part of Me

*Title quote from Evanescence’s song*

No, this isn’t a bio post. This is a post about characters. I mentioned in my last post, about Zoedar, that the characters started out being based on me and my friends. Sepherym’s maid was based on my sister, the cousin was based on my other best friend, Sir Luke was based on a very grumpy friend of mine from electronics class. But that was because, at the time, the story included the princesses and a few others being hidden on Earth as humans, so we were the humans that would become Zoedavians and travel away to a different planet. Cute and all, but the idea was later cut.

All my characters are at least a little autobiographical because they come out of MY head and because they deal with issues that interest me. A lot of my protagonists are female because my husband says when I write male characters they sound like girls. I’m working on improving that but I still stick mostly with female leads. A lot of the time my characters are fairly plain (with the exception of those two princesses and my one vampire character), they are nice looking but not celebrity pretty or super model pretty, often they are insecure about their looks or their talents or their self worth. They aren’t popular kids (if it takes place in high school), they aren’t rich or famous. It sounds like an everyday sort of person you’d want to read about, someone plain and normal who is thrown into extraordinary events and who discovers self worthy and inner strength along the way. But how many times can I write about THAT girl who is essentially me? More importantly, how many times would you read it?

Change the hair colour, the eyes, the age, the name, but she’s still the same girl. I read a very good tip in an article – borrowing a body for your character. While sitting at the park or the pool or on the bus select someone around you who is about the right age and pretend that they are the character, not you.

What’s the point, she’s still the same girl, right? Wrong. She’s not me anymore, she’s that girl on the bus. And now she has all sorts of annoying habits. And she listens to music that I hate (because I can hear it from where I’m carefully observing). I can give her all sorts of traits and habits that I don’t have because she’s not me! And I don’t have to be embarrassed telling you that the character wet the bed until she was 12 because it’s not me, it’s that stranger on the bus who will never know she’s in my story.

Strong characters are multi-dimensional, they have strengths and flaws, they have room to grow, they love things and hate things and have opinions on everything. They are people, full real living people. They just live on paper and not in the rest of the world. And strong characters are unique, they look and sound like themselves and no one else. We’ve all run into people who look like us or at least share one or two physical traits. We all have friends who share at least some of our interests and opinions. But we are all unique and so too must be our characters.

There is still something autobiographical in every character. In my latest novel , “Liar, Liar”, the female lead’s mother grows rose bushes just like my mother did. But so far that is the only distinctly autobiographical point in the novel. As a writer I pour so much of my creativity into every piece that it’s impossible not to have a part of my leech into the writing.

So there is my writing tip for the day. If you have characters that are too flat, or sound too much like you, give them someone else’s body and really imagine them again. They’ll take on a new life and you’ll find real freedom in letting them go.

Signing off …