How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part IV

This is the final installment of this four-part series.

Quoting from my old blog, 2012:

Tired of showing pictures of my notebook, so here’s one of my 2012 desk window.

Tired of showing pictures of my notebook, so here’s one of my 2012 desk window.

70,083 words on Day 14!

I’m done. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. I delivered the second half of the manuscript today to the jet-setting El Jefe. I hit 70,000 easily this AM, did a spell-check and packed the sucker off for a read.

Are we done? Far from it. The contract asks for 80,000, and I’ve written 70,000. Experience has taught me that when the titular authors read what you’ve given them, it sparks their creatvitiy and you will always hit your numbers. They are adders, not subtracters.

To think of another way: I supplied 7/8 of the book; our man in the sky will supply the other other 1/8, whether in the form of actual copy or by suggestions. He’s already written given me 4,000 words to be sprinkled here and there throughout the book. (I’m not counting those yet, preferring to quote you just the words I created during this marathon.)

I’ve got a week before he gets back into town. Time to turn to some personal projects. A magazine article that needs changes. Some edits to short stories I’ve been dying to submit. And after that, I may just be helping my wife ghost a project she needs to get done.

The weather has warmed up here and I’d really enjoy going out for bit.

2019 Commentary:

Well, younger me seems very pleased with himself, and who can blame him? He did all this work in a short period of time. He came close to ruining his health by sitting in a chair for 18 hours a day. But he got the book written. Yay him. But he’s still down 10,000 words from the contracted figure.

But here's the thing. I just went back and looked at the final manuscript. It stands at 78,393 words, which means that El Jefe and I managed to come up with another 8,400 words before the book went to the copy editor. That’s awesome. Great comeback, and a great illustration of how these collaborations work.

I will say that though he fought us during the process, he was ultimately blown away by the response of readers who were fascinated by the emotional power of the book. They saw a side of him that they didn’t think existed. From that moment on, he was more comfortable openly discussing those aspects of his earlier life in interviews. That wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t done a book.

He just didn’t know that the lion’s share of the writing came together over 14 days.



If you missed any part of these posts, you can follow the progress here.

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part I

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part II: 55,000 and Counting...

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part III: 66,000 words and One Day Left

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part IV: 70,083 words on Day 14

This post first appeared on my old blog in slightly different form on Feb. 21, 2012.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.

How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part III

This is the third of a four-part series.

Quoting from my old blog, Feb. 2012:

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66,000 words and one day left!

I stopped calculating my per-day average because I’m actually in the home stretch, though it may not look like it. End of business today I cleared 66,649 words total on this ghostwriting project, and I only have one more chapter to go. That chapter will bring me to 70,000 or darn close to it.

Close enough to 70,000 to relax, that is.

Our author, El Jefe, is dashing to Asia for a week, and I’d like to present him with the second half of the book before he leaves Thursday. That’s easily doable.

The reason I’m not worried about hitting 80,000 is that said author has already answered some of my queries on the first half of the MS, supplying extra 4,000 words I can quite reasonably use. 

We are so there.

On February 6, we had zero words. Now we have a definite 74,000. Maybe. If El Jefe’s additions to the whole MS are as copious as the first batch, we’ll probably have to cut words. See how that happens?

And do you see, James Patterson, why you should hire me? See contact page for further instructions.

2019 Commentary:

I’m actually kind of surprised seeing this come together so well. I had forgotten that El Jefe got back to me with so many workable additions. Usually I have to wait until the first draft is completely done and the editor has given us his or her notes before receiving that kind of helpful feedback into the extra. So…great! Younger me was actually doing better than 2019 me thought he was.

Patterson never called. I don’t blame him. Novels are a different animal entirely.


If you missed one of these posts, you can catch up here:

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part I

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part II: 55,000 and Counting...

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part III: 66,000 words and One Day Left!

How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part IV: 70,083 words on Day 14


This post first appeared on my old blog in slightly different form on Feb. 20, 2012.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.

How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part II

This is the second of a four-part series appearing this week.

Quoting from my old blog, circa 2012:

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55,000 words and counting!

My writing marathon is now in its 11th day and I really have to crank if I want to improve my per-day average. Last week, the per-day average was running about 5,700 words a day.

I took two days off to proof the first half of the MS in order to send what I’d written to the titular author—a dude am I calling El Jefe—and get him thinking about edits, or additions he’d like to make. I only wrote on three weekdays this week; ramping up again was slow. That brought my overall average down to 5,500 a day. But I have this weekend to beetle away. I hope to make some serious progress.

Technically, I only have to make it to 70,000 words, which is a mere 15,000 words away, or the length of a novella I read recently. Why only 70,000 words when the contract calls for an 80,000-word book?

Because I’ve learned from past experience on these ghostwriting projects that the act of reading the first draft typically stimulates the bylined authors to start tossing out ideas and anecdotes they never thought to mention before. Invariably, we end up running long once we add the new material in.

Over the years I’ve learned to leave a good “roominess margin.” It’s less painful to add 10,000 last-minute words than to cut 10,000 words we already love. That’s my logic, anyway.

Of course it would have to be a sunny, 60-degree day on this North Carolina mountain. But I am not going to step outside to enjoy it. Not one bit.

2019 Commentary:

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Reading this again today, I’m struck by how quickly I reached for “oh-I-don’t-really-have-to-write-the-full-80,000 words” argument. Most of the publishers I’ve worked with specify a word count in their contract, but will theoretically accept anything within 10 percent of the contracted figure. That means they would have been fine with a 72,000-word book, and wouldn’t start to freak out until they were presented with a 88,000-word manuscript.

The real reason I was starting to look for an easy out is partially explained in the second graf above. I was slow ramping up in the second week of writing because I was just so tired and wiped out. The writing-all-day, researching-all-night routine was catching up to me. There was second reason as well, one that I never got into in the original post because it probably made me too uncomfortable to mention.

The truth is, on some of these chapters I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The author had promised a tell-all type of book about his industry, but when the time came to spill the beans, he got coy. I’ve seen it happen a million times, and I was prepared for it. During our interviews together, we tried hard to get him to reveal his secrets and his vulnerable side, but he fought us on it for months.

It’s hard to write about a famous person’s interior life when they haven’t let you see that part of them. Bit by bit, he started to crack, and we were able to stick a crowbar in those parts of his stories, and get him to tell us more. But until you sit down to write those scenes, you have no idea if a particularly juicy anecdote is going to be 4,000 words or a mere 400. As I was writing, it surprised me that many of the scenes I thought would make great chapters ended up being nothing but a small passage.

The Joe I see in this post is a nervous guy who’s looking at his notes and wondering if he has enough to fill a book. Let’s see if he does.

 

You can follow my progress in these four posts:

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part I

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part II: 55,000 and Counting...

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part III: 66,649 and One Day Left

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part IV: 70,083 words on Day 14

 

This post first appeared on my old blog in slightly different form on Feb. 18, 2012.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.

How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part I

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In February of 2012, I embarked on a bizarre experiment: to write what would ultimately be a 78,000-word, nonfiction book in 14 days. It was a cool accomplishment—a first for me—but not one I’d attempt again unless I worked smarter.

I do a lot of ghostwriting, and this particular book was for one of my clients. He was extremely pleased with the results, and the book went on to get great reviews and help solidify his brand.

That said, let me say up front that while it’s possible to write a book this quickly, this is NOT the ideal way to handle such a project. Please don’t think I’m bragging about it. I was delighted to know that I could write a book this fast, but I don’t ever want to write a book that way ever again.

It’s the equivalent of pulling an all-nighter to write a college term paper you should have been writing over the course of the semester. I learned my lesson, and have since managed to work smarter on subsequent projects.

I wrote about the project on my old blog, so what I’ll do this week is share my old posts on the topic, followed by my 2019 commentary on the project. Here’s what I said back then:

This isn’t some wishful thinking project. The book has been contracted, and due to a publisher (one of the Big Five) ridiculously soon. I have to get it done quickly, ergo the experiment. Since it’s a ghost project, I can’t discuss the topic but I can tell you that it’s a nonfiction business memoir—not a how-to, not a diet or exercise book—but dense nonfiction for a sports celebrity client, which adds to its complexity.

Specifically, I’m finding I can’t write a sentence without either first checking facts or checking them after, which lowers my daily word count. Unlike fiction, I don’t have the luxury of making it up, then going back to smooth out implausibilities.

How am I doing? Fine, considering. The output’s been an average of 5,700 words a day, some days more, some days less.

But I am concerned how tired it’s making me. I’ve been getting up early at 5 or 6 a.m. and working till after midnight, using the time in the evening hours to plan or research what I’m going to do the next day.

At the end of the first week, I stopped writing when I hit 40,000 words to carefully proof what I’d written. That took a day and a morning. Then I sent the first half in PDF form to the “author” so he could read it on his iPad while on the road. Now I’ll restart the clock and finish the rest of this sucker.

2019 Commentary: 

Looking back, I realize that this post didn’t really give a lot of context. I’m going to try to add that back now. In the year I wrote this book, my wife and I wrote four different books. I was co-authoring a nonfiction science title that became Blind Spot. Denise was writing and researching The Girls of Atomic City

On top of these two, we were offered contracts to write two memoirs—one for an actor, another for the sports business dude whose book I discuss here. At the end of January 2012, Denise had finished and submitted her manuscript for The Girls of Atomic City to her editor. And I had finished the secondary round of edits to Blind Spot.

We had cleared our respective decks. We decided that Denise would write the actor’s book, and I’d take the lead on the business memoir. On February 5, she flew to Los Angeles to begin five weeks of interviews with the actor. The next day, I starting writing the business memoir. Seven days later, I had the 40,000 words I mentioned here.

Here’s what I didn’t mention in the old blog post: We sold the biz memoir about a year earlier in February or March 2011. And over the course of the next ten months, my wife and I did hour-long, once-a-week phone interviews with the author. We missed some weeks here and there if he was traveling. But the one “hard” date that never wavered was our deadline. The first draft was due to the editor on March 1, 2012.

So by the time I sat down to write in February 2012, I had a ton of interview notes, and about 20 to 25 hours of audio interviews. The trouble was, I had never taken the time to transcribe or re-listen to that audio. Not smart. I have no excuse other than that fact that I was busy writing other books.

So in February 2012, that’s what I was doing most nights after sucking down a hasty dinner. I’d sit on the couch with a notebook, listen to the audio, and make cheat sheets to help me through the next day’s writing sessions. I’d note the topic we were discussing in a particular piece of audio, and the timestamp so I could find the discussion easily. That’s how I managed to get through each day’s writing, hammering out a chunk of text from memory, and then going back to the audio to confirm that what I’d written was correct. At the same time, when I got a chance, I’d research small factoids online. 


You can follow my progress in these follow-up posts:

How I Wrote a Book in 14 Days, Part I

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part II: 55,000 and Counting...

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part III: 66,649 words and One Day Left

How I Wrote a Book in 14 days, Part IV: 70,083 words on Day 14

Please note: This post first appeared on my old blog in slightly different form on Feb. 15, 2012. (I waited until the book was nearly done to start posting my notes on the process.)


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.




It's All About the About Page

Greatest author photo ever.*

Greatest author photo ever.*

Once upon a time a graphic design firm asked us to revise the copy on their website, paying particular attention to the personal profiles on their “About” page. As it was, their website lacked an About page. Nowhere on their site could you find thumbnail bios and photos of the two principals and two employees who made the place hum. Nowhere on the site could you learn anything about the people who designed the stunning images in the portfolio section of the website.

 “What we’re hearing from people is that they want to know a little about us before they hire us,” the boss said. “It’s funny.”

Is it? Is it really so strange that a potential client would like to get to know you first, even before sending you an e-mail inquiring about your rates? Is it so odd that human beings still behave like the social creatures they are, even when they have such powerful communication tools at their fingerprints? 

I don’t think so.

Technology is a tool, not the solution. Human beings provide solutions. If I’m contemplating shelling out money for a service, I want to feel good about spending that cash. That means being comfortable with the people I’ll be paying. That’s why there’s always small talk before a business meeting. That’s why people look for excuses to take the new client out to lunch. That’s why, in American culture, even long-distance phone calls with a new business contact are always prefaced with idle chit-chat. The first-time contact who cuts right to the chase—on the phone or in the office—comes off as dour, brusque, even weird.

Like it or not, your website is your surrogate in the virtual world. If you can’t be there to personally meet your potential client, you are forced to let your website do the idle chit-chat for you. The About page, the Bios page—whatever you want to call it—is your virtual calling card. If it’s going to work, it must reveal to the world engaging personal details about yourself. Not having a nice one may be costing you money in the long run.

Now the painful truth: Anyone who tells you there is a right way to write your bio is lying to you. All anyone can offer is personal preference guided by years of experience.


In general, the About pages /bios I like tend to…

• Succinctly summarize a person’s work and credentials.

• Drop a few personal factoids.

• Employ a casual, light or even humorous tone.

• Include a clear, professional photo of the person.


The ones that turn me off…

• Bore readers with lengthy recitations of everything the person’s ever done.

• Share nothing interesting or personal about the person.

• Lack humor or seem afraid of it.

• Include no photos, or use crappy, low-res images.


Because I’m a writer, a lot of the examples I’m studying are drawn from the bios of other writers. Here are two Amazon bios I think are pretty hilarious, by writers I love—Lee Goldberg and Chris Fox.

I know. They’re probably too outrageous for the line of work you’re in. If you can’t go the funny route, the only solid, professional, writerly advice we can offer is this: Good writing emphasizes universality.

The more I see myself in you, the more human you seem to me, the more I want to connect with you. Because we have these powerful communication tools at our disposal—or maybe in spite of them—human beings still want to connect with each other in ways that feel meaningful. I see it on Twitter and Instagram every Thanksgiving when people start posting photos of the food they’re cooking. When a major snowstorm whips through a swatch of the country, everyone’s out there posting images of their backyards. And watch—you’ll see a lot of photos of those same backyards when spring comes again. Does the internet really need more photos of food or snow or crocuses? No, but they help us feel connected to others in a weird way. The not-so-funny thing is, we don’t need very much to feel kindly disposed towards other humans.

This is the great irony that I keep playing around with in my head. In the end, a great About page or bio isn’t about you. It’s about us. Discuss.


* These are my Dad’s old glasses. I bet he paid $9.99 for them. He wore them for decades until we forced him to get something a little more stylish. We called them his Swifty Lazar glasses.

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3 (More) Crazy Big Sandwiches I Ate When My Wife Was Out of Town

My wife left town again, and I scurried back to the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville to finish working my way down their seven-sandwich menu.

My gustatory adventures had apparently become legend there in a short period of time. On my first visit back, when one of the bartenders spotted me walk into the Edison Craft Ales + Kitchen, she said, “How many more do you have left to try?” On subsequent visits, I heard basically the same question from two or three other servers.

The answer, Dear Reader, was three. Three sandwiches left. Let’s see how they “stack” up, shall we?

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The Knuckle Sandwich, at Edison, Omni Grove Park Inn, $26. This is their take on the classic lobster roll. They dress the Maine lobster in a tarragon emulsion (think vinaigrette), place it aboard thick-cut toast with bibb lettuce and shaved fennel. I’ve enjoyed lobster rolls in the past, so I was prepared for sticker shock. Lobster rolls are always expensive, and you always end up feeling like you paid more than it was worth. This sandwich was very large, but—notice!—it’s not so much a lobster roll as it is a lobster stack. The open-faced nature of the sandwich made it impossible to fold and eat, but you end up with more meat than you do with those New England hot dog buns that they usually serve lobster rolls in. There was no mayo in sight, so you don’t get the creaminess typically associated with lobster rolls. But it was still freaking tasty.

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Grilled Cheese, at Edison, Omni Grove Park Inn, $15. Probably my favorite of the three, the grilled cheese was cut into three hefty slices and pressed with three different cheeses, and each wedge of the sandwich came stuffed with a slice of local bacon. It also came with a cup of tomato soup and a side salad (or fries). What can I say? The cheese was very cheesy, almost to the point that it was oozing out of the sandwich. I’d tried this sandwich years ago, and last time the tomato soup was weirdly thick. Not anymore. I’m told the chefs changed it up. Now it’s perfect for dipping. I did notice that was a little hard to bite the sandwich without pulling each bacon slice completely out. Maybe if they didn’t cook the bacon so crispy?

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Veggie “Burger,” at Edison, Omni Grove Park Inn, $15. This was the surprise out of all the sandwiches I tried. I tried it last because I don’t usually like veggie burgers. Too often they end up tasting like a big muddy ball of black beans. This sandwich corrects for that by packing in as many different distinct flavors as possible. You get smoked almond spread on the hamburger bun, the peppery crunch of arugula, the spiciness of an orange-red peppadew sauce, and the pungency of a classic chermoula herb sauce. The patty itself is bright red—thanks to the beets that infuse the cumin-tinged beans.

I’ll mention just one more interesting thing. In the course of these three visits, many of the servers asked which of these sandwiches was my favorite. I held off responding until they told me their fave. Every single person praised the club sandwich, which I discussed last time. In fact, without knowing what my favorite was, one manager told me, “If you ever hate what we’ve brought you, just send it back and order the club sandwich. You can't go wrong."

So that’s it. Three disturbingly large and tasty sandwiches in the course of five days. Denise is out of town for a few more days. I’ve got a line on some panini at another place in town. I’ll be there, if I can get out of my chair.

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Related Post: 5 Crazy Big Sandwiches I Ate When My Wife Was Out of Town

Yes, I am trying to post here more often, and not just about food. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.

10 Things I Learned About William Faulkner and Money

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One essay that has stuck with me for years is Eudora Welty’s review of The Letters of William Faulkner. In her hands a picture emerges of Faulkner as a writer doing all he can to make ends meet.

In his lifetime, Faulkner won three major awards that put him in a category of his own—the National Book Award, the Pulitzer, and the Nobel Prize. People want to imagine great writers carefully crafting their work for weeks, months, years at a time. But how much time a writer spends on a piece of work varies greatly. Flannery O’Connor was an incredibly slow writer. But the Faulkner of these letters is a frantic craftsman who cranks out short stories as fast as he can because he desperately needs the money. (By most estimates, he wrote 125 of them, though scholars continue to debate that figure.)

Faulkner nailed down a timeline for cranking them out. He knew, for example, that if he wrote a story in a week, got it in the mail by Friday, that an editor would buy it the following week and he’d have a check the week after. What a charming time to have lived in, when a writer would be paid so quickly!

If you’re interested in how writers really make a living, I urge you to get a hold of Welty’s book, Faulkner’s, or both.

Some tidbits from Welty’s essay:

  • Faulkner “hoped to hell” that Paramount Pictures would buy his scandalous 1931 novel, Sanctuary, because when his father died, Mother Faulkner only had enough money to live for a year. “Then it is me,” he writes, meaning that he would then be solely responsible for supporting her. (Paramount released the movie, dubbed The Story of Temple Drake, in 1933.)

  • At one point Faulkner's working on two novels at a time, and cranking out one short story a month because he’s got to pay his and his mother’s bills, and he can never rule out the possibility that his brothers and other relatives will hit him up for money.

  • He thinks of everything he writes in terms of its earning potential, because, as he says: “By God I’ve got to!”

  • At one point, he starts cranking out TWO short stories a week, and he wonders if he can keep up this kind of schedule because it’s killing him.

  • To help him out, his New York publishers begin advancing him money. (I’ve read that these sorts of informal arrangements were the origin of the modern-day publisher’s advance, but I don’t know enough about the history of publishing to say more than this.)

  • Faulkner goes to Hollywood to make some cash and bitches that the studio contracts are so weaselly that he longs for a relationship built on “good faith and decency,” like the ones he has with editors back in New York.

  • He devises a plan to write six short stories, sell them each for a $1,000 apiece to The Saturday Evening Post, and live off the windfall for six months while he writes a book. But he’s freaking out because he’s only been able to sell one of these short stories and that wasted effort can now only be pitched “into the trash.” To hell with fame, craft, acclaim. If a story can’t make him money, it’s worthless.

  • His usual outlets were paying him $300 to $400 a short story but the Post was the king at $1,000 a pop. (In the days before television or even radio, a major magazine like The Saturday Evening Post paid so well because its circulation was so vast. Americans had few other outlets for mass entertainment.)

  • One year he concocts a crazy scheme to hock his mules and mares to raise some cash but he runs out of horseflesh to pawn.

  • At one point he confesses that he doesn’t have a carbon copy of the short story he sent, and can’t afford to wait for his agent or editor’s requested changes because he needs the money too badly. So he rewrites the story from memory, incorporating the edits, and sends it on its way.

There’s lots more, but I think you get the point. Writers write for themselves, and they write for money. Some of the best writers wrote quickly, but that did not taint the work. The stories were just fine because they had talent in spades.

I think of the (only three) creative writing classes I’ve taken or the MFA programs some friends of mine have pursued, and cringe to recall how much time we all wasted talking about how to make a particular story better. That approach can help, but it is purely academic. One takeaway from the Faulkner story is this: You don’t make bad stories better by rewriting them; you write increasingly better stories by writing as often as you can.

Oh—that hastily rewritten piece of crap that Faulkner spat out from memory turns out to have been “The Bear,” one of the most-read and most-anthologized Faulkner short stories, ever.

What a talented son of a bitch. We should all be so money-hungry.

I’ll leave you with one last Faulkner quote: “The man who said that the pinch of necessity, butcher's and grocer's bills and insurance hanging over his head, is good for the artist, is a damned fool.”

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This post first appeared February 22, 2012 in slightly different form on my old blog. I’m repubbing it here in an effort to collect all my significant posts in one place.

Reading and revising this piece reminded me of another writer who famously wrote about money struggles. I should have a post on that up shortly.

In general, I’ve been trying to post more regularly here. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.

 

Cover reveal: Signing Their Lives / Rights Away

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More than a decade ago, I challenged my wife to name as many signers of the Declaration of Independence as she could. We managed to name the five or so “big” ones—Franklin, Jefferson, Hancock, and the two Adamses, John and Samuel—but there were a ton of others we either forgot or never knew in the first place. In total, 56 men signed that document, and most of them never went on to do anything else of equal significance in American history.

That conversation inspired us to do a book called Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence, and a sequel of sorts, Signing Their Rights Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the U.S. Constitution.

The books have remained in hardcover all this time. Our publisher, Quirk Books, is finally releasing them in paperback this spring. The covers will be in sprightly red, white and blue, fireworks not included.

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You can preorder copies at the links above. You can order signed copies from the bookstore in our hometown, Malaprop’s. (Best to phone directly to place those orders.) All pre-orders will go out as soon as they’re released April 30, 2019.

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Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your free ebook, go here.