Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Cover design input

I just turned in my "art sheet," which is a form Luna gives us for input on our cover design. Yes, publishers that want authors' opinions on covers actually exist. There are some pretty hideous covers out there, so giving me a chance to avoid Smart Bitch snarkage is pretty damn cool.

Anyway, I'll post a short sample of what I told them, which will give you a bit of a preview of what the book (now tentatively titled The Eyes of Crow) is about. I've emboldenated their questions, and also invented the word "emboldenate*." My responses are in block quotes.

Defining theme of your work, in a sentence or two:

Gulp! Uh...gee, I never thought of it that way. Theeeeeeme, huh? Let's see. Um...'It's great to have magic'? No, that's too obvious. Er...'Crows are cool'? Nah, too debatable.

Hang on, let me break out the old Theme-o-Nator:

Overcoming the fear of pain in order to be whole, not shutting oneself off to love because of its attendant sorrow.

An underlying theme of the series as a whole is the symbiosis among the natural, human, and spirit worlds.

(yeah, that's it)

Story synopsis:

Well, I can't post the whole thing, or you won't want to read it, since you'll already know the ending. Here are the first few paragraphs:

In a world where animals are revered and everyone possesses magic based on their Guardian Spirit, a young woman named Rhia discovers she has the rare Aspect of Crow, which deals with death and the links between the human and Spirit worlds. Crow men and women assist the dying in their passage to the Other Side, providing comfort to them and their loved ones.

People in her world fully inhabit their powers after a terrifying but enlightening rite of passage called the Bestowing. As they mature and become parents and eventually grandparents, their powers increase.

Centuries ago, a small group of people—known as “the Descendants”—splintered off and moved south to establish a more “advanced” civilization. In doing so, they lost their connection with nature—the source of all magic—and replaced it with a pantheon of human gods.

In her first phase, Rhia can determine if and when a sick or injured being will die. Troubled by the darkness of this power, she refuses to leave her pastoral home of Asermos for the Bestowing and her subsequent training in the distant forest village of Kalindos.

Then things start to happen which I can't tell you about. Sorry. Hey, only another 426 days 'til release!

Cover concepts: images and/or scene descriptions that evoke the tone/style/topic of the book:

Here’s a piece I have on my wall, which is exactly how I picture Rhia (except for that little thingy on top of her head. I don’t know what that is. Also, it’s a raven, not a crow, on her shoulder.) Of course, it’s copyrighted, but it gives you an idea of what she looks like and the kind of mood I think the cover should evoke—one of mystery and enchantment with a touch of foreboding.

The British cover to Charles de Lint’s Someplace to be Flying sort of shows what I’m after in terms of showing a shadowy image of the heroine along with a crow element, but mine would obviously be less contemporary-looking.

Luna covers most similar in tone: Shadow of Myth and Elphame’s Choice. Both feature aspects of the natural world and show the woman in that context.

Dominant cover colors: Dark greens, violets, blues, and of course black.

Suggest dark pine forest setting.

I then described a scene that could be depicted.

Character descriptions, including clothes and props:

Rhia, 18, has dark auburn hair and blue eyes. She’s what nice people would call petite, and what mean people would call puny or scrawny. She suffered from a childhood illness that made her less physically strong than most people. She’s perhaps not conventionally beautiful but has a certain appeal. I think of Anna Paquin (who played Rogue in X-Men)—a sort of vulnerable, awkward beauty.

Clothingwise, her people are utilitarian. No jewelry other than a crow feather fetish hanging by a leather cord around her neck. If she’s pictured in the forest, she’d be wearing trousers, and her blouse would probably be dark green or brown or gray. Clothes would tie rather than button. The only color she wouldn’t wear is black. At one point she wears a beautiful dark violet gown, long-sleeved, with a capelet that hangs behind her shoulders to about mid- to lower back. The neckline comes to her collarbone. No consistent props.

Coranna is 52, with long silver hair and a young-looking face. Think Kate Blanchett as Galadriel in Lord of the Rings, but with silver instead of blonde hair. She is elegant, graceful and somewhat emotionally distant. For the most part she wears the muted blues, greens and grays of the pine forest in which she lives, though she brings a radiance even to these plain clothes. At one point she wears a white ceremonial gown, with crow feathers lining the seam of the sleeves. No consistent props.

Marek is Rhia’s lover, a Wolf, but he’s invisible at night, which is probably when any depicted scene would be set. I strongly prefer that he not be portrayed on the cover. We could evoke him using a wolf element.
I'm really strange in that I don't like to see men depicted on book covers, even in the most oblique way. They always look awkward to me. I should ruminate on that issue in another post.
Possible specific concept: Close up of Rhia’s face, with a background of pine forest, with a crow feather and perhaps a wolf element included as well. The cover would be mostly dark, as if the brightness were turned down, except for a narrow band of light in the middle where her eyes are, so that her eyes are highlighted. The expression in her eyes would be key. Vulnerable yet strong.
I don't know if that makes any sense at all, and for all I know the art/marketing people will laugh at me. In the end, they know much better what sells a book and what doesn't. My taste in covers runs toward minimalism. As a reader I prefer to fill in the blanks with my imagination. But I know I'm in the minority.

For another Luna art sheet example, along with the final results (sans hamster, apparently), visit Robin D. Owens's blog.

When I get my cover and permission to post it here, I will. Like, that very second.

*which sounds vaguely Strong Bad-ian.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Book bloggin': The Historian

Elizabeth Kostova took ten years to write her blockbuster debut, The Historian, and I have to say, not a moment of that decade was wasted.

The Historian is a classic novel in the tradition of Dickens, Melville, or Conrad (none of which rank among my favorite authors). It's a book you can happily sink into for days. Seeing its 642-page length, I figured it would take me the full three weeks of my library borrowing time to finish it, but I polished it off in less than a week (actually four days, because on two days I was too busy to read at all). I read it twice as quickly as "fast-paced" novels half its length.

Looking back, I'm not sure what was so captivating about it. It's basically a mystery in which several characters trace the origins and current whereabouts of Dracula by sifting through old books and archives. Woo, sounds action-packed, doesn't it? But I was mesmerized by their search, which resulted in a substantial body count--every time someone got close to the truth, they or someone close to them ended up dead. I noticed my eyes widening and jaw dropping as I turned the pages, like a little kid reading her first ghost story.

Judging by the reviews, it's not for everyone. It was definitely a change of pace for me, which may have been why I enjoyed it so much; my brain was starving for some real sustenance. Though it's not "literary" in the contemporary sense of having an experimental style or characters who feel no emotion whatsoever, it is very well written in the classic sense of telling a great story while providing lush description and background. If you love history or historical fiction, you'll eat this up.

The only problem is, now I have an unquenchable desire to visit Eastern Europe. Oh well. It's probably one place where the dollar still goes far.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Big Easy awaits the Big One

Here's hoping all of you in the path of Katrina find somewhere safe and dry to stay.

CNN Science Correspondent Miles O'Brien is blogging from Baton Rouge.

If you're able, please consider donating to the Red Cross as they help people pick up the pieces after the storm passes. Many thousands will be without homes for a very long time.

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Thursday, the day when I'm on the road for work, shall henceforth be known as Lazy Linkin' Day. Instead of a regular post, I'll direct you to a cool site like the following:

which has some amazing photos and videos of this natural phenomenon. Oh, and some words that will teach you stuff. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Tyranny of the To-Do List

Since I've declared this week "Business Week," I've decided to employ that tool most dreaded by the Defiantly Unorganized: The To-Do List.

Some people live by these things. Some people even post them on their blogs, applying crossouts as they accomplish each task. If I did that, would you really check back later in the day, waiting with bated breath to see if I finished recaulking my tub?

Heh, now that I've told you I'm recaulking my tub, I'll have to tell you when it's done. Otherwise you won't be able to sleep tonight.

To-Do Lists are addictive. When I finish a task, I race back to the dining room table to cross off the item. (Usually the list is under the table because the ceiling fan has blown it off.)

Sitting on the floor, I dust off the paper and check for the next task:
Oh Great and Powerful List, tell me what to do next! Anything, anything to feel the rush of the Cross-Off! Must have Mooooooooooore!
Whenever I start to do something not on The List, I get nervous:
Hmm, eating's not on the list. What's on the list that I could do while eating? I should have added "shower" and "play with pets" to the list, but I swore not to go over 15 items in one day. Maybe I could just shower tomorrow instead.
Too much structure makes me cranky, which is why I gave up office jobs to begin with. So I've already finished next week's list:
To Do:

Write books.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Today's stock tip

Behind our house sits a farmer's field. Each year the farmers plant a different crop. The first year we moved in it was soybeans, low and leafy. Last year it was corn, which was fun to watch grow, although it got a bit claustrophobic by September, when the stalks were eight feet high and we could no longer see out of our yard in any direction (we have trees blocking the other two sides).

This year the crop was wheat, gorgeous green stalks that on windy days, undulated in one sweep, like a giant sheet on a clothesline. Later they turned into, well, amber waves of grain.

In July, the wheat was harvested, with a big combine that my dog chased up and down the yard every time it passed, barking in paroxysms of joy (she's a total motorhead).

What grows there now, you ask, that the wheat has been harvested? Well, ladies and gents, behind our house now sits twenty-five acres of...


The one thing in the world I'm allergic to.

So I'd highly recommend buying stock in Chlor-Trimeton.

Monday, August 22, 2005

She's really a beautiful dog

I swear.

Back to Business

I took a couple of nice days off (some people call them weekends, apparently). Finished reading one book (lame), started another (spellbinding), and watched Zoolander again. It's not as funny the second time around. In fact, if I could erase one memory, it would be the memory of seeing Zoolander, just so I could see it again for the first time. My second choice would be the memory of what should have been the last out of the 1986 World Series rolling through Bill Buckner's legs.


Anyway, I've declared this week to be Business Week, when I stick my Writer's Cap (a mauve beret) in the closet and put on my Entrepreneur's Cap (a tweed fedora), finally tackling the following tasks:
  • Rewrite the content of this website
  • Send the new book announcement to my mailing list folks
  • Join a few writers associations
  • Find a photographer to do a new head shot
  • Read all the posts and lessons from that online workshop on "author branding" I took back in May but didn't have time to participate in because I was so wrapped up in finishing my first draft
Ideally I would accomplish these feats throughout the year, rather than cramming them into the spaces between mad fits of writing. But I'm not much of a compartmentalizer. It's hard to wear two hats at once, even with a head as big as mine.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Second draft complete

Pant, pant. What a ruthless day, culminating in the penning of yet another head-trippy scene. This book delves into Spirits and shamanism and walks on the wild side, so weirdness abounds, but hopefully weirdness in a good way, like Being John Malkovich, not in a bad way, like Requiem for a Dream, the memory of which I'd like to burn away someday with electroconvulsive therapy, except that it would remind me of that scene at the end with the mother and AAAUGGGHGHH!! Never did a screenwriter loathe his characters so much.

But I digress.

Where was I? I'm done. Only printing and copying to do tomorrow on my way to work, then I'll take tomorrow night off to begin reading the six-pound blockbuster novel, The Historian. I can't wait to see what all the fuss is about. 76 people are waiting for it at the library, so I have to finish it in three weeks or less.

Friday I have all sorts of productive activities planned, including revamping the content of this entire website. But I have a feeling I'll be in that odd state that occurs after finishing a draft, the same state resulting from writing a college paper, or meeting a newspaper deadline, or preparing for a theatre production. You know how, before it's due and you're spending every moment on it, you start making a mental list of all the wonderful things you'll accomplish once you're freed from the grip of The Project, but then after The Project is over, all you want to do is veg, but that's boring, so you wander around your home like a stranger, picking up objects and not recognizing them, only knowing that they're in desperate need of dusting, but that would involve going all the way into the kitchen to get the Pledge(tm) and by the time you're there you realize how hungry you are and then you spend the rest of the day eating tortillas straight from the bag, one crescent-shaped strip at a time?

I need to go to bed.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

WANTED: Readers

Sorry I haven't posted lately. Every day I've thought, hey, I should go on and blog about why I'm not blogging, just a short bit, a few sentences letting people know I'm still alive.

Then I get wrapped up in what I'm doing, and next thing I know, it's the next day again.

Anyway, I spent the weekend car-shopping, which made me fall a couple of days behind schedule on my rewrites, so since Sunday I've been revising non-stop in order to have version 2.0 of my Luna fantasy manuscript ready for one of my readers tomorrow. My whole incentive for finishing it tomorrow instead of, say, Friday or Saturday, is so that I don't have to pay a few measly dollars in postage to send it to her, since I'll be in her town tomorrow. We all need a reason to get our butts in gear, and saving a few bucks is my reason, at least for now.

By the way, if anyone is interested in taking a look at my manuscript and offering feedback, I might have a few extra copies available. Contact me if you'd like to help out. Personally, I like to get as many readers as possible. If I could, I'd hold a test screening before the final draft and give out surveys to hundreds of demographically balanced readers to achieve the widest possible set of reactions.

Some authors would consider this an affront to their artistic independence. Then again, some authors think they're too famous to be edited (I won't mention any names that don't start with Anne and end with Rice). My point is, getting feedback doesn't mean I must make changes, so it doesn't affect my freedom at all. It simply lets me see my work through another person's eyes.

Must get back to rewrites now.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Auto advice needed

For the first time in a decade, my husband and I are searching for a new car. New, as in, new to us, not necessarily an automotive infant.

One of my friends recommended Carmax and said she had a really good experience with them. But they won't haggle, which is a negative for me. I love to haggle with car salesman, because they become in turn surprised and enraged that a -gasp!- woman would think to do research or dare to take their incredibly generous offer and trot it over to their competitor to see if she could do better. There's nothing more satisfying than a salesman having a conniption. They act all hurt, as if I'm their bestest fwend in the whole world who hurt their widdle feewings. Of course it's all an act.

When I acquired my Mazda (may she Rest in Peace--or Pieces), one salesguy told me that if I bought from their dealership I'd be eligible for some fantastic offer on oil changes from Pennzoil. He showed me the brochure for the program, and it looked vaguely interesting. When he went to "check with his manager" (take a cigarette break), I used his phone to call Pennzoil. I asked them if their oil change program dealie thing depended on where I bought the car, and they said no.

Hah! I didn't buy from that guy, although I would have if he'd given me the best price.

Anyway, here are some models we're considering. Any feedback, advice on them or on the auto buying experience these days would be most appreciated:

Toyota Echo
Honda Civic (used)
Hyundai Elantra
Suzuki Forenza
Chrysler PT Cruiser (used)

Right now we're renting an Echo while our car's in the shop, and even my tall hubby says it's comfortable. He says the brakes are a little sensitive, but honestly? The brakes on his car are a little insensitive, so it's a matter of what you're used to. Small cars brake more easily because they're, well, easier to stop. I like that in a car.

Everyone I know but me seems to hate the PT Cruiser's looks, but I think it's bitchin'. It's so 1930s. All I'd need is a zoot suit and a tommy gun to complete the picture. The only con is its relatively low gas mileage, which is a deal-breaker for me. My last car got 36 mpg highway, and with the price of gas these days, 29mpg (which is what the cruiser gets) would be a letdown.

But it comes in burgundy! Or could it be considered...a dark shade of...magenta?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Cover those covers. Please.

No, don’t ask me why when I see a romance novel cover featuring a shirtless dude in camo holding a baby I immediately think “Mercenary smuggling cocaine in baby” instead of “AWWW SQUEE HOW KYUTE!”
--Candy, regarding Uncle Sarge by the unfortunate Bonnie Gardner
This blog post series made me laugh 'til I blacked out.

Sarah and Candy at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels do a weekly snarkfest on bad romance novel covers. Here's a sample. (Warning: Adult language and humor)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Hug 'em while ya got 'em

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree
Indeed, unless the billboards fall
I'll never see a tree at all
--Ogden Nash, "The Open Road"
I just read a really cool book called Remarkable Trees of the World, by Thomas Pakenham. The stunning photography and intriguing narratives made a lasting impression on me. Pakenham profiles individual trees around the world that are remarkable for their size, age, and/or cool-nosity. From the mighty baobab and sequoia, down to the wizened four-millennia-old bristlecone pine, he reveals the glory of our leafy friends.

I'm an ecology geek; whenever I see the incredible diversity of flora and fauna (and don't forget fungi!) that this planet displays, I can't help but go, "Gollll-EEE, what a wonderful world."

The sad part was seeing the trees that were once part of great forests, like the kauri tree of New Zealand. When Captain Cook first saw them in 1769, he reportedly said, "The banks of the river were completely clothed with the finest timber my eyes have ever seen...."

That's right: not trees, but timber. He took one look at this magnificent work of God and thought, "Hey, coffee tables!"

Here's a photo of a totara tree left standing after all its neighbors were chopped down. Funny thing is, you can take the tree out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the tree. Of course it died, because it was more than just a telephone pole with leaves. It was part of a whole ecosystem, and like all of us, it needed its environment, its community, to survive.

Again and again throughout history, Europeans and their descendants (namely, us) have hacked away at forests until there was nothing left. Only recently have efforts been made to preserve these great ecosystems before they're gone forever (it turns out that the US and Canada are better than anyone at forest conservation). The eastern US has only recently recovered from the massive clearcuts that took place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Anyone like Captain Cook, who can look at a remarkable tree and see it not for what it is but for what it can be used for must have a piece of their soul missing. As in, all of it.

I don't know what was/is wrong with those people. Maybe it goes back to religion. Most religions have (very recently) come around to the fact that we need to be good stewards of the environment. But in the old days it was "Heaven Good, Earth Bad." A lot of people haven't figured out that lie yet.

(You can throw in "Mind Good, Body Bad"; "Male Good, Female Bad"; "Light Good, Dark Bad," especially when it comes to skin color.)

I guess I can't strictly blame religion, since these false dichotomies date back to Plato. But St. Paul and St. Augustine were big-time Platonists, and they've had a lot of influence on Western thought. If you ask me, all three of them spent too much time in their heads.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the book. Remarkable Trees of the World is worth it for the final photo alone: sunset along the Avenue of Baobabs on Madagascar (note: images in links are not Pakenham's, but another talented photographer's). I cried when I saw it, which I think was a cumulative effect of the book as a whole, including Pakenham's story of how he was all set up to take the shot he'd been waiting 19 months for, when a fat Belgian lady suddenly stood in front of his camera. After a moment's panic, he shouted, "S'il vous plait!" in a commanding tone, and she skedaddled.

I love a happy ending.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Sticking point

A few posts ago I talked about the need for realism in fantasy fiction and how I was looking stuff up to make sure I didn't make any bone-headed errors. Wikipedia has become my best friend.

Anyway, in one scene the thoughts of my perpetually peckish heroine turn once again to food:
After two days of honey water and dried fruit, she'd happily eat a hedgehog, quills and all, with a side of roasted pine bark. Or maybe just a side of more hedgehog.
Something about that didn't seem right. I suspected that unlike woodchucks and groundhogs, hedgehogs and porcupines weren't the same thing. It turns out, hedgehogs aren't found in North America, where the book takes place. So I had to change it to "porcupines." It turns out, nothing eats hedgehogs, anyway, but porcupines can be a source of meat if you're really careful.

Still, "hedgehog" sounds funnier. Hedgehogs themselves are funnier. You'd never see a porcupine in a Monty Python sketch.

I'll probably end up changing it to something entirely different, like "bucketful of dung beetles."

Oh wait, dung beetles live in Africa. Curses!

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Emphasis on the "Bwah," apparently.

I just took a 3-D humor test, which analyzed my sense of humor along three variables: light/dark, complex/spontaneous, and clean/vulgar.

Here are my results, which should surprise no one who knows me:
your humor style:
(65% Dark, 43% Spontaneous, 16% Vulgar)

Your humor's mostly innocent and off-the-cuff, but somehow there's something slightly menacing about you. Part of your humor is making people a little uncomfortable, even if the things you say aren't themselves confrontational. You probably have a very dry delivery, or are seriously over-the-top.

Your type is the most likely to appreciate a good insult and/or broken bone and/or very very fat person dancing.

PEOPLE LIKE YOU: David Letterman - John Belushi

Fat person dancing--hee-hee!

For my age and gender I scored in the 99th percentile for dark, which means my sense of humor is darker than 99% of other 36-year-old women.

They also place your sense of humor on a 3-D graph and label your cube. My label is "Cutting Edge." My neighbors include "Shock Jock" (Dark, Vulgar, and Spontaneous), "The Wit" (Dark, Clean, and Complex), and "The Ham" (Light, Clean, and Spontaneous).

The test itself is a lot of laughs. Try it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Ooh, pretty psychos!

Just now I was outside running interference between my dog and the dozen nests of baby animals (this must be the Year of the Four-Legged F-uh, Fertility), when I heard the sound of an engine in the air. We live near a municipal airport, so I didn't even look up, accustomed to the perky drone of a Cessna or Piper Cub or--well, that's all the names of small aircraft I know.

The dog paused a moment in her Quest for Flesh, giving me the opportunity to glance up.

Two Cessnas, one pink and one mint green, flew in formation about at about 700 feet. When I say, "formation," I mean close enough to pass the Grey Poupon. The Blue Angels don't fly this tight. As I watched, wondering whose house they would hit when they collided in a fiery ball of idiocy, they switched places--the pink one dove to fly under the green one. From my perspective, the two aircraft actually merged into one, then separated.

Then they flew away, a candy-colored crisis on the wing, and I decided that blackberry schnapps was a poor choice for a breakfast drink.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A Time to Chill

I'm revising Chapter Twenty-Two of my manuscript, recalling how it was a section of the first draft where my writing speed really slooooooowed doooooooown.

My heroine was about to enter an overwhelming new place and meet several new characters--an intimidating situation for both of us. After all, I had to create this place and all these people.

Rather than face the challenge of encountering a brand new environment, we called in sick. Literally. She'd had a rough week, physically, emotionally and spiritually, and didn't have the world's most robust constitution to begin with (gee, I wonder where she gets that from?). She wakes up unable to move, delaying her arrival by a day.

We both needed one more short chapter to gather strength, to prepare ourselves for the changes ahead. As I reread this interlude yesterday, it felt choppy, halting. In a word, ill. The worst sign was the final line:

"[finish chapter somehow]"

Great. Thanks, Jeri of the Past. Very helpful suggestion.

Happily, on second draft it's turned into an interesting chapter that rounds out some of the backstory and mythological elements of the various cultures. By taking the time to slow down, I was able to deepen the story and work out some thematic kinks.

I guess the writing lesson here is, trust your instincts. If a section gets tough, sometimes you need a bit of time to get your bearings before moving on.

Note: that means pitch a tent, not build a house. At some point (a few hours or days later at most), you just have to plunge ahead and do your best. Fix it on the rewrite, I always say!

Monday, August 01, 2005

World's Worst Writing "Honored"

The Edward George Bulwer-Lytton Contest has announced its 2005 winners. This annual contest, named for the guy people have dubbed the worst published writer in the English language, challenges participants to pen the most atrocious, overwritten first line of a book.

The 2005 winner, Daniel McKay of Fargo, ND, afflicted the world with this:
As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the Dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.
Scroll down the Contest's home page for other fun stuff, including bad examples of published writing, bad sex writing, and a link to a quiz: "Dickens or Bulwer-Lytton?" Betcha you flunk it, too.

Think I'll try my hand at next year's contest. Would it hurt my reputation if I won?


This Side of Salvation

This Side of Salvation, Jeri's new contemporary YA novel!

Now available in hardcover and ebook.

“A smart, well-rounded, and unpredictable tale...bringing to light issues of belief versus free will, spirit versus body, and family versus self.” —Booklist, **Starred Review**


Order from Indie Bound, Barnes & Noble, or



"Shattered," a Shade novella!

Available here on this website as a free download in all major ebook formats, as well as a printable PDF (now with photos!).

More about "Shattered"

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Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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