‘Everyone’s A Great Writer on Instagram’, and other author thoughts.

Alright, folks. I’m gonna lay it down here. Over the years, I have had some great conversations with friends – writers and non-writers – about the tough end of being an author: the shame we keep hidden when things go sideways and are too embarrassed to talk about it, our relationships, our worries. And one thing that always comes out of these conversations, especially with friends who are not writers, is that they think that more people would want to know these things.

What things, you ask? Well, the things that give writers shame and anxiety, but shouldn’t because they are totally normal even though no one is publicly talking about them! And so, for your reading pleasure, I’m here to tell you, if you are an emerging author, afraid to put your work out there for fear of failure because it looks like no one else suffers, if you are an established writer and know all this personally, if you are not a writer at all and just like ‘misery loves company’ stories, this is for you. A small list of writerly thoughts. Like, a list of 9, which I hope you appreciate, because that means that I didn’t write 10 just to make 10, right?

  1. Rejection: Getting a book published does not inoculate you against future rejection. We often hear stories about how such-and-such amazing book was rejected hundreds of times before it hit the big time. I myself have done a TEDx talk on rejection. It is a well-trod topic that writers and readers like to talk about. But we often think that it only happens before you become successful, and not after. What we don’t often realize is that each book – EACH BOOK – goes through a process of being picked up. And prior success, while it helps, doesn’t mean that your current book will be bought be a publisher, or that you won’t go through a process of rejections before – if ever – it is bought. There are no guarantees in publishing, so do your best, do the work, with each.
  2. Publisher Relationships: Sometimes your publisher, whom you love and who loves you, can’t get with your next book. This happens! It hurts, but it makes us stronger. It is a business, and there are many reasons for why certain books are picked up at particular times and others are not. A book being signed is a perfect elixir of timing, writing, story, money, other books, people, the alignment of the stars, and whether you’ve recently offered a sacrifice to the writing gods. But one deal doesn’t always mean more deals. This might be for any number of reasons, including because you’re trying a different genre/topic/style and they don’t publish those kinds of books. And that might mean, if you have a multi-book deal, that you then ‘owe’ a book to a publisher. A good problem to have, but can induce anxiety also.
  3. Be a Great Client. This is not a failing or a worry, but I wanted to stick it in here because I think this is really important. Your relationship with your agent, if you have one, and your publishing house, if your book is signed, is so important. So many people are hustling for you. Be kind, be grateful, be the guest who is invited back. I always think about this Neil Gaiman quote about being two out of three:

    “You get work however you get work, but people keep working in a freelance world (and more and more of todays world is freelance), because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. People will forgive the lateness of your work if it is good and they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as everyone else if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.”  Honestly, aim to be all three. No one’s perfect, but kindness and gratitude for the hard work of people working in books – I mean, that is a labour of love! – is the bare minimum in my opinion.

  4. Anxiety. Do I have nails left? My experience is that writing is 80% waiting. Waiting for people to read your work and send their thoughts down the pipeline back to you. The best thing to do while waiting is to write, thus completing the circle.
  5. First Draft = Sucko. Your first draft will suck. It’s best that you just come to terms with that. It is akin to trying to cut a pathway through a jungle with a machete. Eventually, sure, you’ll have a paving machine, and it will all be smooth, but at the start, it is hard to see in front of you and you’re getting attacked by giant bugs. And yes, I’m sorry that this metaphor for writing has now taken on the visual of decimating the environment, but I started there and I’m sticking with it.
  6. Other Authors Are My Jam! Relationships with other authors are balm for the soul. I am SO grateful for having met writers who are at all different stages in their careers, and who have become friends of mine. We share stories, we know the players, we compare war wounds, we offer advice and empathy and excitement in a way that our non-writing friends can’t. Not better, just different. So when you get those rejections, call up your homies and share a glass of wine. They’ve been there.
  7. Social Media is a Double-Edged Sword. It can be amazing, inspiring, it can lift you up. AND. It can really eat at you. Everyone is a great writer on Instagram. Part of our writerly hustle is to humble brag about all the great shit we’re doing, all the reviews, all the events, all the everything that sounds amazing, and doesn’t really show you that in addition to getting invited to a terrific event today, we also got a shitty review on Goodreads or a rejection via email, or ghosted by someone, or we’ve just gotten to ten thousand words in cutting through our jungle-road first draft only to discover it’s going in the completely wrong direction. Tread carefully on social. It can help and hurt, it gives with one hand and takes with the other, etc.
  8. Pub Day! Your publishing day, your Pub Day, which you anticipate, shout about, wait for with baited breath, and then it comes…and… Uh… So the truth is it might be a day where nothing really happens and it feels completely anti-climactic. My advice is to find a Champagne bar with your best friend, which, for the record, I did last time, and it was perfect. Find someone who you can stick with that day, and make plans in advance. You have something to celebrate, so do it, don’t wait for it. Your ceiling at home is not going to open up with balloons when you wake up, fyi.
  9. Do the Work. Ending on a high note, lemme just say this: it is a slog. You work away privately and then you hope it will get out into the world. That process, the getting-out-into-the-world bit, is LOOOOOONNNNNGG. It is hard. It is often full of hardship. But the very best thing you can do is to keep going in spite of any and all difficulties. Be a tireless advocate of your work. Be a workhorse to make it better. Do. The. Work. The rest will come.
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Update on ‘Love, Heather’: the Little Book that Could

Hi folks!

First things first: my new book, ‘Love, Heather’ has a GORGEOUS new cover. I am late in sharing this here, and totally indebted to the designers at Crooked Lane Books for this dynamo, and the super-talented Ben Philippe for the cover blurb:

loveheathercover

I love it.

‘Love, Heather’ is coming out into the world on October 8th, 2019. I’m nervous, excited, anxious, freaking out – in short, all things familiar to anyone with an artistic temperament. (My sympathies for anyone dating or married to an artist. We’re sorry, but this is who we are.)

Authors get asked what their books are about. It’s nice, and people are curious and kind. Writers quickly learn that we need to get good at the answer. What is it ‘about’? Um. Uh. Um.. Well.

It’s hard. It’s like asking someone what their child is about! That’s maybe a stretch, but I guess my point is that it’s difficult when you’ve spent such a long time with something (and the people who inhabit it) to summarize it. Luckily, publishers help us, and are often better at finding the right points to hit in giving a book a summary than we are.

So what do I say the book is about when asked? It’s about high school, about growing up in the firestorm of social media and YouTube. It’s about being bullied, and possibly becoming a bully yourself. It’s about being a girl becoming a woman. It’s about violence. It’s about parents. It’s about friendship and how intoxicating that can be when a person gets you.

I wrote an Author’s Note at the end of ‘Love, Heather’. My whip smart editor Chelsey Emmelhainz suggested it – that after a book that is so hard-hitting, it’d be nice to hear from the author. What I hadn’t expected was how cathartic I would find that also. It helped me to express why the book means so much to me; it felt like reaching out and finding someone there.

Stevie, the main character, lover of 80’s movies (like Heathers), sometimes tone-deaf ally and social justice warrior, loyal friend, typical and atypical teen (like all teens): she became like a daughter and a friend to me. Writing about her journey took a lot out of me, took quite a big emotional toll. I didn’t even realize it until … well, now. I’m writing something new, but I keep thinking of her. I had to dig deep to write that book. Deep into memories, feelings, pain. I had to bump up against the worst and not look away. I had to go there. Not flinch.

Sometimes I think it’d be great to find a therapist who specializes in writers, because I know this is a strange kind of weight to carry. Kind of like method acting, I expect.

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The other thing that happens when you write something that means so much to you and it’s about to go into the world, is that you worry about it. You fret like you do for your children (or you would if you had them, which I happen to). Is it going to be OK out there? Will people get it? Will it make friends?

‘Love, Heather’ is a tough book. It asks a lot of readers. But it’s getting some love. And I feel like the author of the little book that could.

Despite all odds, Stevie is going forward, head held high.

(If you’d like to see what folks are saying or if you’d like to request to read it early, you can hit up #netgalley here: https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/163112 or to read reviews, #goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44285304-love-heather )

And readers: I am GAME: game to talk about the book at your schools, your libraries, your book clubs, and more. Reach out to me on social media (Twitter and Insta) at @lauriepetrou

Love, love, love,
Laurie

Patience is a Virtue, and I Suck at it.

People ask all the time about the writing process. Namely, how long it takes to write a book. There are so many possible answers. I mean, it doesn’t take long to write a crappy book (first draft takes me about 3 months), it takes longer to write a good book (draft 3 or 4 or 5 over subsequent months), and it takes even longer to get the book out into readers’ hands (infinity x your mental stability = close to). And this last bit requires the thing I am the worst at: waiting. There is a lot of waiting involved in publishing. I mean, people need to actually read the book before they can decide what to do about it. Then they have discussions and meetings and questions and more discussions, and all the while you try and pretend you’re not biting your nails off. I sometimes think that I write to ward off the pain of waiting on news about a book. I write and write and write to pretend I’m not waiting. And eventually, I have another (crappy first draft of a) book. And then I can start to polish that into something I love.

My next book, ‘Love, Heather‘ (comin’ atchu October 2019 from Crooked Lane Books!) stars Stevie, a 14 year-old obsessed with 80s movies, including Heathers and Carrie. It took a VERY long time to title the book (the winning title finally coming from my whip-smart editor, Chelsey Emmelhainz), with a list of failed attempts as long as my arm stacking up. Emails shot back and forth between Chelsey, my agent Martha, and me: how about this? How about this? Nope Nope Nope. My best friend Nicole and I began to look at lines from 80s movies for inspiration. In a moment of hysteria in her car when she was dropping me off at a book party we landed on a line from Carrie that while it did not become the title, became my go-to reminder to myself when I start to get squirrelly with waiting. I commissioned a cross-stitch wall hanging for my long suffering agent, Martha, and sent it to her for Christmas. God knows she gets more pestering from me than likely any other client.

Here it is, in its glory.

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Words to live by! Keep your tits on. That should be her standard response to any email I send her.

The worst part of the writing process is the waiting. I’m fortunate to have a very demanding full-time job as a professor and grad program director to keep me occupied. Lectures to prepare, assignments to mark, student emails to respond to, endless meetings to attend – these all offer excellent distractions from the niggling worries of my other life as an author. My life is full to bursting with things that need to be done. Want something done? they say, Ask a busy person. The same thing goes of writing, I find. How do you find time to write? I get asked a lot. Maybe it’s because I don’t have the time that I make the most of it whenever I can.

I write to distract myself from waiting; I write because it sends me into another world, not unlike reading. It is my escape and my vocation, and it helps keep the waiting at bay. Patience is a virtue. Who said writers are virtuous?

For Readers: 7 Things that Might be True about the Book you’re Reading and the Author who Wrote it

 

  1. It’s possible that the title used to be different. Maybe really different. And then it was something else, and then it was nothing, and then there were a lot of really terrible ideas that went around by email and text, but they were all stinkers, and then someone, probably not the author, came up with this one. The author might still feel silly saying the title out loud because they never really got used to it.
  2. It was likely rejected a few times. Maybe lots of times. The reasons were probably good and might have even made the book better in the long run. Each one made the author feel crappy, but they got used to it the way one gets used to being stung by a jellyfish.
  3. The author didn’t think they were writing that kind of book – mystery, romantic romp, modern twist on a classic tale, thriller, sci fi, commercial fiction – but that’s how it’s marketed by the people who know about books and the people who read them. Sometimes the writer just writes and then finds out later what kind of book it is. Usually when they see the cover.
  4. The author didn’t design the cover, but got to say, hopefully, ‘yes, I love it!’ when it was sent to them.
  5. The characters may have had different names in an earlier draft. An earlier draft might also have been written from a different point of view and had a very different structure. In the way that we shed our skin and are eventually totally different but the same, sometimes novels go through the same metamorphosis. Sometimes the author forgets what their characters are called now.
  6. There is likely at least one, but upwards of 4 people outside the author’s editors who have read more than one draft. Agent, best friend, spouse, cat… it ranges. The author owes these people a great debt – like, a ‘if I was having any more kids I’d name them after you’ kind of debt. Reading first drafts, then more drafts, is like being asked to praise scribbles from a beaming, boozy, egotistically fragile toddler.
  7. The author has writer friends who they text to vent with, and it goes both ways, and they talk about minutiae and gossipy details of their lives, their book deals, and the publishing business that would be the content of a podcast that I would listen the shit out of.

 

 

New Book! ‘Love, Heather’

Hello Readers!

It’s been a very busy year. A fantastic, crazy, rollercoaster year. 2018 was amazing for me. Sister of Mine made it out into the world and into readers hands, and I am so grateful. What a feeling! And now: the most exciting part of 2019 for me is going to be in the Fall, when my new book, ‘Love, Heather’ is released. I am flipping out about this.

This book started as a very firm idea in my mind and that never wavered. Even though the drafts were markedly different, even as names changed and the book drastically shifted, Stevie – the 14 year old girl at the center – was always there. I just had to write my way towards her, I just had to get her story right. And Reader, so help me, I think I did. Without further ado, let’s goggle over the gorgeousness of this cover:

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‘Love, Heather’ is a YA/Adult crossover. I’m so excited about being in this space, because it is one that I love as a reader. This is a book that I wanted to read. So I did my damnedest to write it. What is it about, you ask? Here’s the jacket copy:

What you see isn’t always what you get.

Stevie never meant for things to go this far. When she and Dee—defiant, bold, indestructible Dee—started all this, there was a purpose to their acts of vengeance: to put the bullies of Woepine High School back in their place. And three months ago, Stevie believed they deserved it. Once her best friend turned on her, the rest of the school followed. Stevie was alone and unprotected with a target on her back. Online, it was worse.

It was Dee’s idea to get them all back with a few clever pranks, signing each act Love, Heather—an homage to her favourite 80’s revenge flick. Despite herself, Stevie can’t help getting caught up in the payback, revelling in every minute of suffering. And for a while, it works: it seems the meek have inherited the school.

But when anonymous students begin joining in, punishing perceived slights with increasingly violent ferocity, the line between villain and vigilante begins to blur. As friends turn on each other and the administration scrambles to regain control, it becomes clear: whatever Dee and Stevie started has gained a mind—and teeth—of its own. And when it finally swallows them whole, one will reemerge changed, with a plan for one final, terrifying act of revenge.

The question that drove me, in the writing, has always been: ‘How bad was it? Was it that bad?’ – that terrible question people and the media put on the catalysts of acts of violence or mental illness to judge its warrant. The book asks the reader to question what they believe to be true. And at the risk of becoming one of those writers who talks about their characters like they are real… oh hell, I think I’m already there – I thank Stevie in the acknowledgments! – But I’ll say that I think she’s almost ready to meet you.

Enjoy this loveable, horrible month of Feb!

LP

Who would do ANYTHING for you? What would they ask for in return?

thelma-and-louise

I have a friend whose father once told her, ‘You need to have someone in your life who you can call, in the middle of the night, and ask for ten thousand dollars, no questions asked.’

Someone, in other words, who would do anything for you, and hold that secret for you –without judgement – forever. And presumably, you should be that person for someone else, too.

Are you someone’s lifeline? Who is yours? Who is your person? 

Many of us tell our partners, our best friends, our siblings, that we would do anything for them: take a bullet, bury a body, break them out of prison, keep their darkest secret – you name it, we’d do it, in our fantasies of to-the-death loyalty.

Shakespeare says, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” There’s a reason that this bon mot from Hamlet is one of The Bard’s most famous. We know, not only from Shakespearean family tragedies, but from our own lives, that sometimes debt has a scorpion’s tail that can snap back and sting you.

We will do anything for each other today, but what about tomorrow?

What happens a month after your person bails you out? Are they still thinking about it? Maybe they are proud of themselves, maybe they are still thinking that they would do it again, in a second. Maybe they are still basking in the sun of your gratitude. Maybe they are just a little bit smug. Maybe, also, they sense the shift, that feeling that in spite of the stress and the guilt, they now have something they would never voice aloud: the upper hand.

We all think we would do anything for our person. What I am interested in, and what drove my writing, was seeking the answer to: What happens After? 

What do you think would happen to your relationship, if it had been pushed to the limit, when you tried to return to normal? What would happen the first time you didn’t have time for your person? Or couldn’t help them out for some small favour?

What happens when the itchiness, the incessant presence of what you asked of them, gets under their collar? Keeps them up at night? Makes them wonder, in their darkest heart, ‘would they have done the same for me?’

The answer, we hope, is of course. Of course we would.

But what if they actually needed to ask?

In Sister of Mine, there are two main characters, and they are sisters: Penny and Hattie. There is a fire, and Penny’s terrible husband, Buddy, is killed. Now typically, this would be a big spoiler. This is a thriller, a suspense! Don’t tell us what happens!

But here, the death happens on the first page. This is not, in fact, a ‘Who Dunnit’, but a ‘What’s Next?’ What will this secret do to the sisters? What will they ask of each other?

Penny and Hattie are each other’s people, their Ride or Die Bitches, held together with a bond of love and sisterhood that nothing can break. Or at least, that nothing can break all at once. But perhaps the strain of everyday, the weight of unsolvable problems or long-held debts, make hairline cracks that threaten the strength of even our deepest and closest relationships.

Could you stand it? Could you do it, knowing that your life, and your relationship, would always be different? Maybe it would make it all the stronger. Maybe Shakespeare was wrong.

What would be your limit? Where would you draw the line, or would the line, perhaps, just keep moving? Because maybe the ultimate favour or lifeline is not the thing done or learned under cover of darkness, but reconciling a life completely altered, and a relationship forever changed.

Secrets and crimes done by best friends, gang-members, and siblings has a long, and arguably masculine tradition: it is where we find stories like The Godfather, with all of its familial obligation and debt. What we don’t see a lot of is female characters taking and pushing one another to their limits in the name of friendship or family, and nor do we see much of the other side of the action, of what happens a day, a month, and a year afterwards. A phone call, a getaway car, gun shots: we recognize these as symptoms of lifeline stories. What about the woman who has to take her child to daycare with the weight of a terrible secret on her mind? These are the characters I what to know about; these are the characters I know.

 

 

Two-Book Deal with Crooked Lane Books!

Exciting News! I can finally talk (and write) about how thrilled I am about this: I’ve signed a two-book deal with NYC-based Crooked Lane Books for Sister of Mine, and another (yet untitled) book! I’m so happy about this, and am already really enjoying my relationship with Crooked Lane Books. They are publishers of suspense, crime, thrillers, mysteries, and all manner of dark and stormy books. My whip-smart editor, Chelsey Emmelhainz, is insightful and creative, and really gets my writing. She knows how to crank up tension and make a book sing.

This brings me to the surprising nature of writing, publishing, and genre.

I never thought I was a suspense writer. I am a literary fiction writer, a #canlit writer, a writer whose first book, a book of short stories, was all about characters, if not plot. I work, painstakingly, on individual sentences. I love prose. I love words, plot be damned! (Stupid, maybe. Short-sighted, absolutely). But I have changed and grown, and here I am: a novelist who has written one, and is working on another, book that is full of tension, suspense, and a Big Twist. A big twist, it seems, was in store for me, as well: the surprise is that I actually love this kind of writing, and these kinds of stories.

I have historically been a bit of a book snob. I like to read Giller, Pulitzer, Booker, National Book Award winners. Sometimes these are artful, but difficult books, full of poetic prose and sweeping landscapes that often appear as the most complicated characters in the books. I like to learn things – about other cultures, peoples, and also myself – while reading.

But I’ve notice a change in my habits over time, and my understanding, from talking to others in the book biz, is that I’m not alone. I find my tastes expanding: I love historical fiction. I adore gothic. I love a good domestic suspense book. I love YA. I don’t know if this is an echo effect from the culture of recommendations and word of mouth – the same way that my music playlists are varied in a way they weren’t 10 years ago, for instance – or if I’m just a late bloomer (possible, absolutely), but I’m discovering a world of books that are cross-genre, and that I am now a reader who loves all kinds of books. Surprise! Twist! These books are FULL of excellent writing, that is gorgeous, poetic, full of prose and sweeping landscapes, and I am still learning a shit-tonne about other cultures, peoples, and myself.

I had some excellent conversations with Amy Stuart (author of Still Mine) about my author/reader identity crisis. She told me how great it’s been to have her work appeal to different kinds of readers, and appear in different sections of the bookstore.

As an author, I am discovering the delightful rush of peoples’ reactions when they ask, ‘Is it a suspense book?’ (nod) ‘I LOVE those!’

Me too, sister friend!

Writing Practice in Real Life

When you look up images of ‘writer’ on Google, this is what you get, to start:

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The young white guy with glasses and pipe/coffee/drink makes a lot of appearances. Man, that guy is really letting the creative juices flow. We also see a lot of typewriters, scrunched up paper, dimly lit rooms, wooden desks, ink… you know, old-timey stuff. You can almost hear the Billie Holiday on the record player, or the crickets chirping outside.

What you don’t see or hear is real life. Nobody is yelling ‘There’s no toilet paper!’ from the upstairs bathroom.

Sometimes you’ll hear or read an author describe their writing practices: get up early, go into study, write for four hours, have lunch (maybe have lunch brought to them), write all afternoon, have whisky (Okay, I added the whisky). Sometimes it seems they are writing, diligently, on mountaintops or in sunlit cottages, definitely the ocean roaring in the background.

I have a writing practice. It looks like this: sometimes chaos, sometimes daytime, sometimes nighttime, sometimes here, sometimes there: in bed, in my office, on the bus, at the library, at my local. Sometimes there are kids calling for me. Sometimes everyone in the house is asleep. Sometimes the cat walks across the keyboard. There is always tea. In fact, that might be the only constant in my writing practice. Tea. Not whiskey, tea. There is no practice, except practicing.

We sometimes get caught up in the romantic notions around writing, among other things (my husband is a winemaker; you should hear the romantic notions people have about his job!). We subscribe to the idea that if we’re not Hemingway writing novels while drinking on the back of a bull, but are actually, in fact, jotting ideas down at soccer practice, that we are not doing it right.

People often ask me how I have time to write. Or they’ll say, ‘I wish I had the time that you do to write’. I don’t think I have any more or less time than most people I know. But I do know that this is something I always want to do. And so I’ll cram in it, and it happens during the messy, busy, activity-filled reality of my life, when there are usually two loads of laundry sitting beside me and maybe a container of homemade slime in the near vicinity. The point is to just do it, not wait for the perfect place or moment.

No one is going to know if you wrote your book wearing your oldest, holiest comfies with no bra, eating peanut butter out of a jar. They’re just going to read the damn thing. So just write the damn thing.

The Book Deal for Sister of Mine

The deal on the book deal.

The long awaited (by me, by loved ones, by my long suffering agent, who is as steadfast as they come) phone call, where I hear that HarperCollins wants to publish my book, Sister of Mine – happened.
It happened 4 months ago, so it’s taken a while for the shock to wear off. This is quite literally a dream come true after years of writing, editing, revising, waiting, rejection, more revisions, and on and on. It is happening.

This is my second book. But in every way, it is different from my first. In genre, size, scope, and more, writing this book taught me so much about being a writer. But also, maybe even more importantly, about sticking to my guns. Or bliss, or dreams, or passion – call it what you want. About not quitting. And hey, don’t get me wrong. I quit a LOT of things. I am great at quitting. I quit exercise crazes all the time. I quit committees that take up too much of my time (but I also say yes to too many committees). Hell, I even quit reading books that aren’t my jam, and I LOVE books. But writing? I can’t quit it.

So here’s the snapshot:

– Book gets signed with HPC. I die a thousand deaths, recover, and continue freaking out for weeks
– I go to their offices, where THEY HAVE MY NAME ON A MOUNTED SCREEN TO WELCOME ME WHEN I ARRIVE, meet my editor, who I just fall in love with right away because she is amazing, and then they GIVE ME A PILE OF BOOKS before I leave. Again: this is the stuff of dreams.
– I am now making revisions based on my editor’s notes. And man, they are thorough. She is amazing at this. In fact, here she would circle the word amazing because I used it recently.

It is a very exciting time. I have also developed a strange habit: I pour over acknowledgements pages of books. They are my favourite part of finishing a book. Now that I’m becoming more acquainted with all the very many people who are part of getting that book out in the world, I want to get to know them as a reader.

Until next time,

LP