Samantha's Blog

Ignorance Is Bliss: How I Did Everything Wrong

Ignorance is bliss.  At least that was the case during my trip to publication. This month,
most authors at the Café have talked about breaking craft or genre rules. I’m veering off course to talk about breaking business rules.

If you’re a writer, you’ve heard the advice.Dunce

  1. Aspiring writers must have an online presence—Twitter,  Facebook, a website, a blog. Agents and editors will Google you. Woe to the wannabe writer who cannot be found online.
  2. Read a sampling of books released by a publisher before submitting to that publisher. This is the only way to know if your manuscript is right for them.
  3. Don’t share an email address with your significant other. It’s unprofessional.
  4. Join local writers’ groups, aka learning and perfecting your craft and networking. 

These are the rules I broke while writing my first book, Sharing Hailey.  There are probably others, but again, ignorance is bliss.

Online Presence

When I contracted my first book in 2011, my only online presence was email. No Facebook, not even a profile. No twitter, website, LinkedIn, Google+. Nothing. Did I begin establishing that online presence after the call? You betcha. And I enjoy interacting with readers, authors and anyone else I happen across online. Sometimes, I enjoy it a little too much. It’s definitely a distraction—one I’m grateful I didn’t have while writing that first manuscript.

Read a Sampling Before Submitting

When I submitted to Carina Press, I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of them. They were new to publishing: their first book was released in 2010, about the time I began writing the one they acquired.  In fact, I didn’t read a Carina Press release until after they offered me a contract. I wanted to know if they published good books or if they published anything that came across their desk.  (Insecure much?) A caveat here. I submitted to Carina because I’d won first place in a contest. Angela James, Carina’s Editorial Director, judged the finals and asked to see more.

Don’t Share an Email with your SO

When I submitted, I was sharing an email with my husband…had been for years. It made sense to me. After all, we shared a land line, a mailing address, and to some extent a cell phone because my husband didn’t (and still doesn’t thanks to his security clearance at a national lab) have one. So I occasionally let him borrow mine. In my sharing-an-email defense, I was thinking about getting a separate account because I was tired of wading through his stuff to get to mine. I’d put it off because of the hassle of notifying contacts.  Now, I have not just one but three separate email accounts.

Join Writers’ Groups

Sharing Hailey CoverWhen I wrote Sharing Hailey and submitted to Carina, I wasn’t part of a writers’ group. However, there is another caveat. Many years ago I was a member of several writers’ groups. I even served terms as president, newsletter editor (in the days of literally cutting and pasting…you know with scissors and glue) and contest coordinator. So I had that background of workshops, reference books, and writing friends. The background of workshops and reference books helped me write Sharing Hailey. After I got the call, the network of friends proved invaluable in deciding whether to accept the contract.

For me, perfecting my craft and writing something I loved without the business distractions was the key to getting published—that and a new publisher willing to take a chance on me. As for sales, I was lucky that erotic romance was hot when my book was released. Lots of favorable reviews and an RT Reviewers’ Choice nomination made up for my dismal online presence. While I don’t recommend that others handicap themselves the way I did, maybe my experience will help you obsess a little less about all the well-meaning advice and just write the d*!% book.

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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Increasing Daily Word Count

As I’ve said in a previous post, I don’t discuss my work in progress. So I was a little stumped about what to write for this month’s topic, What I’m Working On. Then in an exchange of emails with Reese Ryan, it came to me. I would discuss the program I’ve implemented to increase my daily word count. Jeffe Kennedy in this brilliant post explained that increasing your daily output is like running a marathon. You don’t start out running 26.2 miles. You work up to it. You don’t go from 5 miles to 26 miles in 24 hours. So if I want to write 2000 words a day. I can’t go from 1k to 2k in one day. The always generous Jeffe shared a possible work-out routine for Nanowrimo. I took it and tweaked it for my own needs. Jeffe started at 250 words and worked up to 2200. And it ramped up fairly quickly. 250 seemed too small for me since I was already writing more than that (though much like my physical work-out routine, not consistently). So I upped the starting point to 500. And I’m working up to 2000 over several months instead of one. If we weren’t dealing with winter holidays, I’d have met that 2000 word goal more quickly. But I know my limits. I know that over the holidays, I want to spend time with my family and friends, not hunched over my computer (unless I’m hunched over it talking to family and friends). So I‘ll work up to 1000 words. Then over the holidays, I’ll cut back to 500 a day, which I can easily do in less than an hour. After the holiday season, I’ll start again at 600 words and quickly ramp up to 1k and then slow it down again until I reach 2k.

Yes, that's being being chased through cubicles by the monster known as introversion.

Yes, that’s me being chased through cubicles by introversion.

How am I accomplishing this? (Because for me, just saying I’m going to do it doesn’t work.) I’ve employed several tools. After years of hearing about the amazingness of Write or Die, I finally broke down, bought it and installed it on my laptop and desk top. I don’t use it every time I write. But if I’m having trouble getting the words to flow, I fire it up. The most effective visual consequence for me is the office horror—flimsy cubicles, one after another. It’s not my worst nightmare, but it probably ranks in the top ten. For an introvert like me, it’s certainly cringe-inducing. I’ll admit to being surprised at how motivational it is to avoid the screeching sounds and the cubicle picture that comes up when my writing slows. I set the Write or Die timer for thirty minute sessions. As soon as those thirty minutes are up, I stretch my legs and do something completely unrelated to writing for five or ten minutes. That break gets the ideas cooking again, and I sit down for another session.

Next, rewards. If I meet my word count goals for the week, I get a reward. It’s my payday. The acknowledgement that my writing has value. I talked about rewards in this post.

Third, I made a calendar with daily goals that I can cross off. It’s not on the computer. It’s an actual, physical piece of paper. I love crossing something off a list, so it’s a huge incentive for me.

How’s it working? So far, so good. Keep your fingers crossed.

Anyone else have tips to share?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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Tiny but Mighty: A Real Life Heroine Who Inspired Me

It’s interesting. Last month, when we discussed heroes and where we get our inspiration, many of us listed fictional characters—lots of actors. And I’ll be the first to admit that I search the internet for photos of actors I crush on when I’m seeking inspiration for my heroes. But I noticed this month in discussing what inspires our heroines, many of us listed real people. Women and girls we know—family members, friends, the girl next door. Is it because we’re women, and we know intimately how difficult that role is? Is it because we want someone we can relate to? After all, we’re living the heroine’s life for the length of the book … whether we’re reading or writing it.

I’m not any different when it comes to writing my heroines. Inspiration comes from the strong females in my life: my mom and mother-in-law, my sister and sisters-in-law, grandmothers, and friends. Surprisingly, the females I most admire are my daughters. In their few short years on this earth, they’ve experienced more than their fair share of struggles. My youngest is very private and would not want me to discuss her here. But my oldest died when she was five years old, so she’s fair game.

Rachel was born with Hirschsprung’s disease. For five years she struggled with this rare congenital condition—surgeries, medications and chronic illness. She probably saw every pediatric specialty there is—surgeon, cardiologist, ENT, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist. She didn’t let it slow her down. I don’t know if this was because she had an older brother to keep up with or because she sensed her time with us was short and she had to make the most of it.

The month before Rachel died, she convinced her brother to teach her to read. I was against it because I was afraid she’d be bored when she started Kindergarten. She didn’t let my opinion stop her. In hindsight, I know my worries were groundless. She wouldn’t have been bored: she would have taken the opportunity to help her teachers teach the kids who didn’t know how to read. How do I know this?

RachelPullsWagon

Rachel pulls her brother uphill!

Rachel cared about people and made it her mission to help them. When she went to the
playground or local burger doodle, she asked children who didn’t have anyone to play with to play with her. In fact, during a visit to a burger joint the week before she died, she not only had the children who didn’t have playmates playing with her, she’d organized everyone in the play area into a game. And when it was time for us to leave, she said good-bye to each of them. This was typical of her.

After Rachel’s death, her preschool teachers asked her classmates for memories to share at the memorial service. One little girl, Joy, who was very shy, told her teachers that Rachel said whenever Joy felt shy, she should just come hold Rachel’s hand, and everything would be okay.

That was my girl, twenty-five pounds of tiny but mighty. I like to think that a little of her strength and compassion lives in all of my heroines … and in my heroes, too.

I would love to hear about the women or girls in your life who inspire you. Who do you admire and why?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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Not Tellin’

ZipLipsTwo weeks ago, I sent my editor a proposal for my current work in progress (aka WIP).  The following week, I got nothing done on it. My failure wasn’t all about getting my daughter ready for back-to-school because I managed to write two blog posts during that time. No, the problem is this: talking about “what I’m working on” saps all the energy from “what I’m working on.” So I don’t talk about it unless absolutely required. My editor is an absolute requirement. This blog, well, not so much.

It took me quite a few years to learn this lesson—twenty-seven to be exact. When fellow writers or my husband asked how the writing was going, I’d give them a fairly detailed accounting.  As a result, it took me years to finish a manuscript. I thought I was just a procrastinator. For sure, I’m an accomplished goldbricker (and to prove it, I just Googled the origin of the term goldbrick). But in the last three years I’ve learned that if I simply write and don’t discuss writing with anyone, I actually—gasp—write.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s difficult not to shout plot points, conflicts, and character sketches from the rooftops. I want to hash out character motivation with critique partners or my editor. I want to tell my husband all about my fascinating Google search on guns or head trauma. That’s why it took me so long to learn the lesson. I was so excited about my stories that I wanted to share them with everyone. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about my WIP and actually work on my WIP.

It was a hard lesson to learn, but one I’m hoping will stick. So what am I working on? A paint job in the middle of my house. Moving my son to his new home in another state. (Yes, tears will be involved!) Making certain my daughter’s ready for her senior year of high school. (More tears!) Oh, and a book—the third in the Lovers and Friends series—Meredith’s story. If you’d like to meet Meredith, check out Sharing Hailey and Waiting for Ty. She makes appearances in both. And that’s all I’m sayin’ about that.

What are you working on?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café in 2013. Except for the story I’m working on and the kid stuff, it still applies.

 

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Reading My Work…Post-Publication

I always told people that I never listened to or read the published versions of my books. The thought of doing so made me cringe. What if my work was awful? What if I found a typo? What if I found a continuity problem? Ugh, more frightening than Halloween. (The movie with Jamie Lee Curtis. Not the holiday.) So I just didn’t do it.

Since that first paragraph was written in the past tense, you know where this is going, right? So how did I get past the cringe factor?

Sharing Hailey Cover

At the beginning of October, Harlequin and Scribd came to an agreement to place 15,000 of Harlequin’s backlisted books on Scribd. Two of my books, Sharing Hailey and Waiting for Ty, were in that 15,000. The deal is this; if a subscriber borrows a book from Scribd and reads 20% of it, the author of that book receives her standard royalty, as if the subscriber had bought the book. Of course, I was curious as to where that 20% dividing line fell in my books. So I started flipping pages. As it turns out, I can’t flip pages without reading what’s on those pages. So for first the first time since turning in the final edited manuscript of Sharing Hailey almost three years ago, I read the published version.

Waiting for Ty Cover

Guess what? It didn’t suck. In fact, it was pretty damn good. (And yes, I was sober when I read it.) I read the whole book. I found one typo. (I’m sure I missed some!)  But I was quite pleased with the finished product.  Then I started Waiting for Ty. I liked it, too. I have yet to read Tempting Meredith. Since it’s a recent release, it’s not on Scribd, and even if it were, I’m still too close to that final edited manuscript.

Of course, my joy was short-lived. After all, I am an insecure, neurotic author. Sooo I started having panic attacks. What if my work-in-progress wasn’t as good?

Tempting Meredith Cover

I decided it didn’t matter. (Yes, wine was involved at this point.) My WIP might not be as good right now. Since it’s a rough draft, that’s okay; however, the knowledge that I’m capable of producing something I’m proud of is reassuring. I’ve got it in me. Hard work and a story I’m passionate about will bring it out…eventually.

And if you’re wondering, I don’t read my blog posts after they go live. Just the comments. So don’t leave me hanging. How do you feel about reading or listening to your books after those final edits are done?

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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The Not-So-Fairytale Road to Publication

Ahhh, the road to publication. This is always a difficult topic for me. I actually have two versions: the short version, which makes me look like a genius, and the long version, aka the truth, which I must always prep myself to discuss. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks doing just that, so here’s the long of it.Frog with crown

Long ago, in a land far, far away (Louisiana, which is one state over, but that one state is Texas, hence the “far away”), a young lady was participating in her favorite pastime, perusing the bookstore shelves. You remember bookstores, right?

She found a slender book by Yvonne MacManus entitled You Can Write a Romance and Get It Published. Thanks to her parents, who in the best revised fairytale tradition taught her she could do anything she set her mind to, she thought to herself, “You know, I bet I could.”

She bought that thin tome, read it, joined Romance Writers of America (mentioned in said tome), purchased a stack of yellow legal pads (Am I dating myself?) and began to write a novel…on those yellow legal pads. (That most certainly dates me!)

Over the years, she wrote when the muse struck, which wasn’t that often. She progressed from legal pads to dot matrix printers to laser printers. She had children. She tried writing more seriously. She began to find her voice and win contests. She even found an agent, but a publishing contract eluded her.

During this time her middle daughter was born with health problems, and it became increasingly difficult to write. Sooo she decided to put the writing away until she was more comfortable with her daughter’s health. Six months later, her daughter died.

The wannabe writer lost her heart, not only for writing but for reading. It was all she could do to get out of bed every morning and take care of her family.

Time passed. Her son went off to college and her youngest daughter started high school, and the woman just about lost her ever-lovin’ mind. She knew if she didn’t find something to occupy her days, she definitely would lose her ever-lovin’ mind. So she tried to figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. She read want ads, talked to friends and family, considered various options, including writing, and discarded them all for one reason or another. But she kept coming back to writing.

She knew the demands on authors. They’d changed since she first started writing. One book a year was no longer good enough. If a writer wanted to make a living, she needed to publish at least two a year. And there were websites and Facebook and Twitter. Oh my!

wandWarning!!! This is where the short version begins.

She finally made a decision. She’d take a year, see if she could write two books. If she could, she’d start shooting them off to publishers and agents.

Six months later, she completed her “first” manuscript. She was too insecure to show it to anyone she knew for a critique. At a friend’s suggestion, she entered it in a contest for feedback. Anonymity accomplished, she began working on the next manuscript. The first manuscript finaled in the contest. She plugged away on the next manuscript. She won the contest. Angela James at Carina Press, the editor who judged it, asked to see the entire manuscript. Wannabe writer emailed it to her. (Praise the Lord and Hallelujah, the days of snail mailing 400 page manuscripts were over!) Her only expectation was a rejection email in three to six months’ time.

Two weeks later she got an email from another Carina editor, Rhonda Helms. Would wannabe writer be willing to make changes to the manuscript if Carina acquired it? Well, duh. No brainer.

A month later, thirteen months after beginning that first manuscript, she got the call. Eleven months later her first novel, Sharing Hailey, was published. It won awards and landed on the USA Today Bestseller List.slipper

See? Genius!

I wish I could tell you she lived happily ever after, that she published two books a year and is living off her earnings. She isn’t. Yet. But stay tuned for the sequel because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. And sometimes, not even then.

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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A Writer Confesses: I had to bribe myself to write!*

I have a confession to make. Last week, I had to bribe myself to write. Here’s how the conversation between me and “writer me” went.

Me (standing in the middle of the computer/dining room): I really need to finish painting this room. (Light bulb turns on in my head. It’s dim, but it’s on.) I know. If I get my words today, I’ll paint.

Writer Me (facetiously): Oh yeah. That’ll work. Especially since you looove to paint.

Me: I know, but I really need to finish this room, and I need to finish this book.

Writer Me: Well, tying the two together isn’t going to get it done. You’re just ensuring failure.

Me: What would you suggest?

Writer Me (bouncing on her toes): Shopping.

Me: Are you kidding? One day of getting my words does not a shopping trip earn. (Notice I didn’t say a thing about painting. I’ve got my priorities straight!)

Writer Me: You want something new to wear at RWA. Get your words for the week, then you can go shopping.

Me: Hmmm.Emoticon with shopping bags

Writer Me: You know you want to.

Me: It’s a deal.

Two and a half hours later, I had my words for the day. The next day, mission accomplished, again. I did, in fact, get all my words by Friday. But then I didn’t want to go shopping. Just getting my words was accomplishment enough.  However, I figured if I didn’t use my “reward” it wouldn’t work the next time I tried to bribe myself. Yeah, I know. Quite an imagination. (Hey, I do write fiction!) So I dragged myself to the mall, and I shopped ‘til I dropped. I came home with two and a half new outfits. Two of those were for the conference. The problem was I’d only bribed myself with one outfit. Imagine the guilt. Oh, woe is me.

So I made a new deal. Get my words for the next two weeks and keep the extra one and a half outfits.  If I round up as I was taught to do in math, that’s one outfit a week. Otherwise, back to the store they would go. So far, it’s working. (Knock on wood.)

Now this may sound silly to some, but here’s the deal. In the writing world, compensation in the form of a bi-weekly or even monthly paycheck is rare. Pats on the back are even rarer, and they’re often countered by a slap in the face. Sometimes we need a little encouragement, and it’s important to acknowledge that need. Whether it’s with a glass of wine, a bowl of ice cream or an hour with a book by a favorite author. BTW, I couldn’t use the book bribe because that’s how I get myself to exercise. The glass of wine is out because of meds. And that bowl of ice cream? Well, let’s just say I don’t want to outgrow that new dress before I get to wear it.

As for the painting…well, it’s still waiting. And I don’t think even a bribe will help.

Sooo, have you ever bribed the “writer you” to get your words?

Update: I got to keep the whole shopping spree. I pushed through a major logjam in the book, and I’m on a roll. Even better, I’ve developed a productive new writing habit.

*This post first appeared on July 24, 2014 at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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The Worst Writing Advice I Never Received

binocularsI issued an APB, put out a BOLO and set up roadblocks in my search for the worst writing advice I ever received. I sliced open my skull (ouch), emptied the contents onto a fairly clean newspaper (ewww), and with gloves and trepidation squished through it (gross). Nothing, nada, zilch, and in deference to seven years of French, rien. Either I don’t network enough, or my memory isn’t what it used to be, or I don’t listen.  Maybe a combination of the three. Probably a combination of the three! Judging from this month’s posts, I’m an oddity, which makes me a little sad. Snort, giggle, snort. Yeah, right. Who am I kidding? I proudly claim my eccentricities.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t been the recipient of advice. I’m a writer with all the attendant writerly insecurities. Heck, I’ve gone out of my way looking for the magic pill that will make my words beautiful and effortless and will banish those insecurities.

I’ve received advice that I took to the extreme. Never a good idea, but it’s a condition I haven’t managed to overcome. I’ve received advice that I ignored because I thought I knew better. Three children have cured that particular flaw. I’ve received advice I wasn’t ready for. Timing is everything! And I’ve received advice I tried to follow but just couldn’t. Heck, I’ve even doled out advice I don’t follow.

With Katie Lane at a writing workshop

With Katie Lane at a writing workshop.

So if you’re thinking of asking me for writing tips, you might want to rethink. I struggle with my own work. It’s one of the many reasons I don’t give writing workshops. It’s also one of the reasons I’m uncomfortable judging contests or critiquing other writers’ words. How can I confidently help another writer when I doubt my skills? Besides, who wants to be that well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) author who’s remembered for doling out lousy advice? Uhh, not me!

As published authors, we’re expected to have the answers. Some of us do. Some of us don’t. Some have answers that work for one person but not another. Some of us don’t even understand the question!

So the worst advice I ever received? I’ve yet to receive it. My thanks to the nonentity that shared it with me.

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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Work Space is a State of Mind

This post first appeared in 2014 at The Contemporary Romance Café.

Last night, my daughter graduated from high school. No, I’m not bragging. (Well, maybe a little.) On the day of her graduation, I realized the post on my work space was due in two days. That in combination with the big event made me think of all the places I’ve worked while waiting for her—coffee shops, the car, hair salons, the car, doctors’ offices, the car. You get the idea. In fact, I was in the car waiting for her to finish a driver’s ed class when I got “the call” from Angela James that Carina Press wanted to publish my first manuscript. That led to thoughts of all the places I’ve worked while traveling—airports, airplanes, hotel rooms and lobbies, and again the car (although in the passenger seat).

Before I had a home office, Sharing Hailey was written here.

2014-05-14 11.07.00

It’s a desk my husband rescued from the dump more than thirty years ago. He and I shared it. He hates clutter. It doesn’t bother me as long as there are no dust bunnies hanging around. You might think that made for a perfectly clean desk. It didn’t. I wouldn’t allow him to touch my “piles” because when he did, I couldn’t find anything. Yes, I’m one of those people. If my desk is clean, I’m lost! Oh, it looks pretty for a few minutes, but it quickly reverts to its natural state-chaos. I no longer use this desk,which is why you can actually see the top.

After I sold that first novel, I figured I needed a dedicated room for my work. So Waiting for Ty was written here.

That's my I'm-writing-but-pretending-to-pay-attention-to-you face

That’s my I’m-writing-but-pretending-to-pay-attention-to-you face

I call it the green room. I keep all my research books, writing awards, swag, posters, and professional publications here. It’s a mess. I know. Kind of like my mind.

Most of Tempting Meredith was written in this fifteen year old green recliner with the footrest up.

2014-05-14 11.05.23

But the manuscript also saw time on the back porch, the bedroom, the green room, the car, coffee shops, airports, even my brother’s house when I cat sat for him.

As with many writers, my work space isn’t an actual spot. It’s a state of mind. And maybe this works because we’re not mentally in the space where we write. We occupy the space our characters inhabit, whether it’s a luxury home in Hawaii, a cheap apartment in Houston, or a hunting ranch in the Texas Hill Country.

 

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You Want Whose Story?!

As I’ve said before, when I wrote Sharing Hailey, it wasn’t planned as the beginning of a Tempting Meredith by Samantha Ann Kingseries. The secondary characters were just that—secondary characters—not potential heroes and heroines. By the time I finished it, I knew I wanted to write Landon’s story, but I was stunned when readers asked for more of Meredith. Seriously? She was kind of bitchy. Granted she had some admirable qualities. Her love for her family. Her loyalty to them. But Meredith didn’t seem like an easy person to love. How the heck was I supposed to give her a happily-ever-after when I didn’t like her that much?

The answer was easy, of course. I had to find out why Meredith was the way she was. Now, I know a lot of writers feel that their secondary characters must be almost as fleshed out as their main characters. In some cases, that’s true. But in real life, we don’t always know the history and motivation of the people we interact with. Sharing Hailey was written entirely from Hailey’s point of view. The characters she knew well, I knew well. She and I knew their histories, their backgrounds. The characters she didn’t know well, like Meredith, I didn’t know well.

I knew Meredith had a brother and sister, that she was an astrophysics professor, and that she had her ditzy blond routine down pat. I also knew she didn’t have a very high opinion of love. In fact, she said in reference to that emotion of hearts and flowers, “It makes you stupid.”

It took me a long time to get Meredith to open up about why she was so down on love. Not surprising. Even her family wasn’t privy to all of her secrets. Her brother, Landon, said in Sharing Hailey, “Meredith, well, she’s a little more complex. I haven’t figured out what makes her happy. I don’t think she has either.”

Turned out, Meredith had her reasons, heart-breaking ones. Did I feel bad about judging her? You betcha. But it made me more determined to give her a happily-ever-after. It also reminded me to look behind people’s façades. Happy or sad, we aren’t always what we show the world, and what lies beneath is so much more interesting.

This post first appeared at The Contemporary Romance Café.

 

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