Monday, 29 October 2012

Halloween House of Horrors Wrap Up. Featured Writer, Runner Up and Encouragement Award announced! Write romance for Harlequin Escape!

Hi Halloween Hellraisers!

What a great lot of creepy stories and poems! Did it surprise you the level of scariness we managed to conjure up for this challenge? Well done everyone. We had such a good time reading your entries we went back again to enjoy them all over. Thus one of the reasons for the lateness of this post.

Well as you know, our venerable judges, Ann Best and Nas Dean have been behind the scenes, reading, re-reading, printing out your stories, checking the guidelines and exchanging ideas for who had the best stories or prosetry this challenge. Before we make the announcement, here is a critique of each and every entry: All four of us have participated in the writing of critiques this time and we're not telling who did what. You can try to guess. Maybe our voice comes through. Unlikely seeing we each added bits and pieces to some.

The crits are somewhat more detailed than our usual mini critiques, partly due to the increased word limit, and partly because you have all put in so much effort for this challenge, your entries deserve respect. We wanted to hand out awards to more than 3 as there were so many contenders.

CRITIQUES

Mirror Mirror by Debra Ann Elliott
The beginning of this intriguing story of mirrors and ghosts immediately piqued my interest with its echoes of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty: “Mirror, mirror in my bedroom.” A teenage girl wishes for a handsome bridegroom. But Megan gets more than she bargains for. It’s a good thing that Jax loves her as he battles to save her from the evil Slag. Mirrors. Ouija boards. Good versus evil.  All the elements of a good Halloween story. I could follow this story line, and was impressed with the author’s writing skills. Very good dialogue and description.


Anna of Anna’s Adornment - 'Jenny's Robinson Crusoe - Halloween '
This story has the ingredients of romance, mystery and danger. But it didn't have the Halloween ending which I was looking for. It hooked us right in with its beginning (which set the scene right away) and there was good dialogue, easy to follow. Poor Jenny, the MC, has been on a deserted island for three years, so long that she prefers ghosts of her departed friends to no friends at all. "Please haunt me Jack."  This is obviously part of a much-larger landscape I'm not familiar with, but from this excerpt I can see the making of a much-longer story, perhaps in novella form. It left me hankering for a slice of creamy, rich pumpkin pie...yum.

Peartree Cottage by Sally Stackhouse
I liked the build-up to the haunting event with the quirky MC Ellen and her less-quirky husband George moving into Peartree Cottage.  There was backstory on the couple and their life, and a reason for them to be moving into a haunted house. There was a theme of following your heart - don't be afraid to break out - keep moving even when advice is to the contrary: "You've lived in that house since 1982 they gasped in shock...don't make any hasty decisions." I like how connecting with the ghost and understanding his needs negated his scariness, and just made him a part of the new house and new life for the perspective couple.

Vampire Dreams by Francine Howarth
From first sentence to last, I heard Vincent Price in my head as narrator to this story.  There were some abstract concepts that escaped me (not sure if the Owl is the Mystical Phantom). "Too late, too late; He's opened his blood-lined cape;"  There is no romantic element to this writing – unless you count the romance of blood lust - but overall this was spooky, passionate and evocative.  A smooth, lyrical story that catches the eye and moves forward to the bitter end.

Wild Guardian by Kiru Taye
In legend, this freshwater swamp of the Edumanom forest was haunted with “ghouls, phantoms and otherworldly beasts [that] paraded at night.” In hauntingly vivid imagery, the author takes us into this scene through the eyes of Ama, who is a wildlife photographer with “an affinity to the forest.” At the end, with Timi, who is apparently her lover, she wonders: Was the forest a dream? Perhaps, as Timi says, “It’ll be clearer in the morning.” There’s only one metaphor that jars me: “her heart did a skid as it raced off.” Hearts don’t skid; nor do they “race off.” Otherwise, in my opinion the writing is perfect.

The Panettiere Cup by N. R. Williams
Romance is paramount in this story and the author's skills as a published fantasy writer are evident. The beginning of the story and when her heroine takes flight to the old castle gave me chills. This story has flawless descriptive passages, and credible characters. Aya’s the aging heroine, loved by her husband but haunted by what might have been if she had married the man her father chose for her. In this melancholy frame of mind, she is “bewitched,” but in the end realizes what true love really is. In a brief but beautiful ending that exhibits the author’s excellent skill with dialogue, her loving husband rescues her from her melancholy flight. I feel her joy as she realizes that love comes from the ordinary moments a husband and wife share through the years.

House of Horror by Roland Yeomans
I didn't find any romance in this excerpt, but it is definitely atmospheric. This author has an awesome command of dialogue and description.  I love lines like: “I didn’t trust these two any further than I could throw Pittsburg.” Great hyperbole. And what spookier setting than New Orleans for “the LaLaurie mansion [that] towered over us like the House of Usher.” Shades of Edgar Allan Poe. Impressive!

At the Waters Edge by Panchali Sesngupta 
Love the intro of the main character, and the setting, and then the ghosts that are the main focus of this plot.  I liked the broad world view that shifts and focuses on the intimate scene, but doesn't lose contact with the initial perspective character.  An eerie “telling” scene that works because the MC is an observer to something unique and otherworldly without the need to expand or clarify.  A sighting that is a full story because of its transitory nature. Perhaps the author would benefit by running her work by others with a stronger grasp of the English language so those little mistakes can be corrected before publication.

Haunted Love by Donna Hole
Donna has a good command of dialogue. However, I don’t find any real romance here. The setting is “ordinary,” not haunted. We don’t know until the end that they’re both ghosts. And the time sequence is confusing. Is the beginning in the past or the present? I personally think the problem is that there’s more story here than can accommodate a 1000-word piece. There are some minor details, some of them typos: “Tiredness dragged at his conscious and he fell asleep” Should be consciousness. IMO it would be better to simply say, He was tired and fell asleep, avoiding the weak repetition of consciousness. He “chocked” the life out of her should be “choked.”. I can see some “foreshadowing” in: “Marcy ignored him as if he wasn't there.” The problem for me is I just can't see what’s happening when.


Charmaine Clancy - John Opie's Portrait
Charmaine writes with wry humour. No matter what the subject matter, there will be a thread of humour underpinning the text. I liked this story as it had romance and was spooky. The imagery took the reader back to another era: "...the wailing of mechanical monster..." so called as the MC didn't know what they were called. "So many inventions!" she wails. The ending gave the chills as the heroine made the mistake of getting into the demon’s arms instead of her hero's. "She tried to run but it was too late." The narration was evocative and I could visualize the events all the way through.

The O’Donnell House Case: Cade & Jules by Candilynn Fite
The author does well with dialogue. The setting is spooky. This is right on theme for this challenge. The characters are battling some kind of “entity.” I can see Cade and Jules, but I don’t see the significance of the O’Donnell House. And why is this a “case?” Jules has to catch this all on camera. Why? In the penultimate paragraph we’re introduced to Brody and Jack, two new characters we know nothing about. And in the last paragraph there’s a whole new story line. We’re also told that Cade and Jules have had a platonic relationship. So where’s the romance? I think there’s potential here for a very interesting story that explores the relationships that are only hinted at in this 1000-word piece.

Trick or Treat by Denise Covey
First paragraph is superb. Sets the creepy scene immediately. Second paragraph, a one liner: stunning alliteration and blinding image--“A white flare fizzed through the room”--the kind of writing that continues through the story. The title itself is ironic, the plot clear and suspenseful. The story begins with a “white flare” and ends with “the flames flickered…and died.” Finally, masterful dialogue pulls me into the story and the emotions of the characters as only great dialogue does. The dead and the undead.  Does one really want to be “tricked” into the arms of a dead husband? Seems like a “treat” at first, but “absolute evil” distorts. The romance element was present in the heroine’s mind as she thought the hero to be her dead husband. Author trumped her story with adequate research. Unfortunately as a host, Denise's entry cannot be awarded a prize.

Michael Di Gesu - untitled excerpt from prospective novella
This story sets up with romantic elements and there is adequate tension. It is noir with a ghostly feel set in the time of flappers, gangsters and...Liberace! The author evokes the atmosphere of the era, but I just felt there were too many adjectives.  Author has done well with good dialogue from the era (obviously researched well) and ended with true Halloween gruesomeness. “Bodies are paralyzed.” Bodies? Dead or alive? I love the ending: "As dawn breaks through a driftwood gray mist...a body floats in the Chicago River." I think this will be a gripping novella, but editors will certainly suggest the author tones down some of the description. 

The Wife’s Return by The Red Angel
This story starts with strong emotion, and escalates that emotional intensity through the story plot.  What I like about this is that the spirit learns to cope with her change in circumstance.  The character is strong and adaptable as a spirit, which implies she was equally a strong character as a living being.  It is implied throughout the plot that she was suspicious and insecure in life, and that distrust is what brought her back as a ghost. The only incongruence is that our ghost/heroine wakes up “next to her own corpse, more than half decayed” but the story shows she has only been dead three weeks.  An inconsistent timeline (and over word count) can be the “death” of an otherwise excellent story.

Spare Me The Horror by Ghazala Hossain
The first line of this story doesn't work for me.  Now familiar; newborn; well deserved rest; all create a concept inconsistency to me.  The story actually starts with the second paragraph.  There are some confusing elements to this plot concept, but the characters are vividly drawn, and the fear a consistent element.  This was edgy; an undefined fear that is expounded upon until it is clearly explained by the end of the story.  Mysteries abound, horrors are unleashed, and the apartment above is perfect for a haunted setting. This could be an excellent story deserving of more thorough editing.

Finding Ngozi by Nilanjana Bose
Can I blame Nilanjana for keeping some of us up at night, reading then re-reading her poem? Written in Five Parts - each part having its own storyline. (I) The MC returns to his childhood town where "...the cavernous maw of a starred hotel..." stares at him, reminding him that his old town is gone - "...each road leads to the emptieth end." (II) Here is the strongest romantic element of the poem, with "She was a girl." The imagery in this part is softer, evoking the MC's memories of young love: "...fingers frisking firefly lights..." and "the doves went still...", but foreshadows the horror the author has prepared for us in the remaining Parts. "...the sun spat blood..." (III) For me, this part evoked Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods..." as the MC looks for his 'princess dark'. (IV) Ah, the horror: "...I am running, my heart burns with a strange mix of love and fear..." (V) Shades of Poe scream at the reader: "Looking,..into the abyss...all things wither, and tales finish..." So they do Nilanjana. And what a Halloween tale. 


Work in Progress by Erin Kane Spock;
Erin posted an excerpt from a WiP.  The excerpt shows our protagonist lovers Kay and Philippe preparing for a hurricane type storm. (Are you psychic too Erin?)  I loved the sexual innuendo of Philippe racing through his apartment, shedding clothing as he closes up windows against the coming storm; and then ends on a balcony across from his charge and potential love Kay – aka Karma.  The coming storm portents a mystical setting, and the dialogue discloses that the present is not set in reality; but without the author pre-write, this scene does not stand alone as a romance, or a ghostly story.  It does however, have all the elements of an eerie, Halloween flash.

You Can't Escape the Darkness by A J Locke
This story could be subtitled...Escape from Hell...such was its imagery of fear evoked from the beginning and sustained right to the horrific ending. In the opening paragraph, strong imagery of darkness: "...the type of darkness that could swallow the sun." The author has used flawless language to write her story which fits the theme of' love beyond the grave'. What's she doing in Hell? The author has certainly used a romantic element - the MC loves someone so much she chooses to follow them into hell. Oh, the burn,,,The final line, powerfully penned..."The worst thing about being tortured when you're dead is that you cannot die to escape." A Halloween tale to send chills down the spine.

Heaven- Weeping Willow
I could feel the tension and the haunting presence in this heartbreaking tale. The romantic element is present in the movement between past and present. Heaven used a form of flashback to tell the story of two lovers caught in a time-stream of strong emotions.  The uniqueness of this prosetry is that the “lovers” are not together. Strong imagery: "...trampled heads of wildflowers..." denote the destruction war brings but imagery like "...warmly scented with coffee and cream..." evoke a romantic feel. The two characters interact in passing through their emotional burdens.  In the end, the present man uses the loss and regret from the ghostly woman to draw him closer to his own wife.  Well integrated prose and storyline.

My Demon, My Lover by Raelene Purtill
A book signing from hell - murder at the masquerade party.The author has delivered great action, imagery and quirky dialogue. As one commenter, Anna, said: "Getting published is enough of a nightmare without a murder!" This otherworldly crowd delivers a lot of laughs for the reader. I got humour rather than horror, although the murder was inopportune and unexpected. Ah, there's just too much pressure in this writing world! "I have been very efficient. Angela Connolly will write no more." Oh, the horror!

Happy Halloween by Yolanda Renee
I’m not familiar with this authors writing style but she set up the scene perfectly with romance and sensuality. I was intrigued by this story of appearance versus reality. The heroine’s next-door neighbor is a cross between Daniel Craig and Johnny Depp. She’s obviously sexually drawn to him. But who, or what, is he? With excellent use of dialogue and description, the author shows us he’s a passionate man. But the extreme passion quickly disintegrates the heroine’s passion as his so-called love-making turns “heat to ice” and “desire to fear.” The author surprised me with her descriptive, gruesome ending in true Halloween style, appropriate for an un-hallowed Halloween. Happy Halloween: a most ironic title.

And our Featured Writer is...(((drum roll))) N R Williams for 'The Panettiere Cup'.


Congratulations Nancy. We hope you will take the special FW badge and post it in your sidebar, post about it if you wish,  tweet, fb and link to your winning entry!


And our Runner Up is...(((drum roll))) Happy Halloween by Yolanda Renee.

Congratulations Yolanda. Please take the badge, post it on your blog, and enjoy being the writer who nearly made it to Featured Writer this week.

And our Encouragement Award goes to (((drum roll))) Wild Guardian by Kiru Taye.


Congratulations Kiru. Your entry was noticed! Your entry was considered for one of the above prizes, but in the final cut others were chosen for FW and RU.

Thanks again everyone. You are all winners. You know how carefully all the entries were considered.

We would like to offer our judges, Ann and Nas, a virtual bouquet from Monet's Garden in France and a huge THANK YOU for the hours they have expended on our behalf. Thank you ladies! Much appreciated!




A NOTE FROM NAS


Harlequin Australia recently launched their new digital only imprint, Harlequin Escape. And they asked for submissions from all aspiring and published writers out there. It was launched in August 2012. They are still looking for submissions.
Nas Dean has been taken on board for Editing. December 2012 will see the release of this new imprint.


As you know, RFW now goes into our November hiatus as many of us will be tapping out a complete novel, or 50,000 words. We return on December 12 to post the linky for our Holiday Spirit blogfest. We hope you will join us. We'd love it if you would post the badge on your blog and promote it for us. We are hoping to learn more about YOU!!


Memoir, Fiction, Traditions, Recipes...and more....

There are a lot of suggestions for what you could write for the Holiday Spirit blogfest. It is open to all. This time you can write non-fiction, fiction, whatever strikes your fancy. Watch for a post devoted to our blogfest on Friday, Nov 2.


35 comments:

  1. Oh...thank you, thank you, thank you, Ann, Nas, Denise and Donna. I worked very hard on this one. I'll be posting about it on Halloween.

    Congratulations to Yolanda and Kiru as well. Everyone is a winner since the act of writing and pulling a story together is not easy.
    Nancy

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    1. I'm looking forward to your post Nancy. Congrats on the winning excerpt.

      .....dhole

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  2. Thank you! I am truly honored and totally surprised.

    I think your choice for the winner N R Williams and 'The Panettiere Cup' is right on! Congratulations Nancy!
    Well deserved.

    Congratulations to Kiru Taye for Wild Guardian, such a beautiful story!

    Thank you, hosts Donna and Denise, the judges Nas and Ann, and all the participants with such great stories, this was such a fun challenge.
    I feel like I'm at the Oscars making my acceptance speech. :)

    I will post the Runner up badge with great honor. Happy Halloween, all!

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    1. Happy Halloween Yolanda; and congrats on the RU award.

      ........dhole

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  3. Really enjoyed reading these critiques, I think the judges were spot on. Congrats to the winners, it must have been hard to pick, there were quite a few great reads here!

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    1. The final decision was difficult with so many well written excerpts.

      ......dhole

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  4. Congratulations Nancy, a very good choice by the judges. Well done to Yolanda and to Kiru - I loved both your pieces. It was certainly a challenge for me as I don't 'do' this genre. Everybody had great entries and I enjoyed reading every single one. Good luck to everyone who is doing NaNo this November.

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    1. You stretched your writing skills very well Sally :)

      .......dhole

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  6. Dear Denise, Donna, Ann, Nas and other RFWers,
    Congratulations to the winners, Nancy, Yolanda and Kiru. Fine writing work by all and a good wrap up by the judges.
    For those who did not win a prize: Your texts are dynamic creations that can be larger works in connections other than the arbitrary constraints of a blog contest. So keep writing!

    Best wishes,
    Anna

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    1. They were indeed Anna. Good luck to you too with your continuing saga of Jenny and Paul.

      .......dhole

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    2. Thank you Donna.
      Your kind words are really appreciated!
      oxox
      Anna

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  7. Congratulations ladies ...

    Nancy, Yolanda, and Kiru... such wonderful entires. I really enjoyed the usual array of writing styles and subject matter.

    Well done ALL!

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    1. Hi Michael. Thanks for offering your encouragement :)

      ......dhole

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  8. Congratulations to the winners! And thank you for the lovely bouquet! Wow! This was the first time I've received French flowers!

    But each and everyone's entry was fantastic! And everyone's the winner! Because they went out of their comfort level and wrote in a different genre!

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    1. Thank you for being a guest judge Nas. The choices were difficult and I appreciate your expertise. Congratulations your editing appointment. All my best wishes for your new endeavors.

      .......dhole

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  9. Wow, what a way to wake up this Tuesday morning. Thank you, everyone. Especially Denise and Donna for organising the challenge, Nas and Ann for judging and everyone else for participating.

    Big congrats to Nancy and Yolanda. Really enjoyable entries. I really enjoyed this challenge.

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    1. Congratulations Kiru :)

      .......dhole

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  10. Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to the judges and a special vote of thanks to Denise and Donna for hosting. I have really enjoyed this challenge, and am off to re-read the winners' entries once more directly after this.

    Best of luck to all of you with your Nov novels!

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    1. Good luck to you too Nilanjana. Good luck with your own Nov writing.

      ..........dhole

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  11. Congrat's to the winners and thank you for your nice critique of my story Mirror Mirror.

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    1. Thanks for participating with us Debra. We hope to see you around in the future.

      .......dhole

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  12. Well done the winners, runner-ups and the judges!

    Great team effort all round, and good luck with the Holiday Spirit blogfest...

    Just a quick add-on: this was my last RFW post. It seems like years ago when Denise and I first discussed the setting up of Romantic Friday Writers, and although Denise preferred the idea of hitting the airways via Twitter & Facebook only, typical rebel that I am I argued the case for a blog and went for it. Hence the blog has proved itself to be the mainstay of RFW, and I shall miss not seeing the new members flourish as they settle in. Unfortunately, like a lot of the original members who've drifted away, commitments elsewhere (writing novels)I too am strapped for enough hours in a day to do all that's required of me.

    So, the very best to all and good luck with future submissions to RFW and, for those subbing to publishers.

    best
    F

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    1. We will really miss you Francine. Yours is such a unique style of writing. I wish you all the best in future endeavors.
      Nancy

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    2. Dear Francine,
      It has been a pleasure and a privilege to become acquainted with you and your unique writing through RFW.
      Best of luck with all your future projects.
      Kind regards,
      Anna

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    3. Your voice and humor will be missed F. Good luck with all writing adventures.

      .......dhole

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    4. Francine, you will be missed. I've thanked you publicly ad infinitum in the past for all your wonderful techno work in setting up the website - so for those who didn't know, Francine is to thank for the website and her ongoing support long after she bowed out as co-host. Co-hosting is not an easy job - it's quite exhausting. See you around facebook Francine. :D

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  13. Congratulations to all the winners; and a HUGE thank you to all participants. Your writings are exciting and I enjoyed each excerpt.

    I offer a round of applause to our judges Nas and Ann, and hope to see them back again soon.

    .......dhole

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  14. Hi everyone
    I posted about my win today. It's pretty much what was said here but if you would like to stop by I'd love to have you.
    Nancy

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    1. I've just returned Nancy. It is a heartwarming post. Once again, congratulations.

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  15. Hi,
    This is just a minor detail. I don't know who wrote the critique of Mirror Mirror by Debra Ann Elliott, but there is a glitch in this text:

    'The beginning of this intriguing story of mirrors and ghosts immediately piqued my interest with its echoes of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty: “Mirror, mirror in my bedroom.”

    As the mother of a ten year old son and an eight year old daughter, I have spent the last five years or more reading fairy tales for my children, every, single, evening, and I know many tales by heart - in two languages.

    There is no magic mirror in Sleeping Beauty, only a spinning wheel and a castle overgrown by thorny rosebushes. It must be Snow White with the evil stepmother/queen and her magical mirror, that the author of this critique is thinking of.

    It could be a sign of the strain that the judges were put through, fatigue from having to read and access each text with a deadline.

    But for the record, it is Snow White and not Sleeping Beauty, that has the magic mirror.

    Best wishes,
    Anna

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    1. Anna, I hear you, but sometimes a story resonates with us, not with every detail contained within, but the atmosphere and the idea. I think that's what the judge meant - that's what she felt when she read it...Thanks for pointing it out though :-)

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  16. Hi my friends. This was a great competition. Thanks again for all the stories and poems. They fed my writer's soul. Thank you Ann and Nas for judging and writing some of the criiques. Thank you Donna for your careful critiquing as always. I know it was exhausting, but it was worthwhile. Congratulations to all three winners! I'm glad you came back to acknowledge it. Now take a breath ready for the Holiday Spirit blogfest.:D

    It's Nov 1 in Australia. NaNo has begun. I'm about to begin my fourth novel, Fijian Princess. Can't wait...

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