GOOOOAAAAAAAAAAL!!!! (Said like a soccer announcer)

GOOOOAAAAAAAAAAL!!!! (Said like a soccer announcer)

by Cody Wagner

For this post, I’m going to go back to basics. But don’t skip over it! For serious! I think this topic is so absolutely crucial. It’s one of the most prevalent things I talk about at writers’ groups and while editing. I’m talking, of course, about goals.


OK, how many people right now are like, “Huh?” Well if you did, you failed!!

Kidding. Let me explain.

Let’s think about real life for a second. In our daily experiences, there isn’t a second that goes by where we don’t want something. That something could be a boyfriend/girlfriend, a new car, or even something more basic like a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Let’s do a quick example. I’m asking myself what I want this very second. The answer? Well, my contacts are dry so I could use some drops. Also, I’d love a snack right now (chips and salsa sounds amazing). And I want to sleep soon, as it’s been a long day.

What’s the point of this? Well, the characters in our novels are meant to reflect real people, right? Therefore, they should always have goals, too. Always. At any given point in any story, you should be able to tell me exactly what your protagonist wants right then and there.

That’s the character’s goal. And he/she must always have one. Again: always, always, always.

Now comes the fun part. While goals exist, we have to decide if they’re easily attainable (or attainable at all). I just mentioned I want to sleep soon. That’s actually not super attainable, as I did laundry and it’s all piled up on my bed. So now I have to fold it before I can go to sleep. Sadly, something stands between me and my goal.

Ta-daaaaa! I just introduced conflict.

Conflict, at its core, is the thing that prevents you or your characters from achieving their goals. Now, we have a lovely dance that begins, a dance where you and your characters work against that conflict to achieve the goal. That dance has a name: it’s called tension. And tension is what makes people turn pages and get invested in our stories (and our lives).

While novels can be extremely complicated, they’re all, at their very core, comprised of scenarios where characters are trying to achieve something while an obstacle gets in the way. Or at least they should. If you ever feel your novel becoming stagnant, the best way to fix it is to make sure you know EXACTLY what goal your characters are trying to achieve. Then make sure something stands in the way.


Now, does the character overcome that obstacle? Maybe – or maybe not. That’s your call. But the goal->conflict->tension element must always be present. Why? Because that’s real life.

With all that said, I want to point out a misconception about tension. I’ve had people at writers’ groups say, “You can’t have tension everywhere! I mean, bombs can’t be exploding and bullets can’t fly in every scene.” And this is completely wrong. Well, not about bullets and bombs; novels can’t be 100% action. But tension can come in so many forms, and it must always be present.

As an example, let’s create a really boring scenario: A woman in bed wants a glass of elusive glass of waterwater. This sounds pretty bad. And if she could just get up and get the water without issue, that would make a terrible scene. I mean, who would want to read it? But now let’s introduce a conflict.

Let’s say the woman’s colicky child is sleeping next to her. She’s just gotten him to bed and she’s utterly exhausted. If she wakes the child up, no one will sleep tonight. So she first has to decide if it’s even worth it to get the water. Consequently, she lays there awhile, debating over her thirst. But that creates a psychological effect where, because the water is hard to get to, she wants it more than ever. So she decides to go for it. Naturally, she has to rise as quietly as possible; any noise could set her child off. She tries sitting up but realizes the blanket is tucked under her son’s arm. Leaning over, she gently lifts the child’s arm and slides the blanket out. Suddenly, her son rolls over and sighs. The woman freezes, holding her breath…

OK, I’m not going to continue. But as you can see, any scene in existence can be tense if written with goals and conflict in mind. Also note that the woman in this scene had multiple, ever-changing goals, including wanting to talk herself out of the water, needing to simply move her son’s arm, etc.

With all this in mind, I recommend that you identify your goals throughout the day today and see what, if anything, gets in the way. It’s actually really fun. And you might learn something about yourself along the way.

cody-wagnerCody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and write. His award-winning debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, recently “came out.” See what he did there? Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at, or find him on Twitter (@cfjwagner), Goodreads, and Amazon.

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Good Girl Grows Up

Good Girl Grows Up

by Beth Kozan

Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? This was the Facebook meme tonight that triggered some memories …

silhouette of happy little girl on a swing with sunset background

What made me (and a few others) leave behind the belief system in which we were raised? “Be nice,” wrote the boys in my class in my yearbooks. The ones I’ve connected with on Facebook now write: “You’ve changed! Why are you so different from that sweet girl in high school?”

As I neared high school graduation, I saw my fulfillment in being a good wife and a good mother. My fiancé was two years ahead of me in school, and he wrote me from college: “I think you should go to college. I think you should live in the dorm. You would learn so much from the experience of college.” So I dutifully changed my dream, a bit. The dream would be delayed, and instead of marriage at 18 (what was I thinking?!), I went to college for two years and then we got married.

Doug was right. I learned a lot from living in the girls’ dorm. I had lived a sheltered life; I’d never heard girls cuss, never drunk alcohol, nor had any experience with beer or wine. At the Tastee Freeze in my hometown, I was a senior when some guys were making a lot of noise (and not much sense). I wondered aloud: “What’s wrong with them?”

And Doug said, “They’re drunk. Don’t you smell the beer?” I smelled it, but didn’t know what it was because I didn’t know what beer smelled like.

In 1961, the colleges of Texas acted on the policy of in loco parentis, especially for the female students. Freshmen girls were to be in their dorms every Mon – Thurs night by 8:30 p.m., with a midnight curfew on Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 p.m. on Sunday night. That meant I couldn’t go to the dances where Doug played with the Velveteens, because the dances ended at midnight, and even if they hurried to pack up their instruments, I couldn’t be back in my dorm before curfew. So I stayed in the dorm, doing his laundry on Friday nights and ironing his shirts on Saturday nights. I cannot believe this, today!

Being popular was never a problem for me in high school. But it didn’t take long to figure out that once I got to college, things had changed: I was a little fish in a big pond instead of a big fish in a little pond now! I was lost in the shuffle.

It was the time of BIG hair and short skirts. My mother and I had slaved away all summer, stitching me a wardrobe that matched the ads in Seventeen’s back-to-school issue. I wore handmade clothes; my roommate from Houston wore clothes that her mother designed for her! You have a choice to shape your life by how you say things, I realized.

The popular girls were pledging sororities; they smoked, they cussed, they looked at rules as something to be broken and were always getting demerits for being late. I was a good girl who always followed the rules.

I wanted my college experience to augment Doug’s chosen career of architecture, so I enrolled as a student in the same department – the Department of Architecture and Allied Arts, and majored in Advertising Art. That department was in the College of Engineering, which meant harder math (Trigonometry!) and science courses instead of foreign languages. I thought I would go to school for only two years. Beginning classes with architecture students would help me understand Doug’s career goals. Another reason I wanted to study art was that I liked art and wanted to learn more.

We had to lug our equipment – T-square, triangles, drawing utensils – back and forth to Design Lab. I remember walking back to the dorm with a girl from San Antonio. She said, “I can’t believe you put BS on everything!”

“But those are my initials – for Beth Scott.” That’s how naïve I was.

This was the me I was “supposed to be.” I did not remember the me I was at five, before I learned to live by “What will people think?”

What made me change from being the Good Girl to thinking for myself? My belief system came up against Art History, where I learned that the ancient Sumerians had recorded the story of The Great Flood in their left-behind art, and that the Egyptian art (and later, Greek art) reflected a man born from a virgin and therefore believed to be a god. I could suddenly see the patterns that had been incorporated into Christianity were not original.

But to address the first question: Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?

When I was 5 and lived in the country, my siblings were too old or too young to play with me; my older brother left for college a full year before I started school; my younger sibs were born when I was 6 and 9.

So I played alone. I set my dolls up for a tea party, drinking their tea, as well as mine, and feeling sick from too much water from the little tin “tea set” I received as a birthday present. I made mud pies. I tasted them when they were “done,” surprised that they didn’t taste like the chocolate cream pies I’d imagined as I put them into the cardboard box “oven.” But I did realize that I could make craters in the pie by pouring the mud from high above – craters that looked like the up-close pictures of the moon I’d seen in a science book my aunt gave me.

When it rained, I waded in ankle-deep water that was left in the “chicken yard” and I swung from the bottom limb of the cherry tree. When I let my arms fully extend, my seat got muddy – but it was worth it just to feel that freedom. When I look back in my mind’s eye to that 5-year-old swinging in the mud, I see pure joy on her face!

I’m still chasing the joy!


Beth Kozan is the author of the book Adoption: More Than by Chance and the forthcoming Beth KozanHelping the Birth Mother You Know. Beth worked in adoption for 35 years and retired to write. She has many more books than these titles to write and will emphasize and explore the concept of community in her additional books. “Growing up in a close agriculture-based, rural community in Texas, I felt the comfort and bonds of caring for others which is often missing in our busy lives today. Exploring and building communities for today is my writer’s goal.” Follow Beth on Facebook or visit her website, where she reviews books and films featuring adoption.

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Power of the Group: Grab Your Author Friends and Hold a Group Reading!

Power of the Group: Grab Your Author Friends and Hold a Group Reading!

by Laura Orsini

Every other month, the Phoenix Publishing & Book Promotion Meetup holds a group reading event. Authors have the chance to read from their published and unpublished works – and, if there’s interest, to sell and sign books. It helps when we have guests outside the group. That doesn’t happen as much as I’d like it to, but we’re working on it.

Our most recent reading event was last Wednesday evening, March 29, 2017, at a local microbrewery, North Mountain Brewing. I took photos of most of the readers – here’s a group shot. Pictured, L to R, are Rita Goldner, Lisa Schaefer, Diane Enos, and Joe Torres.

Audience shot

Each reader had 10 minutes, total, for their presentation – including their reading and any intro/closing remarks.

Though this is the second year we’ve been holding these reading events, this was the most successful, by far. We had so many readers interested in participating that I had to start a waiting list. Looking forward to many similar successful group readings throughout the rest of the year.

That said, I took a few lessons from the event:

(1) We have some very talented authors writing on all manner of subjects, from sexism to history to paranormal fiction to humorous PI drama to not only surviving cancer, but thriving afterward. We’d love to hear what the rest of the group is writing!

(2) We used a mic to ensure that everyone could be heard – but some authors were more familiar/comfortable with the mic than others. If you plan to do any reading events, make sure you know the AV setup before you get there. If possible, take and use a microphone. Practice with it so you get comfortable, rather than treating it like a snake about to bite you. If there’s no mic, USE YOUR OUTDOOR VOICE and project, project, project. More and more people are hard of hearing – don’t lose a reader because they couldn’t hear you!

(3) Rehearse ahead of time, so you have some idea how long your reading will go. That way, the timer doesn’t go off, catching you mid-sentence.

(4) The only way you can see the person doing the timing and observe your 2-minute warning is if you look UP at the audience once in a while. This is practiced skill, but an important one. If it means holding your finger on the text so you can come back and find your line, do it. Eye contact is crucial if you intend to connect with your audience. It will also single you out as practiced and professional in a sea of untrained newbie self-published authors. I can’t see a thing past my nose with my reading glasses on, but I still look out at the audience as often as possible while I’m reading.

(5) Slow down! Find a passage that fits a 5- to 7-minute window (depending on how long you need for comments) and be confident that it will convey enough of your story to capture your audience’s attention.

(6) Try to pull a section that doesn’t need too much explanation, in terms of who characters are or why they’re behaving a particular way. Those interruptions when you stop to explain things interrupt your flow.

(7) Be ready to sell booksthis means having a way TO GET PAID!! I rarely carry more than $5 cash with me, yet there were two authors’ books I wanted to buy. Neither was prepared to take a debit card. In today’s SquareUp/PayPal/smartphone world, there’s no excuse for this. You want to be ready to sell books out of your trunk if you strike up the right conversation with someone at the post office or grocery store. So if you attend a reading event – where a sales opportunity is BUILT IN – be ready to sell books. Really!!

We do this event the last Wednesday of every odd month, usually at a local restaurant. The places we frequent have a $10/person minimum – but that’s the only fee to participate. I’m willing to bet you have a group of author friends who could get together to do something similar in your community. Post a Facebook event so that all of your collective friends/followers/families know about it, and do what you can to get some guests to attend. Every new audience member is another potential buyer/reader/lifelong fan!

is a self-publishing consultant who works with authors who want to LO picchange the world. From concept to publication to the first-time author’s book launch, her expertise will help you make a better book and find more readers. Laura is the organizer of the popular and successful Phoenix Publishing and Book Promotion Meetup, creator of the Holiday Author Event, and conjuror of many other author opportunities. She will explore the power of the group in her posts for this group blog. In the meantime, read her regular posts at Marcie Brock – Book Marketing Maven. Friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and check out her pins on Pinterest.

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The Effective Author: The Number One Secret for Focusing

The Effective Author: The Number One Secret for Focusing

© 2017 Kebba Buckley Button, MS, OM. World Rights Reserved.

focus by clearing mind

If you have been reading this series on The Effective Author, you know that you need to allocate time for your writing and author business matters. You also need to tend to the energy of yourself and your workspace to have the productivity you want. But, having already organized your time management and your office energy, how many times have you sat down to work, with 3 glorious hours ahead of you, and you couldn’t write a thing? If this has ever happened to you, you need The Number One Secret for Focusing, as follows.

Focusing isn’t simply a matter of telling your brain loudly to simmer down and get to work. This brain jamming isn’t happening only to you. I recently heard a talk by writing professor, Dr. Laura Tohe. Dr. Tohe is the Navajo Nation Poet Laureate and the author of a recent book on the Code Talkers, among other works. As a side comment, she said, “Well, I can’t just write for two hours and then switch to grading papers.”

This brought to mind two ways to think about the process of getting ready to sit down and write. First, think of yourself needing to change gears smoothly. Would you try to shift your race car without using the clutch? Impossible. You would strip the gears and stop the action. If writing is delicious fun for you, think of eating at a banquet. After the main course, sorbet might be served to cleanse the palate before you move on to the next course and truly focus on it. So we need some kind of delicious gear-changing to move into writing mode. The Number One Secret for Focusing is to take a few minutes to change gears at the beginning of your writing time. Here are some ways to change gears that anyone can use:

  • Run in place for 2 minutes and stretch for 3 minutes.
  • Visit my Pinterest board, “Adorable,” for 5 minutes. It’s mainly sweet young animals, which command your entire brain’s attention.
  • Edit photos for 15 minutes.
  • Pray for others for 5 minutes.
  • Hand-wash several items for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Cut up vegetables to cook for a meal later. Or apples to bake in a dessert.
  • Do 5 to 10 minutes of pliés, hip rotations, or other favorite exercises.
  • Meditate for 10 to 20 minutes.

Now your mind is clear and you’re ready to write. You’re in the zone, in the vibration of The Effective Author. Happy writing!

Kebba Buckley Button is a stress management expert and author of the award-winning Kebba booksbook, Discover the Secret Energized You, as well as the 2013 book, Peace Within: Your Peaceful Inner Core, Second Edition
. Her newest book, Sacred Meditation: Embracing the Divine, is available through her office. Just email for more info. Like this article? Buy Kebba’s books by clicking the links! Reach the writer at For an appointment or to ask Kebba to speak for your group:

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Picture Books: Integral to Children’s Learning

Picture Books: Integral to Children’s Learning

by Rita Goldner

As an illustrator and a former teacher, I’ve always felt that visual art is a crucial part of Jacskon with catpublic education. However, when school budget committees debate its merits, especially during times of recession, they often decide that art programs are extra, not integral like science, math, literacy, and social studies. Recent educational research and student achievement testing has discovered that the opposite is true, and that approaching these other subjects through art drastically improves performance, and long-term retention of what’s being learned.

I’ve come across some interesting art/science collaborations in my research. One example is Quatama Elementary School, in Oregon. Their curriculum includes a unit for fourth graders that covers soil erosion, earthworms, and clay that they use for pottery projects. In Annapolis, Maryland, eighth graders at Wiley H. Bates Middle School have an art/math partnership in a unit that studies traditional Mexican turquoise mosaics and math at the same time. The students create their own versions with bits of paper, then use critical thinking and geometry to estimate the number of tiles used in the artwork. Their teacher, Laura Brino, commented that studying and observing the art first, and then going into the math, seemed to erase the fear of the math part, encouraging confidence and risk-taking in the classroom.

The study groups have noticed that trial and error, divergent thinking skills, dynamic problem solving, and perseverance are all developed through making art, the same skills used in math and science. Rhode Island School of Design is enthusiastically endorsing this new philosophy. Their faculty and administration state that art and design will be as important to our economy in the 21st century as science and technology were in the last century. They feel that our schools need to turn out a future workforce who thinks both creatively and critically. To ensure this, RISD is working closely with a caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. The caucus has been operating for a year, and its agenda is to further the concept, through webinars and workshops, that art and design are partners, not competitors, for science, math, and literacy.

I’m concerned, since my audience is young, that there is a tendency lately among parents to push their kids past picture books and graduate to more text-heavy chapter books. Big publishers believe it’s because of society’s pressure to get children to read and succeed early. The publishers have responded to the trend by reducing their number of picture books. A recent article in The New York Times, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” reports, “The picture book, a mainstay of children’s literature with its lavish illustrations, cheerful colors and large print wrapped in a glossy jacket, has been fading.” The classic award winners still sell, but new titles are diminishing. The article says that the tight economic situation is one reason, and that parents see more value in books with more text and fewer pictures.

Parents who accelerate their young children past pictures onto words are missing a significant point: the pictures are a crucial part of reading comprehension development. They don’t see that fast-tracking early readers can be counterproductive. Also, chapter books don’t always have more complex stories than picture books. Some are actually simpler in sentence structure and vocabulary, because they don’t have the illustrations as a support. A picture book, read by an adult to a child, provides the opportunity for more plot nuances and allows the child to ask questions and explore the “what ifs”. This leads to a deeper comprehension than learning words by rote.

Pictures in a book not only help children analyze the story, but also serve as a bridge over difficult words that would otherwise be frustrating. This is especially helpful for those learning a second language. A picture book experience for a child sitting on a reader’s lap is multisensory. Simultaneously listening and seeing the illustrations helps in brain development.

Since pictures facilitate the flow of the tale, over the stumbling blocks of difficult words, young readers develop a sense of the beginning, middle and end of a story that is vital to comprehension. Art is an ideal hook to get kids started on a lifelong love of reading, just as it is a portal to science, math, and cultural studies.

I’m celebrating Picture Book Day, April 2, by diving right into writing/illustrating a new one. (More on that in later blogs!) .

Thanks, Rita. Comments welcome.

Research sites for this post:

You can print out new coloring pages and kid’s puzzles each month by signing up for my newsletter, Orangutan News, at

Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, 
Orangutan: A Rita Goldner2Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series. For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. To view additional illustrations and other books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook.

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Out of Character

Out of Character

by Joe Torres

So I was stuck and at a bit of a dead end. I had no idea what I was going to do next in my novel – so what do we all do when we don’t know what to do?? Get on social media, of course! It’s a huge time waster, and I don’t like to let it interfere with my scheduled writing time [Did you catch that? I’ve started scheduling my writing time!], but alas here I was.paolini

Then, lo and behold, what do I see!? Christopher Paolini, tweeting about writer’s block.

And here I thought having the freedom to do nothing all day but write was a sure way to avoid any of the usual stress or pressure involved in writing. I follow Paolini on Instagram and Twitter, and I see the stacks of finished chapters he cranks out. And so I used to think, “Man, that’s the life. No schedules, no pressures – just limitless time to write.”

But then I see his tweet. And it says, “Had a bit of writer’s block. Realized I was forcing characters to behave unnaturally. Instantly removed the block. Yay!”

I’m just gonna let that sink in for a minute. Wow! Right?

Here’s an author whose work I have read and reread multiple times. I continually buy any new content he releases about his previous works. I’ve bought versions of his books that I’ve already read tons of times because they contain “previously unreleased content.” (His marketing person is a genius.) And yet this guy – this prolific, amazing writer – is having the same trouble I’m facing right now.

So I thought, “No, surely it can’t be that simple?” Then, I immediately said, “Of course it can, and don’t call me Shirley.” (I miss Leslie Neilsen. I met him once, but that’s another story for another day.)

But I felt some trepidation, because to go back and look at what my characters were doing, searching for some flaw in the words there on the screen, could only

mean that I, the deity in their universe, had made – GASP – a mistake.

Go ahead – clutch your pearls, fan yourself, and whisper, “Oh, my stars,” because that’s exactly what happened.


I couldn’t believe it. I read what was there on the screen, and it seemed so … so… false. The people in this section were almost like completely different characters. How could I have done such a thing to these characters I loved so much? Whom I revered as so important?!

So I reworked the story a little, and that actually led to the introduction of a new character. It was amazing! It once again reminded me that if I don’t like something in my world, I can always just make something new that will fit. You can, too. Your story is your world, so you can do whatever you want with it. As long as you make something out of it.

Wow, thanks @paolini!

creating a world.jpg

___________________________Joe Torres
Joe Torres writes sci-fi adventure with heart. He is currently working on his first novel, Force of Nature. Joe lives in Gilbert, Ariz., with his wife and either the most amazing child on the planet or a demon from the depths of hell, depending on which side of nap time you find yourself.

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A Retreat for Creative Minds and a National Historic Landmark

A Retreat for Creative Minds and a National Historic Landmark

by C.K. Thomas

Yaddo, an artists’ colony and retreat for serious artists in Saratoga Springs, New York,Kate Trask is the creation of author/poet Kate (Katrina) Nichols Trask (1853-1922).

The name Yaddo was coined by Christina, one of the Trasks’ four children, through her childish mispronunciation of the word shadow. Tragically all of the Trask children died either in infancy or childhood.

Kate believed the 400-acre estate resonated with a mystic energy for creative inspiration. From the age of 46 until her death in 1922, planning for the center became her main focus, along with her continued writing and publishing of sonnets, lyrics, plays and poetry. Her antiwar play The Vanguard, published in 1914, was performed widely at churches and for women’s organizations.

by Katrina Trask

Oh power of Love, Oh wondrous mystery!
How is my dark illumined by thy light,
That maketh morning of my gloomy night,
Setting my soul from Sorrow’s bondage free
With swift-sent revelation; yea, I see
Beyond the limitation of my sight
And senses, comprehending now, aright,
Today’s proportion to Eternity.
Through thee, my faith in God is made more sure,
My searching eyes have pierced the misty veil;
The pain and anguish which stern Sorrow brings,
Through thee become more easy to endure.
Love-strong I mount, and Heaven’s high summit scale;
Through thee, my soul has spread her folded wings.

Yaddo officially opened in 1926. Unfortunately, neither Kate nor her husband, Spencer, who died in a 1909 railroad accident, lived to see their dream to completion. Kate had several heart attacks and lived as an invalid on the estate for many of the years she spent planning Yaddo.


Over the decades, more than 6,000 artists have frequented Yaddo, including Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, Ruth Heller, Patricia Highsmith, Flannery O’Conner, Sylvia Plath, Katherine Anne Porter, and Mario Puzo. Patricia Highsmith, who wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley, among other novels, bequeathed her entire $3 million estate to Yaddo during the center’s Centennial Gift Campaign.

Tourists are welcome to visit the extensive gardens at Yaddo, but there is no access to the mansion or the artists’ residences, with the exception of special events.


See inside Yaddo

The Gardens at Yaddo


Liberty’s Women, Wikipedia, and

C.K. ThomasC.K. Thomas lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Before retiring, she worked for Phoenix Newspapers while raising three children and later as communications editor for a large United Methodist Church. The Storm Women is her fourth novel and the third in the Arrowstar series about adventurous women of the desert Southwest. Follow her blog: We-Tired and Writing Blog.

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