Saturday, April 19, 2014

April's North Texas Romance Writers of America President's Letter

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
I'm going to tell you an ugly story about myself.

In my childhood it was a common occurrence to have strange kids show up in our backyard. My dad had refurbished our garage into a beautiful Chiropractic clinic, which meant that the kids of his patients could go out back to play while their parents were getting their spines cracked.

When I was around 13, my friends and I went out back to jump on the trampoline. There were these girls around our age just sitting there, staring blankly, not talking.

We tried to talk to them but they wouldn't say a word.

Here's the ugly part. Since they wouldn't talk to us, and well, were beyond weird, we started making fun of them, saying things like "why you so sad?" in baby voices. We were brats. The 3 girls never responded.

When we went inside, my mom stopped us at the door and began telling us how those poor girls just an hour before had been bike riding and saw their friend hit and dragged behind a car, instantly killed.

I've never felt more worthless than I did at that moment.

It's been close to four decades but I still remember that sharp lurch of shame. It taught me two things:

First, I never wanted to be responsible for hurting anyone like that again.
Second, I don't know a damn thing about what is going on inside another person.

Fast forward. The day I first walked into La Hacienda Ranch where the North Texas Romance Writers of America group meets, I had a chronically ill child, mounting medical bills, stupid job I hated, overwhelmed husband, and I just wanted a place I could leave that behind for a few hours. I didn't share anything about my personal life with anyone. I just wanted to be treated like a normal person.

I tell you this because you never never know what that writer smiling and sitting next to you is dealing with. Some of us will tell anybody who wants to listen. Others, like myself, keep it quiet. At North Texas, we have members dealing with divorce, with ailing parents, ailing spouses, health, emotional, or mental issues at home, cancer scares and cancer realities. We have members worried about their children, worried about finances, struggling with inadequacies when everyone around them seems successful.

We have members who have lost their spark for writing and want it back. We have members who are so hopeful their faces shine with it. We have members who have been rejected, rejected, rejected and manage to climb back up that hill.

We have members that for them our meetings are their only few hours a month where they get to feel like a normal person.

I am so inspired and impressed by you. At your sincere willingness to encourage each other. To support each other. You're truly happy for each other's successes and sad when things don't go a writer's way. I love that about North Texas. This group has unknowingly gotten me through some of the worst times of my life. I'm proud to call you friends. Keep it up for each other. Continue to be supportive and encouraging.

Let us always be hopeful and helpful.
May we continue to be kind to each other.
And when we fail in that, because we sometimes will, being human and all that, cultivate forgiveness and allow us a chance to do better. Because like I said, we don't know what is going on inside another person or what they are struggling with.

I love you guys, truly, and am honored to be counted among you.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Love a good ghost story: Hawthorne

Hawthorne cover photoHawthorne by Sarah Ballance
After a terrifying encounter with the unexplained, it takes ten years and the news of her grandmother’s passing for Emma Grace Hawthorne to return to her childhood home. She seeks peace in saying a proper goodbye, but what she finds is an old love, a sordid family history, and a wrong only she can right.
Living in the shadow of Hawthorne Manor, Noah Garrett has never forgotten about Emma Grace. In a house full of secrets, his search for missing documents reveals a truth that can cost him everything. What he finds gave Emma the freedom to walk away from the mansion, her heart free and clear, but at what price to Noah?

Praise for Hawthorne
“This is a marvelous ghost story. The mystery, the suspense, the eeriness – all collaborate to weave a spell-binding tale . . . The story seamlessly flows to a shocking ending that is utterly brilliant.” — Coffee Time Romance
“When I finished it, honestly, all I could do was sit there – a little awestruck.” — Kick Back & Review
Hawthorne will be FREE on Amazon from April 10th to 14th 
Excerpt from Hawthorne
Noah closed in on the convertible, giving the nearby grounds a cursory look. The lawn was meticulous, the beds overflowing with sprays of purple garden phlox which trailed around the bend in the road and disappeared. A riot of white and rust-red irises backed the smaller purple flowers, their leaves deep green and glossy. Overhead, Spanish moss swayed only occasionally atop a maze of live oak, more likely a result of a passing swarm of insects than an actual air current. The land was still. If there were tourists snapping photos of the historic plantation — or doing anything else — he didn’t see them. But someone had been there. The car was certainly real, even if that too-familiar scream had been a figment of his imagination.
Wasn’t it always?
Resigned to another night alone with his memories, Noah pivoted.
And found himself nose to nose with Emma Grace.
Astounded, he opened his mouth, then closed it. He wanted to reach for her, but his arms refused the notion; they hung uselessly by his sides, the effort futile. His mouth wasn’t much on cooperation, either. Finally, he found his tongue. “Em—”
Her expression cut him off. Green eyes wide, skin pale, her small frame shaking, she spoke. “I saw her, Noah. She’s back.” The words, nearly soundless, seemed to catch in the thick air. Lingering. Threatening.
And ripping the heart from his chest.
sarah ballance
Author Sarah Ballance
Sarah and her husband of what he calls “many long, long years” live on the mid-Atlantic coast with their six young children, all of whom are perfectly adorable when they’re asleep. She never dreamed of becoming an author, but as a homeschooling mom, she often jokes she writes fiction because if she wants anyone to listen to her, she has to make them up. (As it turns out, her characters aren’t much better than the kids). When not buried under piles of laundry, she may be found adrift in the Atlantic (preferably on a boat) or seeking that ever-elusive perfect writing spot where not even the kids can find her.
She loves creating unforgettable stories while putting her characters through an unkind amount of torture—a hobby that has nothing to do with living with six children. (Really.) Though she adores nail-biting mystery and edge-of-your-seat thrillers, Sarah writes in many genres including contemporary and ghostly paranormal romance. Her ever-growing roster of releases may be found at
BookBlast Giveaway  $50 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash
Ends 4/30/14
Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Death Hovers Close this Week

Mary Autrey and my boysIt's been one of those weeks, well two weeks really, that Death has been a constant presence and in my mind.

It began with my mother-in-law softly slipping away at age 85. She had been suffering from dementia,
sometimes unable to remember where she was or even how old she was without a reminder. She had been a vibrant intelligent force to be reckoned with so slipping into dementia was difficult on my husband and his siblings. She's been in California for the last five years and when my husband saw her last a little over a year ago, he said he knew then it would be the final time he saw his mother.

Then on one of my writer loops we heard about how a fellow author's sixteen-year-old son was killed in a car accident on his way to school. My heart wrenches. I can't begin to imagine watching my child walk out the door and in what had to be less than fifteen minutes later, being gone. There aren't even any words for that kind of emotion.And fear. It's too sudden, it's just too sudden. And he's so young. I don't personally know this writer, but gosh, I sorrow and grieve with her.

The romance writing community is a tight compassionate group so a memorial fund has already been set up for their family's behalf. However it is already closed. I am inserting links to her books in case anyone would like to contribute in that way by simply buying one of her books. And since most child riders on life insurance policies top off at $10k yet the average burial costs are around $20k at the low end, believe me I know, extra book sales help. Jackie Barbosa on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Also this week I learned that my dear friend Steve "Peach" Wahlquist lost his wife to cancer.  I've actually never met her either, but knowing the kind of man Peach is and the way he speaks about her, she was someone amazing.

Yesterday we received word that the four-year-old daughter of a sweet family at our church was home from Cooks Childrens Medical Center with hospice care as her lungs are failing and will live only a few more days. I was assigned to be this mother's visiting teacher a couple of years ago. In our church, we're assigned to go visit each other and make sure everyone is taken care of, whether they need help help or just someone to talk to. It's a way of everybody taking care of each other. Anyway, she was assigned to me and my friend Laurie and I have to tell you I was scared the first time we went to her home. I knew she had a terminally ill child and after losing my own child I didn't think I was emotionally stable enough to be any kind of help to her. I imagined myself losing it and just blubbering and being zero help or strength for her at all. I've never prayed so hard before a visit in my life.

Miraculously I didn't break down. I'm not sure I was any help to her either any time we visited. Mostly we gave her a place to talk. I actually was kind of quiet, observing who she is and her strength in dealing with what she has to deal with in keeping her child alive, literally, on a daily basis. I remember being that way, having the strength and fortitude to just keep going even when you're beyond exhausted because there wasn't anything else to do. But from the other side of it, I also knew where this was going, how everything will change. Right now they are waiting for their precious girl to die. Cataloging every breath, the soft feel of her skin and hair, the way she smells as though they'll be able to hold onto those senses forever. Everything's surreal yet strikingly sharp and clear at the same time.

I'm not the same person I was before Chase's death. I'm not strong anymore, not like I had to be before. To be honest, it caught me off-guard how even the strength of my faith changed and the emotional ability to deal with the tiniest things is different. I don't know how my friend will be. I know everyone grieves differently, but I do know that she won't be the same as she is now.   It's hard thinking about what their family is going through today and not being able to do anything for them until afterwards. Our entire church community is waiting and grieving with them, feeling a bit helpless when we so badly want to help.

Kyle and Chase Autrey at the Dallas LDS Temple
And while death is so close this week, my thoughts were also turned toward my own children. In our faith, going to the temple and receiving instruction and sealing families together for all time and eternity is important to us. Before a young man or woman goes on a mission, they go to the temple for the first time and receive what we call an endowment, a gift from God so to speak. We also do these things by proxy for our dead. I'm not going to go into all of what that means to us here, but here's a link that shows pictures of inside our temples and a little bit more about it.

We waited until Kyle went to the temple to also go through for Chase on the same day. Again, I wasn't sure I was emotionally ready to handle it even after 3 years. If he had lived, Chase would be 18 and  ready to go on his own mission and go to the temple for himself. It's fitting that my boys went to the temple together, even if Chase was only there in spirit. My husband stood in as a proxy for Chase which was also right.

My heart sorrows today. All these deaths are so different. Some were old and suffering, some young and suffering, and Jackie's son so unexpected. If I've learned anything it is that grief and mourning and hurt and how someone deals with it, isn't something that can be compared or even judged with how it it dealt with. You simply hurt with the person going through it and comfort whoever stands in the most need of comfort at the moment you are there with them. That's all we can do really.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March NTRWA President's Letter

I love writer conferences.

I've only been to 2 big ones. Fantasy and Scifi World Con in 2006 and our own RWA Nations last years. At WorldCon I was beside myself in the presence of the greats like L.E. Modesitt (trapped him in an elevator), Charlaine Harris, Elizabeth Moon, and Charles DeLint (found them in the elevator too. I'm telling you the elevator is the place to hang out.) And poor Marjorie Liu. I fangirled all over that sweet kid before she had a chance to check in. That's what she gets for being in line behind me and telling the clerk her name out loud. I love her! Embarrassingly enough I'm sure I'd fawn all over her again even 8 years later. Unless she remembers me and runs for it. She looks fast.

I was an ant walking among gods. But wow, was it fun.

Marjorie Liu and Clover Autrey at WorldCon 2006

I've also attended several of our local smaller conferences and love them just as much. Probably because I know more people there, or because it's smaller and not as intiidating, I'm more myself. One of the highlights for me personally, is going out to dinner at the ned of the day with a large groupof writers, old friends and new friends. It's so much fun.

This year we're lucky enough to have two RWA conferences close by. Our Two-Step conference this month and Nationals in San Antonio in July. I hope I hope I hope that all of youTexas writers are able to take advantage of at least one of these conferences this year. Better if you can go to both!!! There is nothing like the energy of being around creative people. And if you happen to see Margorie a little fangirl flip-out on my behalf please.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Brandon Mull and Chase

(Just reposting this news report from LDS Living so I'll always have it. All credit goes to them...)
Pictures are from me, which I'm thinking now that I had a terrible camera.

Brandon Mull and Chase Autrey
Brandon Mull and Chase Autrey

When author Brandon Mull set out to create the fictional world of Fablehaven, he never imagined that his fantasy would become a New York Times bestselling children’s book series. And he certainly would have never guessed the fabled world would make a wish come true for a dying little boy in reality.
Fourteen-year-old Chase Autrey of Fort Worth, Texas has battled cystic fibrosis since he was a toddler. With countless treatments and enough reality to last ten lifetimes, one of Chase’s favorite things to do is escape into Mull’s mythical world of Fablehaven, a secret preserve for magical creatures.

The Autrey family, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, found themselves again at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, in December, when doctors told the family Chase likely had three days to live, said his mother, Clover Autrey.

"His body is breaking down” she said. “It just has deteriorated to the point they're not sure he's got that much time left."

As doctors and nurses did all they could to keep young Chase from succumbing to the buildup in his lungs, his family braced for the worst. At one point, they didn’t expect him to make it through the night.
Chase had read all four volumes of the Fablehaven series and had been anticipating the March 23 release of the final book, Fablehaven: Keys to the Demon Prison. Chase first became a fan of the Fablehaven series after listening to the first book on audio CD at his grandmother’s house. He was too sick to go out and play with his cousins, so the boy who “doesn’t like books” took a chance on the series, his mother said.

After that, he was hooked. His dying wish was to know how the Fablehaven story ends.

Thanks to A Wish With Wings, a Texas-based foundation that helps grant terminally ill children their final wishes, a special phone call came to Chase’s hospital room on Thursday, Dec. 10. [2009]

With his family gathered around, Chase took a call from LDS author Brandon Mull. In this small hospital room, with tearful nurses and tender-hearted family and friends watching, Chase became the only person in the world to hear the details of the final volume of his favorite story. “Now if I’m going to tell you this stuff from [book] five, you’re going to have to promise to keep this stuff a secret,” Mull told Chase. “We’ve got a pact,” his family responded in unison. Mull then revealed the entire plot to an eager Chase.

Read the rest of this story at

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Watching the Bachelor

The Bachelor logo
used by permission through

Feburary's NTRWA President's Letter

Okay, I admit it. I’m a The Bachelor addict.  Yes, I watched Trista and Ryan repeat their vows. I sat through Catherine and Sean’s “Grown Sexy” ceremony. Where my grandparents enjoyed the Lawrence Welk show together, The Bachelorette is Pat and my’s Lawrence Welk. We don’t miss it or watch it separately. Yes, that’s television at work, keeping families together.
The Lawrence Welk shoeLet’s face it, it’s a romance novel come to reality TV. It provides a hero and heroine hoping for that happily ever after that we all root for. Well, exept for  Ben Flajnik. Had to stop rooting for him because he was too easily manipulated to the point of annoying. (Note to self: don’t write annoying heroes.)
But it also has a fairy godmother type matchmaker (Chris Harrison thank you), and that one evil antagonist we all want to hate, as well as several hilarious secondary characters that steal every scene they step in to. And those secondardy characters usually end up in the book’s sequel, er, I mean as the next bachelor or bachelorette.
So my point?
Uh, no point really. Except the strong inciting evidence that the general masses are still looking for romances and happily ever afters as the top sources of entertainment, be it television or in books.
So happy watching, happy writing and reading. And happy Valentine’s day.
With loads of heart-shaped chocolate. Yes, lots of chocolate.  

                       Heart shaped chocolate

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Kindle Fire HDX Giveaway

Kindle Fire Valentines
Win a Kindle Fire HDX, Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash ($229 value)


Bloggers & Authors have joined together and each chipped in a little money towards a Kindle Fire HDX 7" (or $229 Amazon Gift Card or $229 in Paypal Cash).

All New Kindle Fire HDX 7" Giveaway
The winner will have the option of receiving a 7" Kindle Fire HDX (US Only - $229 Value)

Or $229 Gift Card (International)

Or $229 in Paypal Cash (International)

Giveaway Sponsors

Sign up to sponsor the next Kindle Fire Giveaway:

Giveaway Details

1 winner will receive their choice of an all new Kindle Fire 7" HDX (US Only - $229 value), $229 Amazon Gift Card or $229 in Paypal Cash (International).

There is a second separate giveaway for bloggers who post this giveaway on their blog. See details in the rafflecopter on how to enter to win the 2nd Kindle Fire HDX 7".

Ends 3/16/14

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the participating authors & bloggers. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Making of a Book Cover: Highland Son

I've been at it again, making book covers and lots of them. 

Four to be exact for my newest series A New Dawn, a continuation of the Highland Sorcery series.
I don't make covers for other people because that's not really where I want to focus my time and energy, but I gotta say, I love making my own. Searching for just the right cover model is fun. I always go for the expression, more so than looks...

Original picture for AlexanderAnyway, here's the picture I used for Alexander. I just love the way the photographer Konradbak captured him in motion...and the intensity on his face is perfect.

Shirt to overlap Highland Son coverThe only thing I don't like about this is that he's shirtless. It doesn't fit with the brand of my books, which are more action and behind-the-door snogging, less skin. And since I don't want readers expecting something they aren't going to get, I try hard to keep everyone clothed. So the next step before I bought the picture for use was to see if I could find a shirt to cover the poor guy up with.

I found this picture with the model's body turned in close to the same position.

So now I have the two pictures. I overlaid the shirt picture on top of Alexander's picture, sized it to fit, tilted it a bit to fit more, and then used the eraser tool to erase everything on the top picture except for the shirt. I also had to get a little creative with the cloning tool to fill in more of the shirt color where I erased the shirt guy's arm which took out some of the shirt.  (Weird sentence. As a writer I should do better, but as a lazy person this moment, I'm going to leave it.) The bottom of the shirt is a bit fuzzy but the words will camouflage that a bit. Not too mention it draws the eye up to the face since it's more in focus. That's what I tell myself anyway.
Before and after saturation on photograph of Alexander

So now I have a shirt on Alexander.  But he's kind of gray. So I saved the picture into one layer and then used the saturation tool to pull up more color. He's just about perfect now, except I want a different background.

Kay, I cheated a little here by using a background I already had. I loved the greenish building scape cover for Highland Shapeshifter. So I pulled up that original cover (I already own that picture for use) and cropped a background out of it from the left bottom corner below her arm. So now that little piece will be Alexander's background.
Cover for Highland Shapeshifter

Once that photograph was cropped and sized for the background layer, I overlaid the saturated picture of Alexander over it and went to work with the eraser tool, enlarging it to work to make sure I erased around every strand of hair very carefully. It's painstaking work, but worth the time and effort.  

So here he is. He, of course, is missing an arm because that's where the original picture's edge cut off. So that is obviously going to be where I crop it for the ebook copy. I saved this version to be able to use some of that for the back cover when I work on the paperback jacket. 
So after cropping and adding the title and author name (moi), which takes only a few minutes because I already have a series template saved so that all the books in the same series are uniformed. 

Now, to move onto the cover for the paperback. The trick there is knowing how large the spine needs to be depending on how many pages (or how fat) the book will end up. Once I knew that, I got to work. I had to add a little more to the back cover because what I had cropped out of Highland Shapeshifter didn't go all the way to the edge. So what I did was take the photograph (two pictures up) before I added the words and flipped it horizontally into a mirror item. Then I slid that along the edge of this picture. If the bigger was larger, you'd see a mirror version of Alexander on the left side. In fact I had to use the cloning tool again to paint part of his jacket out. If you look closely you can see the line where the two pictures meet. So, don't look that closely. Well, okay, go ahead. 
Paperback cover jacket for Highland Son

And remember how I said I made 4 covers? Well, that's because I wanted to put all the series covers on the back cover jacket. Cool, eh? I learned that trick from my friend Suzan Butler, cover artist  and author extraordinaire. She knows all the neat things to do. 

But then I thought, "Hey, since I used the same background on two covers, they should match real well." Since I was playing in photoshop anyway, I decided why not update my blog. It's been a while anyway. So I meshed the two covers together and came up with the new heading above. I'll stick it here too for when I decide to update it again.

Clover Autrey blog header

And then, since I'm having a new series release party on facebook next week, (You're all invited by the way, just go over and "like" my Clover Autrey Books facebook page so you'll be sure to get the posts.) I thought I might as well go ahead and make a cool banner to advertise it. I had to flip him horizontally again since the facebook profile picture takes up the bottom left corner. And, well, he's still missing that arm...
New series Release Celebration for Highland Sorcery A New Dawn
Anypooh, that's it for now. 
Highland Son, Alexander's book, is for sale on the kindle and also for sale on the nook.
It's at all the other retailers through Smashwords.
The paperback is in review and will be ready for purchase at Amazon and Barnes &Noble toward the end of next week. 

And in case you are wondering, I'll be posting the transformation of the other three cover photos within a few days. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Readers Wanted to Read Free Books

The Carolyn Readers Choice award logo

Great opportunity to get pdfs of this past year's books . . . for free.

Be a reader judge for The Carolyn Readers Choice Awards 2014. All you got to do is sign up, read the first 30 pages of 3 books, and send in a short little score sheet. Choose any heat level you prefer from very sweet to very hot. You get to keep the entire book and finish reading at your leisure.

Sign up to get the pdfs to judge for the Readers Choice Awards here.

Easy peasy . . . plus your voice gets heard in what kind of books Readers are looking for. Plus-plus, they are free. Did I mention they are free? All you gotta do is read. Yay for reading. Fill out a judging form. And let your reading tastes count for the next up-and-comers in what's popular in books.

This is a Readers judging only contest. Sorry, writers, I know you are huge readers too, but anyone in the writing industry in any form, please restrain from signing up.

However, writers, if you have a book published in 2013, enter it here at the Carolyn Readers Choice entry.
(Before Valentine's Day.) Let readers be the new gatekeepers of what's hot.

Because Reader Choices is where it's at. Reader approval is what we want. Readers are who we love to connect with!!!
North Texas Romance Writers of America logo

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Real Romance, Written Romance

So I'm the President this year for the North Texas Romance Writers of America. Believe me, I'm still trying to figure out how that happened. Fortunately, I have a very savvy group of women on the Board who won't let me run the chapter into the ground. One of the perks is that I get to write a President's Letter for the newsletter each month and as I'm always trying to think of content for my blog, I thought I'd go ahead and post them here as well. Lucky you. *grinning ear-to-ear as I think I'm so very clever*

NTRWA January President's Letter

Alannah Autrey vintage bridal photograph
I spent the last weeks of December in a whirlwind as my only daughter got married. She made a beautiful bride, going for a vintage Great Gatsby vibe that carried us all into another realm.

And as I caught Andrew and Alannah always wanting to sit by each other with their heads together to whisper and laugh at things only they were privy to, or holding hands, or just those little glances that conveyed so much feeling between them, it reminded me of what young love, first love, even older reaffirmed love can be and how I, as a writer of romance, should be better at capturing those feelings in words and passing it on to my readers.

Do I show that in the small things? Do my hero and heroine constantly gravitate toward each other? Do they watch each other from across the room? Do they touch one another in little ways? Do fingers slide along the arm? Do hands interlock? Do knuckles caress a cheek as a stray lock of hair is tucked behind an ear?

It’s an exciting time. An exciting new year ahead. I loved watching the union of a new couple, and managed to only cry just a little. It’s a new beginning for them. And a new beginning for us as writers. Move forward with confidence in yourselves and your abilities. Take chances. Celebrate with each other and for each other. Get back up again when you fall.

As for me, I’m going to focus on the small things. The hand holding. The caresses. And see if I can’t pull deeper emotion from my characters. The kind of emotion I felt from my daughter and new son-in-law.

It’s going to be a great year!

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