Jul 27

The downside of collaborations… from a reader’s perspective.
 
When two writers get together and write an amazing story, they forget about one thing.
 
How difficult it is for us readers to get an autographed book. I mean, it’s hard enough getting an author’s signature, but two? It’s not like they usually live in the same city. Or even state.
 
So a few years back I got a signed copy of My Heart for Yours (MYFY) from Steph Campbell. Her co-author was Jolene Perry. And my book felt so lonely sitting on the shelf with only one autograph. And then one day, the book got packed up into a suitcase, boarded an airplane, and landed in Salt Lake City. All to accompany me to the Storymakers Conference.
 
MHFY was overjoyed when I, the lowly owner, presented the book to Jolene Perry and asked her if she could sign it. And she did, cause she’s cool like that. I mean, I didn’t even have to beg or anything. :)
 
And now my book is happy.
 
But then… while there, the generous Cassie Mae gave me a copy of her collabs with Theresa Paulo, King Sized Beds & Happy Trails and Beach Side Beds & Sandy Paths. And of course she signed them too.
 
Now those two books are unhappy because they do not have Theresa’s autograph. And now I’m going to have to hunt down her down to get her to sign it because I don’t want those books to be unhappy.
 
Unfortunately Theresa lives half a country away, but fortunately, she offered that if I ever came to New York, I could stay with her for a week or two. And she’s feed me and clothe me and show me all the sites of NYC. Right, Theresa?
 
Um, Theresa?
 
:)
 
So I’m hoping I don’t have to wait too long before I can get her to sign it. But by then, they’ll have the third story out, Lonesome Beds & Bumpy Roads, and I’ll just bring that one along too. But then it won’t have Cassie Mae’s autograph and then I’ll have to go to Utah again. And they’ll probably write more books together.
 
And this will never end. See, you collaborating authors, what problems you cause for us readers?
 
I guess I should stop complaining because I actually have those autographs, huh?
 
Do you have books that are collaborations, and you got it signed by one or both of the authors?

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Jul 06

Thank you to Rachel Schieffelbein for tagging me for the Lucky Seven. What you do is turn to page 7 or 77 of your current work in progress, count down to the 7th line, and print the next 7 lines.
 
The WIP I’m revising right now is called Varying Degrees of Blame. A contemporary young adult in dual POV. It’s about two foster kids, an unrelated boy and girl who are thrown together in the same foster family.
 
The part you’re seeing is 16 year-old Kylie, right after Kylie witnesses her mother getting beaten by her boyfriend.
 

“You okay?” I asked, crouching down in front of her. Most people thought we were sisters because she was so young, and I hated explaining the truth.


“Kylie honey,” she croaked, “can you get me a glass of ice water please?”


“Sure.” I grabbed the water pitcher and an ice tray from the harvest gold fridge.


Mom held the sweating glass to a dark bump. “Do you want an ice pack?” I asked. She shook her head and removed the glass from her forehead. I reached over to touch the ugly bruise, and she shrunk back. “Maybe I can drive you to the hospital.”

 
This story is finished, but right now I’m using my fantastic CPs’ critiques to make it even better. And hopefully I’ll be able to start querying by fall sometime.
 
Thanks, Rachel. And go here to see her posting from her contemporary young adult, Girl In Trouble.

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Jun 29

 
So I’ve been working on revisions for my current WIP, Varying Degrees of Blame, a young adult contemporary novel. I have a notebook for each story I write where I keep notes and ideas. I’m not a big plotter, but I do a little of it. Or character sketches. Or whatever.
 
On the first page of the notebook for my current story are two names. Zander and Kylie. Originally, Zander had been my boy mc, and some of my beginning notes use that name. I don’t remember why, but I ended up using Christian instead. And now when I look back, I’m like, Zander—that is so totally not right. It doesn’t seem to fit him at all.
 
Which is funny because I can’t really tell you what Zander looks like. It’s just not the boy in my story.
 
Most of the time, once I’ve chosen a name for my mc, I stick with it. Secondary characters names may change, but rarely a main one. And I wish I could remember why I changed Zander’s name to Christian.
 
But now I’m curious if others do this. Have you ever gone back into your old notes and seen where you’ve changed the name of your mc, and does that original name just seem foreign now? So much that you wonder what you were thinking almost using that name?
 
Or is it just me?

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Jun 22

I’ve noticed lately how so many bloggers I know are slowing down. I get it because I know why—they’re becoming published and now deadlines are not always just their own and their time is less. Also, many of them are finding that Twitter and Facebook are easier ways to interact with friends and readers compared to blogging.

Image courtesy of Artur84
FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Other people just drop out of the blogging atmosphere, and I don’t have them on Twitter or Facebook, so I don’t know what’s happened. If they’ve stopped writing. Or if it was just the blogging they quit. But there’s no way of knowing.
 
And I miss hearing from some of those people.
 
Recently I went through Feedly to clean things up a bit. Take off blogs I don’t ever read, and remove some of those who haven’t posted in forever. Usually I won’t remove anything until there’s been like 6-8 months of silence. But I’ll also leave those people who I really hope to hear back from. To know if they’re still writing. Still pursing that dream. And maybe they will come back some day.
 
It makes me wonder also, if blogging by writers, in general, is slowing down, for reasons I mentioned above, or if it’s just the writers I know and follow.
 
What are your observations? Do you have bloggers you followed that dissappeared, and you wish they’d come back?

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Jun 15

Happy Father’s Day to all the dad’s out there. Including my own and my husband–both terrific dads.
 
Most of the stories I write are young adult contemporary, and very often the fathers have a big part in the story.
 
More often, they tend to be absent, which of course affects my mc’s life in a big way, but sometimes the dad is a positive role model.

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The funny thing is with the ‘good’ dads, they don’t show up a lot throughout the story.
 
I have one father that I love. A story about two teens, a dual pov between a boy and a girl, called Beyond the Wake. The boy’s father is abusive, and you hardly see him. But the girl’s father is involved with his kids’ life.
 
And even though he works a lot and isn’t present for much of the story, when he’s around, he has a positive effect. And he plays a huge role in the growth of the boy–who has some issues to work through.
 
As much as I like to have bad parents that help propel my story forward, I like seeing those good parents too.
 
Do fathers play a big role in the stories you write?

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Jun 11

If you haven’t heard of Madeline Mora-Summonte yet, you really need to go check out her blog. She writes this amazing flash fiction, some of which she featured during the A to Z Challenge.
 
Today I’ve got her here to talk about her ff writing. But first, I want to show you a couple of my favorites that she wrote for A to Z . (And there will be more at the end too.)
 

NO RETURN

The sleek, blood-red convertible was rented, as was the boy toy behind the wheel, but I had no intention of bringing either of them back.


I love how she says so much in one sentence–the feeling of trepidation I get. The imagery in her mini-stories is fantastic.
 
MASK

Mama always makes me wear a mask. She says I’m ugly as the sin that made me, says I’ll be handsome enough to go without one when hell freezes over, when pigs fly.

 
When I leap from our roof, I am hiding a smile inside my pig mask.

 
That one also brings out the emotions–although sadness for that child. And she evokes those emotions so well with so few words. I’ve got a few more at the end, but now I’ve got a few questions. Welcome, Madeline.
 
What did you start writing first, novels or flash fiction and other short stories?
 
I’ve always worked on stories and novels. Novels are such long, complex projects that I find stories, especially flash fiction, give me a much needed sense of completion, of accomplishment. When I’m struggling with novel work, it gives me great pleasure to submit a story, to see one recently published online. The process of writing both gives me a sense of balance.
 

I’ve done a few short stories, and the one thing I love about them is that the editing is soooo much shorter compared to novels. It’s not as overwhelming to start that revision process.
 

Is it easier for you to write novels or short stories/flash fiction?
 

Hmm, I don’t know if I’d say one is easier. They’re just different.I don’t have to hold nearly as much information in my head for flash fiction as I do for a novel. Novel writing often feels overwhelming. Flash feels attainable, compact, the end is usually in sight.

 
Did you decide to ‘try’ FF and then create the stories, or did you have the inspiration first and when you started writing, it ended up being FF?
 


It really just depends. Sometimes, like with “Whale Watching,” it was for a contest so I was working within a set of guidelines, like word count and needing to include certain words in the story. “Mask” evolved from something I saw – a child wearing a pig mask, waving to people out the car window. “Indelible Ink” pretty much came from nowhere. I was just thinking about tattoos and why people get them, etc. “No Return” was based on a photo prompt from a number of years ago. I submitted slightly different versions of the story to a number of places, and it was rejected time and again. Yet it’s still one of my favorites. :)

 
Is most of your flash fiction for fun or do you publish a lot of it?
 

I submit a lot of it to different markets and contests. I like having deadlines and frameworks to work within, even if I have to create them for myself. For my collection, The People We Used to Be, I chose – and wrote – stories that fit the theme of who we are versus who we were. For The Blogging from A-Z Challenge April 2014, I limited every story to 100 words or fewer. I plan on putting together another collection, using a chunk of those A-Z stories, and I’m sure I’ll set some rules for myself for that one as well. :)

 
Thanks so much, Madeline. Again, make sure you go check out her blog and if you’re interested in reading about how she writes her flash fiction, go to this site. You can also find her story collection, The People We Used to Be here. Those flash fiction stories are a little longer than her A to Z postings, but are just as emotional and inspiring, and I really recommend reading it.

 
Have you ever written flash fiction? If not, here’s a few more of Madeline’s stories to inspire you. (And FYI, she does have positive stories too, but these sad and creepy ones are my favorites.)
 

Whale Watching

Cheryl waits on the sagging porch, the cutting spade resting across her thighs. Granddaddy used it to saw off whale blubber. She’s heard he used it for other things, too, but its stains tell no tales, fiction or otherwise.
 

Dusk descends. Varmints scuttle in the junkyard’s bowels. The trap clatters.
 

Cheryl smiles at the boys’ panicked cries. She’s sick of their nasty pranks and cruel words – Cheryl the Whale.
 

At 262 pounds, her flesh slushes loose and sweaty within her clothes as she lumbers across the yard, cutting spade in hand, ready to carry on the family tradition.
 
 

INDELIBLE INK

She let him stain her on the inside.
 

Now, he laughs, chooses her tattoo – his name down her back, mocking the spine she doesn’t have.
 

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Jun 02

Research is often a big part of writing a novel. And since a lot of us writers are introverts and don’t feel like calling up strangers to ask about interviewing them, we turn to the internet. Blogs, websites, video sites…
 
Today I’ve got Theresa Paolo, who is releasing her second novel, to talk about the research she did. If you haven’t read the first story, you should read that. (Never) Again and (Once) Again are companion novels, so they don’t need to be read in order, but it’s much better that way. :)

 
So the main character Josh (who by the way is hot :) and totally funny), is dealing with an injury from a terrible ordeal suffered in (Never) Again. What was the main subject you had to research for his story?
 

I did a lot of research on gun shot wounds. Even watched several Youtube videos on the healing process and cleaning them. Youtube seriously has a video for everything! I am very squeamish when it comes to blood so this was definitely hard for me. But I wanted to be as accurate as possible. I also just did Google searches and found blog posts and medical sites where people with gun shot wounds discussed the long healing process and the pain associated with it.

 

I’ve seen websites where you can submit your medical question to a doctor. That is super cool because sometimes you can’t find those little details that are important to your story by just Googling.
 
What’s something new/interesting you learned about gunshot wounds?
 
That a gunshot wound takes a great deal of time to heal. If it’s in the leg as Josh’s wound is in (Once) Again there’s potential for a limp, for nerve damage and the biggest concern is infection which is why it needs to be kept clean.

 

I’ve never had a gunshot wound, luckily :) , but Theresa did a good job making me feel what Josh was going through physically and emotionally in her story.
 

What is the most unusual research you did, if there was one weirder than this?
 

Gun shot wounds just might take the cake!

 

Some of the ‘interesting’ searches I’ve done for my writing include suicide, hanging specifically, and also about what it’s like to work as a stripper. (Not to convinced it’s worth the money. :) )
 
Thanks for stopping by, Theresa. And now I want to know if you’ve ever done any unusual research for your novels?
 
And if you haven’t heard about Theresa’s latest novel, here is the blurb.
 
Josh will have to reconcile his past…
 

In order to make Kat his future.
 

After surviving a real-life nightmare, Josh Wagner is sent home from his dream college on crutches. Bedridden and tormented by flashbacks, he’s just seen his world shattered and his baseball scholarship go up in smoke. Josh’s family hires a health aide to help take care of him, but when he opens the door, the last person he expects to see is his biggest regret…
 

Katherine Singleton is the only girl Josh has ever loved. Now, even though she’s only taking care of him because it’s her job, Josh is determined to win her back. But Kat had to move on after their breakup two years ago, and despite her feelings for Josh, a lot has happened since he left…

 
When Kat’s past comes back to haunt her, Josh decides it’s his turn to take care of her. But protecting her—and redeeming himself—will put Josh in the line of fire again. Will he survive this time?
 
And here is where to find out all about Theresa.

 
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May 25

The last two weeks, I’ve had Pepper Langlinais here to talk about screen plays versus novels. Today’s final posting is about querying. So I’ll let you take it away, Pepper.
 
So we’ve (well, I’ve) talked about how screenwriting differs from writing prose (books, stories). But does the querying differ too?
 

In some ways, yes, though the goal is largely the same: To get someone interested enough to want to read your work.
 

For a book manuscript, you might query agents and also publishers directly if they accept author submissions.
 

When trying to get your script read, you have a few different avenues: managers, agents, producers, directors, agencies. With all these options, it might seem like you have a better chance at getting a script read, but in actuality it’s much more difficult. Because even though there are all these possible readers, none of them actually like to read.
 

In fact, the goal for any of the above-mentioned people is to not have to read your script. They’re busy and have other things to do. That’s why they hire kids right out of college to read scripts for them, even though those kids don’t know s— about how to read and evaluate a script. (Most of them don’t anyway.)
 

This means your query has to be all the stronger for a script than for a book. You generally lead with what’s called the LOG LINE, which in a book query would be roughly the same as “the hook.” Except a log line has a definite structure. It should be only one sentence, and the best way to start is to say to yourself, “If a friend asked me what a movie was about, how would I answer in one sentence that would also make him want to go see that movie?”
 

You can probably do the same with a book hook, you know. Pretend you’re trying to convince a friend to read a book you think is awesome. He asks, “What is it about?” How do you answer in one sentence in a way that makes him want to read the book?
 

Sample Log Line: A New York cop tries to save his estranged wife from terrorists who have taken an L.A. office building hostage on Christmas Eve.
 

You all know this movie. It’s “Die Hard.” And if someone were to ask, “What’s ‘Die Hard’ about?” this is pretty much what your answer would be, though worded more formally here than if you were talking to a friend.
 

The key to querying for a script is to find producers, directors and so forth who do that kind of movie. Just as you would want to find a publisher or agent who handles your genre of writing. There are directories, similar to Writer’s Market type stuff, that list various production companies and whether they take unsolicited queries. IMDb Pro is also a great source to find out contact info and research who makes movies similar to the one you’ve written. (These are called COMPS, short for “comparative titles.”)
 

The wait time for a response is similar as well. It’s no use checking your e-mail incessantly; queries largely go unanswered. If you’re lucky enough to get someone to request your script, you can expect to wait 2 to 6 months for a response. (It’s fair to follow up after about 3 months.) Or you might never hear anything. The thing about Hollywood is that no one wants to say “no.” Because they never know how big you might get later, and they don’t want you to hold their rejection against them if you do make it big. So it’s easier and more politic to just say nothing at all. In Hollywood, no news is bad news.
 

Novel writers usually look for a literary agent. Screenwriters do, too. But you don’t have to have an agent, and in fact they’re nearly impossible to get. They usually don’t want you until you’ve already sold something or made a hit film. Kind of backwards, but that’s the way things are going in both publishing and filmmaking: You have to prove yourself first by self-publishing or making your own indie movie or whatever. Only then will the industry take you seriously. So while you look for an agent for your script, you should also be looking for potential directors, actors, etc. If you can get someone, anyone, to sign on to make your movie, you’re making progress.
 

These days the reigning advice is to make your movie yourself. Mount a Kickstarter campaign, take donations from family and friends, but just do it. It’s worked for some people, but it’s not for everyone. Plenty of writers just want to write and not be filmmakers in their own rights.
 

If you DO get an agent, he or she will (ideally) begin sending your script out to agencies, directors, producers, etc. Having an agent means having someone connected to the great web of Hollywood and someone to do the legwork for you. Still, it’s worse to have a bad agent than no agent at all. A bad agent sits on your script and never does a thing and then nothing happens because you think he’s doing the work so you aren’t doing anything either. The lesson is: Always be promoting. Networking. Taking advantage of opportunities. Even if you do have an agent.
 

Just as with manuscripts, a screenwriting agent will take 10-15% of whatever deal he or she is able to make for you. If you’re wondering why you should pay him if you’re still doing so much work, the answer is because he knows the industry, knows how much a script is worth and how to negotiate. He should also know what to look for in the legal documents. It’s definitely worth it to have a GOOD agent.
 

How do you know if he’s good? Ask for a list of his clients and/or sales. Make sure he’s a WGA Signatory. Give him a test run of 90 days and if nothing’s happening, look elsewhere. But you should NEVER have to pay an agent anything up front. He makes his money when he sells your work.
 

Finally, another way to get your script out there is to participate in Web sites like InkTip, which for a fee allows you to post your script and have it read by industry professionals. Also, directors looking for screenplays sometimes read these sites to find their next projects. Or they’ll put out calls for particular kinds of scripts that writers can look through to see if their screenplays fit the bill. I haven’t tried sites like this, and I’ve heard mixed reviews. Like with so many things, it works for some people but not everyone.
 

I hope I’ve answered any questions you might have had about querying scripts and getting them read and produced. If you have more questions, feel free to post them in the comments or send me an e-mail at visitors [at] pepperwords [dot] com.
 
Querying screen plays sounds just as frustrating as querying novels. :) Thanks so much, Pepper. It was fun to see all the similarities and differences between the writing and movie industries.

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May 18

  Last week I had my friend , Pepper Langlinais, on to talk about writing novels versus movie screenplays—and what makes a good one. Today is more about the content of those screenplays, and what they look like. If you haven’t read last week’s post yet, click here.
 
Thanks for coming back, Pepper. So how does a screenplay differ than a novel?
 

There are technical differences, of course. While in a book you might take several paragraphs to describe a room when someone first enters it, in a script you must do it quickly, efficiently, and without flourish. You’re not writing a script so that everyone can picture the place; you’re writing it so the art department and director know how to build and dress the set. A screenplay is a blueprint; a book is a finished product. In that way, the pieces of writing serve two completely different functions. And a screenplay is subject to change—the director, the actors, the producers may all decide to make changes to it, and as a writer you must be open to that. It is collaborative. If you don’t want anyone to touch your precious words, write books . . . And then your editor will probably change your words anyway.
 
Screenplays are generally written using special formatting software; the industry standard is Final Draft. It’s easier to use software than to try and format it yourself.
 
The first line that gives the location of the scene is called a slug. It tells the crew whether the scene will be inside (INT.) or outside (EXT.), which set/location will be used for the scene, and whether the scene is day or night. Slugs are key for pre-production because all scenes set in one location will generally be shot at the same time. So it’s important to know how many scenes happen in any one place, day or night. The first time a location is introduced in a script, it should be followed by description so the art department can find a suitable location or build and dress a set that will work.
 
Description and action are written in long paragraphs. Dialogue is tabbed in on both sides and headed by the character’s name.
 
(O.C.) means “off camera.” Meaning we hear the dialogue but don’t see who is speaking.
 
(CONT’D) means “continued” and shows that the character who had previously been speaking continues to speak.
 
Any time a character is seen for the first time in a script, his or her name appears in all capital letters in the description or action. After that it will appear in regular form for any additional description or action. (But this is only true in movie scripts; in television, it is usual for the characters’ names to continually be treated in all caps in any description or action. Way to make it confusing, guys.) Characters’ names are always in all caps when over dialogue. For film and TV.
 
And here is a page from a screenplay. If you’d like to see a more extensive example, Pepper has one posted here.
 

 

I can definitely see how formatting a screenplay could be a nightmare. Too many paragraphs to deal with. :)

 
Thanks again, Pepper, for sharing with us. And come back next week to find out the differences between querying screenplays and novels.
 
Have you ever seen a screenplay or was this totally new to you too?

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May 11

Many writers dream of having their books made into movies, but most have no clue about the process. Today I’ve got a friend, Pepper Langlinais, who actually knows about that because not only does she write novels, but she also writes screenplays. In addition to poems, plays, novellas and short stories. Whew—that just makes me tired. :)
 
You’ll have to check out Pepper’s blog to read more about her because she’s got a ton of fascinating stuff to say about screenplay writing, and I want to jump right into it.
 
So I’m just going to hand it over to Pepper.
 
Thanks, Suzi, for asking me to be a guest on your blog. It’s interesting being both a prose writer and a screenwriter (and a playwright, but that’s something else again), and you have a lot of valid questions about the differences between the two. Some stories can go either way or both ways, but I think we’re all aware of books that shouldn’t be made into movies, or books that are “unfilmable,” or books that were made into movies that turned out to be awful. And then there are plenty of movies that wouldn’t necessarily make for great reading, either. I’m sure there are novel tie-ins for things like Rambo, but I don’t really want to read it.
 

So what makes the difference? And how can you tell whether something should be a book or a screenplay (or both)?

 
If something needs to be told primarily from one character’s point of view and you’re mostly in his or her head, it should be prose. A person’s thoughts and feelings are largely unfilmable, so unless there are a lot of actions to go with this story (plot, things that are visually interesting), you’re going to have a dull slog of a screenplay on your hands. And you’re also going to have an actor who has to be on screen the entire length of the film. You have to think about things like that when writing a screenplay.

 

Generally speaking—and there are always exceptions, of course—screenplays are plot-driven and have a lot of dialogue and action. You don’t go into characters’ backgrounds unless it’s in the dialogue or it’s something you can show (example: photos on a fireplace mantel). Prose can be more thoughtful; descriptions and internal character motivations have a place in prose. It’s possible to find visually interesting ways to show things like thoughts and feelings, but then you’re leaning toward the avant garde.
 

You can put a lot more into a book than into a movie, too. And here I’m talking about length. In a screenplay, when properly formatted, each page equals roughly one minute of screen time. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but it should even out in the end. And so—largely dependent on genre—a typical screenplay is 110 to 120 pages (80-90 for comedies and children’s movies, maybe longer for dramas, but only if you’re already a known writer or director, else they’re not going to buy your 140-page script). And if you look at the sample screenplay page, you’ll see that’s not actually a whole lot of writing. If there’s too much writing on a script page, we call it “black.” And that’s a bad thing. It used to be very common back in Hitchcock’s time, but now it’s considered a sign of a slow script, and with today’s audiences being very short of attention, the script needs to move fast. But you can put as much loving description in a book as you like . . . And your editor will probably cut it anyway.
 

Hmmm. I don’t overwrite and put a ton of details in on my first drafts, so maybe I’d be a good screenwriter. But then again, I do too much internalization, so maybe not. :)
 

So when I’m trying to decide whether to write something as a book or a screenplay, I have to ask myself: A. Who is the audience? Book readers or movie goers? There is some crossover, but the answer will usually lean one way or another. B. What’s the best way to tell this story? If it’s a thoughts-and-feelings kind of story, it won’t make much of a movie. If it’s a plot-driven story, then it might make a good movie. And in either case I’ll want really great dialogue.
 

And yet . . . I’ve had some good luck turning my prose into screenplays. Even though “St. Peter in Chains” is a character-driven story, I found ways to turn it into an award-winning screenplay. And that just comes through knowing what will work on the screen versus the page. Even if it’s riveting in prose, it may just fall flat and bore people to tears on screen. If the actors are just sitting and talking . . . That’s not a movie. (Actually, it’s not much of a book either, so in that case maybe it should be a stage play.)
 
Although I’ve thought about how cool it’d be to have a book made into a movie, I’ve never really spent time thinking deeply about it. Unless it’s for a bloghop, I don’t analyze who’d be the best actor/actress to fill the rolls or whether it’d make a good movie or not. But now I’ll have to look back over my stories and think about it some more.
 
After hearing from Pepper, do you think your novel would make a good movie? Why or why not?
 
(Come back next week for Part II from Pepper.)

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