Free Graphics at Canva

Evidently the rest of the writing world learned about Canva.com long ago. I’ve only recently discovered its multitude of free and easily customized templates for Facebook posts, Instagram, postcards, and all sorts of things.

Now that I know, I’m hooked. I started out playing with their ready-made templates, and created graphics that I may or may not ever actually post on my Facebook page:

Further experimentation produced results more in keeping with my tastes and better suited to the books:

Canva’s templates gave me ideas. This one suggested a way of showcasing several reviews at once:

Finding my rhythm, I knocked out several images that I’ve stockpiled for a social-media blitz when the time comes to actively promote Waterspell Book 4 (it’s nearly finished!) and the audiobooks (after an unavoidable delay, we’re now aiming for a Spring 2022 release at Audible).

I’m thinking I can never have too many of these things pre-made and ready to post. So it’s back to Canva.com that I go. Many thanks to that wonderfully generous Aussie tech company for making so many of its templates totally free. ♥

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Impossible to Beat Goodreads Into Submission?

GoodreadsFor good or ill, I mostly ignore Goodreads. The interface is maddeningly clunky. It resists all efforts to correct or update book details. The simple act of uploading a new cover creates multitudes of “new editions” which are no such thing. Edits are not saved immediately, making the person behind the editing wonder whether they stuck at all.

I write this while waiting the minimum 15 minutes to see whether the new Waterspell paperback covers got uploaded correctly (inevitably showing as “new editions,” creating a vastness of editions at Goodreads when there are, in fact, only the three editions in the real world: Paperback, Kindle, and other ebook).

The multiplied editions don’t annoy me nearly as much, however, as Goodreads’ insistence on changing the books’ titles. They are properly titled Waterspell Book 1: The Warlock, Waterspell Book 2: The Wysard, and Waterspell Book 3: The Wisewoman. In Goodreads’ infinite wisdom, however, the books are shown with their subtitles first, and the actual title—Waterspell—in parentheses. I frown at them taking such liberties with my books, but there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it.

My antipathy toward the Goodreads interface keeps me from participating widely on that platform, which undoubtedly redounds to my disadvantage. I know it’s popular with avid readers, and I should reach out to connect with fantasy fans who spend time there. But egads, Goodreads! Why in this age of technological marvels does your interface feel 20 years old? Has it grown too huge and bloated to revamp? Are we stuck forever with this wallowing mess of a website?

I think it’s been 15 minutes. Now I shall log in again and see if any of my edits stuck, or if I must try, try, try again. <sigh>

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How Do Books Get Discovered?

“The trick isn’t to get people to read your book. The trick is to get people to hear about your book.”

So said a participant in a recent Authors Guild webinar about book marketing and promotion. The comment struck a chord, for I’ve struggled to get my books more widely noticed. The reviews they have garnered suggest fantasy fans would enjoy reading Waterspell, but too few members of my intended audience have even heard of the series.

Anticipating the release of the audiobooks (which are progressing now, after a six-month hiatus in which Life with a capital L again intervened to back-burner them), I’m trying a mix of old and new ways to reach my audience. My newest effort is through two particularly lively Facebook groups:

  • The Reading Corner Book Lounge: “A fun and friendly place for bookdragons to discuss anything and everything bookish! We have a wide variety of members worldwide who read all sorts of genres. We frequently host readathons and have several group reads every month if you choose to participate. We also host author Live interviews a few times a year.”
  • Fantasy-Faction – SFF Book Discussion: “Fantasy-Faction.com is one of the world’s largest fantasy and science fiction book communities. Each week we bring readers book reviews, author interviews, articles on the genre, up-to-date news and much, much more. Our site has proudly been nominated for the World and British Fantasy Awards and twice won the Reddit Award for Best Fantasy Website.”

Reading Corner allows authors to self-promote, within limits. Naturally they ask writers to comment and participate with the other posts, and to not join for the sole purpose of self-promotion. I’m enjoying the group immensely and find it easy to participate as simply one avid reader among thousands. Group members read everything, but fantasy is a popular genre among them. The tone is unfailingly supportive and polite. They enjoy each other’s company. I’m not yet ready to straight-out ask for group members to read and review my books, but I anticipate a positive response when I reach that point.

Fantasy Faction dragonFantasy-Faction, on the other hand (the dragon is their logo), does not allow advertising or “buy my book” posts. It’s wonderfully informative, however. I’m learning a new vocabulary for discussing the fantasy genre: terms like “grimdark” and “reactive protagonist.” One post so neatly summed up the elements of classic, epic fantasy, it gave me a kind of template for describing Waterspell’s place in that subgenre:

Waterspell fits firmly in the realm of epic fantasy (but with an environmental fantasy twist) … It’s got ancient and mysterious magic, a Hero/Heroine’s Journey (with a twist), a passage from one world to the otherworld, a (reluctant) Chosen One, and a search for belonging and redemption.

One frequent Fantasy-Faction contributor described her favorite genre tropes in terms that left me in no doubt: She would like Waterspell. Now I’m wondering if it’s cricket (honorable, acceptable, not insectoid) to message her and offer her a review copy in exchange for a fair and honest review. I have to think it over and seek advice. Mustn’t offend (or get kicked out of the group).

New Paperback Covers

Book 1 The WarlockAnother thing I’ve learned from participating in these two bookdragon groups is that fantasy fans still buy physical books! I had assumed that ebooks were more popular with my intended audience. Personally, I prefer the convenience and portability of ebooks, and I’ve gradually culled my library of physical books. When I got new ebook (and audiobook) covers made, I thought I wouldn’t bother with updating the paperback covers, too, since the Waterspell paperbacks are much more expensive than the ebooks and haven’t sold as well.

My thinking has changed, after realizing that fantasy fans are collectors as much as they are readers. They love beautiful books, they want to hold them in their hands, and they want to display them on their bookshelves. Therefore, I have returned to my cover artist, Vila Design. and placed an order for new paperback PDFs to match the ebook covers, to be uploaded at Lightning Source.

Tweaked Facebook Page

I had wondered why my books’ Facebook page didn’t look like other writers’ pages. Visitors had to scroll past layers of Facebook-imposed clutter to reach the heart of the page. Finally I dug deep into the Settings (they bury it deep) to discover I was using FB’s “Standard” page template. When I changed to the “Public Figure” template, voila! The page cleaned up nicely. Much less clutter at the top. I’m glad to discover the fix but wonder why it was so hard to find.

Author page screenshot new template

And so I press on, trying this and that, seeking a wider audience for my work … convinced, at the end of the day, that nothing really succeeds except word-of-mouth. Personal recommendations are gold.

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“Literary Fantasy” Defined

Book 1 The WarlockThis is the best definition of “literary fantasy” I’ve come across. The definer, Emily Temple, also lists and briefly describes recommended books in the genre. Of course, I must add the Waterspell series to the list, as it closely fits her definition:

“For the purposes of this list, I am using it [the term ‘literary fantasy’] to mean works of fantasy that prioritize sentence-level craft and/or complex thematic structures, and/or that play with expectations and fantasy tropes, and/or that focus on characters and interiority as primary goals of the work. I don’t just mean ‘well-written fantasy’ or ‘literary novels that have magic in them,’ though both kinds of books can be found here. What I mean is books that relate to and pull from the conventions of both genres: fantasy and literary fiction. This means there might be dragons, and there might be a hero’s journey, and there might be some lyrical descriptions, and there might be some family conflict. There is also some crossover with SF and literary SF, of course.”
—Emily Temple

Find Temple’s list on Literary Hub at “10 Works of Literary Fantasy You Should Read.”

 

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Notes from a ConQuesT 52 Foodie

close up photo of sliced bread on oval wooden plate

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

I spent much of the 2021 Memorial Day weekend attending (virtually) ConQuesT 52, the annual SF and fantasy convention presented by the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. The many interesting panel discussions included Neurodiversity in Star Trek; Trials and Tribulations of Running an Interstellar Space Station; Being Creative in 2020: Building Community, Visibility, and Audience in a Virtual World; and my personal favorite, “Food in Fantasy.”

That one got me thinking about the many ways in which food comes to the fore in Waterspell, starting with Carin’s near-starvation on her long journey as she’s forced to beg or steal what food she can, but survives mostly on the rabbits she kills and the roots and berries she forages. Then the housekeeper Myra enters Carin’s life, feeding her better than she’s eaten in years. In Myra’s kitchen, around the trestle table, we learn much about the resident warlock and his small household.

Finding, cooking, and eating food provide endless opportunities for character development and story progression. Seeing the warlock throw down a glass of something alcoholic during tense moments, or when he needs time to think, gives us a glimpse of the inner man. Watching the characters gather for a meal, listening to their dinner-table talk, we catch the nuances in their phrasing and read meaning in their pauses. I’m hard-pressed to imagine how the story could have developed without meal breaks providing opportunities for the characters to reveal their hidden sides and crack open one other’s emotional shells from time to time.

Foods and beverages also lend themselves to writing that touches all the senses. Not only “How does it taste?” (tart, sweet, salty, bitter … ) or “How does it smell?” (spicy, burnt, savory, fruity, gamy … ) but “How does it feel in the mouth?” Is it crunchy or creamy, chewy or tender, slimy, sparkling, wet, dry, or maybe still moving? What does it sound like as it cooks over an open fire? Is the pot bubbling, the meat sizzling? What does it look like? Colorful fruits and vegetables, pastries, breads and sauces? Brown gravies and browner meats? Or does the food look as gray as a dungeon’s walls, or as green as a cup of poison? When writing about food, a writer can pull out all the descriptive stops, for it’s a sure bet that food has significance for every reader.

The ConQuesT panelists discussed the close ties between food and culture: how rice may call to mind one cultural tradition, for instance, while potatoes evoke another, and haggis another. The work of Brian Hayden was mentioned, particularly his book The Power of Feasts, which explores the practice of feasting from prehistoric to modern times, revealing patterns and links to other aspects of culture such as food, personal identity, power, and politics.

Speaking of personal identity, the panelists commented on the ways in which foods and beverages can become character hooks: Star Trek’s Captain Picard likes “Tea. Earl Gray. Hot.” Counselor Deanna Troi craves chocolate. My own Waterspell warlock drinks dhera, occasionally to excess.

I enjoyed this year’s virtual ConQuesT and appreciated the chance to attend the panel discussions without needing to travel to KC. To learn more about ConQuesT—Kansas City’s original Science Fiction Convention held annually on Memorial Day Weekend—and the convention’s sponsor, Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, please visit their website. Scroll to the bottom of the page to sign up for their email list. I signed up and look forward to getting more involved. Maybe next year, I’ll be in KC on Memorial Day.

 

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Filed under Books and Readers, On Writing, Waterspell fantasy trilogy, Writers

Favorite Quotes #1

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”—Martin Buber

“Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom.” —Phyllis Theroux


“Take the course opposite to custom and you will almost always do well.” —Jean-Jacques Rousseau


“Drift beautifully on the surface and you will die unbeautifully in the depths.” —Richard Ellmann


“The respect of those you respect is worth more than the applause of the multitude.” —Arnold Glasow


“Patience is a minor form of despair disguised as a virtue.” —Ambrose Bierce


“The soul that has no fixed goal loses itself; for as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.” —Michel de Montaigne


“Anything you’re good at contributes to happiness.” —Bertrand Russell


“Shun idleness. It is a rust that attaches itself to the most brilliant metals.” —Voltaire


“The best way to be boring is to leave nothing out.” —Voltaire


“Stupidity lies in wanting to draw conclusions.” —Gustave Flaubert

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Women in the King Arthur Legends

Queen Guinevere’s Maying. John Collier (1850–1934)

Recently I listened to the audiobook (all 51 hours) of The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, beautifully narrated by Davina Porter. Of course I’d read the series years ago when it was a New York Times bestseller, but listening to the audiobook version was even better for getting totally caught up in the story.

With great interest, then, I paid my $10 for this Profs and Pints Online program: “The Women of King Arthur Legends,” presented by Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman, former instructors at The Ohio State University and co-founders of the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic.

Their talk is well worth $10. I highly recommend it. I had fun comparing and contrasting the women of Bradley’s historical fantasy with the women of Cleto and Warman’s folkloric interpretations. Their overview of the traditions and legends surrounding the women deepened my appreciation for what Bradley accomplished in her wonderful retelling.

Here’s the program summary from the online link:

“Morgan Le Fay, Queen Guinevere, The Lady of the Lake, Elaine. Each of these women play crucial roles in the rise and fall of King Arthur, Britain’s greatest legendary hero. But they’re almost always presented as enigmatic, ambiguous forces in the story.

“Is Morgan Le Fay the evil sorceress who plots Arthur’s demise, or is she the good fairy who takes the dying Arthur to the magical isle of Avalon for rest and healing? Is Guinevere an adulterous schemer, or a woman trapped by politics and the limited possibilities for women of her time? The numerous gaps in the traditional materials of these legends allow many different interpretations, some positive or nuanced, and some that hint at more than a little of the misogyny, fear, and contempt women have faced throughout the ages.

“In this talk, Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman will guide you through the complex world of Arthuriana and discuss how these women and their stories have been understood (and misunderstood) from ancient times to modern retellings. Join us for an enchanted night of swords and sorcery, as we explore what these strange and powerful women offer today’s world.”

The recording of their talk, available online, includes recommended readings, both scholarly and popular. Below is a screenshot of part of their list. I was surprised that The Mists of Avalon did not make the Creative side of the list—it’s certainly creative. But perhaps the omission is due to the books being so well known, they need no introduction. In any case, I’ve added several of Cleto and Warman’s recommendations to my personal reading list.

(Presented by Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman)

Treat yourself doubly, to this online presentation from Profs & Pints and also to the fabulous audiobook version of Mists. Together they’re an investment of more than 52 hours, but it’s time wonderfully well spent.

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Eye Surgery Terror and Trauma

For lovers of the written word, good reading vision is a pearl without price. Losing our ability to read, even temporarily, is traumatic for people who Read All The Time. We awake in the morning and read our social media and the news. We sit down to work at our desks and computers, reading and writing on screens or notepads all day. In the evenings we may be back on social media or catching up on email. At bedtime, we have our noses in books, carried away by the power of the written word.

For People of the Book—or for anyone, I suppose, but with particular intensity for People Who Read—eye surgery is terrifying. What if it goes wrong? What if I’m blinded? In allowing a stranger to cut my eyes, have I made the worst mistake of my life?

I recently endured eye surgery, and it has brought me what I dreaded only slightly less than total blindness: I have lost my once-excellent close vision. I had postponed cataract surgery for as long as I possibly could, and when the time came that I must undergo it, the results threw me into a near-panic:

I could no longer see to read.

The surgery took from me my close reading vision and gave me sort-of good distance vision in its stead. Not a fair or advantageous trade, in my world.

Today, I’m in the difficult in-between phase: The surgery is behind me. Thank Godde. My eyes, however, have not yet healed enough that I can go to my optometrist and get the new, post-surgery glasses that will—I hope and trust!—fully restore my reading and computer vision (and correct the astigmatism that blurs my vision at all distances).

Tips for Coping

In hopes of reducing the trauma for other profoundly nearsighted People Who Read, I’ll share what I’ve learned during this ordeal.

1. First and foremost, find a surgeon with good communication skills. My cataract surgeon has a reputation for excellence—both my optometrist and a retina specialist who cleared me for the surgery sang his praises. I, however, cannot recommend him because his communication skills are abysmal. He volunteered no information; he told me nothing of what I could expect before, during, or after the surgery. He did not even tell me what kind of intraocular lens he intended to implant in my eyes. When I asked, he bristled at the question and snappishly said that I was a candidate for only the most basic type, those being fixed monofocal lenses matched to distance vision. From my own research, that is what I had expected to get, but I was taken aback that the surgeon resisted explaining or even discussing my options, or why I had no options.

My first bit of advice to you, therefore, is to find a surgeon who will talk to you.

2. Prepare as well as you can for the extreme imbalance and mental as well as physical strain you will experience after one of your eyes is “corrected” to inflexible, relentless farsightedness, while your “uncorrected” eye remains profoundly nearsighted. During the seven days that elapsed between surgeries on my two eyes, the imbalance kept me in a state bordering on vertigo. I felt queasy and tended to list to port, then to starboard, while walking. I had trouble getting up and down the stairs in my home. I possessed no depth perception and couldn’t tell where I was in space, or where anything else lay. I’d reach for an object and miss it. For seven days I did a lot of napping, because seeing the world through two vastly mismatched eyes made me feel sick.

Astonishingly, at the post-surgery follow-up the day after operating on my left eye, the surgeon said I was OK to drive. Preposterous! And highly irresponsible of him. With the astigmatism in my left eye making everything blurry, the uncorrected 20/400 vision in my right eye making me functionally blind on that side as it overlaid its blurriness on my left side, and with my perpetual vertigo from the imbalance between the two eyes, I was most certainly not OK to drive.

To get myself through that miserable seven days between surgeries, besides sleeping a lot I modified two pairs of my old glasses. On one pair, I taped over the left lens to block out my “corrected” eye so I could see to read with my right eye through my familiar no-line progressive eyeglasses. I modified another pair of old eyeglasses by removing the left lens entirely and taping over the right lens. This helped block out the 20/400 vision of my native right eye so that my brain could focus on seeing with my surgically “corrected” left eye. My right eye is strongly dominant, and during the seven days between surgeries my brain strove mightily to rely primarily on my right eye, as it always has. Only by blocking off that eye could I force my brain to shift its focus to my now-farsighted left eye.

Old eyewear modified for post-surgery needs

3. Besides modifying old eyeglasses to help you cope between surgeries, I also recommend that you ask your surgeon about operating on your dominant eye first. I believe a great deal of my disorientation, discomfort, and incapacity between surgeries could have been alleviated if my dominant eye had been the first to go under the knife. In hindsight, I wonder why determining my dominant eye wasn’t a basic part of the pre-op examination. It seems logical that a surgeon should want to work with a patient’s natural abilities, rather than go against them.

4. Buy reading glasses and have them on hand before your surgery! Being a lifelong wearer (since second grade, anyway) of prescription eyewear, I had never owned a pair of over-the-counter reading glasses. I knew nothing about them. I had no idea what power of reading glasses I needed, but guessed at 3.0 based on this chart at Readers.com.

The second surgery, performed on my right eye exactly one week after my left eye, utterly stripped me of my reading vision. I had been forced to trade my excellent close vision for good-enough distance vision. Now, with both eyes “done” (or done for), I could drive without glasses, but I shall never again be able to read without them. The sacrifice of my close vision saddens me. It seems a big price to pay, for someone who Reads All The Time and who is writing a new novel when she isn’t reading.

Only my cheap mail-order reading glasses kept me from roundly cursing the name of the surgeon who said I had no options and then left me unable to focus on the Written Word. The reading glasses are getting me by, just barely, until I can go to my optometrist for the real thing.

Computer glasses rubber-banded
to empty eyeglass frames

4. Buy computer glasses or multifocal reading glasses. As luck (or my eyes) would have it, I did already own computer glasses that are made to slip over one’s regular eyewear, to sharpen one’s view of a monitor. To use them post-surgery, I removed both lenses from an old pair of my eyeglasses and, with rubber bands, affixed the plastic computer glasses to the empty metal frames. They are enabling me to work at my desktop computer, after a fashion. I’m writing this while peering through them at my monitor. Constantly switching back and forth, however, between computer glasses (to see what’s on my screen) and reading glasses (to see my phone and everything else that’s on my office desk) is driving me to mutter curses at the surgeon once more.

In hopes of finding a more workable solution that will tide me over until I can get proper prescription eyewear, I returned to Readers.com and discovered Foster Grants that claim to combine reading vision, computer vision, and “interacting” vision, all in one. The glasses are on order and due to arrive in less than a week. I will return here and report my opinion of what purports to be a kind of over-the-counter no-line progressive lens.

Seek Empathy

Going back to recommendation No. 1, above, about finding an eye surgeon you can talk to: Patients lucky enough to have a surgeon who understands People of the Book, People Who Read All the Time, may escape many of the terrors and traumas that I have endured. With an understanding surgeon who will seek to maintain your ability to read throughout the process, you may find the surgery—and its aftermath—to be far less stressful than I have. My surgeon simply didn’t care. He brushed aside my concerns and showed no interest whatsoever in my needs and priorities. When I expressed to him my distress over not being able to read post-surgery, he shrugged it off as a trivial thing, not as a loss that strikes at the core of who I am.

For a lover of the written word, an inability to read and write—even a temporary incapacity—is a situation that will induce near-panic. I share my experiences in hopes of helping others to prepare yourselves, as far as possible, for the sacrifices that accompany eye surgery.

I hope you have booklover friends who will understand your cries of anguish when you cannot read and your surgeon doesn’t care. Let me end by quoting a friend who reacted to my pain and frustration as all true People Who Read would react:

“He needs a different profession. For an eye surgeon not to respect his patient’s need to be able to read should be criminal.” Amen.

 

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Tolkien and Lewis

Middle-Earth and Narnia: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Invented Modern Fantasy

I found this presentation by Professor Harry Lee Poe (Union University) so enjoyable, I watched it twice. The second time through, I took notes, some of which I’ll share here. Any fan of Tolkien or Lewis will do well, however, to pay the $12 registration fee for unlimited access to the full lecture. Prof. Poe provided an enlightening overview of how Tolkien and Lewis related to one another in developing modern fantasy. Their works spawned an entire field of storytelling.

Among Poe’s points:

  • The Lord of the Rings is a three-volume book. It’s not a trilogy.
  • The Ring of the Nibelungen was Tolkien’s inspiration.
  • Lewis served as “the great encourager,” urging Tolkien to write his stories of Middle-Earth. Lewis gave Tolkien the idea for “the wound that would not heal” as well as the basic structure of the “journey story” — there and back again.

“In the journey story,” Poe said, “the hero risks all, ventures all, travels to the end of the world to do the great deed, and having accomplished the great deed on this fabulous quest, having fought all the foes, he returns a changed person.” (Sound familiar?)

For Watching & Reading …

I’m behind on my movie-viewing. Prof. Poe mentioned these films, only one of which I’ve seen:

He also mentioned the Scottish author George MacDonald, whom Wikipedia describes as a pioneering figure in the field of modern fantasy literature and the mentor of fellow writer Lewis Carroll. Clearly, I need to spend some time with MacDonald’s books, and catch up on all the movies I missed while I was absorbed in my own fantasy worlds.

My thanks to Professor Poe for his valuable overview of Where Middle-Earth Met Narnia.

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Help for Writers in Covid Times

From The Authors League Fund: “With the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of writers across the U.S. have seen a sudden and dramatic loss of income. Overnight, writers lost writing, teaching, and editing jobs, as well as speaking engagements, school visits, and other paid appearances. Many have spouses who also lost work, and many face the difficult transition to schooling young children at home.

“We immediately shifted our focus to address this need. While we typically help up to 80 writers per year, since mid-March 2020 we have helped 300 authors, journalists, and poets. Our support is used for rent, utilities, groceries, and medical bills. We continue to help writers enduring medical crises and older writers living on a fixed income.

“Thanks in large part to generous support from donors, we are doubling our budget and hope to do so again in 2021. … We hope you will support our work with a tax-deductible donation of any size. Make a secure donation by credit card at https://authorsleaguefund.org/donate/.

“We understand if you are not in a position to give. If you are struggling, do not hesitate to apply for support at https://authorsleaguefund.org/apply/. … We also recommend this detailed guide to COVID-19 resources from our sister organization, the Authors Guild: www.authorsguild.org/covid-19-resources-for-authors.”

(Please help if you can. Writing, always a precarious career, has been a particularly difficult way to make a living in these strange times. —Deborah J. Lightfoot)

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