Tag: suspense

suspense

Talking Suspense with Jaden Terrell.

We met this spring when you flew up from Nashville to speak to the New York Chapter of Sisters in Crime. You gave a fascinating presentation on craft. Afterwards, you and I had quite the discussion about what makes for good suspense. You were rather persuasive. So, will you explain what you think makes for I-cannot-put-this-book-down suspense? Thank you. Alison. That was a lively conversation, and as I remember, you were pretty persuasive yourself. I’m a big proponent of Donald Maass’s mantra, “Tension on every page,”  and I think suspense is tightly connected to that. But I also think writers interpret it too narrowly. They add bickering, car chases, explosions, and fight scenes in hopes of raising the stakes and heightening suspense. But we’ve all read books that had non-stop action and yet came across as flat or even humdrum. That happens when the writer forgets to give the reader an emotional stake in the story.

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The Art Part

I’m not a philosopher, so I’m not going to attempt some deep and thoughtful analysis about the written word. What I do know is that finding your routine–whether it’s daily word count or a certain time of day spent writing–helps. I have a word-count that I meet before I do anything else but go to the gym and brush my teeth five days a week. One day on the week-end I write a little something, but it doesn’t have to be the story I’m working on, it just has to be something.  I’m a firm believer that what works for some may not work for others.We’re all so different it would be bizarre and unnerving if there were only one right way to do anything. I’m also a big fan of trying things out, seeing what does or doesn’t feel right, and making adjustments. As my Mom (and avid mystery reader) always told me when I had a big decision to make “If it starts not working, you can always do something else.” I try to not pre-judge an idea until I give it a chance. Last summer I went to a panel at ThrillerFest with the DIY MFA Guru Gabriela Pereira. She said she kept a jar on her desk to write down anything that got in the way when she was writing. She would write down the annoying thought on a little piece of paper, fold it up and put it in the jar. Okay, I was skeptical, but the next day when I was working on my on word count and one of those nagging thoughts that had absolutely nothing to do with my story kept circling my head, I decided to give it a try. It worked . . . for me. The act of writing down my distraction, foldingit into a tiny square and setting it in a glass jar allowed me to get back to the work I wanted to be doing. (Yes, I have identical jars: one here in the city and another up in the attic room in the country. No, I’m never going to tell anybody what I write on those little pieces of paper!) I guess the point is: do whatever it is you need to that allows you to access the story. Maybe it’s a certain cup of coffee, music, time of day. You might need to light a candle or find a particularly quiet room. Whatever your thing is, do it so that when you hit your word count/page count/minute or hour goal, you look back and find at least something (even if it’s only one word) that makes your heart beat just a little faster. Do that. And then do it again.       

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Connecting With Readers

So, the AMA on Snapchat was fun yesterday. More than thirty readers weighed in with questions asking everything from how I create characters to my personal political views (it’s Twitter, where so much tends to skew Trump. What can you do?). You can check it out here.   In keeping with the social media-centric posts this week, I asked the MissDemeanors to weigh in on their favorite tools were to connect with readers. Here’s what they said.  Susan Breen: I love twitter. I’ve come to the conclusion that I see the world in 140 character bites. I love the whole retweeting thing, which allows me to interact with people I might not otherwise. It’s a sort of living diary, for me. Alexia Gordon: I like Facebook and Instagram as my go-to social media tools. Conferences are how I meet readers face-to-face. Paula Munier: I interact with readers on Facebook and twitter—and that’s fun. But I really love meeting readers (and writers!) in person at conferences and bookstores and library events. Robin Stuart: Twitter is my go-to for online interactions. I’ve tinkered with InstaFaceSnap but have had the most consistent experiences with readers and writers on Twitter. I also agree with Paula. The networking and mingling at conferences and workshops can’t be beat. I meet a surprising number of crime fiction fans at Sisters in Crime and MWA events. Prior to joining the organizations I expected the events to attract only writers. Meeting and hearing from enthusiastic readers is a happy bonus. Another tool that I like (and keep hoping mentions my latest book) is The Skimm. A daily email that summarizes the news for its five million readers, The Skimm also highlights books of interest on Fridays. The newsletter was started by two, now 30-something, NBC News producers for millennials that need to know what’s going on in a nutshell before heading to the office.     

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10 Bookstagrammers To Know

Bookstagrammers are the life blood of the social media book community. Found on Instagram under the hashtag #bookstagrammers, these literature-loving individuals read, review, photograph and spread the word about books that they love (and, sometimes, hate). Some wonderful bookstagrammers even supply casting recommendations for films.  At last count, there were 1.36 million posts by #bookstagrammers on Instagram. Here are some #bookstagrammers any thriller or mystery author should know.   BookSugar. Maria has more than fifty thousand followers on Instagram, which means a ton of exposure if you make her must read list. This Canadian book blogger’s tastes range skew literary (Jane Austen, anyone?) but she does include the occasionally mystery, thriller, or suspense novel on her list. Wendy Walker’s Emma In The Night made the list recently. Crime By The Book. Bookstagrammer Abby started out with a cup of coffee and passion for thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels. Now she has 47,000 followers (and growing) and a major book marketing career! Though she works for Dutton, the opinions on her blog and Instagram account are her own. Her reviews are insightful, well-explained, and sought-after. She also clearly knows where to get the prettiest cups of joe in the city.     SuspenseThrill. Avid bookstagrammer, blogger and reviewer Chelsea Humphrey had 4,588 Instagram followers as of Nov. 7. She’ll probably have more before this post runs tomorrow. She is a top reviewer on Goodreads and her blog is followed by English-speaking mystery and thriller fans the world over. On top of all of this, she takes some beautiful book cover shots.  Texas Girl Reads. Texas Girl, Sarah, sure does read. A book or so a week, by my count. She also takes visually arresting images of the suspense novels and mysteries that she loves and shares her heartfelt reviews on Instagram. Sometimes, she’ll share her kids’ favorite picks too. She shares detailed reviews on Instagram, where she has 1,044 followers, and on her blog.   GareIndeedReads. Gare is a dedicated bookstagrammer that not only reads a new book seemingly every few days, but also provides in depth reviews on Instagram and on his slick, professional blog. On top of this, he also casts many of the books he reads, sharing his vote for the Hollywood stars he could picture playing parts of different characters. The photographs of the books that he takes along with his reviews, and the images of the celebrities that he sees starring in the one-day-film version make for some visually arresting book evangelizing. He has over 750 followers. (I also had the pleasure of meeting him at a recent book event and he’s a very thoughtful reader and all-around friendly person).    Kourtney’s Bookshelf. Kourtney is a dedicated mystery, thriller and suspense reader. Her Instagram and blog often feature new releases in the genre.  When she likes a book, this Texas girl will not only photograph it and share with her 1,676 followers, but she’ll often include favorite quotes from the novel.    Oh The Book Feels. You can truly feel the book love from this #bookstagrammer. More than 66,500 people follow this Kansas City reader’s Instagram account–and it’s not difficult to see why. Carmen’s photos are composed like works of art, which isn’t surprising given her book library.  She also has a cat that occasionally graces her posts, and knows how to pose perfectly on a book shelf ladder.   Angie’s Bookshelf is another thriller and suspense #bookstagrammer to follow. According to her brief bio, this avid reader of thrills and chills loves wine, coffee, music and books, which you know means she’s part of the thriller tribe. (Thriller writing and garage bands go together. Check out any conference for verification). Angie has 579 followers and a taste for travel, as evidenced by this beautiful book shot.  Who wouldn’t want to read whatever novel she put against that beach?  Prose and Palate. The alliteration in the name alone should tell you this #bookstagrammer appreciates thoughtful writing, and it shows in her Instagram posts. Stacy has more than 4,680 followers and a penchant for thrillers, historical fiction and Southern fiction. She takes beautiful photos and has a vintage typewriter that often peaks from behind the pages. She also is a regular Book of The Month Club judge and has the collection of coolest coffee mugs around. Check out her Instagram to see what I mean.  Books The Thing. Erika has nearly 1,000 followers (979 and growing as of this writing) and loves a good mystery. She reads all types: cozies, psychological thrillers, Agatha Christie-inspired, Sherlock Holmes’ updates. She also loves a good female sleuth, as evidenced by this post on her blog.    

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The Right #: A Bookstagram Guide

Forget Facebook. The book community is on Instagram and you can find them if you follow the right tags.  The first one to use and search for is #bookstagram. The reader community uses the hashtag to mark anything book related on the site and it’s been used more than 15 million times on the site. It’s basically the goto search term to find photos of books that folks are reading and tons of reviews. It’s not the only one, though. When posting about my books I often use the tags #thrillerbooks, #suspensebooks, and #suspensethriller, too. I’ve also seen plenty of folks use #mysterythrillerbooks and #mysterybooks. The latter hashtag has the mosts posts associated with it, so it’s a good catch all for the mystery/thriller community that gets significant search traffic.  Another useful hashtag, if you have a pet and a book to market, is #readingbuddy. People love their pets. They love their books. They combine them on instagram to adorable and wonderful marketing effect. Thanks to petbookclub for this post!  Another great hashtag is #bookfetish. Use this one for all posts involving love of books or when you buy a book. And, if your book is on one of the lists, always mark it #bestseller.  Tomorrow, I’ll mention some of my favorite bookstagrammers! 

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Talismans and Tall Tales

I am sick and starving. It’s been twenty-six hours since my last meal, a sorry bowl of bran cereal with a splash of contraband milk. Dairy isn’t allowed two days before my procedure. Food of any kind is banned for a full day before the test. I have eight more hours until they put me under.  Things could be worse. Three years ago, after having my first colonoscopy at the age of thirty-three, I worried that I’d be delivered a death sentence. I wasn’t though. And my mother swears it’s all thanks to a good luck charm she’d bought in Turkey.  I told the story for a spoken word event called The Gnat several years back. The Gnat is like The Moth, a famous non-fiction storytelling event that brings thousands of people to each performance–only smaller. In honor of colonoscopy day, I thought I’d share it:  I was raised to believe in bad omens. My mother is Jamaican. Most people know Jamaica as the birthplace of Bob Marley, Usain Bolt and a robbed Ms. Universe contestant. But it’s also the home of Obeah. Like voodoo, Obeah has its roots in African religions. But, in Jamaica, the religious practices were pulverized from centuries of criminalization until what was once a religion became a culture of superstition. Obeah literally means bad omen and that’s how most Jamaicans preach it, by sharing news of bad signs. Growing up, my mother was always pointing out ill warnings. A crow lands on a roof, someone in that house gonna die. Dog digs a hole in a yard, someone nearby is gonna die to fill it. Stick breaks by you, better run because a friendly ghost is warning that the area is rife with death. If I ever expressed doubt in what my mother said, she’d break out some unverifiable story supporting the omen. “Cousin Pauline didn’t run when the stick break and a snake sunk its teeth straight into her ankle.” And, I have no doubt that there are incidents when her superstitions proved true. After all, what really is a superstition except a statistic taken out of context? As I grew up, I stopped believing in a lot of things my parents told me: Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, girls get pregnant from boys touching their boobies, and Bad Juju. My mom remained devout, even adopting new superstitions. A little over a year ago, she and my dad went to Turkey. My mother carts back a fistful of jewelry made of glass beads with dark pupils at the center. The evil eye.  The woman who sold them swore that if the jewels break, they had protected the wearer from a great misfortune.  I told my mom she’d been duped by a clever marketing scheme. If the beads shatter, it’s not shoddy construction, it’s evidence of their power.  My mom insists I just wear it. After about a month of wearing hers religiously, my mom’s bracelet breaks. Now she swears that the day of, she reminded my father to get his colon checked.  My dad does get a colonoscopy and he’s diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, it’s caught early. Months later, my father is short one foot of intestine and fine, and my mom is telling everyone about the proven power of the evil eye. About a year later, I’m still wearing my bracelet, and I visit my local gastroenterologist. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you the crappy (heh heh) details that sent me there. The doc recommends a colonoscopy. He tells me it’s out of an abundance of caution as I see him faxing my insurance company a form labeling me “high risk.” I tell myself that the prep will be just like a cleanse without swallowing two liters of cold-pressed kale. It’s nothing like that. It’s more like the time I had swine flu and was nearly hospitalized for dehydration.   The colonoscopy is much better than the “prep” because there’s an anesthesiologist. When I wake up, I’m still wearing my evil eye bracelet and I see that my doctor is wearing this tight expression, like he’s just seen a crow fly onto my hospital bed. He shows me pictures of an angry tubular thing that he’s gouged out of my colon. I should be concerned about this. But, everything’s still Irie from the laughing gas, so I’m more impressed that my colon is utterly empty of any embarrassing debris. A week later, the doctor tells me that I had a precancerous adenoma—very rare, apparently, for a thirty-three year-old woman. Left unchecked, I would have likely died a decade before my regularly scheduled colonoscopy at 50. He also says there’s a high likelihood I have something called Lynch Syndrome. I need genetic testing. As soon as I get off the phone with the doctor, I do what everyone does now-a-days. I seek a second opinion from Google. And it’s not good. Here are some statistics, in context: People with Lynch have an 80% risk of developing colon cancer before age 50, as opposed to a 5% risk in the general population. Women have a 60% risk of getting endometrial cancer before 50. It also hikes the cancer risk for your breast, stomach, lymph nodes, ovaries and brain. Lynch patients have a little less than a 50% shot of seeing their 50th birthday. And my kids are three and four. I’m not good at math but I know I need to pass fifty to see their college graduation. So, my doctor called me last week with the results. And, strangest thing, as he’s talking the string holding all those glass evil eyes tight to my wrist just breaks. And the beads fall to the ground, plopping like unwanted change in a water fountain. And he says, you don’t have lynch.  I went on Amazon and bought up all ‘dem beads. And I apologized to my mother. I still don’t know about bad omens, but I’m betting on good ones.     

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To Google Maps, with Love

I recently wrote a short story for an upcoming anthology inspired by the music of Lou Reed. My story, Pale Blue Eyes, based on his song, could not take place in New Jersey or New York, the states with which I am most familiar, having lived in both for years. Something about the rumble of Lou Reed’s gravelly tenor refused to let me throw the characters inspired by his songs in the fast-talking, faster moving Manhattan area and its environs.  So, I set it in Las Vegas. Part of it takes place on the infamous strip, which I’ve been to. But the far more significant part of the story takes place at Las Vegas’ Red Rock Canyon State Park, which I have never visited.  Thanks to Google, though, I could virtually visit. The Internet Giant’s map site let me walk through the Calico Tanks trail, showing me all the scenery I might see on a given day, every step of the way.  I could see the dusty trail, the striated red rock formations and the prickly scrub brush lining the narrow foot path.  I could view user uploaded images at different points in the day of the giant red rocks.  Thanks to associated links, I could even visit pages where visitors discussed everything about the park from the smell of the air, to the weather in the month that I had set my story, to the way the sun sets.  I think the site really changes the game for writers, most of whom can’t afford to travel solely to inform a new book or short story.   Have you ever written a story in a place that you have never been? What tools did you use to research it?         

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Why do you write suspense?

As someone new to writing, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I’m drawn to write mysteries.  So, I thought I’d ask the experts: why do you write what you write?  Cate: I write suspense because I love the feeling of surprise when I learn something unexpected about a person, that in retrospect makes sense. I am also fascinated by the justifications people have for doing badthings. I like creating flawed characters that you feel for. Some of my favorite suspense writers are Gillian Flynn, Dennis Lehane, Ruth Ware, Stephen King, Fiona Barton, Herman Koch and Patricia Highsmith. Susan: I think I like mysteries so much because the writer has to interact with the reader. You’re always thinking: Will the reader guess this clue? Will she be surprised? Is it satisfying? There’s something about that interaction I find very appealing. I’ve heard some authors say that they write for themselves and don’t care if anyone reads it, but I’ve never felt that way. I also love the whole idea of good versus bad, even if there are lots of shades of gray. Tracee: I fell into suspense through old fashioned mysteries. I confess that I am still not ready for hard core scary (I recently saw a preview for the movie It based on Stephen King’s book and that couple of minutes was almost enough to make me leave the theater…. and this was at a matinee!). My preferred suspense writers are in the vein of Patrica Highsmith and more recently Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger. I suppose that I am driven to write in the mystery/suspense genre because that’s what I return to consistently as a reader. I like reading and writing about what people do, what they conceal and why, and how choices sometimes lead people away from their ‘ordinary’ lives.  Robin: I wrote my first ghost story at 8 years old, the cleverly titled “Haunted House on the Hill.” I don’t recall what inspired that particular story but my parents saved it because I also illustrated and hand-bound it with a cardboard-and-construction paper cover complete with spine title and back jacket copy. I think it’s somewhere in my attic now. Later in life, meaning junior high, I fell in love with Stephen King’s work but what drove me to start writing suspense myself was reading Dean Koontz’s Strangers when I was 20-something. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances seemed like a revelation. I wanted to see if I could write a novel-length page-turner. My first couple of attempts weren’t terrible but weren’t very good. They were great learning experiences, though. Something I didn’t expect was how much fun they are to write. I’ve been honing my crime-writing craft ever since.  Michele: I have always loved police procedurals, but for many of them the methodical, sometimes plodding unraveling of the mystery, is the draw. Not so for Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, which while challenging my skills at deductive reasoning, somehow rivet me. French’s lyrical writing lures me into her stories about ordinary people who find themselves tangled in awful circumstances that slowly become riveting. Without a contrived twist, French delivers a punch to the gut at the end that stays with me long after. Her writing inspires me to want to share that same kind of adventure for my own readers. “In the Woods” was her first book. Seven years later, I still wonder about what happened to – no, wait, no spoilers here. But wouldn’t I love to think I had a reader still challenged that many years later. I call that writing that stays with you and that is what I want to write. Alexia: Had to think about this one. Why crime fiction as opposed to other genres? I think because of my sense of justice. Every day I see real world examples of injustice, towards people, animals, the environment. Horrible people get away with being horrible and there’s nothing I, nor anyone else, can do about it. We can (and should) donate to causes, march in protests, sign petitions, rescue animals, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, soothe the afflicted, comfort the dying. Yet, for every good work we do, we turn around and see some gazillionaire put people trying to eke a living on minimum wage out of work so the gazillionaire can increase his profit margin and bring home a $50 million bonus instead of a $30 million bonus. Or sneak them across the border to do his laundry or pick his fruit then have them thrown back to a country they haven’t lived in for 10 or 20 years once he’s done with them. Or we see someone beaten up or shot or fired or evicted or denied the right to marry the person they love because someone else doesn’t like their skin color or religion or gender or sexual orientation. Or one puppy mill or dog fighting ring is shut down and 3 more pop up or some demonoid tortures a cat and posts the video online–and gets likes. Or school girls are kidnapped by fanatical creeps who think women shouldn’t be allowed to read– and then some newspaper reports our government has been funneling arms to that particular group of fanatics because they were more sympathetic to our agenda than the opposing group. Or some honest, hardworking person is denied health care because someone decided they weren’t worthy of not having to choose between rent and medicine or, let’s face it, that they weren’t worthy of living. And instead of sticking up for that person, narcissistic jerks take to social media to trumpet about how they’ve got theirs so they don’t give a fuck about anyone else and expect to be applauded for being cold-blooded vultures. Or someone has to travel for miles to get drinkable water because the stuff from their tap is loaded with lead or live in the shadow of a pipeline that won’t benefit them but will certainly poison them if it leaks, all because they’re too poor to buy the political clout to send the mess to someone else’s neighborhood. Or they lose the home that’s been in their family for generations because people with more money suddenly decide their neighborhood is the place to be–as long as the original residents are forced out with sky-high property taxes and restrictive ordinances. We fight and fight and fight and bleed and fight some more and help the ones we can, maybe even save a few but, at the end of the day we have to accept that some things are beyond our control. Except in crime fiction. In crime fiction, I control the world I write. I can create justice. The unrepentant bad guy will go down. The underdog will have his day. Revenge will be had on the cat-torturing, woman-hating, narcissistic, bigot. In crime fiction, the devil may think he’s gotten away with something but by the last page, the angels will have the last word. (Here ends the rant.)      

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The Space Between Things

This past week I flew from my apartment in New York City to my dad’s house in Salt Lake. I spent most of the flight writing, but when I came up against a brick wall in the story I’m working on, I looked out the window. There was nothing but blue sky and these beautiful cotton ball clouds. The white puffs were all the more intriguing to me because they floated with expanses of sky between them.  The more I write, the more I find myself paying attention to the space between things: the pauses between sentences, the blank page between one chapter and the next. In a world where speed is frequently considered an unmitigated good, reading and writing remind me that there’s a lot to be said for the silence before and after a thought.  When I read a good mystery or thriller, it’s that space that lets me feel the weight of my fear, anxiety, dread and hope. The writers I admire most use their pauses well. Sometimes I rush to turn the page because I just can’t stand not knowing what’s going to happen next. Sometimes I need a few moments to figure things out. Sometimes I just want to savor the words.  I like the nothingness between the something. I think maybe that’s the secret pleasure to reading. We can stop and give ourselves time whenever we want, for whatever reason. We can stop and enjoy the space between things.  

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I Hear You: You’ll Never Know Dear by Hallie Ephron

  I am a confessed audiobook addict ever since many years ago when I decided to listen to a book on tape while wrapping Christmas gifts. Much as I had wanted to love Maeve Binchy’s books after friends had raved about them, I had been unable to get into them. But when I heard Tara Road read with brogue, I fell in love with Binchy’s story telling and went on to listen to every one of her books. I can still hear the words from Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides read by Frank Muller, “Do it again, Mama.” Muller’s narration is celebrated by Conroy in a comment on Audible where he says about Muller, “He gave me, Pat Conroy, the author, a work of art, and I’ve been grateful ever since.”I’ve been hooked on audiobooks ever since. I used to listen while I was driving home from teaching in the evening and would be so involved in the book I was listening to, my husband would come out to the car to tell me to come in. Now that I can sync audiobooks with written books, I’m in heaven and spend less time in the driveway.            This week I am listening to Hallie Ephron’s latest suspense novel, You’ll Never Know Dear, which is narrated by Amy McFadden. Here’s a description of the plot from Amazon: Seven-year-old Lissie Woodham and her four-year-old sister Janey were playing with their porcelain dolls in the front yard when an adorable puppy scampered by. Eager to pet the pretty dog, Lissie chased after the pup as it ran down the street. When she returned to the yard, Janey’s precious doll was gone . . . and so was Janey. Forty years after Janey went missing, Lis—now a mother with a college-age daughter of her own—still blames herself for what happened. Every year on the anniversary of her sister’s disappearance, their mother, Miss Sorrel, places a classified ad in the local paper with a picture of the toy Janey had with her that day—a one-of-a-kind porcelain doll—offering a generous cash reward for its return. For years, there’s been no response. But this year, the doll came home.            Already an Audiofile Earphones Winner, the book grabbed me right away. (Their review called it a “must-listen.” http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/128893/) Unlike in many mysteries where there is predictably a dead body on the first page, Ephron seduces you with suspense, luring you with ordinary events that you know won’t last because something terrible has happened and something even worse is on it’s way. McFadden’s narration conveys a sense of foreboding without overdramatizing. Ephron and McFadden are a powerful duo, complimenting one another, unlike some books where it sounds like the narrator is competing with the author.           I wondered what Hallie thought about listening to someone else read her novel of suspense. “It’s scary listening to someone else read your book because, of course, it’s never the same as the voice you heard in your head when you were writing it. Our narrator, Amy McFadden, did a superb job. Her voice is clear as a bell, and she captured the characters perfectly including their southern accents and edge. I was thrilled.”She should be. The book is terrific with a solid plot and intriguing characters in its own right. Add to it the power of narration and you can’t miss. For me, You’ll Never Know Dear will fill hours while I am driving, walking, doing dishes and laundry, all the while in another world. Here’s a link to an excerpt (the first 5 minutes) from the audio book… https://soundcloud.com/harperaudio_us/youll-never-know-dear-by-hallie-ephron?in=harperaudio_us/sets/williammorrowbooks, if you’d like to join me.  

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