Friday, May 25, 2012

Feature: Author Interview with Marjorie F. Baldwin, author of Conditioned Response

It's Friday and officially the first day of summer break here! Can you see how excited I am??? :-)


Today, my wonderful guest is Ms. Marjorie F. Baldwin, aka Friday, who has written this little gem called Conditioned Response, which I had the honor of working on with her. 


In case you missed my review, you can find that HERE.


Enjoy the interview, and enjoy the Memorial Day weekend!!!





Author Interview
Marjorie F. Baldwin
Conditioned Response


GL:  Please tell everyone a bit about yourself.

Friday:  I write SciFi under this pen name and Romantic Suspense under another pen name, but the one thing all my selves has in common is that characters are my forte. My stories are usually character-centered. When I write, I feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines watching a movie, taking dictation, while the characters live out the scene in front of my eyes. I tend to listen to extremely high-energy music while I write so, combined with this mental imagery, I become completely disconnected from reality while I’m writing. I don’t know how or why I started doing this (writing), but I started as a young child and it’s definitely what I was designed to do. It’s what I do best—and I’ve done a lot of different things over the years from scrubbing floors with a tooth brush to being a bona fide Rocket Scientist!

GL:  Now, tell us about Conditioned Response.

Friday:  This book has undergone a lot of changes since its original inception in the 1980s. I started out around 1984 thinking I’d write a little machine-turned-man story, in Isaac Asimov’s shadow, and then I decided to add in a little from Robert A. Heinlein’s storytelling (the feeling of “down the street and around the corner, in the middle of next week a few centuries from now” definitely comes directly from Heinlein’s influence on me). Then I decided I needed more texture in the setting and made it into a Dystopian view of Earth modeled after Huxley’s Brave New World and then I couldn’t figure out how to make my original characters fit into all these different styles from other authors.

The characters were first so I didn’t worry about the world-building making sense, so much as I wanted the people to make sense as they were living out their lives. This used to be the first book of the series and I wrote four (4) books all at once, one after another until about 1990 when I finished the series with a big conclusion that I hated. I don’t know if I just hated saying good bye to these people or hated the way I’d chosen to end the series, but I was dissatisfied, as a reader, with the series ending.

So, I set it all aside and came back to it numerous times over the years. However, because I had no clue how to edit, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, let alone how to fix it. This first book had been reviewed by an editor at Del Rey in 1986 and he loved it (the characters anyway and especially the Phoenicians) and he reviewed all four books, each one as I finished it, but he didn’t think the series setting worked for any of the books. He also felt there was too much inter-dependence on the reader having knowledge from one book to the next. Turns out, he was exactly right on all counts. The info-dumping in Conditioned Response was my novice attempt to remove the dependency issue. The setting... that was a different problem to solve.

In 2005-2006 I learned how to edit by working on someone else’s book with them, and created this “tossaway” guy modeled after a Heinlein-style Proctor. I named him Raif and the rest, as they say, is history. I did the info-dump insertions back then. I didn’t change the setting to Altair until 2011, but once I did that, the whole story started making sense again. This just goes to show you authors, listen to your editors!! They actually know what they’re saying sometimes!

I should probably have worked harder at trimming the info-dumping down more, but so far, I have mixed reviews on whether or not it drags. One review proclaims it “...gripped me hard from the beginning...” and the same reviewer said, “...the pace is relentless.” while another reviewer admitted the book dragged for her until nearly a third of the way in. I think the reader’s reaction will depend on whether or not they like my storytelling style. I jump into what feels like the middle and then backfill. This is not due to the editing. This is just the way I tell stories. I’ve done it in other books—even in other genres I’ve tried!

GL:  You’ve said this book is cursed. J Tell us why you think so.

Friday:  Oh my gosh, well, you name it and it’s happened. Computers have died, people have died (real people as well as the characters) and everything that could possibly have gone wrong seemed to come up all at once. Just when I thought I had a handle on it all, something else happened. This went on for about six months. It resulted in the book being four months “late” being released.

I don’t know if the curse has lifted, but ever since the editing began in July of 2011, I’ve felt a strong sense of this book being “something big,” that this is my “break out novel,” as they say. I’ve also felt the same kind of gut feeling about there being “something big” out there trying to prevent it from happening. I’m not going to let anything stop me, but one person can only have so much bad luck—and I’ve had more in the last year than I’ve had in my entire 50+ years of life.

GL:  What is in store for the series from here?

Friday:  Ah, did you want spoilers? Hmm, not sure I should do that here or anywhere in public! Okay, well, I can share one of the little Easter Eggs (gems of foreshadowing an author plants in a book and readers don’t usually notice the first time through but may notice in their second and later reads through).

I revealed in this book that Shayla was going to have a baby—by Joshua Andrew Caine. Then she miscarries (that this is not the first time she’s lost a child was revealed earlier in the book) and then I allude to her possibly getting pregnant by Joshua again. At some distant and vague point in the future. That is definitely going to happen. That was always in the Plan! In fact, that was the Plan all along, but that’s not all that’s in the Plan and no, I won’t reveal what that means (haha).

On the subject of Shayla and HEA’s, she’ll be very happy with Charlie. And Kyree. And yes, I did say both, but not for long because according to the Plan, one of them has to die. Someone always has to die. You’ll have to read Book 3 to see!

Other spoilers coming in the series: Joshua dies. Oh stop groaning (or cheering); everyone had to know he dies eventually, though it sure won’t be easy to get him to stay dead, huh? Speaking of which, the Caine Family Line continues through Brennan and Brennan definitely gets to have his HEA with Julia. After Joshua dies, William will stop being a martyr and seriously date Jared. Finally. That started in Book 1 (which no, hasn’t been written yet, or not completely; I started Book 1 when I started editing in 2005 but decided to finish editing Conditioned Response before I went off and wrote a whole new prequel) and I continued the contact in Conditioned Response, but I must say, one reader wondered why Jared and William were even mentioned, as though it were some kind of obligatory gay scene.

I’m not sure what that means exactly, but William and Jared were always going to date and end up together—eventually. That is, after Joshua’s death does part William from his husband. I defined William in 1986 as a person who would never start a new relationship before ending his marriage, officially. He and Joshua were married in my authorial mind before the Community started back around the year 2147. The story was originally defined as being set in the year 2539 so William and Joshua were a couple for hundreds of years. At least, in William’s mind. I made sure to avoid stating years or dates when I completed the edits in 2011. I also made sure to maintain William’s character (and the character that is William). Like me, William doesn’t “believe in” divorce, so until Joshua dies, William considers himself married, albeit separated. I needed to set up what would happen in Book 3, however, because William and Jared will be a lot happier in the next book ^)^ The memories of both Joshua and Raif will haunt them but it’ll work out in the end. Or The End. I felt the recruitment of Jared into the Community, for William’s sake, was a pretty big deal in the larger scheme of things and not “an obligatory gay scene.” Of course, no one but me has read Book 3 so this kind of interview/book discussion is the only place where I’ll address why William and Jared “had to” have a conversation in Conditioned Response.

There are other spoilers—the Dramond Family line is not quite expunged from the human genome and it really should have been—but the big news is going to be as I reveal the Plan of the Seven Chiefs. It’ll be unfolded ever-so-slowly across the rest of the books of the series. Given all the twisty turns Book 2 just took, I’m not sure the “big twist” at the end of the series which I wrote in 1986 (I wrote the ending of the series before I finished the original Book 1) is going to be all that “big.” I’ll have to reconsider the ending I suppose.

GL:  Have you based any of your characters on anyone else—people in real life, other book or movie characters, etc.?

Friday:  Oh yeah! I won’t name names but yep, Charlie/Kyree were two sides of one man—a lover I had on/off again for about 8 years. He was an amazing man, one I think of still today as the one who got away. I’m pretty sure if he were to read this, he’d know I was talking about him, but no one else either he or I ever knew would recognize him in the Charlie or Kyree characters. He wasn’t precisely like them. They’re well over 6 ft tall. He was short (5’8” or 5’9”, which is now considered average, but most men I’ve dated averaged 6’3”). Not by design, but he was the only short man I ever dated. I remember those glowing blue eyes to this day and when he looked at someone, they felt it down to their toes. Not just me or just women—he had a way of looking into people that was startling.

Almost every other character has at least a little bit of me in them—male, female, doesn’t matter; the characters have traits that they definitely get from me. Then they have their own stories going on. There’s one character who is totally unique and came into existence without any thought on my part. Joshua Andrew Caine.

Joshua came to me, fully-formed as a 30-something man, back when I was a 5-year-old girl. Now that I’m a middle-aged woman, I’m kind of creeped out at that idea of my little 5-year-old self having these ideas about a fully-grown man, but back then, of course, there was no sexual content to the character and as a child, I had no clue there was anything odd about my “knowing” him. He was just Joshua, perfect in every way.

Through the editing process in 2011, Joshua became a lot less likeable. He used to be the Epic Hero of the series, swooping in and rescuing Shayla at every turn. He was my little girl crush, my teenage crush, my lifetime crush. That stopped when I created Raif in 2005 and when I polished things up in 2011, Joshua came out of the other end all tarnished and pompous and not likeable at all in my opinion. I shall have to see what happens to him in the next book. I’d like to recapture some of who he used to be before I kill him off ((smirk))

GL:  But, this is actually more like "real" life.  We idolize these people in our youth, but as we grow and change, we realize they weren't really all that perfect to begin with. I still like Josh, although he is certainly no Raif! :-)

GL:  If you could clone yourself (or make yourself an heir), would you? Anything you’d change?

Friday:  No, I don’t want that kind of thing for myself. I don’t know if I could detach and think of reproduction as a genetically-engineered process like producing an Heir. I think of reproduction as a magical impossibility that we do more by accident than by design. I definitely support birth control and planned parenthood and am as strong a Pro Choice proponent as can be because I don’t think anyone anywhere should ever tell a woman (or anyone else) what to do with their own body. However, I’m also a scientist. An engineer by profession.

Almost in contradiction to my stalwart support of controlled intervention, I think the human process of bearing offspring should be left to our most-basic level of behavior. I’m a firm supporter of Darwinian thought. That is, we are animals. We like to think we’re more than that, but I think we need to admit, we are simply another animal species on this planet. As such, we have reproductive rituals (behaviors, choices, etc.) that lead us to bear offspring.

I think that natural process needs to be left to run its most-natural course and not be controlled (other than to prevent unwanted pregnancies or to address unwanted pregnancies when preventive methods fail or of course, in the case of rape).

As a Jew, I’m spiritually offended by the very idea of a eugenics program. If I try to get objective and think like a scientist, I still think it’s a terrible idea: eugenics or selective breeding is begging for our species to self-destruct. I have very divided feelings on the subject of genetically controlling birth defects—even detecting them is a question I ponder at times—because I think the species needs occasional culling.

As I said, I fully-support Darwinian reasoning about periodic and various means of culling our gene pool. From pandemics to rare birth defects, I think our species cannot evolve in any meaningful way without the trial-and-error process on the species level which results in deaths at both the individual level and the cultural or societal level.

It’s harsh, but I think it’s necessary over the course of say, a thousand or ten thousand years, not to mention a million years of our evolution, for people to die and stop contributing to our gene pool. Without the random mutations and routine culling, as I said, I think our species would just self-destruct. We’re not a very hearty species as animals on this planet go. I mean, whales would still be around if we weren’t slaughtering them—and they’re millions of years older than we are. Now that’s a hearty species. Homo Sapiens? Not so much.

GL:  Who are some of your literary role models?

Friday:  Ah, this one is easy. Robert A. Heinlein, first and foremost. When I was 14, I wanted to be him. In fact, I went to college to be a Mechanical Engineer because that’s what he did. Crazy, I know! I got my tendency for “rejecting a $50 word when a nickel word will do” from Heinlein himself. He said it in a lecture on writing I heard once. I actually got to correspond with him in the 80s before he died. The last year or so, of course, I was getting handwritten notes from his wife, Ginny, but still, it was exciting to me, as a young girl just starting out, to get an answer to my fan mail from a megastar like him.

Second-strongest influence was probably Suzanne Brockmann, the Romantic Suspense author. Suz just makes it easy to learn at her elbow, both in how willing she is to talk about her books and how accessible she  is (used to be?) for asking questions directly. She’s also an amazing writer who teaches by example. She’s always trying out new things and she is single-handedly responsible for “teaching” me how to write multiple Point-of-View narratives. I haven’t ever met her, but I sure would love to one day.

The third-strongest influence was definitely not the least influential. Lois McMaster Bujold influenced me through her writing.  I didn’t discover her existence until she was 20 years into her career. She and I  are (apparently) almost age-mates. I’m a few years younger than she but not much more than a few. I read her for the first time in 2005. That was the impetus to finally buckle down and learn how to edit.

Lois’s work is so darned tight, so polished, so perfect, I desperately wanted to turn my own stories into something of that calibre. I still have quite a ways to go before I’m up to the Bujold Gold Standard, but I’m a far better writer today because I read Lois’s books—and I did go out and find and read pretty much everything she had ever written until 2006 in the course of about nine (yes, 9) days in December of 2006. She had departed from her SF at that point and was writing Fantasy genre, which I don’t care for, but I even tried one of her Fantasy books. Her calibre of writing was still there, glowering at me for not being that good (yet). The one thing I probably learned most from Lois was the impact of multi-layering a plot using metaphors and similes, not because they make for poetic prose, but because these “tools of the trade” are mechanisms for engaging a reader’s mind anew each time they read my books. And Lois definitely plans on a reader coming to her work repeatedly, with a different mindset each time. She has a somewhat famous discussion on the subject of “Reader as Collaborator” that she’s published somewhere, probably on her MySpace. It’s an informal discussion she wrote but seems to be referenced by fans everywhere. That right there is the impact a writer like Lois McMaster Bujold has on writers like me. We hang on her every word, even the blogs.

GL:  What has been your favorite part of writing/publishing this novel?

Friday:  Finally getting the darned thing to come together how it was supposed to come together 30 years ago. I can’t believe I had to wait a lifetime for this, but feeling that sense in my backbrain of pieces clicking into place was a thrill and a half. I’ve had that “click” everytime I write a first draft of a novel (I have about 20 novels “in the drawer” as they say) but none other is as near and dear to my soul as The Phoenician Series. And no other books are as complex or as vivid in my mind. Lois once said to me in 2005 that the first thing I’ll have published will be the best thing I’ll have written—to that point in my life anyway. She was right. Conditioned Response is the best thing I’ve written—so far! As she noted, every book an author writes, hopefully, is an improvement on the last as far as mastery of the craft goes.

GL:  Conditioned Response is almost as old as I am.  Hahaha…  It has to be good to have been in the making for all these years!

GL:  If you could travel to any other planet, solar system, universe, heck… anywhere…  where would you go and why?

Friday:  The name Altair is actually the name of our nearest stellar neighbor, not a planetary name, and I have no idea if there’s a planet capable of sustaining life (let alone human life) in the Altarian star system, but if there is, I’d like to go there. Back when I was a girl.... ((laugh, sorry I had to say it at least once!)) there was an ad on television for something that had nothing to do with space travel but it was the 60s and the space race was “on” so everyone referenced it. The ad had a song that went,  “I want to see Venus, Jupiter and Mars. I even want to go there, if we ever get that far. And I want to see Venice.” The ad was for something that made me very sad, either cancer research or some other kind of deadly disease. I always cry when I hear that song in my head. I can remember the child-me sitting there in front of the television crying at the sad situation of the advertisement. Someone was dying and wishing for something they could never have. I remember the magical feeling of hope the song instilled in my heart. Just think, could we really travel to the stars? And I’d like to see Venice, too. ^)^

GL:  What is one item you’re looking forward to on your bucket list?

Friday:  Travelling the world, seeing new places, meeting new people. And I want to learn to be fluent in French again. I had it (and Spanish) once. I hate only speaking American English again. Being monolingual feels so limited, so wrong.

GL:  Are you reading anything right now? If so, what is it?  If not, what would you like to read next?

Friday:  No, haven’t had time to read lately and am about to change my day job situation so that’ll probably change, too. If I have time to read again this summer, I definitely want to try out some of the thriller writers I’ve met on Twitter. Since Conditioned Response is touted as a SciFi Thriller, I rub elbows on the #ThrillerThursday hash with straight thriller/suspense genre writers. I’m definitely interested in checking out Doug Dorow, Stephen M. England and Russ Blake (who cracks me up @BlakeBooks daily!) There are probably others, but I’d have to check my Twitterstream for their names. Carmen DeSousa writes Romantic Suspense and I’d like to try one of hers, too. Oh, and I’d like to have time to read some non-fiction. I have a list of miltiary history I want to wade through, starting with Sun Tzu’s Art of War no less! There are a few books Suzanne Brockmann speaks of having read that I’d like to check out, historical non-fiction on military strategies and the like. I think it would improve my plotting immensely if I read more non-fiction.
  
GL:  Do you have any television shows that you MUST watch?

Friday:  Oh, yes! Fringe and Dexter are tied for my #1 favorite shows of all. I’ve been a huge fan of House, but apparently they’re ending that series this year so I shall miss it. Another one I enjoy is Bones, but I don’t “need” to watch it so much as I really enjoy it. Oh, Archer is a new cartoon that I “need” to watch and actually own on disc so I can get my fix whenever I need one, just in case they cancel it!  Archer is definitely NOT for the faint of heart but I laugh so hard I often cry.

Let’s see, I spend a lot of time on the NatGeo and NatGeoWILD channels, as well as Discovery’s Animal Planet (I am glued during Shark Week each year!) and of course, I love Modern Marvels. Two old shows I still enjoy are Seconds from Disaster and Life After People.

GL:  What is your favorite season?

Friday:  Of television or of the weather? LOL Sorry, but you followed those two questions so closely together, I wasn’t sure for a second. Okay, weather wise, spring. Hands down.  I love the new life and growth and how things change and are different on a daily basis—in hours sometimes! It’s like the cycle of life or evolution is happening right there in front of your eyes sometimes. Birds build nests in the course of a day, a tree buds and flowers, things transform. Strangely enough, though, my favorite climate is the desert: ultra-hot and bone-dry.

GL:  Yes, the weather.  LOL  I enjoy spring, but autumn is my favorite.  Only because I hate summer so much, and I know spring means it is coming.  Hahaha…  Ultra-hot is NOT for me!

GL:  Favorite comfort food?

Friday:  ((scoff)) You really have to ask? Chocolate. Is there anything else?

GL:  Do you have a specific writing routine?  Open window, music, absolute quiet, favorite chair, etc…

Friday:  Already mentioned this a bit, yes, I do. I listen to music usually. Trance, Techno, House/Industrial or sometimes, Goth/Darkwave. It all depends on what I’m trying to write. I have never ever, not once in 40+ years of writing, had “writer’s block.” I don’t know what that is, TBH. I know that annoys other writers when I say it, but sorry, it’s true. I can’t imagine being at a loss for words. If I sit down to write, I have about 20 things spinning through my head at any given time and have to choose which one I’m going to do first. If I have a problem with one, if I feel stuck, I just write something else. All of life is story fodder so there’s an endless source of ideas and material to adapt into my characters’ stories. The characters always come to me first. Always.

Music keeps me focused and writing faster, longer, better so I’ll usually put on headphones and zone out of reality and into the story. I used to smoke cigarettes (quit in 2007) so I used to need my coffee on one side and ashtray/lighter/cigarettes on the other before I could write.  With the caffeine and nicotine to sustain me, I used to write for 6, 8, 10 hours without a break except for the bathroom or to get more coffee.

I often still crave a smoke when I’m writing and/or think of it. In fact, thinking of it right now to write that sentence made me crave a cigarette a little....just one drag, right?  NOT!! Quitting was the single-hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

GL:  And I'm so glad you did!

I think not looking at "deadlines" really lessens the chance of writer's block as well.  If you have a publication deadline looming over you, and someone else is expecting you to churn out this fantastic novel in x amount of days, I can see how you might suddenly blank out from the stress of it all.  I tend to write spontaneously, and I have that luxury because I am not publishing anything at the moment. So, if I can't think of much to write, I will just take a break.  It doesn't take long for a scene to emerge and bug me to death until I sit down to write it out :-)!

GL:  What one piece of advice would you offer to any aspiring (or even experienced) author?

Friday:  Here’s two pieces of advice:

1) Write. When you’re not writing, read. When you’re not reading, write some more.

2) Understand the difference between writing “art for art’s sake” (writing for the sheer joy of creating art) versus writing for publication. The former is for you, the latter is a business.

A lot of new authors, aspiring writers, people who have yet to find their own voice but think “Gee, that sounds like it would be a fun thing to try.” just don’t realize how hard it is to really be an author. A large number of them definitely don’t think it’s going to entail starting up and running their own independent small business!

They quickly start running into the business end of things and get annoyed, frustrated, fed up and decide to go find an agent and send their “masterpiece” into a publisher so they can let the publisher handle “all that business stuff.” Then they get angry at their book not getting bought up or if it is, at their publisher for not doing “all of that business stuff” for them.

News alert: even if you sell your rights to a publisher and let them control your work of art, if it’s published for sale to the public, it’s supposed to be a profitable business activity. You’ll still need to participate in “all that business stuff.” Only difference is, if you go with a publisher, you won’t have any control or rights anymore. They’ll do what they think is going to turn the most profit—no matter what it does to your book.

If you want to write for the sheer joy of writing, embrace that and do it. Don’t try to publish for profit. Give your work away for free and just keep writing. Enjoy the fame you attract from the free giveaways. Just write.

If you want to make money off your writing, embrace the cold, harsh reality that the writing serves the bottom line, not the other way around. It’s possible to do both (obviously, since so many of us have gone Indie and are making money) but you really have to embrace the business side and not let anyone tell you to stop promoting your book. You simply need to find the right arena for the “shameless shelf promotion” and not abuse your invitation to join readers in their homes.

Don’t forget to be a reader, yourself. Would you want the author of the book you’re reading right now to hound you for a review or tell you that your opinion of their work was “wrong”? I suspect not. Don’t do it to your readers. Be professional, be a business person.  If you don’t know how to run a business, buy and read some books on the subject.  Some good ones include:



Kristin Lamb’s We Are Not Alone (which gave rise to the Twitter hashtag #myWANA)

There are a myriad of other places to get advice but the biggest thing to do is to choose what kind of writer you are (artiste or business person) and then if the latter type, educate yourself.

Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Cassie! I appreciated your inputs on the editing process so much, from the early critiques of the first edits in summer of 2011 over at Authonomy through the middle stages of editing and into the mad rush to read the final final FINAL copy in April of 2012. You were always thoughtful and professional. A real joy to work with for any author! Next time, I’m hiring you first and we’ll set a schedule together.

GL:  Sounds like a great Plan! J


-Friday
@phoenicianbooks

Conditioned Response is available in eBook format only and may be purchased at all major eTailers, including:


See Lists on which Conditioned Response has been voted up the rankings on the Goodreads Listopias page here: http://bit.ly/CR-Listopias

Read reviews by Goodreads members here: http://bit.ly/CR-Goodreads

Conditioned Response has also been chosen as a Secondary Group Read by the SciFi and Heroic Fantasy Group on Goodreads for June 2012.  Head over and check that out!  http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/898209-conditioned-response-by-marjorie-f-baldwin

Thank you so much, Friday, for stopping by today! I had a wonderful time working on Conditioned Response with you.  I have fallen in love with the characters and the story, and I am looking forward to the future of the series!

5 comments:

  1. And thank you again, Cassie, for letting me blather on in this extremely long interview. You're such a stalwart supporter of the Indie Author community! Kudos to you for working so hard to help others. Karma is a b**ch (in high heels) and she rewards those who walk her way ;-)

    -Friday

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  2. Such an in-depth interview is rare and fascinating. Nice to meet you, Friday.

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  3. Thank you, Amber. I kind of wondered if I were giving out TMI but this is my first press/publicity in a year and the book's finally out, so I figured, get it all out there now and then no one can say I didn't warn them. LOL

    If you haven't read the book yet, be sure to stop by the giveaway party on Facebook this Friday, June 1st because I'll be giving away an autographed copy (!!) and then the SciFi and Heroic Fantasy Group on Goodreads has selected it to be their Secondary Group Read in June, so you're just in time to join in on that! Sample the first 30% free off Smashwords or Kindle but I'll be giving the group a coupon to get it free for the group reading.

    -Friday
    @phoenicianbooks

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  4. Great interview! Thank you, Friday, for such interesting details. I am looking forward to reading your book! I hope your book's kick-off goes well!

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  5. You're welcome, Kerry. It was really fun to give Cassie this infodump and I'm flattered she gave me the screen real estate to publish it all :) The book's discussion on Goodreads is going well. Come join us! http://bit.ly/SFHF-CondResp

    -Friday
    @phoenicianbooks

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