Maps, Scottish glossary essential!

YA novel, The Rain CatcherI’ve just (10 minutes ago!) updated my middle-grade novel The Rain Catcher with a catchy table of contents and have added two maps — one of the British Isles and one of Scotland. I’ve also added a glossary of Scottish slang for those difficult-to-understand words, like “drookit”! These were all additions I had planned earlier, but life intervened, and I am just now getting to it!

If you’re interested in reading a free sample of The Rain Catcher, please go to my Smashwords page, and you can download the text in just about any format you need! I’m also hoping to do a giveaway at some point in the not-too-distant future, so stay posted!

New book release…finally!

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my middle-grade fictional book, The Rain Catcher! It’s been changed since I posted the earlier snippets of it, but the general idea is the same. The story is set in Scotland and follows 13-year-old Katy as she visits her estranged other for the first time in 10 years!

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My book started off as a diary-format novella for adults, then morphed into a more complicated (3 points of view!) novel for adults, then just a plain (1 point of view) novel for adults. And now…it is a short chapter book for kids aged 11 and up! Phew!

So, all those adages about writing taking time, blah blah…well, they’re true! The idea for my story came after I took a trip to Scotland with my mum in 2006, so you can count back to see how many years it took me to get to this point!

If you have a young person in your life who likes to read, please give The Rain Catcher a try. It’s got some mild bad language, and there is definitely a dark side to it, but nothing worse than most kids see on the nightly news. If he or she likes adventure and is curious about traveling to another country, this might be a good fit for him or her. I’m going to be setting up a kid-friendly page on this website soon, so stay tuned!

Kids’ books to beat winter boredom!

If you have children, you probably have mixed feelings about the holidays–excited and scared at the same time! Two weeks! How am I going to keep them busy for two whole weeks?? There are only so many holiday crafts, parades, and Christmas films.

How about supplying the kids with books to keep their brains active and you sane!! Here are a few I’ve read and liked…

Picture Books

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The Gingerbread Witch is a fun story written by Lisa Logan with help from her 4-year-old son, Dean. My kids (age 7 and 4) love it because it’s not your typical sweet-as-sugar children’s book (often written more for the parents than the kids!). There’s an actual story here–a really good one! And a lesson to be learned.

Chapter Books

        

Straight from the horse’s mouth — my daughter and I both like these mysteries involving Cam, a girl with a photographic memory and her best friend Eric. They are great at solving mysteries! We especially like the very first in the series, Cam Jansen and the Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds.

Young Adult

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Into The Land of Snows by Ellis Nelson is a fast-paced story about 16-year-old Blake who must deal with his parents’ recent divorce. When he gets into trouble, his father demands that Blake join him — at Mount Everest! I haven’t finished reading this book yet, but I’m enjoyed it so far and have read lots of Nelson’s well-written book reviews. I have high hopes for this book!

 

Kids can write!

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Kids, learn the basics of how to write a story!

I’ve been experimenting with the website pixton.com, which my friend Lisa Logan (also a writer) introduced me to. You can create your own comic strips or graphic novel – the trial period is free, and after that rates start at $8/month, which is pretty reasonable.

It’s a lot of fun, and as Lisa says, is also a kind of therapy. I’ve made comic strips about the election, my 3-year-old’s habit of shouting “Poop!” really loudly, and all sorts of things.

Anyway, I created a tiny ebook (PDF) for kids that lays out VERY basically how to write a story. Here it is if you’d like to share it with a kid you know. The age range is about 7 to 9 (my 2nd-grader helped me come up with ideas). So, please download it and let me know what you think! I’m hoping to do a longer, more detailed version at some point…eventually…

Kids Can Write! (pdf ebook)

4 ways NOT to start your book!

img_8699About two weeks ago, I attended Bookmarks Festival of Books & Authors. It was the first time I’d been, and I was only able to stay for a couple of hours. But it looked great from the little bit I saw! Besides showcasing local and national authors, the festival offered Slush Pile Live (Sponsored by the NC Writers’ Network) for aspiring writers to have their work critiqued. Well, the first 300 words of their work, anyway — anonymously by a panel of  agents and editors.

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I submitted my 300 words and waited, heart thumping, in the audience for them to randomly pick my work and tear it apart. They never got to mine. But I did learn a lot listening to them tear apart other people’s writing! Here are some tips I gleaned from the painful lessons of others. (Okay, they weren’t that cruel, really!)

  1. Don’t start a memoir with a date. So many submissions started with something like, “September 29, 1962” and then went on to describe events chronologically that weren’t super-exciting. A memoir should read like a novel, with character development. The first section should give the framework for that character’s journey, not just a list of dates and events.
  2. Don’t start a story with so much excitement that the rest of the story can’t possibly live up to that first scene. At least two of the entries started with really gripping, tense scenes. One involved a mystery intruder and a scream from inside the house — the tension was too much, a panelist said. The scream made the story “almost comical” (ouch!). The other started with a gripping car accident which then dwindled when the character just stood around watching the night sky!
  3. Don’t start with a boring topic. One submission described a bug in the sink. Another started with the character getting hugely excited about registering a copyright. The panelists didn’t want to hear the rest. The author has to establish why the reader should care about the story, one panelist explained. The first few sentences are a “microcosm” of the work, the other added.
  4. Don’t use flat language that tells instead of shows. The unpopular entries didn’t include sensory details to anchor the reader in the scene. They contained clichés and flat declarative sentences that didn’t show the character’s personality. The panelists liked a children’s book entry, told from the point of view of a little girl who’d been struck by lightning while she sat on a fence. The writing was full of color and funny words, specific to that character.

All the panelists had really great suggestions and insights about how to start a piece of writing. The key idea I took away from Slush Pile Live was that you only have a few seconds time to capture a reader’s (especially an agent’s or editor’s!) attention. Every detail and sentence counts. Don’t go off on tangents, and don’t include boring stuff that doesn’t really matter.

In my next post, I’ll write about a few of the authors I met at Bookmarks — dedicated writers who didn’t mind standing in the blinding sun for hours to meet new readers!

 

 

 

Become a better creative writer with online classes!

Online creative writing classes at www.writingclasses.co.uk start today, but the first week is orientation, so you still have time to sign up! I know this because I’ve taken classes, and I used to tutor Creative Writing 1, Novel Writing 1, and (formerly) Intro. to Magazine Writing at the Edinburgh-based online school.

The Blue Suitcase
Director Marianne’s  historical novel

 

If you’re interested in creative writing — whether as a complete beginner or as an experienced writer who just needs a little boost — these are great classes! The tutors are so positive, and the notes and exercises help stretch your brain and get the creative thoughts zooming! Each course is 10 weeks, and you post writing assignments in public folders and comment on each others’ work. Students come from all corners of the globe — India, Scotland, England, Spain, Hong Kong, Dubai…

Anyway, I am still working away on The Rain Catcher and hope to post another snippet soon. Thanks to everyone who reads and supports my blog!

The Rain Catcher, Snippet 7

The Rain Catcher - High Resolutoin

After replacing the mangled tire with the spare “donut,” Mom and Aunt Claire had an argument about which road to take. Aunt Claire wanted to keep going straight, but Mom wanted to take a detour to a place called “Rest and Be Thankful,” where Great Auntie Fiona used to take them to when they were kids. She said that the pendulum had answered “Yes” when she asked it if the detour would bring us “good fortune.”

“Are you bonkers? It’ll add at least an hour to our trip,” Aunt Claire cried.

“Um…don’t we need to get a real tire soon? Those donut tires are just for emergencies.” Ever since I was tall enough to reach the clutch, Dad had drilled the basics of road safety into my brain.

“Doughnuts? What’s she talking about?” Aunt Claire jerked her head in my direction.”

“The spare tire, Claire,” Mom explained. “That’s what they call it in America.”

“Pffff! We don’t have time for all that. We need to get a move on.”

“I thought we were sightseeing,” I said. “Why are we in such a hurry?”

As usual, they ignored my question.

“All I know is, we don’t want to go against fortune. We need to stop at Rest and Be Thankful.” Mom folded her arms. I guessed that was the sign that nothing Aunt Claire said would make any difference because she groaned and turned left at the next intersection onto “Old Military Road.” She must have seen me staring at the sign.

“The soldiers who built the old road called the place we’re going to Rest and Be Thankful because the climb was so steep that they were thankful to have a place to stop and rest afterward,” Aunt Claire said.

“Is it? I didn’t know that?” Mom wove her hair into a long braid with her broad-knuckled fingers. I have Dad’s slim fingers, thankfully.

“Just because you did a year of art college doesn’t mean you’re the genius of the family!” Aunt Claire jerked the steering wheel as she maneuvered around a sharp bend in the two-lane road.

“Did you go to college, Aunt Claire?”

She huffed. “I did nursing for a while, but … it wasn’t really for me.”

“Mavis didn’t like it,” Mom sneered.

“Mavis? Ewan’s mom? What does she have to do with it?”

“Exactly!” I felt glad that Mom agreed with me but also a little sorry for Aunt Claire, who sank down into her seat.

“It didn’t work out, that’s all,” she said. No one spoke for a while. We rounded a bend, and the trees opened up to reveal a beautiful valley.

“Wow!” I rolled the window down, enjoying the feel of wind brushing against my face after being in the stuffy, burnt-rubber-dead-cat smelling car for what felt like hours.

Aunt Claire parked at a small overlook, and we got out and stretched. Grassy hills with purple flowers spread before us, and a little stream trickled through the middle. The wind pushed clouds across the sky, and the valley grew dark, then light, as if giant fingers played across the sun.

“Just breathe in that air!” Mom closed her eyes and took a deep breath. I copied her, breathing until my nostrils stung with the chill. I smelled grass, damp and mossy, and the icy water in the stream (which I imagined tasted like peppermint). When I opened my eyes, the view looked brighter, as if someone had poured cold water over everything, washing away the dust and old faded colors.

“I wish I lived here,” I said. “Then I could see this view every day!”

Mom stood with her face to the sun, her eyes still eyes closed. Aunt Claire sat on the grass, still wearing her sunglasses, legs tucked under her. She plucked a blade of grass and chewed on it like I’ve seen Granddad do. He lives on a farm in Mebane that his family used to own. Granddad still plants tobacco. He lets the leaves grow bigger and bigger until Dad gets tired of looking at the overgrown field and hauls out the tractor. Then Dad and I help Granddad hang the tobacco leaves in the barn and hose them down to get rid of all the bugs and dirt.

The leaves dry in the barn for about two weeks, and then Granddad sticks the leaves in the old pottery kiln Grannny made back when she was still alive. He bakes them for days and days – I don’t even know how long – and then he sells the tobacco at the farmer’s market and to old-timers who live near him and make their own cigarettes. Sometimes, a lady from Asheville buys the leaves to make dolls and wreaths out of them. He’s pretty busy, my Granddad.

I didn’t tell Mom any of this; she looked too thoughtful on the hillside, her braid bobbing in the wind. I thought about what my life would be if we’d stayed in Scotland instead of moving to North Carolina when I was three. Would we live in a tiny flat like Mom, or would Dad have bought something bigger with its own yard? Did they even have private yards over here?

One thing was for sure – I’d have to wear a school uniform.

Aunt Claire groaned. “I’m knackered! Let’s get a bacon roll and a cup of tea.”

“What’s a bacon roll?” I ran to keep up as she marched toward a van parked at the side of the overlook. I hadn’t noticed before, but it was actually a tiny cafe out here in the middle of nowhere!

Mom strolled behind us. “Your Great Auntie Fiona used to take us here on Sundays in her old banger.”

“What’s an old banger?”

“It’s an old car. The rust had worn through the floor, and the car got puddles when it rained.”

“Why didn’t she buy a new one?”

“We’re not rich like you Americans!” Aunt Claire snapped.

I frowned. “We’re not rich.” Dad has an old truck, too, but he’d get it fixed if holes started to wear in the floor.

We reached the tea van, and Mom started digging in her bag. “Oh, I need to stop by a bank. I’ve no cash.”

Aunt Claire folded her arms but didn’t say anything.

“I have some money,” I piped up.

“No, I’ll pay,” Aunt Claire said, holding up a hand. “Liz can pay me back later. She’s due.”

We sat on the grass eating bacon rolls (Delicious! Rolls are like floury hamburger buns but with more flavor, and Scottish bacon is juicy and thick like Canadian ham.)

“Ewan was born here,” Aunt Claire said, her mouth full of food.

“Really?” Mom leaned forward to look at her sister. I sat in the middle, stuffing my face; I hadn’t realized how hungry I was. Even though we’d left Edinburgh super-early, the flat tire and tea stops had slowed us down, and it was nearly lunchtime.

“Aye, Mavis was eight months pregnant when she and Eddie drove up here for a picnic. That was before they were married, and before Eddie drank himself to death, obviously.”

I glanced at my aunt. People didn’t say stuff like “drank themselves to death” in front of me in North Carolina. Dad was careful about what I watched on TV (which is aggravating when all my friends are allowed to watch “Saturday Night Live,” and I’m not!). He doesn’t even want me to watch “The People’s Court” when I’m home sick.

“They hit a bump, and her water broke,” Aunt Claire continued. I winced, hoping she wasn’t going to go in to a lot of details about fluids and umbilical cords. In health class, the teacher showed us a movie about the beauty of childbirth. I missed the actual “beauty” part because my eyes had been closed the whole time.

“So, Eddie parked here, bought two cups of tea and a bacon roll from the van, and by that time Ewan had made his grand entrance.”

“Good grief!” Mom slapped her forehead. “He was eating a bacon roll while Mavis was giving birth?”

“Sort of tells you the kind of person he was…”

“I can see why Mavis is the way she is,” Mom said. “That must’ve been quite traumatic.”

Aunt Claire brushed crumbs off her jeans and stood up. “We’d better start movin’, folks,” she said in a fake American accent, winking at me.

“Is that supposed to be American?”

She laughed – the first time I’d heard her laugh – and patted me on the back.

On the way back to the car, we stopped to listen to a bagpiper who’d appeared a few feet away from the tea van. His face swelled as he blew into the pipes and squinted against the wind.

“That’s ‘Flower of Scotland’.” Mom threw a pound coin into the cap by the piper’s foot.

“I thought you didn’t have any cash,” Aunt Claire cried.

Mom hurried toward the car, apparently not hearing her sister. “Time waits for no man!”

“Hmmph!” Aunt Claire stomped toward the car, her good mood trampled like the muddy ground under our feet. A few minutes down the road, Aunt Claire’s cellphone began to buzz. Mom and I held our breaths as she wedged the cell phone between her chin and shoulder and tried to steer and shift gears at the same time. The car wobbled over to the wrong side of the road for a few seconds. I closed my eyes.

“Mavis? I have no idea where he is. Don’t phone me again.” Aunt Claire threw the phone behind her; it bounced off my seat and landed on the floor.

“What did she want?” I asked, curious.

“None of your business!” Mum and Aunt Claire barked at the same time. Jeez!

 

 

The Rain Catcher, Snippet 6

Hello! I’m just posting another snippet from my middle-grade novel, The Rain Catcher, which I hope to publish sometime this century! It’s about an American teenager, Katie, visiting her estranged mother in Scotland for the summer. The day after she arrives, her mom and aunt whisk her away on a bizarre road trip to the Highlands… If you’d like to catch up on the previous snippets, just click on The Rain Catcher under “Categories” in the right-hand column. Thanks!

Snippet 6

Aunt Claire heaved on her cigarette and held the smoke in for longer than was safe for any human being. Then she hissed it out between a tiny hole in her teeth, as though savoring the burning smoke feeling.

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Glen Coe, Scottish Highlands

 

“Really, Claire!” Mom tutted and coughed. “I don’t know how you can concentrate with all that smoke!”

“Well, who’s driving? Me or you?”

We passed a sign for Dumbarton, and I zonked out. When I woke up, we were driving past a lake, which sparkled bright blue when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds.

“Where are we?” I asked. Mom had her eyes closed but wasn’t asleep; she was humming to herself, sort of like she was in a trance.

“Loch Lomond,” Aunt Claire called over her shoulder. She looked more awake now, and was actually smiling, glancing every now and then at the lake. “Gorgeous, isn’t it? You can see why they wrote a song about it.”

“What song?”

Aunt Claire stared at me in the rear view mirror as though I was a complete idiot. “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond, of course! Don’t they teach you anything in those American schools?”

I smirked. “Okay, what’s our national anthem?”

“The Star Spangled Banner. Any dunce knows that!”

Maybe my aunt was right about the education system in North Carolina!

The two-lane highway surrounded by trees reminded me of being on the Blue Ridge Parkway with Dad. He has a friend, Jeb, who lives across the border in Virginia, and every so often we’ll visit him. Jeb lets us feed the cows and fish in his pond. He has a mad cocker spaniel who nips the cows’ ankles and yaps at anything that moves.

Suddenly, a truck zipped around the bend in front of us, making the car shake.

“Bloody hell!” Aunt Claire swerved left, too close to the rocky roadside, and there was a horrible scraping sound.

“What was that?” Mom jerked out of her trance.

“Hopefully nothing,” my aunt replied. But now the road felt lumpy, and it was obvious we had a flat tire. We poked along until Aunt Claire spotted a gravel pull-off and parked in a cloud of dust.

Aunt Claire jumped out and ran to the back of the car to inspect the damage. She gave a wail and kicked the tire with her boot. Then Mom and I got out. The wheel was flatter than an iron skillet, and the hubcab was twisted like a crushed Coke can.

“Wow! I’ve never seen a tire so flat,” I said, shaking my head. “You have a spare?”

“Of course I have a spare! I’m not a complete idiot!” Aunt Claire spat.

“We’ll handle it, Katy. Why don’t you go over there?” Mom pointed across the road at some cows.

“And do what?”

“And look at the beautiful Scottish wildlife!” Aunt Claire yelled. “Now, get out of here so we can fix this tire!”

“But do you know how to change a tire? Dad showed me—”

“Go on, Katy.” Mom waved her hands at me as though I was a wasp buzzing around her head..

I backed up. “Fine. I guess you don’t need my help.” Never mind that Dad had showed me how to change not only tires but also the oil in his truck. I was pretty sure my mom and aunt had never changed a tire in their lives.

I crossed the street and stood in front of the wire fence, watching orange shaggy cows with gigantic horns and pink wet noses. They were kind of cute, I had to admit. I pulled a handful of grass out of the earth and held it up for the cows. A smallish one trotted over and sniffed it before huffing and sauntering away again. I laughed.

“Sorry, I don’t have any treats!”

I turned around to see Mom and Aunt Claire leaning over the trunk of the car with their “bums” sticking up in the air, trying to pull out the spare tire. Did they even know what a jack was? They could figure it out for themselves.

Raindrops began to fall, hitting the back of my neck and making me shiver. Just what I needed. I pulled my jacket collar up and folded my arms for warmth. The cows huddled together. Luckily for them, they had their thick coats!

Finally, after what seemed like an hour, Mom shouted, “Okay, you can come back now.”

“Gee, thanks!” My knees were stiff with the cold, and I couldn’t stop shivering.

Back in the car, Mom waved a smoking leaf-thing around.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Sage. That dead cat in the boot is a bit pongy.” Aunt Claire started the engine.

“You still didn’t bury it?” I couldn’t believe we’d been stranded for an hour in the countryside and they hadn’t buried the dead cat.

“When was I supposed to bury it, smarty pants?” My aunt spat. “Before or after we struggled with nuts and bolts and a rusty jack? Before or after I ruined my nails?”

“Not my fault,” I said. “You didn’t want my help.”

“You know how to change a tire?” Mom asked, turning around in her seat to look at me properly.

“Of course. Dad showed me how. I tried to tell you before you shooed me across the road to look at cows for an hour.”

Mom and Aunt Claire looked at each other.

“Let’s just get out of here.” My aunt pushed up her sleeves and slammed on the gas, spinning the tires in the gravel as we hurtled back onto the road.

“Don’t get another flat,” I warned her.

Aunt Claire glared at me, and Mom covered her mouth with her hand to hide the smile.

Character Intervention. (Short Story And A Huge Thank you)

I’m sharing my writer-friend Katie Hart’s short story here. It’s not only a great read, but she makes such a fascinating point about honoring your fictional characters! Until reading her story, I’d never really thought about the characters that way before — I am usually more consumed with the situation, the plot, the feelings going on in the story. But, of course, the characters are central to the story! So, Katie’s post is a “warning” to me to stop neglecting my characters!

Katrina Marie

For blog story

Character Intervention.

Fiction Short Story

Harvey: Writers Should Never Ignore A Character.

Harvey sat in the waiting room clutching the flyer that had been pushed through his door only an hour ago. He hardly ever took note of mail that found its way through his letter box, but this one felt different, it had no flashy offers or huge wording that stood out to capture the imagination. Instead the paper was a pastel green just like the walls around him and in the centre in small bold print read: Dear  Mr Harvey, we have summoned you to attend our writers convention at midnight tonight. Bring your published book and novel in writing don’t be late. Along the bottom was an address he had never heard of before, but he felt compelled to go and find out just what was going on? Maybe they were the fans of his latest novel When…

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A short-short with no name!

I found this story scribbled on two sheets of paper while I was going through old notebooks, etc… I think it pretty clearly shows my state of mind during my graduate school creative writing classes! Not sure what to call it — any suggestions welcome!

All day, I couldn’t get the image of someone chopping down a tree out of my head. I was sitting at Servio’s Pizza with Mack, scribbling in my notebook while he lectured me on the proper way to write a cover letter. He thought I was taking notes; I was drawing a picture of Professor Wheeler wielding an axe, his sleeves rolled up past his elbows.

Tree split in two

“Are you listening?” Mack cocked his ear toward the door “That’s the sound of your career options floating out the window.”

“Oh, whatever.” I closed my notebook. “I’m going to be late for class. Better go face the music.”

Mack’s lips were pinched together. He patted my arm. “Good luck.”

“Thanks.”

Professor Wheeler sat in the square desk at the front of the room, while the rest of us faced him in a horseshoe formation. Faces were blank. My story was up.

“Harhum! Who wants to start?” Wheeler let his straight eye roam over each of us in turn, his wobbly eye rolling up toward the ceiling, as though trying to escape out of the socket. When he got to me, I looked down at my desk.

Lucretia raised her hand. She was a freshman with two jet-black braids that she purposely wore at each side of her head. At the end of each braid was a purple bow. She liked to wear black shiny shoes with little straps across the ankles.

Wheeler waited a few moments, letting his eye shift around the room before finally settling on Lucretia.

“Yes?” He never said her name unless he had to.

“I liked Janice’s story, her use of the strong male protagonist. I thought he was very believable in his weakness, his fears about writing. He was just like one of us.” She swept her arm around the room. “He wasn’t snobby or pretentious when it really came down to it. It was all an act.”

She stopped and looked at the manuscript on her desk. Wheeler waited. I clenched my hands in my lap.

“I disagree.” It was Benny; he always sat on the left side of the room, always wrote with a red pencil, sometimes combed his thick hair while others spoke.

“I didn’t like the narrator. I thought he was arrogant and overbearing.”

I bit my lip. Slowly, I raised my eyes to Wheeler. His cheeks were pink under the spokes of hair on his chin, and he was staring at Benny. Benny shrugged and began combing his hair.

Wheeler put both his hands flat on the desk, big pink fingers like rolls of unbaked dough. He looked at me suddenly, and I lowered my eyes quickly, studying the cartoon I’d scribbled at lunch.

Wheeler was smiling as he chopped down the tree, a big willow with graceful drooping branches that dripped around his shoulders and head. I’d drawn beads of sweat popping out of his forehead, surrounding his face like little flies.

“Well, come on. What does everyone else have to say about the story?”

Beatrice, an Ecuador woman with a kind smile, stared out of the window. Mike, a sports fanatic who wore his soccer cleats to class, sat looking straight ahead, a fake smile etched in place. I held my breath and prayed that I would suddenly wake up and find myself in bed in my small apartment. What had I been thinking, writing a story like that?

“I suppose I could add something to the conversation,” Wheeler said, cracking his knuckles. He rested his chin on his hand and tilted his head at me.

“A very unusual approach, Janice. I don’t think I’ve ever had a student do this before.”

I sucked in my breath, looking straight at him. In my drawing, my arms and limbs stretched into the sky, reaching out to the air as he crashed through me, toppling me over into the rough, dry grass.

“I applaud your honesty, your attention to detail.”

I blinked.

“Finally, you’re writing about what you know.” He tapped his forehead. “You’ve stopped writing clichés, plastic, polystyrene. Now you’re playing with fire. Now you have the power to inspire.” He stood up. “And to hurt.”

I covered my mouth with my hands as he walked out of the room.

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