Terrible Poetry

The very first piece of writing I ever had published was a poem about oceans. I was 11 and I entered a state-wide competition through my school and mine was one of the poems chosen for a kids poetry anthology. Each kid chosen for publication received a copy of the book and I was beyond thrilled. Being 11 and thoroughly delusion about my abilities, I was convinced that I was about to be the next big name in writing and Random House was going to show up at my front door, begging me to let them publish my genius. While I waited for this inevitability to happen, I anxiously waited for the arrival of the anthology. Finally, it arrived. I ripped open the padded envelope and held the hardcover, leatherbound book in my hands for a moment. This is it, I thought. I’ve made it. The spine of the book crackled as I opened to the index, searching for my name. I was deeply disappointed to find that my poem wasn’t listed first, but then I realized the poems were printed alphabetically according to the authors’ last names, not by ranking from best to worst. I thought that was kind of them to do for the other kids so they wouldn’t be overshadowed by my brilliance. I found my listing and flipped to the appropriate page. I didn’t even bother to read my poem; instead, I just stared at my name in print. I was in awe, a feeling I still experience every time I see one of my books in a bookstore. When I was done staring at my name, I closed the book and put it on the bookshelf. Occasionally, I’d pull it out and look at my name again, but I never even bothered to read any of the other poems.

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To announce my publication, I emailed a copy of the poem to my aunts and grandparents. It was about oceans and secrets and was

Broken
To make it seem more
Important

The way writers do
When they don’t

Know

What they are
Doing.

As if the poem wasn’t insufferable enough, I signed off on the email with “love, the poetess.” Luckily, my family members were entirely too polite to point out to me how annoying that was. Instead, they congratulated me on the publication and then we all moved on to less self-aggrandizing topics.

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“Quick, before she reads us another poem!”

In late October of 2010, my grandmother passed away. My dad and I knew it was coming and had plans to fly out to see her, but she died the night before our flight. We flew to Oklahoma the next morning anyway to be with family and to help out with settling my grandmother’s affairs before the funeral. At the time of her passing, my grandmother was living in an assisted living facility and her one bedroom apartment needed to be cleaned out to make room for a new resident. As my family and I began to go through her stuff, we quickly realized the amount of crap she had crammed in her closets. Broken Christmas decorations, promotional flyers, used gift wrap–you name it, she had it. Having grown up during the Great Depression, she hardly ever got rid of anything. Sometimes this was baffling, like with the broken decorations, but other times my grandmother’s hoarding worked out in our favor. My grandmother saved every photograph she’d ever taken, which was amazing for all of us. We got to relive family memories like my cousin’s glamour shots from the 80s and my uncle’s multicolored velvet bell bottoms from the 70s. We also got to see old photos of my dad and his sisters from when they were kids and even further back, when my grandmother was young. We also discovered that my grandmother kept a file cabinet with a folder for each of us. Inside were bits and pieces of our lives that she’d kept over the years. Inside mine, I found cards and letters I’d sent and a tooth I’d lost while visiting them when I was 6, along with other miscellaneous memories she’d decided were worthy of saving. I dug through my folder and there, stuck in the middle of everything, was the email I’d sent when I was 11 with my overly dramatic and grandiose poem. It didn’t matter that the poem had sucked; she’d saved it because she loved me.

Looking at these glimpses of my grandmother’s life, especially the parts before she married my grandfather, I realized how little how little I actually knew about her. I knew she was kind and generous and loving, but I knew practically nothing about her likes and dislikes. I didn’t know what kind of books she read or her favorite food or even her favorite color–nothing. When I was younger, I visited my grandparents for a week each summer. You’d think I would’ve learned something about my grandmother, but each time I visited my grandparents–later just my grandmother after my grandfather passed in 2002–they made the whole visit about me. I was the youngest grandchild and beyond spoiled with unlimited access to the computer, frequent visits to the library, and several shopping trips.

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Once, when I was about 15, my grandmother told me about an idea she had for the two of us to take a bus trip to Missouri, or “mizurra” as she pronounced it. I’m not sure how serious she ever was about this plan, maybe it was just a passing idea, but it never came to anything past that conversation in the breakfast room. Maybe if I’d brought it up again then something could have happened, but I never did and neither did she. Then my grandmother’s health began to decline and the Alzheimer’s precluded us from ever taking a bus trip, or any other kind of trip.

When I think about my grandmother now, eight years after her death, I feel a mixture of sadness and guilt. I miss her and I regret not taking the time to get to know her better. I can excuse some of the time I had with her based on me being a little kid, but I was 23 when she died. I could’ve done better. I should’ve done better. But I didn’t, so now I’m left with photographs and scrapbooks and a print out of an awful poem I wrote. Sometimes I study the pictures like an archeologist, trying to piece her back together, but I never can. Instead, I have to wait for my family to tell me stories so I can attempt to assemble a picture of who my grandmother was.

I sometimes wonder if she’d be proud of me as a writer. I swear a lot and I think she’d be horrified by my writing erotica, but she might have liked some of my other real person writing (with the exception of how many times I use the word “fuck”). I may not know as much about my grandmother as I’d like, but I do know she loved me (she’d have to in order to save that garbage poem about oceans from when I was 11). Even if she didn’t like what I wrote, I think she’d be pleased I’m doing something I love. And really, can we ask for much more than that for those we care about? I’m a parent now and all I really want is for my son to be happy and healthy. If he wants to write terrible poetry, I’ll save every poem he shares with me so then, after I’m gone, he can find it and receive one last reminder that I loved him.


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I can’t guarantee that supporting me on Patreon will cause you to have endless good hair days . . . but I can’t guarantee that it won’t either.

 

Shameless Self Promotion: a Guide

The hardest part of being an indie author is being in charge of my own marketing, mostly because I hate how narcissistic it feels to continually toot my own horn (that’s what she said).

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Oh come on, I call myself a smut peddler. I had to do it.

But unless you can afford to pay someone to do your marketing for you (and many of us can’t), it’s just you. So how can you market yourself without investing a ton of money? Here are some tips of stuff you can do (for free) to get you going:

Social Media

Guess who has two thumbs and hates promoting herself on social media?

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However, you’ve gotta do it. Get yourself on social media sites and promote your stuff! You’re going to feel like a broken record but, again, you’ve gotta do it. You never know who is going to read something you’ve done and want to know more, so make sure your links are available. But it’s more than just having the social media profiles–you have to actually use them. I’m guilty of vanishing for periods of time due to my mental health, but there’s a noticeable difference between my sales and reader engagement when I’m actually showing up and interacting with people (shocking, I know).

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Which social media sites are the best? It sort of depends on what you’re doing. I’ve gotten great interaction on Tumblr in the past, but Tumblr is kind of turning into a trash fire right now so I wouldn’t necessarily suggest starting anything over there at this exact moment in time. Instagram is a good one that I’ve recently started using again. Even though it’s a photo-based platform, you’d be surprised how much people love photos of quotes.

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I revived my Instagram recently and so far, this is my most popular post.
People love quotes.
And Terry Pratchett.

Facebook is another monster entirely that I discussed in another post, so I won’t go into that here.. I have a Twitter, but I honestly don’t use it that much other than for sharing my work from other sites. I read some marketing analytics that said you need to tweet at least 30 times per day to make it useful as a marketing tool. I don’t have a whole lot of snappy one liners, so that’s not really the best fit for me. However, if you tweet a lot, make Twitter work for you! Pin tweets to your profile and be sure to keep your followers abreast of any new updates about your work.

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Make that goddamn bird work for you.

Exploit Your Friends and Family for Fun and Profit

I know that sounds bad, but bear with me. Think about it–who is your first fan base? Your friends and family who love you and will buy a copy of your book just because they know you! Ask your loved ones if they’d be willing to share the link for your book and recommend it to others. Better yet, ask if they’d leave you a review on Amazon. Strangers are going to be more likely to buy a book with several five star reviews than one without any reviews at all.

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Make that herd mentality work in your favor!

Speaking of reviews…

Booksprout

If you haven’t heard of Booksprout, you should check them out immediately. Basically, you offer a free copy of your e-book in exchange for people to read and review it. Each review has to have the disclaimer that they received a copy for free, but they in no way have to be nice to you–you’ll get honest reviews, which can go either way. Then again, people give Neil Gaiman negative reviews on Amazon, so sometimes there’s no accounting for taste.

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Hey, have I mentioned yet that I love Neil Gaiman?

Talk to Your Local Bookstores

Want to get your books in stores? Talk to local bookstores! Lots of times, all you have to do is ask, but I like to come in armed with free copies of my book so they can check it out to ensure they’d like to stock it in their shop. A lot of places have shelves dedicated solely to local authors, and you’d be surprised by how quickly tourists eat that up.

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It’s best to create a personal connection with store owners, but if you’re really freaked out about going in, you could again lean on your friends and family. Send a handful of them in there to request/order your book and, once the store sees the potential for sales, they might stock it. But seriously, you should just go in yourself. You might even be able to talk to the store owners about doing a reading/book signing, which is a great way to get new readers from foot traffic.

Check Out Local Readings

Most towns have a local literary scene of some kind, and it’s a great idea to get in touch with them. Attend readings, get to know the other people who frequent these events, and talk to whomever is in charge to get yourself on the schedule to read. I hate public speaking, but I can’t deny that it’s a great way to sell copies of my books.

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And Now…

I couldn’t write a post about self promotion without promoting myself, could I? Click on the links below to check me out on the following platforms:

Instagram: Like writing and obsessive posts about coffee? This link is for you!

Patreon: I post exclusive content for patrons, including daily writing tips and/or writing prompts as well as a first look at new short stories, poems, and essays. Plus, starting next month, I’m going to serialize my new novel exclusively for my patrons.

Tumblr: As I mentioned before, Tumblr is kind of a trash fire right now. But I do have tons of free content on there.

Amazon: Hey, look, I sell stuff! I’m hoping to get more shorts up soon, so check back here for upcoming content.

Booksprout: Follow me on here and get a notification when I’m handing out free copies in exchange for reviews!

Twitter: Might as well include this for shits and giggles.

As you might have gathered, Lola Black is a pseudonym I use for my romance/erotica writing, mostly because my wonderfully supportive father reads everything I write and I just can’t have this particular conversation with him. But I have published under my real name, so here are the links:

Amazon: I’ve been published in a range of genres, including the nonfiction essay collection What’s an Adult? No One Knows Anything and We’re All Going to DieIf you’ve ever felt like you’re faking adulthood, that book is for you.

 

Please support indie authors! We basically exist off of coffee and can’t afford it without your support.

Using Food as Writing Inspiration

There are two things I love more than anything in this world. The first is my kid, and the second is food. I looooove food, both cooking and eating it. I even love watching Food Network, which means I love watching other people eat food.

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Even when this happens.

You might be wondering what this has to do with writing, and the answer is a lot. And not just because the writers on Chopped give Ted Allen the cheesiest puns.

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Ted deserves better.

Food can be a valuable tool for a writer when it comes to inspiration, and not just in regards to flavors and the use of taste for sensory details.

Food as a Character Development

The idea of using food for character development extends past preferences; you can actually use food as a way to give the reader insight into your characters and who they are. One of my favorite uses of this is in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

“In front of me is a tray, and on the tray are a glass of apple juice, a vitamin pill, a spoon, a plate with three slices of brown toast on it, a small dish containing honey, and another plate with an egg cup on it, the kind that looks like a woman’s torso, in a skirt. Under the skirt is the second egg, being kept warm. The egg cup is white china with a blue stripe.

The first egg is white. I move the egg cup a little, so it’s now in the watery sunlight that falls, brightening, waning, brightening again, on the tray. The shell of the egg is smooth but also grained; small pebbles of calcium are defined by the sunlight, like craters on the moon. It’s a barren landscape, yet perfect; it’s the sort of desert the saints went into, so their minds would not be distracted by profusion. I think that this is what God must look like: an egg. The life of the moon may not be on the surface, but inside. 

The egg is glowing now, as if it had an energy of its own. To look at the egg gives me intense pleasure.

The sun goes and the egg fades. 

I pick the egg out of the cup and finger it for a moment. It’s warm. Women used to carry such eggs between their breasts, to incubate them. That would have felt good.

The minimalist life. Pleasure is an egg. Blessings that can be counted, on the fingers of one hand. But possibly this is how I’m expected to react. If I have an egg, what more can I want?

In reduced circumstances the desire to live attaches itself to strange objects. I would like a pet: a bird, say, or a cat. A familiar. Anything at all familiar. A rat would do, in a pinch, but there’s no chance of that. This house is too clean. 

I slice the top off the egg with a spoon, and eat the contents.”

–Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, pgs. 109-110

It takes the narrator two pages to eat one egg, but this whole scene is magnificent because it demonstrates so much about the world in which the handmaid finds herself. She’s very smart and self aware and because she has so little, she examines everything down to a minute detail. This is similar to earlier in the book when the narrator describes investigating her bedroom, something many of us take for granted. But by offering this level of detail, the narrator draws us in fully to her mental state, especially in a world where she isn’t really allowed to speak so her ideas and opinions are locked within her.

Food as a Setting

Your characters have to eat at some point, so why not let food act as a setting for them? Maybe an important conversation happens over a meal; take a moment to really consider their food. Why did they order what they ordered? Did they select their favorite dish? Did they choose it solely based on price because they’re worried about money? Did they order in a hurry, not really paying attention because they’re distracted? Maybe someone chokes on their food. It’s totally up to you!

Food as Travel Inspiration

The world is full of amazing foods and flavors–why not let them inspire your writing? If you love Italian food, send your characters to Italy! I once spent a few months in a small town in northern Italy and the food there was so great that I’m still talking about it almost nine years later. My favorite place was this little pasta shop where if they didn’t have exactly what you wanted when you walked in, you just had to wait a few minutes until the grandmother in the back room was done making more.

I also had kind of a funny experience when walking by a restaurant that was near my apartment in Italy. I’d just returned from the grocery store and my arms were weighed down with bags of food (for some reason, I’d forgotten I didn’t have a car to transport a metric ton of food). I passed by the restaurant and man who worked there was sweeping the front walk, preparing for the restaurant to open. He said something to me in Italian and I apologized because I couldn’t understand what he said (“Sono Americana” worked pretty universally as an apology in Italy). Then the man got so excited that I was American that he motioned for me to follow him and he led me inside the restaurant to where another server was setting up the dining room.

“English,” the first man said, pointing to me. “English!” he said, pointing to the second man before gesturing to both of us at the same time. The first man had a huge grin on his face, thrilled that he could bring two English speakers together.

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Me during this whole interaction.

I explained to the second man that I’d just been walking by on my way home, and he graciously offered to help with any kind of translation I might need. Then I bid them both goodbye and headed home.


What is your favorite passage about food you’ve ever read? What are your favorite ways to use food in your own writing? Let me know in the comments!


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I can’t guarantee that supporting me on Patreon will cause you to have endless good hair days . . . but I can’t guarantee that it won’t either.

7 Self Care Tips for Writers

When I’m in the zone of creating something, I feel incredibly alive. My brain doesn’t feel foggy, I don’t notice how tired I am, and it’s like the rest of the world melts away. That’s how I know I’ve chosen the correct profession. Once I’m done creating something, I ride a high for a little bit, that euphoric feeling of satisfaction that comes with accomplishment. It’s wonderful.

However.

Once I come down from that high, I am completely and thoroughly drained. Creating is hard work and it can take a lot out of you. Like the popular quote says, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

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Although this quote is often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, The Hemingway Society disagrees.

Self care is incredibly important to writers–or anyone who creates–for this exact reason. You can’t possibly continue to create and create and create without doing something to recharge or proverbial batteries unless you’re actively trying to have a breakdown.

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Pictured: me trying to do it all

I’ve talked a lot about mental health in the past and will continue to do so because I think it’s an incredibly important topic and because so many people deal with it, it is necessary to talk about it to help remove the stigma. Coupled with that is the need for self care. So often we’re told that we need to go go go and multitask and “do it all” but I know that for me, I need to take time to breathe. Below, check out my self care tips for those days when you need a recharge.

1. Take a nap.

Before you say anything, I know this isn’t always a viable option. My kid is four and two years ago he gave up naps completely because he suffers from a severe case of fear of missing out.

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My kid in a nutshell.

However, if you’re able, let yourself take a nap. You might not think you’ve been expending a ton of energy because you’ve been sitting at your computer instead of running a marathon, but creating is exhausting. You’re putting so much of yourself on the page and it’s necessary to allow yourself to rest. Plus, there’s nothing more decadent than sleeping in the middle of the day as an adult.

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Let yourself be a cat for a few hours.

2. Watch a movie.

This might not seem like a huge treat in the age of epic Netflix binges, but there’s something to be said for letting yourself indulge in someone else’s creation. You’ve just done all this work to write your thing–let yourself consume someone else’s creativity for a little bit.

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CONSUME!

Plus, watching a movie (or an entire TV series, no judgment) requires zero effort except keeping your eyes open.

3. Read a book.

Whenever I feel like I’ve overextended myself, I like to let myself relax and enjoy a book from an author I love. This seems very similar to the last item on the list and it is, but reading is different. Even if you’re reading on an e-reader, you’re eliminating the stress of blue light on your eyes (like what happened when you stared at your computer for hours on end to finishing writing that thing). Plus, I feel that all writers are first and foremost readers. It’s why we fell in love with words and writing in the first place. Reading exposes us to different thoughts and ideas and turns of phrases we’d never considered that can trigger our minds to think in new ones to later create new content of our own.

My personal favorite? Anything by David Sedaris. In particular, “The Santaland Diaries” from Holidays on Ice. Regardless of the time of year, that essay both inspires and intimidates the fuck out of me.

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Sedaris is a goddamn genius.
Fight me.

4. Treat yourself to a fancy drink.

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I don’t know about you, but I fall heavily into the stereotype of the writer fueled solely by coffee. I usually make my coffee at home, but every once in a while I’ll splurge and buy coffee like the bougie basic white girl I am. I don’t generally encourage using food as a reward because that can get into sketchy territory, but the occasional indulgence can make you feel good. If you’re on a tight budget, you could even make yourself a fancy coffee drink at home. Stock up on hot chocolate mix, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce to drizzle on top. If you’re not into coffee because you’re an alien, splurge on a tin of fancy tea. Or, if you drink neither, go get a fancy smoothie or something. The point is to treat yourself to an elevated version of something you love. After all, you just wrote a thing–you deserve it!

5. Go for a walk.

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Seriously, you’ve been inside for how long working on this thing? You need some fresh air. Your skin hasn’t seen sunlight in god knows how long. Put on some sunscreen, put on your shoes, and go outside.

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6. Hang out with a friend.

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Remember those people you used to spend time with before you started writing that thing? Your friends? Take a break and hang out with them for a bit. Whatever you folks like to do, go do it. I’m an introvert and I don’t often like to leave my house because it’s too people-y outside. However, I do have a couple of people that don’t drain the life force out of me and hanging out with them is kind of nice. It gets me out of my own head and makes me stop staring at my navel for a minute, which is refreshing.

7. Do a face mask.

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If you’ve never done one before, hang in there. Face masks are one of the simplest ways to pamper yourself and they require little to no money. You can get a basic mask from Target or Walmart or wherever for a couple bucks or you can make one at home with ingredients in your kitchen like oatmeal and honey. If I’m being honest, I used to view face masks as the height of vanity. But then I watched the reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy on Netflix, and I was really struck by a comment Jonathan Van Ness said about face masks to a client: “It’s not vanity, it’s self care.”

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I really think Jonathan is right. There’s nothing wrong with caring for the body you have and if that means spending ten minutes with a mask on your face, why not do it? It’s a simple way to indulge and treat yourself AND your skin will feel wonderful when you’re done. You’ve earned a reward–just do it! No one else has to see you in a mask if you don’t want to be seen.

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“Occupado!”

What’s your favorite way to reward yourself or de-stress after you’ve finished a writing project? Let me know in the comments!


Like this post? Please consider clicking here to support me on Patreon so I can regularly bring you more content like this! I can’t guarantee that supporting me on Patreon will cause you to have endless good hair days . . . but I can’t guarantee that it won’t either.

“Do I Need an Author Page on Facebook?”

As you begin to publish your work and build an online presence, you might wonder if you need to create a Facebook page for yourself as an author. But do you actually need one?

Probably not.

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It’s not that you’re not awesome, because you are. But you might not need a Facebook page quite yet. Think about it–when you’re a brand new author, who is going to follow your author page? Your friends and family who are already friends with you on social media, which makes an author page kind of redundant. Honestly, your time would be better spent building up a presence elsewhere on the internet (like a blog or on Patreon) until your reach extends past your loved ones.

However, you shouldn’t discount your friends and family! When the day comes for you to make a Facebook author page, you’ll need people who already like you to follow the page to boost your likes and visibility.

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Another reason you might not need a Facebook author page is because of some of the issues with Facebook and its algorithm. Every time it seems like something is working, the Facebook team seems hellbent on ruining it. Seriously, I don’t even see my husband’s posts 90% of the time–and he usually tags me in them! Admittedly, some of that could be user error, but sometimes it’s just the algorithm. With all the recent issues Facebook has been having over the last few years, a lot of people aren’t using it as often. It seems like more people–especially a younger audience–are gravitating towards Snapchat and Instagram.

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I’m a kitty!

Twitter is also an option, but from a marketing standpoint, you need to post close to 30 times a day for it to be worth it (unless you’re already very well known). If you post a ton on Twitter–great! If you’re like me and forget Twitter exists, then I suggest trying other avenues.

I don’t personally have a Facebook author page, but I just resurrected my Lola Black Instagram page on Monday. I’m planning to post random photos relating to being a writer, both funny memes I find as well as my own pictures. You can check me out on Instagram by clicking here.

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I appreciate you!

Writing can be hard enough and managing social media on top of that can be exhausting. But unfortunately, it’s just the nature of modern publishing. If you’re fortunate enough to get a contract with a big publisher with a marketing department, they’ll do a lot of the work for you. However, if you self-publish or land with a small publisher, the responsibility of marketing falls on you. Like anything else, it’s important to just work it into your schedule so it becomes routine and you can do a little bit at a time rather than everything at once.

Another option is to just lurk around Tumblr and chat with people. After all, that’s what Neil Gaiman does.

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Hey, have I mentioned yet that I love Neil Gaiman?

By the way, I’m also on Tumblr (click here).


Like this post? Please consider clicking here to support me on Patreon so I can regularly bring you more content like this! I can’t guarantee that supporting me on Patreon will cause you to have endless good hair days . . . but I can’t guarantee that it won’t either.

New Content on Patreon!

Hey, everyone! I wanted to make a quick announcement about some changes I’m making to my Patreon. In the past I’ve been a little inconsistent with my posts, but I’m creating a schedule to make sure I’m producing regular content for my patrons (whom I love dearly for supporting me). 

Seriously, you people complete me.

Exclusive for patrons, I’m now posting writing tips and prompts Monday through Friday and I’m aiming to post a new story or essay once a month (more if I get ambitious, but I do have clients and a family and they “need things”). 

I also have two dogs.

The big announcement, however, is that beginning in January, I’m going to serialize my new book for patrons! I’m currently putting the finishing touches on it and, before it’s published, I’m going to be releasing it in a serialized format for my patrons first. The first installment will be on my blog and open to everyone, but subsequent installments will be password protected, but the passwords will be posted for patrons each week! Once the whole book has been released to my patrons for first viewing, I’m going to officially release it on Amazon. 

The book is full of angst, smut, and a little bit of magical realism, so you won’t want to miss it!

Pictured: you (and me!)

If you’d like to check out my Patreon, click here to navigate to my page. Thank you so much for reading and I can’t wait to share more content with you! 

Book Recommendations: 2018

I’m starting a new tradition in which I write a post at the end of each year and I list a bunch of the books I’ve read over the year and recommend them to you, my wonderful readers. I don’t know about you, but every time I read a new book that I love, I’m anxious to talk about it with literally anyone who will listen. Luckily, I have a blog so I finally have an outlet for all my book-related word vomit so my poor husband doesn’t have to listen to me recap every book I read.

Check out some of the books below and see if there are any that strike your fancy! Plus, if you have any bookworms on your holiday shopping list, there’s still time to pick up one of these for them. The great thing about book lovers is that we always love getting new books, never mind how many we already have in our “to read” pile–we will always take more! 

Short Story Collections

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt – Aimee Bender

This book was a 1998 New York Times Notable Book of the Year and was selected by the Los Angeles Times as one of the best works of fiction in that same year. Weird and twisted, it will definitely be worth reading more than once. When I first read it, I felt frustrated because I felt like I didn’t “get” the stories, but when I read it again, I was entranced by the oddities in the stories and found myself completely enchanted.

From the publisher: “A grief-stricken librarian decides to have sex with every man who enters her library. A half-mad, unbearably beautiful heiress follows a strange man home, seeking total sexual abandon: He only wants to watch game shows. A woman falls in love with a hunchback; when his deformity turns out to be a prosthesis, she leaves him. A wife whose husband has just returned from the war struggles with the heartrending question: Can she still love a man who has no lips?”

Available from Amazon

The Safety of Objects – A.M. Homes

Dark and twisty and a little messed up, this short story collection has stuck with me for years. A.M. Homes has said she likes to write about things no one likes to talk about so, fair warning.

From the publisher: “Included here are ‘Adults Alone,’ in which a couple drops their kids off at Grandma’s and gives themselves over to ten days of Nintendo, porn videos, and crack; ‘A Real Doll,’ in which a girl’s blond Barbie doll seduces her teenaged brother; and ‘Looking for Johnny,’ in which a kidnapped boy, having failed to meet his abductor’s expectations, is returned home. These stories, by turns satirical, perverse, unsettling, and utterly believable, expose the dangers of ordinary life even as their characters stay hidden behind the disguises they have so carefully created.”

Available from Amazon

Trigger Warning – Neil Gaiman

I have a confession to make: I’m a HUGE Neil Gaiman fan girl. I love absolutely everything he writes, and this book is one of my favorites. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, there’s a story in here written for the show’s 50th anniversary featuring the eleventh doctor, as well as a companion story to American Gods. Each story is really engaging and will leave you completely spellbound.

From the publisher: Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In ‘Adventure Story’—a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane—Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience ‘A Calendar of Tales’ are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year—stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale ‘The Case of Death and Honey.’ And ‘Click-Clack the Rattlebag’ explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.”

Available from Amazon

Dark and Creepy

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie

I remember reading this book for the first time in sixth grade and I’ve never been the same since. It is full of incredible storytelling from a master of suspense and mystery and even knowing how the story turns out, I still want to read it again and again.

From the publisher: “Ten people, each with something to hide and something to fear, are invited to a isolated mansion on Indian Island by a host who, surprisingly, fails to appear. On the island they are cut off from everything but each other and the inescapable shadows of their own past lives. One by one, the guests share the darkest secrets of their wicked pasts. And one by one, they die

…Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive?”

Available from Amazon

The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin

If your only knowledge of this story is that horrible Nicole Kidman remake, read this book immediately. It’s masterfully creepy, especially when you consider that this story represents an extreme response to the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s. It still gives me chills when I re-read it! Written by the brilliant mind that gave readers Rosemary’s Baby, this book is a must-read.

From the publisher: “For Joanna, her husband, Walter, and their children, the move to beautiful Stepford seems almost too good to be true. It is. For behind the town’s idyllic facade lies a terrible secret — a secret so shattering that no one who encounters it will ever be the same.”

Available from Amazon

Copycat – Alex Lake

I got this e-book for free as a daily Kindle deal, and then stayed up several hours past my bedtime reading it–and then a few more hours because it’s so creepy! If someone on your holiday list loves suspenseful, creepy thrillers, this is definitely a book for them–and they’ll never look at social media in quite the same way.

From the publisher: “When an old friend gets in touch, Sarah Havenant discovers that there are two Facebook profiles in her name. One is hers. The other, she has never seen.

But everything in it is accurate. Photos of her friends, her husband, her kids. Photos from the day before. Photos of her new kitchen. Photos taken inside her house.

And this is just the beginning. Because whoever has set up the second profile has been waiting for Sarah to find it. And now that she has, her life will no longer be her own…”

Available from Amazon

There’s Someone Inside Your House – Stephanie Perkins

This is another book I happened to get on a whim because of a sale, and I stayed up all night reading it! It focuses on a serial killer attacking teens at the local high school in a small town in Nebraska and the storytelling is so enthralling you won’t be able to stop turning the pages. Definitely read this book with the lights on!

From the publisher: “It’s been almost a year since Makani Young came to live with her grandmother in landlocked Nebraska, and she’s still adjusting to her new life. And still haunted by her past in Hawaii.

Then, one by one, the students of her small town high school begin to die in a series of gruesome murders, each with increasing and grotesque flair. As the terror grows closer and the hunt intensifies for the killer, Makani will be forced to confront her own dark secrets.”

Available from Amazon

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

I wanted to read this book before I watched the movie (which was a phenomenal adaptation, by the way), and I fell in love within the first few pages. Personally, I’m a huge fan of an unreliable narrator because it leaves the reader to determine what is true and what isn’t. Extremely well written and compelling, this book is amazing.

From the publisher:

“EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life–as she sees it–is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?”

Available from Amazon

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

One of my favorite books of all time, I re-read it at least once a year. A zealous Biblical group overthrows the government and forces all fertile women to become handmaids for wives of wealthy men after a strain of syphilis renders most of the public infertile. It sometimes feels a little too real considering some of the people in positions of power in politics, but that, in my opinion, makes it that much more important to read this book.

From the publisher: “Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population.

The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. 
The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.”

Available from Amazon

Young Adult

Sloppy Firsts – Megan McCafferty

I don’t care how old you are, you never really outgrow young adult fiction, especially a book as well-written as this one. I first read this in high school when I was 16 (the age of the protagonist, Jessica Darling) and I kind of grew up along with her through the series (five books in all). The writing is so smart and engaging and funny that even as an adult, it’s well worth a read.

From the publisher: “When her best friend, Hope Weaver, moves away from Pineville, New Jersey, hyperobservant sixteen-year-old Jessica Darling is devastated. A fish out of water at school and a stranger at home, Jessica feels more lost than ever now that the only person with whom she could really communicate has gone. How is she supposed to deal with the boy- and shopping-crazy girls at school, her dad’s obsession with her track meets, her mother salivating over big sister Bethany’s lavish wedding, and her nonexistent love life?

A fresh, funny, utterly compelling novel, 
Sloppy Firsts is an insightful, true-to-life look at Jessica’s predicament as she embarks on another year of teenage torment. From the dark days of Hope’s departure through her months as a type-A personality turned insomniac to her completely mixed-up feelings about Marcus Flutie, the intelligent and mysterious ‘Dreg’ who works his way into her heart, this poignant, hilarious novel is sure to appeal to readers who are still going through it, as well as those who are grateful that they don’t have to go back and grow up all over again.”

Available from Amazon

Before I Fall – Lauren Oliver

This was made into a movie a couple years ago starring Zoey Deutch and it’s pretty good, but the book is better (of course). A girl keeps reliving the same day over and over and over again as she tries to figure out why. It deals with teen bullying and friendships and the way we can impact so many other lives without even realizing it. The character growth of the protagonist is realistic and beautiful and so well-written that I was surprised to learn this was Lauren Oliver’s debut novel. 

From the publisher: “For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—’Cupid Day’—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.”

Available from Amazon 

The Selection – Kiera Cass

I have a confession to make: I love The Bachelor. It’s one of my favorite guilty pleasures to watch, so it’s no wonder I ended up falling in love with the book and its sequels. The Selection is The Bachelor meets a dystopian future where America has become a monarchy and women from a variety of backgrounds compete to become the next queen. It’s a compelling read and perfect for when you want to read some fluff.

From the publisher: “For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape a rigid caste system, live in a palace, and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon. But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her, and competing for a crown she doesn’t want.

Then America meets Prince Maxon—and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.”

Available from Amazon

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

This is such an incredible book about a kid dealing with the start of high school after the death of his aunt. It has so many good one liners in there that punch me in the gut every time I read this book, even though I know they’re coming. I’m often wary of film adaptations because I never know how books are going to translate, but this one stars powerhouses like Ezra Miller and Emma Watson and is beautifully done.

From the publisher: “The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant ‘wallflower’ Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.”

Available from Amazon

The Swingin’ Sixties

The Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann

Often dismissed because of a hot pink cover, this book has phenomenal character development while it shows the seedy underside of show business by following three women over the course of twenty years. The book was incredibly controversial at the time because it showed a realistic portrayal of women and their sexuality during a time when women weren’t allowed to do much other than stand around and look pretty. Today, it seems tame compared to what you see on TV, but at the time it shook the country to its very modest core.

However–do not watch the film adaptation, it’s completely horrible. When Jacqueline Susann saw it for the first time, she left the theater in tears because she hated it so much. After I watched it, I fully understand why she had that reaction.

From the publisher: “At a time when women were destined to become housewives, Jacqueline Susann let us dream. Anne, Neely, and Jennifer become best friends as struggling young women in New York City trying to make their mark. Eventually, they climb their way to the top of the entertainment industry only to find that there’s no place left to go but down, into the Valley of the Dolls.”

Available from Amazon

The Girls – Emma Cline

A 14-year-old girl befriends a fictionalized version of the Manson Family leading up to the Sharon Tate murders. Cline’s sensory language is amazing and the story is so engaging that I read the whole book in a day.

From the Publisher: “Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.”

Available from Amazon

Drop City – T.C. Boyle

Technically, this takes place in 1970, but I’m sticking it in this category because, well, hippies. A commune in California is forced off their property and move up to Alaska, where they are entirely unprepared for the unforgiving frontier that faces them. The characters are really compelling and kept me turning the pages, even when nothing was really happening in regards to plot. After reading this, part of you will want to move into the woods and start growing your own vegetables. The other part of you will be really happy to have indoor plumbing.

From the publisher: “It is 1970, and a down-at-the-heels California commune devoted to peace, free love, and the simple life has decided to relocate to the last frontier—the unforgiving landscape of interior Alaska—in the ultimate expression of going back to the land. Armed with the spirit of adventure and naïve optimism, the inhabitants of ‘Drop City’ arrive in the wilderness of Alaska only to find their utopia already populated by other young homesteaders. When the two communities collide, unexpected friendships and dangerous enmities are born as everyone struggles with the bare essentials of life: love, nourishment, and a roof over one’s head.”

Available from Amazon

Hearts in Atlantis – Stephen King

This book is actually a series of five parts that all connect by a common thread of the Vietnam War. The first section is about a young kid named Bobby and a mysterious new neighbor who moves in upstairs and has a special gift. That segment was turned into a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Anton Yelchin and was a really awesome adaptation (although, really, with Hopkins, you can’t go wrong). This is hands down one of my favorite books of all time.

From the publisher: “In Part One, ‘Low Men in Yellow Coats,’ eleven-year-old Bobby Garfield discovers a world of predatory malice in his own neighborhood. He also discovers that adults are sometimes not rescuers but at the heart of the terror. 

In the title story, a bunch of college kids get hooked on a card game, discover the possibility of protest…and confront their own collective heart of darkness, where laughter may be no more than the thinly disguised cry of the beast. 

In ‘Blind Willie’ and ‘Why We’re in Vietnam,’ two men who grew up with Bobby in suburban Connecticut try to fill the emptiness of the post-Vietnam era in an America which sometimes seems as hollow — and as haunted — as their own lives. 

And in ‘Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling,’ this remarkable book’s denouement, Bobby returns to his hometown where one final secret, the hope of redemption, and his heart’s desire may await him. 
Full of danger, full of suspense, most of all full of heart, Stephen King’s new book will take some readers to a place they have never been…and others to a place they have never been able to completely leave.”

Available from Amazon

11/22/63 – Stephen King

Can you tell I’m a Stephen King fan? This is one of his longest books (if not the longest), but I never seem to notice because I find the world he creates to be so engrossing and I’m always sorry to reach the last page. In 11/22/63, An English teacher goes back in time via a wormhole in the back of a local diner in order to attempt to stop the Kennedy assassination. However, the wormhole spits him out in 1958 and while he waits for 1963, he heads down to Texas and falls in love.

Whatever you do, do NOT watch the Hulu miniseries adaptation. It’s a complete dumpster fire and I’m still upset about what a travesty this was. It had so much potential and then they did…that. Ugh. 

From the publisher: “It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying.”

Available from Amazon

Non-Fiction

Calypso – David Sedaris

There are few authors that both inspire and intimidate the shit out of me, and David Sedaris is the epitome of both. I’ve read nearly everything he’s written (usually more than once), and his latest book is incredible. Plus, it’s pretty appropriate for the holidays as it opens with an essay about house guests that’ll leave you laughing while you hide in your closet and wait for your own guests to leave. If possible, I highly recommend enjoying this one on audiobook.

From the publisher: “When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.

With 
Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories are very, very funny–it’s a book that can make you laugh ’til you snort, the way only family can. Sedaris’s powers of observation have never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future.”

Available on Amazon

Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher

This book from the late, great Carrie Fisher is hilarious and I can’t believe I waited as long as I did to enjoy it. I couldn’t stop laughing out loud when I read this book, and I’m pretty sure everyone around me in the dentist’s waiting room thought I was unhinged. Totally worth it.

From the publisher: “Intimate, hilarious, and sobering, Wishful Drinking is Fisher, looking at her life as she best remembers it (what do you expect after electroshock therapy?). It’s an incredible tale: the child of Hollywood royalty—Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher—homewrecked by Elizabeth Taylor, marrying (then divorcing, then dating) Paul Simon, having her likeness merchandized on everything from Princess Leia shampoo to PEZ dispensers, learning the father of her daughter forgot to tell her he was gay, and ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.”

Available from Amazon

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things – Jenny Lawson

Another extremely funny book, Jenny Lawson tells snort-laugh-inducing stories about her childhood and marriage and is open and honest about her mental health struggles (and somehow makes them super funny). As someone who struggles with mental health, this book made me feel less alone while making me laugh during dark times and reminding me that things are going to be okay. Plus, how can you go wrong with a cover that features a furiously happy taxidermied raccoon?

From the author: “Some people might think that being ‘furiously happy’ is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he’s never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.

“Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you’d never guess because we’ve learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, ‘We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.’ Except go back and cross out the word ‘hiding.’

Furiously Happy is about “taking those moments when things are fine and making them amazing, because those moments are what make us who we are, and they’re the same moments we take into battle with us when our brains declare war on our very existence. It’s the difference between ‘surviving life’ and ‘living life.’ It’s the difference between ‘taking a shower’ and ‘teaching your monkey butler how to shampoo your hair.’ It’s the difference between being ‘sane’ and being ‘furiously happy.'”

Available from Amazon

What’s an Adult?: No One Knows Anything and We’re All Going to Die – Emily Regan

Confession: this one is mine! As my ten year high school reunion quickly approached, I found myself feeling like a huge fraud of an adult. I felt like the titular character in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and that at any moment, someone was going to point out that I wasn’t really a grown up and was instead an adolescent masquerading as someone who knows what the fuck they’re talking about. If you, too, suffer from imposter syndrome, you might relate to this.

From the publisher: “Emily Regan has no idea what she’s doing. In theory, she’s supposed to be an adult but in actuality, she has no idea what that means and in light of her upcoming high school reunion, she’s pretty positive someone is going to call her out as a fraud. Whether she is speculating that Facebook is out to ruin us all, contracting food poisoning and vomiting her way across London, or just trying to figure out how to make a phone call without sounding like a complete idiot, this collection paints a portrait of someone hoping no one notices that she’s not a real grown up. 

If you also feel like a big, fat phony, Regan has included a handful of helpful tutorials to fake your way through adulthood, including:

*how to open a greeting card
*how to go grocery shopping
*how to make a doctor’s appointment
*. . . and more!

If you are one of those rare unicorns who actually has their life together, this might not be the book for you. But just in case you’re better at faking it than Emily Regan is, you should probably buy this book. You can say it’s for a friend. No one has to know.”

Available from Amazon

 


 

Have you read any of the books on this list? Are there any that you think I absolutely should have included? Let me know in the comments!

 


 

 

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