Author Spotlight: Tamara Woods

  • cozy-mystery and women’s literature author, content creator, and writing community organizer

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Tamara Woods!

Tamara Woods doesn’t spend her time sipping on Mai Tais on the beach. In fact, by living in Hawaii, she’s found that she’s more of a mountain person than a beachy one. Must be her West Virginia roots.

Maybe that’s why there’s such a strong call to small towns and country living in her books whether they’re women’s literature or cozy mysteries. She likes to talk about writing and books on her YouTube channel.

She hosts a weekly Twitter called #writestuff where writers talk about writing. She is the author of the poetry collection, “The Shaping of an ‘Angry’ Black Woman.” And she is consistently working on the next novel. She’s a hillbilly hermit in Honolulu living with her Mathmagician.

Tamara, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

I’m so basic, if I could have a pet, I would have a puppy and a kitty. In our current apartment, we’re not allowed any pets. :insert sad trombone sound:

No pets at all? That’s so sad. I hope your next place lets you get them.

What do you write?

I started writing when I was a single-digit Tamara. Once I figured out it was people like me telling these stories that I loved so much, I was hooked. I initially wrote a lot of horror and women’s fiction. Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe were my writing touchstones.

As I’ve grown older and the world around me grew a bit darker, I realized I wanted to tell stories of tight-knit communities where women who looked like me solved the problem. And the bad guy always got theirs. Plus, I loved watching Murder She Wrote with my family growing up. Cozy mystery was the obvious choice.

It’s always great when you find your passion at a young age. Cozy mysteries seems like just the right fit for grown-up Tamara — at least for now.

What do you like to read?

I am a “whale reader.” Some people binge Netflix, I binge read. I tend to these days read a lot of cozies and romantic suspense. I also get down with a ton of other genres as well but mostly fantasy, mystery, and romance.

I’m definitely a binge-reader, too! I used to be just sf and fantasy, and then I got hooked on paranormal romances. But, those cat-themed cozy mysteries got my tip-toeing into the mystery genre.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Outline.

I don’t think that outlining is for everyone. My math guy thinks I’m ridiculous because I like to plan my life, but my writing life, I hiss at planning. I told him it doesn’t have to make sense. It just needs to work for me.

Oh, wow! I’ve always shied away from mystery and suspense sort of books because I thought they needed more planning than my very-high-level notional stuff. It’s great to know that genre doesn’t matter when it comes to being a plotter or not.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Write what you know

But I like to add the caveat of research the rest.

Well, I write some out-of-this-world stuff, but definitely. Do your research and base your people, their hopes, their fears on the way people actually work.


Shameless Self-Promotion time!


Currently I’ve been working on my Beach Bound Cozy Mystery series, so that’s what I’ll talk to y’all about. 

My latest book, Bailed Out, is currently on preorder, launching November 3rd

After an unexpected call from Queen’s Medical Center, Fraya learns her ex-husband, Jackson, has been hospitalized in paradise. Confused that she’s listed as his emergency contact, she puts the pedal to the metal and flies down the highway, only to find he’d checked out the hospital under mysterious circumstances.

Having no other option, she tries concentrating on her day-to-day routine, hanging out with her writing group and the guy she’s sorta seeing. When her life is threatened during date night, Fraya is left with more questions than answers.

Why is Jackson really on the island? And did he bring the danger with him or has some unknown person been plotting against her?


But you can meet Fraya and catch up on the whole series!

We start with Fraya and her two cousin Isa and Neilina during a pivotal summer while they’re tweens. The summer changes them in ways that they’re not even fully aware of. That story is called Midnight Murder (and it’s available for free as a newsletter sign-in)

Mystery Follows Her: A cozy mystery multi-author collection by [Dianne Ascroft, Ellen Jacobson, Tamara Woods, Sarah Biglow, Aubrey Elle, Beate Boeker, Adriana Licio, Vikki Walton, Angela K. Ryan]

Next comes the story of how Fraya moves from Whisper Valley, West Virginia to Kailua, Hawaii and the trouble she runs into when she lands in the tropics.

That story is available in the Mystery Follows Her cozy mystery boxset. Myself and eight other cozy authors from around the world contributed to this wonderful work.

And Book 1 of the Beach Bound series is called Wiped Out: Murder is a Beach.

Fraya Taylor is done with the drama of life on the mainland. She’s carved out a new magical black girl life for herself in Kailua, Hawaii, writing novels, talking story with her bestie, and soaking up the sun.

But sometimes life has other plans.


Check Tamara Woods out across the web!

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Author Spotlight: Cass Voit

  • horror/thriller author, photographer, artist, belly dancer, and flow artist

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Cass Voit !

IMG_4136 copy.jpg

Cass Voit is a self-published author based out of Northern Virginia. She has breached over 200 subscribers on Authortube after eleven years of honing her writing craft.

She is also a professional photographer, illustrator, bellydancer, and flow artist. At the end of the day, she enjoys curling up with her husband and her black cat, Nobukatsu, watching a stupid show, and reading a horror book.

Cass, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Frankly, I have it: A fat black cat that was feral. I suppose next best would be a full on panther, but the danger of getting mauled one day is real. 

An excellent choice. Black cats are pretty amazing.

What do you write?

I technically write supernatural horror/urban fantasy fan-fiction set in the World of Darkness, which is the intellectual property of White Wolf Entertainment.

I’ve enjoyed playing games in that world. It’s definitely a fun setting with a lot of things to explore.

What do you like to read?

I read urban Fantasy mostly. I have been reading a lot of Supernatural Horror/thriller lately, but I’ve been disappointed a lot too: When you put Supernatural Thriller on the cover, don’t fill it with erotic fiction. No judgement against Erotic fiction; I love it, but when I’m expecting horror, it’s a bitter spoon to be fed. 

I find myself reading a lot of urban fantasy (and paranormal romance), these days. And what a good point, I know so many authors who hate being penned into genre categories, but expectations matter. If you promise one genre, but give another, you’re setting yourself up for disappointed readers and one-star reviews. Truth in advertising matters.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Adverbs are the devil.

No, they’re not. Just don’t abuse them. 

Definitely! I use adverbs, but try not to have too many per paragraph. A well placed adverb can add so much to your story. As with all how-to-write grammar sort of things, one should never take it as a ‘never’, and more of a reminder to not be lazy with your writing. There are so many verb choices in english, you can often forgo the adverb with a well-chosen verb, but not always. And it’s good to vary sentence structure.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Use active voice, not passive.

This was a game changer for me. Converting all my old writing to third person and active is really the bulk of the work I have yet to do.

It’s great that your earlier writing is completely usable, readable, and enjoyable with a… well, not-so-simple, but straightforward edit! It’s easy, especially with descriptive passages or transition passages to turn to passive-voice, but often a more active voice adds so much, without adding much to the wordcount.


Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Check out Cass Voit’s debut novel! Hopes Chest

Set in The World Of Darkness

Pandora “Panda” Tran is a queen among the White Hats based out of the Washington DC area. When a government agency hires her to hack into a “suspect” forum, she is confronted by wizards that use computers in their magic. When the Government agents that hired her show their true colors, Panda has no choice but to also learn this form of magic in order to stay alive.

Set in the World of Darkness. 

Coming soon: The Damned Hitman series


Check Cass Voit out across the web!

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Author Spotlight: Barna Donovan

  • Professor of Communication and Media Studies and author of thrillers with science fiction and paranormal elements

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Barna Donovan!

Barna William Donovan is a graduate of the film school of the University of Miami and he earned his Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Before turning to fiction, Donovan wrote three nonfiction books on the topics of film, fandom, and popular culture: The Asian Influence on Hollywood Action Films, Blood, Guns and Testosterone: Action Films, Audiences and a Thirst for Violence, and Conspiracy Films: A Tour of Dark Places in the American Conscious.

In 2018, his debut novel, Confirmation: Investigations of the Unexplained was published, called “A captivating examination of humanity’s fear of the unknown, with hints of sci-fi and fantasy,” by Kirkus Reviews.

Barna, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

I think I would like to have the super-smart golden retriever, Einstein, from Dean Koontz’s Watchers.

If I could choose several – can I do that? Can I have more than one? – and since my dream house would be somewhere in the desert Southwest, then the property would also be patrolled underground by a giant Arakkis sandworm from Dune. Or maybe a couple of graboids from the Tremors films.

But if you want a pet to keep an eye on threats from above, nothing beats a dragon. Especially if it talks in Sean Connery’s voice like the dragon in Dragonheart.

Puppies are popular for a reason, but I see no reason not to pick several. A dune worm is a very unexpected choice! But, we all know we want a dragon.

What do you write?

I’m usually drawn to telling stories where the world we know gets disrupted by the appearance of something unexplained, where something from the realms of science fiction or the supernatural suddenly leaves characters grappling with a new reality. 

I guess suddenly grappling with a new reality is the new reality of 2020. 

I set both of my novels in very real worlds that are disrupted by something otherworldly. In Confirmation, the cast of a cheesy paranormal reality show – imagine one of the ghost-hunting shows that have taken over the Travel Channel – gets to document a global unexplained event and its societal ripple effects. In The Cedar Valley Covenant, no place is as serene and normal as a small Southern Illinois town. That is until something from an alternate realm shows up and takes pleasure in instigating paranoia and discord.

After years of analyzing films and entertainment made by other people, I realized that I needed a new challenge of getting my fiction published.

It’s always fun to look for a new mountain to climb. But I always used to love telling stories, going way back to the time in junior high when I started writing fan-fiction based on the 1980s miniseries V for an English class. An invasion by reptilian aliens set off some kind of a storytelling urge in me that still hasn’t left.

I can only imagine that years of film and entertainment analysis set you up to know a lot about pacing, scale, and self-analysis into exactly what you like to see in your own works. What a great background for becoming a novelist!

What do you like to read?

I like various genres, from science fiction to horror, thrillers, mysteries, and action/adventure stories. 

I especially like a novel that is able to balance intense, dire, apocalyptic scenarios with a sense of humor, with an appreciation for the absurdity of the world. Stephen King can do a fantastic job of this, but Dean Koontz has taken the blending of humor and horror to another level. In fact, I’m planning on setting up a bookcase where I will keep all of my Koontz novels in a sort of a shrine. I will come and worship it regularly and offer it sacrifices.

I’m also a fan of big genre mashup novels. I love Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series that combines vampires, the Cold War spy thriller, alternate dimensions, and big, colorful alien world-building.
Some of my other favorites are the Dune series, anything Michael Crichton wrote, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s work, and Richard Laymon’s quirky horror to name a few.

An excellent selection that suggests to me that your stories are likely packed with adventure and horrific mystery.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

You don’t have to outline.

I know a lot of writers like to start writing and seeing where the story goes on its own and “where the characters want to go,” but that doesn’t work for me.

Even before I sit down to write, I think about where the story eventually ends up, what I want to say with the story, what messages I will try and convey, what the characters will accomplish and learn along the way.

So when I sit down with pen and paper I will first need to outline the story. I want to get the main plot points down, the major incidents that will propel the plot forward, the main obstacles the characters will have to deal with.

I guess it’s kind of like a filmmaker needing to storyboard a film before shooting it. I like to get my thoughts in order, the big picture all decided upon before I actually start to write. I remember reading once that before shooting “Psycho,” Alfred Hitchcock storyboarded everything with obsessive, meticulous detail. Afterward he said something to the effect that “the film is done, now all I have to do is shoot it.” I feel like I need to be that meticulous with the big picture, the outline of the story before I start to write.

Now sure, sometimes scenes might change along the way, but the end result of the story will stick pretty close to the original outline. Even the characters might once in a while think of going somewhere they shouldn’t, kind of like wayward children. But father always knows best.

I’ve always suspected that mysteries and suspense would require more outlining than I do. While I’m not a plotter like you are, I do like a very high-level outline. It’s easier for me to write when I have an idea of where I’m going and what might happen on my way. Plus? Despite not being a script writer, I do like to use beat-sheets.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Keep punching, but keep learning

As the philosopher Rocky Balboa said, “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Well, even life won’t hit as hard as a literary agent or an acquisitions editor who thinks you’re very talented but they’re “just not falling in love with your story.” Those who want to be published will get hit hard. They’ll get a hit a lot. The process is one of constant judgement and rejection over and over again, so it requires tenacity, a thick skin, and a pretty muscular ego not to give up.

However, a smart writer should also look close enough at the rejections to see if any common themes emerge. If you have agent after agent or editor after editor telling you the same reason for the rejections, then it behooves you to listen and learn from the feedback.

I completely agree. Being a writer requires tenacity and a strong sense of ego– a belief in your own writing. But, it also requires the ability to take criticism and grow.


Shameless Self-Promotion time!

Confirmation: Investigations of the Unexplained

THE EVIDENCE OF ANOTHER WORLD IS HERE… 

In Mount Shasta City, California. In New Jersey. In San Diego. Then in Scotland, in Italy, and Cairo. In dozens of locations around the world, 20-ton granite globes suddenly appear. They usually turn up overnight, sometimes in remote locations and other times in the middle of cities in places no one could have put them without detection. For the first time, the world is witnessing a truly unexplainable phenomenon. 

AND THE THREAT IS REAL… 

As Rick Ballantine and Cornelia Oxenburg, cast members of the low-rent supernatural reality show “Confirmation: Investigations of the Unexplained,” quickly realize, the globes’ greatest effect is the way they make people speculate about their origins and purpose. Some think the globes are placed by aliens. Others think it’s all a hoax. Many more fear sinister government conspiracies behind it all. But each of these points of view believes they’re absolutely right…and others who disagree are dead wrong…and dangerous…and must be dealt with by any means necessary! Before the true, incredible origin of the globes is finally revealed, the “Confirmation” cast comes to see the extremes people are capable of when their beliefs are challenged and threatened…even in their own group.

The Cedar Valley Covenant

A TOWN OF BRILLIANT MINDS…

Jessica Lafayette, best-selling relationship author and soon-to-be radio personality, had a near-perfect life. But she dreamed of reconnecting with her estranged father. Then an accident along a dark stretch of highway shattered everything. Instead of making peace, Jessica comes to attend a funeral in the idyllic Southern Illinois college-town of Cedar Valley.

A PACT WITH A MIND-BENDING EVIL…

After claiming her father’s ashes from the local funeral home, Jessica begins to suspect the unthinkable. The urn she had been given does not contain ashes, and the remains of the dead might be used in the savage rites of an otherworldly power that has taken control of the town.

Pursued by a murderer in thrall to the evil controlling the town, Jessica finds herself involved with an esteemed scientist and shadowed by an enigmatic outsider, all the while struggling to understand the corruption haunting this town. From eminent thinkers to a rising political power broker, Cedar Valley’s best and brightest should have the resources to fight back. Except somehow, some of them have chosen to collude with an Apocalyptic force that will soon alter the course of all life on Earth. With no way out, Jessica must find a way to fight back and uncover the devastating secret of…The Cedar Valley Covenant.


Check Barna Donovan out across the web!

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Author Spotlight: Glen Dahlgren

  • an award-winning game designer and the author of the book series The Chronicles of Chaos, which fantasy legend Piers Anthony called “what fantasy fiction should be.”

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Glen Dahlgren!

Glen has written, designed, directed, and produced critically-acclaimed, narrative-driven computer games for the last three decades. What’s more, he had the honor of creating original fantasy and science-fiction storylines that took established, world-class literary properties into interactive experiences.

He collaborated with celebrated authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (The Death Gate Cycle), Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time – soon to be a TV series from Amazon), Frederik Pohl (Heechee saga), Terry Brooks (Shannara), and Piers Anthony (Xanth) to bring their creations to the small screens. In addition, he crafted licensor-approved fiction for the Star Trek franchise as well as Stan Sakai’s epic graphic novel series, Usagi Yojimbo.

Glen, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

For love and support (and to keep down blood pressure), you can’t beat Goldie my cat. I wouldn’t trade her for any other pet. That said, flying on the back of a dragon sounds kind of cool.

A sweet cat is underrated. But, I mean, who doesn’t want a dragon?

What do you write?

I write YA fantasy. I started out designing and writing computer games, working with some notable authors in the genre. I learned a lot in the process, making fiction inside of their worlds—but grounding the stories in the requirements of the games I was designing.

It was amazing, but now I’m writing fiction inside of my own world without the limitations of any game. Based on the reaction it has received, the Child of Chaos (the first in the series the Chronicles of Chaos) is my best work yet. 

What an amazing background and variety of storytelling. You’ve certainly worked with some amazing writers and it sounds like your most recent work is just building on everything you’ve learned.

What do you like to read?

I have devoured fantasy and SF since I was a kid. My bookshelves are lined with the old school masters, like Robert Jordan, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, David Eddings, and many more. Recently, I’ve finished up all of the Terry Pratchett books I could find and I love discovering any new Neil Gaiman (book, comic, TV show, or movie!). 

Who you list as “old school masters” definitely tells me that we’re of a generation. Although! You’re a bit late, (but never too late) to the Terry Pratchett fandom.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Don’t edit until you’re done with the first draft.

I can’t help myself. How can I keep writing when I know that something I’m writing now changes something that came before? I’m constantly editing myself all the way up until I hit the end, then it’s back to editing some more!

Clearly, this advice varies from person-to-person. Some people get so caught up with making the opening chapter perfect, they never move on to the next. For me? I’ve occasionally jumped back a chapter or two and gone in a different direction (but always save the old chapters, just in case).

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

Allow yourself to suck

It’s the flip side of the previous answer. The point is that, for any creative endeavor, it’s more important to create something you’re not happy with than have nothing. You can’t edit something that doesn’t exist.

I like to tell a story I heard from Brad Bird. A producer walks into a music hall where his theatre company is constructing a musical. The actors and dancers are aimlessly wandering around on stage. The musicians are chatting with each other in the orchestra pit. And the choreographer is sitting in the middle of the stage with his head in his hands.

“What’s going on?” asks the producer.

“I don’t know what to do,” says the choreographer.

Without missing a beat, the producer responds, “Well, do something so we can change it!”

Too many people get locked up because they believe they’re not good enough to try. But they’re always good enough to try. And then they (and their work) get better the more they try.

Definitely. You know how some people can’t describe what they want, but they won’t hesitate to let you know when you’ve got it wrong? Well, a lot of us writers can recognize when something we write is wrong, but we’ve got to see it before we can explain how it’s wrong.


Shameless Self-Promotion time!

The Child of Chaos is my debut YA fantasy novel, the first in the series, the Chronicles of Chaos (I’m currently working on the prequel now). 

Galen loved dreaming up stories until he was drawn into a nightmare.

An irresistible longing drags Galen to an ancient vault where, long ago, the gods of Order locked Chaos away. Chaos promises power to the one destined to liberate it, but Galen’s dreams warn of dark consequences.

He isn’t the only one racing to the vault, however. Horace, the bully who lives to torment Galen, is determined to unleash Chaos–and he might know how to do it.

Galen’s imagination always got him into trouble, but now it may be the only thing that can prevent Horace from unraveling the world.

“There is a quality of imagination and detail here that impresses me. This is no ordinary sword and sorcery story. [Glen Dahlgren is a] novelist who I think will become more widely known as his skill is appreciated.” –Piers Anthony, New York Times bestselling author of the Xanth series.


Check Glen Dahlgren out across the web!

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Author Spotlight: Hildy Silverman

  • a short fiction author and the former publisher of Space and Time magazine

Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Hildy Silverman!

For just over a decade, Hildy Silverman was the publisher of Space and Time, a five-decade-old magazine of fantasy, horror, and science fiction.

She is now focused on her own writing and frequently contributes short fiction to anthologies.

Hildy, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!

If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?

Well, I already had the greatest pet doggo in the world (in my wholly unbiased opinion), who sadly passed away a couple of months ago. But if I could have anything, I’d have to go with a dragon. I could fly around on its back, set my enemies aflame — what could be better?

A good doggo is a wonderful thing. But a dragon is definitely a classic choice around these parts.

What do you write?

As far as fiction goes, I write short stories. I’ve been doing so since I was little, but my first professionally published story came out in the early 1990s. I’ve always loved the short form and the challenge it presents in telling a complete and satisfying story. Short stories require conciseness, yet you still have to create a three-dimensional world and characters. I enjoy that challenge as a writer. 

Short form is definitely its own art, and very challenging! You’ve got amazing skills.

What do you like to read?

As a reader, I also prefer “tight” stories without a surfeit of flowery description or excessive wordiness. As far as genre, I enjoy almost anything that could be considered speculative — horror, fantasy, SF, and their various subcategories. I enjoy books where the author clearly thought out every aspect of the plot, characters, world-building, etc. and constructed a story in which everything comes together in a believable way within the confines of the world they created.

While I wouldn’t put ‘tight’ as a story descriptor for me, I know I have to be in the right mood to be able to make it through some of the heavily lyrically written works. And, I definitely agree, well-constructed world building has a definite appeal!

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.

Show, don’t tell.

Show, don’t tell as a hard-and-fast rule. As a short story author, sometimes you have to tell instead of show in order to keep within the word count allotted. That said, the trick is knowing when to show and when to tell.

For example, if you need to get Character A from room to another, you don’t have to show them standing up out of their chair, taking X number of steps, and arriving in the next room. “Joe went into the kitchen” takes care of it, and the reader doesn’t feel short-changed by the lack of lengthy exposition.

What an excellent point. I try to remind people I beta-read for that we don’t need all the stage directions.

Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.

(Have a) clear point-of-view.

I hate “head hopping” and careless errors with POV as a reader — throws me right out of the story. Choose your POV and stick with it, and please, if you choose third-person omniscient, make sure you know how to pull that off so that your characters and their thoughts are distinct from one another and clearly “marked” so I, as a reader, know exactly whose head I’m in at any given time.

I’ve got to agree. If I have to pause after a sentence to figure out which character the thought came from, you’ve thrown me out of the story and made me think about the writing, not the words.


Shameless Self-Promotion time!

I’m honored to have been included in two recent anthologies — The Dystopian States of America, a collection of (mostly) horror and dystopian short stories, with all the proceeds are going to the ACLU.

And, Bad-Ass Moms, which is mixed genre and features awesome moms of all variations.


Project image for LUCKY DEVILS AND WITCHY WAYS

The next anthology coming out with one of my stories is from Espec Books called Horns and HalosIt will feature half-demon themed stories and half angel-themed, and includes the latest in my series of stories featuring a bionic mermaid who helps maintain the balance between Earth’s surface and sea-dwelling inhabitants.


Check Hildy Silverman out across the web!

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