Semi-Finalist, Writers of the Future Contest

I’m honored to announce that I’ve been placed as a semi-finalist for this year’s second quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest. Out of hundreds of talented entries from all over the world, to be placed toward the top is humbling.

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YARWA Finalist!


I’m very excited that my novel, Seabreather, made finals in this year’s YARWA contest – in the speculative fiction category.

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Liz Coley’s Guest Post About Her New Series, Tor Maddox

tor maddox unleashed cover

My friend, Liz Coley, author of Pretty Girl-13, has launched a new series, Tor Maddox: Unleashed, the first in a series about a girl investigating the mysterious and deadly new flu being spread by dogs. Here’s a brief synopsis about book one:

When sixteen-year old Torrance Olivia Maddox, self-confessed news junkie, figures out that the mysterious and deadly New Flu is being spread by dogs, she has one question—if the danger is that obvious to her, why hasn’t the government revealed the truth and taken action?

Her search for the answer will take her farther than she ever imagined. But then again, she never imagined that man’s best friend could become public enemy number one, that men in black might show up in her cozy suburban neighborhood, that she’d spend her sixteenth birthday as a teenaged runaway, and that her effort to save one dog would become a mission to save them all.

The following is Liz’s guest blog post explaining how she came up with the idea!

My heroine Tor Maddox was born one day in the car when NPR was running a report on the Avian Flu while my husband and I were driving past the Best Friends Veterinary Hospital. Over 20 BILLION birds were sacrificed to suppress the disease and reduce human exposure. My brain sproinged. “Wow, what if it were dogs?” I commented. “Can you imagine?”

“You should write about that,” my husband said. And that’s how Man’s Best Friend became Public Enemy Number One. This story seed germinated as my NaNoWriMo 2009 novel.

In spite of the premise, this isn’t a horror story. It’s a fun thriller, an over-the-top adventure for a teenaged heroine. Tor is impulsive, brave, optimistic, open-hearted, sneaky, and ambitious. Her family is functional. Her friends are not drug addicted, orphaned, or otherwise tortured. Still, she thwarts authority, runs away from home repeatedly, stirs up trouble all over the place, and falls for the wrong guys.

Fun fact: when I wrote the scene where Tor is squatting under a bush perusing the internet on her phone, the Apple iPhone had not yet been released, and phones didn’t yet have GPS signals. Lesson learned–never try to write near future. It arrives before the ink is dry.

Now here’s something spooky. On launch day (5/1/15), an article appeared on CNN about pit bulls carrying the plague and passing it on to humans.

Stay tuned for her next few books in the series, Tor Maddox: Embedded and Tor Maddox: Mistaken. Thank you, Liz for sharing your story about your exciting and adventurous series!

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“My Writing Process” Blog Tour


I’ve joined a blog tour! In this blog relay, an author discusses their writing process and passes the baton to other authors. Last week, my talented writer friend, Liz Coley, author of Pretty Girl-13, passed the baton to me. Check out her blog! She has exciting information about her book and her writing.

What am I working on?

I’m currently head and shoulders deep in a young adult science fiction thriller titled, Strings. Strings is my first attempt at SciFi and I find myself constantly checking my science to make sure that the fiction part of it at least sounds realistic or plausible. But let’s face it, no matter how real I try to make it sound, it’s not going to be believable to hard core scientists. This novel is very different from my first novel, Voices in the Waves, which is a young adult fantasy. When I wrote Voices in the Waves, I spent a lot of time on the world building and envisioning this otherworldly society and their interactions with nature and with other intelligent life forms that live on their planet. Strings is more SciFi than Fantasy, but it has elements of both. Without giving too much away, it’s a story of a high school science prodigy caught between a government science organization with alternative motives and a fanatic religious cult hiding a dark secret. That’s all I can say for now. J

How does my work differ from others of its genre? Why do I write what I do?

Since I have an eclectic interest in reading, my influences come from all genres, including young adult, fantasy, science fiction, romance and even non-fiction science and history. I use elements from all different genres to plot my novels. My main goal has always been to build well-rounded relatable characters living exciting lives in interesting places. I write, as many other writers will tell you, because I’m compelled to. Ever since my first love, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books, I’ve always wanted to create worlds to help my readers escape for a little while.

How does your writing process work? 

My first novel, Voices in the Waves, was my teacher. Writing Voices taught me that I need to have a solid plan, otherwise I’ll wind up writing and rewriting the novel several times. Which is exactly what happened. I wrote Voices three times (yes the entire novel) before I was happy with the plot – then I started the long process of revisions and polishing. I have all my talented writer friends to thank in my various critique groups for pointing out what wasn’t working, where I need to change course and if I should just completely get rid of a chapter or two, or ten. If I had a better plan, maybe the process would not have taken so long. Then again, I may not have learned so much. So now I write a general outline, a solid beginning chapter or two, and a vague ending chapter just to have a goal to work toward. I don’t always stick with the ending (or the beginning), but it helps me focus while I’m writing. My outline includes a paragraph for each chapter, but sometimes I change things as I write the novel. If I wind up changing major elements (such as getting rid of a character or adding in a new one, or completely changing the setting) I spend more time on the outline to make sure I’m not confused going forward. And confused I get – especially with a complicated story like Strings. With all the science, the world-building, and the characters and their relationships, I’d be lost without the outline.


Stay tuned for the next part of the relay as I pass the baton to another talented writer friend, Lisa Koosis!

Lisa Koosis is a web-content coordinator by day and a writer of speculative fiction by night. She is a prize-winning short story author whose fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Family Circle, The Poughkeepsie Journal, Abyss & Apex and the British-Fantasy-Award-winning Murky Depths. Besides writing, her two greatest loves are animals and the ocean. Originally from Long Island, Lisa now lives in New York’s historic Hudson Valley with her family, both two- and four-legged. She hopes eventually to have a novel published.

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Critique Group Wisdom for Writers

If you’re serious about writing, it’s important to surround yourself with a small community of supportive writers. For many years, I’ve been participated in critique groups, some online and a few in person.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with David Williams, author of Her Dress is Darkness, and the moderator of my former online critique group. David is a talented writer and I’m honored to call him a friend. I wanted to repost his writing wisdom here from an interview we’d done on my former blog. David has always gone above and beyond in his critiques and I’ve learned so much from him. With his keen editorial eye, he dedicated time to help me polish my entire first YA fantasy manuscript, MG/YA works-in-progress, outlines and synopsis, and a few failed picture book attempts.

Here, David answers some essential questions most writers face:


What motivates you to write? Many of us have full time jobs in other fields, a family, other important responsibilities, and yet we still find time for our “hobby”. So my question is, what motivates you to keep writing, when so many other (and more important) obligations may pull your attention away and at times drain you? For me, I try to work on my writing at least a few times a week, if not daily. There are weeks I don’t have time or energy to work on it at all, but I usually try to work on writing or revisions as much as I can, whenever I can. How do you stay motivated and find the energy to work on your manuscript?

David: I think motivation and the balance of family and creative obsession is a dilemma for most writers. We’re all human and we all have obligations and relationships—things that transcend the solitary pursuit of writing. Few of us are blessed to have co-writers (or partners) who fit our sensibilities to the point where it can be a “group” or social exercise. For example: I am obstinate. I would be a nightmare to collaborate with, I suspect.

So, we’re basically in the trenches alone. And when we’re there we often feel the pull and the guilt of neglecting our loved ones. I think the understanding of our families is very important. I’m lucky in that I try to write during calm periods at work. And when I do have a head of steam where things are just coming along, I ride that wave to whichever shore it takes me. It also helps to have a secluded spot free of distraction. Music can help (the right music can induce the right mood, a soundtrack for our hearts). Artwork placed in our little writer caves might help or even a certain scent. But a peaceful place where we can escape into our little realms of imagination is vital to most. Some people write best at Internet cafes or on the beach. Whatever works! The key is to write even just a tiny bit each day.

Another issue is doubt. Do not THINK too much. The first draft should be from the heart. Don’t analyze; just let it fly. This faith (or willful ignorance…) helps to overcome that negative, critical mind: a mind that can easily destroy the joy of putting words to the page. In the end, we need to write for the right reasons… for reasons we can actually control. And there’s where the ego can undermine the whole thing.

I’ve gone through the stages of grief (or growth, I hope) in terms of writing. It took me longer than most to process the basics and to apply them because I’m a stubborn guy. Pride helps buoy us against criticism, but it can also kill the learning process; and outside factors or the need for validation (or the mythical grail of publication) can quickly submerge the actual JOY in writing.

Writing is so solitary that it often breeds insecurity. To really become a writer, one must accept oneself. We must write within and worry only about the story in our hearts—and less about acceptance or perception (a subjective thing, to be sure) by others.

Truly personal writing (as long as it’s clear, grounded, and transparent) speaks more powerfully to the reader than the influx of connect-the-plot-dots-derivation-cookbooks that seem to pervade today’s writing culture. Write because of a “need”—a need for an answer and the excitement of taking a journey, of experiencing something. Write because we must, not to impress others. All of that is beyond our control. Just try to work and learn the craft well enough that the personal becomes universal because the reader experiences the story.

A great novel transcends language or words. I always say: words are past perceptions; great writers despise words—they seek truth, essence, instead. I think truth is simple. The profound is not something complicated, but something that cannot be denied. And I think every genre has its truths and those truths will resonate for any reader. I hear a lot of bad advice in this area—mostly from agent blogs, sadly. Don’t write like this person or that. Be YOU first. SAY something! Not some mishmash imitation of someone else who sold a lot of volumes.

Don’t make it external. Then it becomes a chore. Revel in each step, appreciate the stages and the improvement and the process: learn. I think when we get to this point where we just write for the journey we’re on the right path.

On the other hand, what we write will bear comparison. Don’t worry about that either. Write what you know and love and don’t apologize. Instead, trust that whatever we write will come through as unique because of our unique experiences and perspectives. Trust and faith are the key to putting out the pages. And joy. Write with joy.

Conflicting Suggestions

In our critique group, we have submitted and resubmitted the same chapters over and over again, in many versions, based on our own changes, as well as suggestions made by members of our group. Sometimes suggestions made by one member counteract a suggestion made by another. When this happens, I usually put the chapter and critiques aside for a few days (or weeks) and revisit them when my mind clears. But usually, I try to see which suggestions ring true for the story I want to tell. At times, one works better than another. When problems are pointed out, I sometimes figure out a different way it can be solved, maybe by using a combination of the suggestions made, or my own ideas. Does this ever happen to you? How do you handle it?

David: First – don’t address criticism until your first draft is complete. There is no quicker way to kill a novel than to nitpick at too soon a stage. A first draft SHOULD be imperfect. Embrace it. Dive in and be fearless. The revision process will address things from the “head” perspective. Things can always be fixed. Often, if I have difficulty with a scene, I just put in a note and move on. When writing, start with the heart and trust the subconscious over the “editor”.

Now, conflicting criticisms can be a result of many things: some of which have nothing to do with the micro, but more to do with something that isn’t quite working on another level: whether it be character arc or plot. It is good to put things aside. I collect critiques for later and just file them away. Then I try to revise chapter by chapter instead of tackling the whole mountain. But we should always trust OUR instincts. Another piece of advice is to read the “problem” critiquer’s other critiques and the stories they commented on (if you are a part of an online workshop with unknown entities). Do they seem on point? Or is this critiquer a cynical and unconstructive critic? If they are, I advise you set their critique aside—even to the point of ignoring the few tidbits of good advice. Get another eye and trust yourself. Now, if more than one critique points something out, there is usually something to it.

However, the story YOU want to tell can often differ from a critter’s expectation. Often, I find the best answers are those that come on their own. I tend to just put a “comment” on what I want to address within the Word document and come back to it when I figure out how to fix it.

Though I do love suggestions. I give them often as a critiquer to try to get into the meat of who the character is. I may be wrong because I don’t have the full picture, but I enjoy critiquers who make similar suggestions. If anything, they often spark the imagination and enable us to solve the issue in our own way.

Critiquing Different Genres

Our group is comprised of mostly MG/YA fantasy writers, but we also have members who write historical fiction, picture books and stories for young readers. I enjoy reading different genres, and I’ve attempted to write a picture book and historical fiction. However, I feel that my writing flows best when I’m writing mg/ya fantasy. I often wonder if my suggestions are appropriate when critiquing other genres. I feel that elements of story are the same, no matter what genre you write, so I focus my suggestions on that. What are your thoughts on critiquing different genres?

David: The key elements (building blocks) to a story are consistent genre to genre. But the needs and expectations of readers differ. A well-written novel will appeal to any reader. However, a genre reader can enjoy a genre novel with shortcomings if it meets their primary criteria first. We’re all willing to overlook certain elements as long as the story we’re reading is in line with our expectations or desires—if it hits that “sweet spot”.

I think genres merely have differing priorities. A fantasy differs from SF in terms of focus (excluding exceptions—there are always exceptions). In fantasy, external events symbolize the protagonist’s interior emotional turmoil; whereas, SF focuses on how society affects the individual. Simplistic, yes, but due to that direction—fantasy requires a more internal emotional approach. Science fiction requires an outward approach in order to illustrate how science impacts society of that world.

When I critique, I try to read it as a story and eliminate my reflexive expectations. If I’m unfamiliar with the genre, I’ll do more of a “reader” critique and point out where my interest peaks and wanes. This is often very useful as the writer can then figure out why. I’ll make suggestions and admit where my prejudices as a reader might diminish my enjoyment of a certain sequence—whereas, readers of that genre (say: Romance) would love it. Most importantly, I focus on craft. Good writing makes every word count. Every word has a purpose (and often more than one purpose: setting, characterization, plot advancement). These are universal elements that apply to any work.

In many respects, I feel that non-genre readers often have a vital perspective and can be more beneficial because they can keep us honest. They’ll address elements further down the chain of priorities. This can only enhance our writing—and our writing will only increase in appeal; will become more universal as a result. But there are times when genre conventions can intimidate the non-genre reader. It is up to us to exhibit patience and to guide and explain where asked. It’s our job as writers to be clear, to transport so that the reader no longer “reads”, but experiences.


David, you’re our fearless leader. You have a pleasant way of keeping the balance in our group. Your critiques are very helpful, but you also make sure that our critiques to each other are appropriate and make sense. I know that at times opinions differ and critiquing is really so subjective. How do you decide when to intervene and when to let it go and allow the writer to decide which suggestions to follow through with and which ones to ignore?

David: Most of the time criticism needs to be leveraged with praise. I firmly believe critiquers should also point out a writer’s strengths and what “works”. This really helps a writer understand who they are and what they do best. There are certain basic building blocks that are essential to any novel.

What I do first is try to read the critiques and look at the intent as well as the tone. Much of the time, the written word is drier than the spoken word. We don’t have the benefit of body language and inflection. To me, if the critique has worthwhile criticisms, it’s a success. But it’s important to temper that criticism, especially in an online forum. If I decide the crit tastes too salty, then I first email the author critiqued and ask how they feel about it. I try to read if they are discouraged or if it affected them adversely. Then, I tell the truth and build the writer up (there’s a reason he/she is in the group). I also address the group publicly and on a general basis, showing how a proper critique is employed—advising that we ensure we mention the good as well as the “bad”. If necessary, I then contact the critiquer in question. There have been issues in the past where our groups have had to let individuals go. There’s a maturity I expect from our participants. Our members have a certain proficiency—and usually that proficiency alone means they have taken and given criticism before. However, every once in a while we find a prospective member who cannot stomach criticism or who critiques in a negative, unconstructive manner (as a rule, if one is insightful enough to point out “obvious, amateurish flaws”, one should have the ability to ILLUSTRATE how to fix said issue). At the risk of generalization, these types of sniping critiquers often write for the wrong reasons—they tend to hate advice and desire only praise—while they take a particular interest in demeaning any writers they secretly envy. I can smell it because I’ve been a part of many groups including OWW. I then know right away that there will be little to glean from them as members. We cut our losses and move on. If a writer isn’t kind, constructive and mature enough to function in the group, they are gone. It all goes back to WHY we write.

In truth, we’ve been fortunate. Our members genuinely enjoy reading each other’s work and we find that together we grow and learn. It is an exciting experience. I love hearing that a member has to leave because they are published and they have to focus on their next book—it’s why we have the group!

 David, thank you for your insightful thoughts about writing and critiquing! 

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Interview with Liz Coley, Author of Pretty Girl-13

I was fortunate to have met Liz Coley at the SCBWI annual New York City conference last year. We sat together during the marketing workshop and as we chatted, I felt an immediate connection to this talented writer. Liz was kind enough to include me in her blog tour and answer some of my questions. Thanks Liz!


Liz Coley is the author of Pretty Girl-13, a young adult psychological thriller about a girl who must piece together the story of her kidnapping and her captivity. Her novel has been released in at least ten languages.

Pretty Girl-13 has some very scary scenes. How did you feel as you wrote these scenes? Were they as unnerving to write as they are to read? 🙂 

I wrote the bulk of the first draft for Pretty Girl-13 in the thirty days of November 2009. I thought I was keeping a clinical distance from more intense scenes, but on the other hand, I felt edgy and out of sorts all month, so obviously they were getting through my shields. The parts I felt most emotional about in the process of writing were the sad or sweet scenes.


Pretty Girl-13 focuses on a girl with multiple personalities. What was your research process like as you gathered information about this disorder?

I did most of my research in the time leading up to writing so I could hit the ground running on November 1 for National Novel writing Month. I read a few books, a lot of scientific papers, and several websites about Dissociative Identity Disorder. I also tracked down as much as I could about the neuroscience I used in the story. With a background in molecular biochemistry, I was particularly fascinated by this aspect. It’s certainly an extrapolation from what we can do at this very moment, but not implausible in the near future. 

Your self-published book, Out of Xibalba is a very different story from your most recent novel, Pretty Girl-13. Was your writing process different for each book?

Out of Xibalba was another Nanowrimo novel, so again, I did all the cultural research up front over the summer before I started writing. I read seven books on Mayan culture and one on indigenous botanical medicine. There was a lot more to work out on the fly, like the information relating the Mayan and Gregorian calendars (the story takes place before the Julian calendar), using Google maps to work out relationships between real locations, and consulting one of the archeologists from the actual excavations in Xunantunich. Whereas Pretty Girl-13 was a struggle to draft, Out of Xibalba poured out of me like it had been waiting to be born.

When you self-published Out of Xibalba, did you already have an agent? What were your reasons for self publishing? What was the self-publishing journey like?

I had an agent at the time I self-published OOX. She was still on submission with another pair of books (political adventure/thrillers for teen girls) and wanted to concentrate on those. OOX didn’t fit an obvious market niche, so she thought it would be a very tough sell. As the end of the world drew near, December 21, 2012, I knew the freshness sell-by date on my Mayan story was approaching and past. I decided to self-publish this child of my heart with my agent’s blessing. I’m glad I did, because it gave me a better appreciation for the entire book production and marketing process, as well as practice doing TV interviews, school visits, speaking appearances, and writing workshop presentations.

What is your writing process like? Do you outline first or do you just write the story as it comes to you?

I am pretty much a pantser, though I try to aim for a few milestones. If I know what the first big climax scene is going to be (end of Act I) and the next major crisis (Act II midpoint), I can get halfway through the book by plodding along at 600 words an hour. By the time I’m there, I usually know at least what the end of Act II climax is going to be. The trickiest part for me to plan ahead is the final climax point that makes everything even worse than I left it at the end of Act II and then pulls all the threads together.

Do you follow a specific writing schedule? Do you have a special place where you like to work?

My annual schedule is to draft like crazy in November, finish a first draft in December, and begin the cycles of revision with the goal of being submission ready before the next November. My daily schedule is to procrastinate all morning with grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, tennis, etc., then work in a guilty panic all afternoon.

How long were you writing before you considered yourself a “serious writer” aiming for publication?

Great question. I think I slid into it without realizing until quite late that I was into quicksand and stuck for the duration. When I co-wrote a romance novel for fun in 1984, I was only dabbling on the edge. With the same friend, I co-wrote and submitted a slew of short stories to children’s magazines, again on the dabbling level, although I eventually upped my game in 1994 by investing in a correspondence course (pre-internet) with The Institute for Children’s Literature. In 1997, I attended my first science fiction convention writing workshop and had two short stories critiqued. I believe it was at that moment I decided I wanted to be a serious writer, but at the same moment, pregnancy number three started (coincidence?) and I postponed the dream. Finally, in 2005, I stuck both feet in and went back to that conference (CONTEXT) with another short story and my first sci-fi novel written and on active submission with my novel manuscript; at that point I was seriously serious. When my sci-fi short stories began selling in 2010, I knew the commitment was finally paying off.

Do you work with a critique group, beta readers, or others who see your work before your agent does?

I have a few trusted first readers and a few trusted last readers, and I used to use the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction and Fantasy to gather chapter by chapter critiques. I invested a great deal of time in waiting for feedback and paying back on OWW (made some great friendships in the process). It would take 3-6 months to put a manuscript through. At this point, I prefer to work with people willing to read much longer chunks at a time. Also, if the work doesn’t follow people’s SFF genre expectations, OWW isn’t as useful. I’m evolving toward showing work at an earlier stage to my agent.

Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication? What was it like when you finally got the call from your agent that Pretty Girl 13 has been picked up by a major publisher?

After several years of trying to sell my teen political adventure thriller, we were abandoning that effort and putting all our eggs into the new basket of Pretty Girl-13. I had been editing PG-13  intermittently for over a year when my agent decided it was ready to go out. Because Fall isn’t a good time to go on submission, the manuscript then sat in limbo from August to January before going out. There was an early offer that my agent advised me to turn down as it didn’t represent what she believed was the potential for the book. So I bit my nails for another six months, distracting myself by preparing Out of Xibalba for publication. Literally the same week I self-published and was packing to move 120 miles and was in the middle of buying a new house, I got a “call me” message—in the car, halfway between Cincinnati and Columbus. When I got home, I returned my agent’s call and got the amazing news that we had a good offer on PG13. I was ecstatic and stressed out of my mind.

Do you have any advice for unpublished authors?

Put a post-it note on your computer that says “Never surrender.” Cultivate writer friends both ahead of you and behind you in the process. Find mentors and mentees. Networking and relationships are really important both for sanity and for learning about opportunities, strategies, and how this crazy adventure works. Keep writing and improving your craft. Invest in yourself and go to conferences. You meet the nicest people, like Loretta!


Liz Coley

Visit her website: 

Thank you, Liz, for an amazing interview! I wish you all the best with your writing career. Next step, Pretty Girl-13 as a movie! 🙂

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My Brief Correspondence With Anne McCaffrey

I discovered Pern when I was a teen and I’ve never looked back. Anne McCaffrey’s books turned my love of reading into an obsession with fantasy. It was a sad day when I found out she passed away about two years ago. Her books shaped my love of fantasy and will always take a special place in my heart. In April of 2011, about six months before she passed away, I sent her a fan mail, the only one I’ve ever sent to an author in my life. I wanted her to know how much her books meant to me. I was honored that she took the time to reply. My letter and her response is below:

Here’s the link to her website where her son posted my letter and Anne’s response:  (post titled, “from a devoted reader”)

 Dear Anne McCaffrey,

About 25 years ago, I discovered your book, The Harper Hall of Pern, when I was sixteen. Your beautiful writing entranced me and after all these years I still haven’t forgotten Menolly and her story. I recently introduced the book to my own sixteen year old daughter who loves it. I’ve read your other Pern books since and have enjoyed them all. I realized recently that out of all the books I’ve read in my life, and specifically all the science fiction and fantasy books, your stories have impacted my writing the most. You have a distinct way of pulling your readers into your fantasy world, and making us care about the characters. I’ve completed a few fantasy novels of my own and hope to be published one day. I just want to thank you for planting the seed.

If you have any advice for a new writer who wishes to become published, I’d welcome your thoughts. I hope to one day meet you in person. I wish you well and hope you are recovering from your surgeries.

Anne’s reply:


I’ve been asked this so many times I never have the same answer anymore!

First — keep reading. Writers are readers. Writers are also people who can’t not write.

Second, follow Heinlein’s rules for getting published:

1. Write it.

2. Finish it.

3. Send it out.

4. Keep sending it out until someone sends you a check.

There are variations on that, but that’s basically what works.

Ciao,  Annie

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