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Archive for the ‘Guest Posts & Author Interviews’ Category

How to Become a Focused Writer – C. Hope Clark

Today we welcome a guest post from C. Hope Clark. She’s celebrating the release of her eighth mystery, Newberry Sin. Hope is a writer I admire and I’ve learned so much from her over the past few years. I began following her when I first began freelancing and discovered her weekly newsletter, Funds For Writers. Her book, The Shy Writer Reborn, soon joined my other writing books on my bookshelf – and is the one that’s most marked up, dog-eared, and highlighted.

Join us today as she shares her wisdom about becoming a focused writer. Then, hop on over and check out her mysteries. They’re excellent too!

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How to Become a Focused Writer

By C. Hope Clark

The faster this world revolves with the advent of technology, the more choices we have in everything we face. The speed of that information, and the resulting demands on our time due to all these opportunities thrown in front of us, the less we feel in control of our time.

For a writer, all that noise, tugging, and temptation takes a toll on concentration. So how is this writer supposed to pay attention to deadlines, much less the intricacies of storytelling, when hit from all sides with the busy-ness of life?

  1. Create Structure. Think of a child with autism or ADHD. One of the first suggestions to help them cope is to establish structure to their days. These children become flustered with too much stimulation, unable to process it all. Sound familiar? Same logic applies to a writer. Set a time and place to write if it does not come natural to you. When that time comes, and when you enter that space, your mind will ultimately adhere to the routine and kick into writing mode. If you cannot guarantee a place, at least adhere to the time wherever you are. Disorganization = enemy of focus.
  2. Have a Plan. What do you want to write? You cannot get into a car without a strong sense of where you’re going. Short stories? Poems? A novella? Make it practical because saying you want to become a writer then starting with a novel is like asking a new attorney fresh out of law school to represent a serial killer. It’s paralyzing. But if you are sure you want to tackle a book, then have a plan for the stages you’ll write it so that the project isn’t intimidating. Intimidation = enemy of focus.
  3. Have a Fun Backup Plan. You delve into your main plan, and you can’t make the words happen. Have three backup plans. First, write something short and fun. This might be all it takes to unclog things by making you enjoy putting words on paper. Second, write a letter to someone who has deserved it for a long time. Write it longhand, since this form of writing will tap a different part of your brain, giving the obstinate side a rest. . . maybe a chance to shake loose and want to go back to work again. Third, journal about your day. This exercise lets you fall naturally into a subject matter, freeing your writing, Do NOT let a sluggish attempt at writing give you permission to redirect to email, social media, or games. Distraction = enemy of focus.
  4. Keep Showing Up. The worst of days, when you hate the idea of sitting at the computer, are the days you need to show up most. That’s because you are demonstrating to your obstinate, pig-headed (maybe lazy) self that your writing is meaningful and important. Athletes hit the track. Swimmers hit the pool. Show up until the very act itself is as inherent as brushing your teeth. Irregularity = enemy of focus.
  5. Inform Family and Friends. Do not allow interruption. When you are in your place, in your time, you are at work no differently than if you’d commuted downtown, parked your car, and sat behind a desk with a boss looking over your shoulder. Once you give interruptions (and the interrupters) a palms-up stop-sign reaction, they’ll think twice about whether the interruption is necessary. Or they’ll leave a voice mail. Or they’ll come back later. Interruption = enemy of focus. Interruption = enemy of focus.
  6. See the End. How will you imagine the day you type the last word of the last chapter? How will it feel to send off the manuscript? Have a legitimate plan for a celebration or establish a reward system. No goals = the enemy of focus.
  7. Be the Writer First and Foremost. When your mind wanders, and you find the writing difficult, you do not have permission to start searching for editors, publishers, agents, or indie presses. This is a VERY COMMON tangent writers take when they cannot focus. They justify switching gears to the publishing side of the house with the argument that they need to understand how to publish so they can prepare. And the book never gets written. It’s easier to read blog posts, participate in discussion groups, and watch educational videos about publishing than it is to write. You have to become a habitual writer before you even think about publishing. Ignoring Craft = the enemy of focus.

We forget the elementary, basic fact that we are just trying to write. Nothing more, nothing less. When we allow the obtrusive racket of people and Internet to interfere, and when we attempt to write without much thought to the direction, we have already decided not to focus.

Focus isn’t out of your control, on the contrary. But there isn’t a magic formula to put your fingers on the keys and type words on the screen, either.  We wish it were easier, but focus is self-imposed, and it’s so much simpler when infused with structure, planning, goals, and dedication.



BIO: C. Hope Clark has just released her eighth mystery, titled Newberry Sin. She is also a freelancer and founder of FundsforWriters.com, and a frequent conference speaker, and podcast presenter for Writer’s Digest. She lives on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina with her dachshunds and federal agent husband. www.chopeclark.com


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Freelancing Classes: 30 Days, 30 Queries


Need to bump up your freelance career? Want to learn and earn more?

This is the place. 30 Day, 30 Queries. Thirty days of usable, applicable lessons from someone in the trenches.

When I needed to make headway with my freelance writing, I turned to one of my writing idols, Mridu Khullar Relph. I’d followed Relph and The International Freelancer for several years. I’d vacillated about taking the 30 Days, 30 Queries class for at least two of those years.

(Note: This post contains affiliate links. Although containing affiliate links, all opinions are true and my own.)

Last year, after much deliberation, I signed up for the class. I ended up completing thirty-one queries that month and got acceptances on four of them. That’s acceptances from four markets that I wouldn’t have tried for before. The payments I received from all four assignments were almost triple what I’d paid for the class.

I’m still learning from that class. Every month or two I find myself going back to one of the thirty lessons for a refresher course. Almost every day I log in to the Facebook group, just for 30/30 students. I’ve gained as much, if not more, from what others in the Facebook group share as I learned in the class. The other students themselves are an invaluable resource and are ready to help one another out – with advice, inspiration, consolation, editor’s names and emails, and general support and encouragement.

Relph writes, “Where most writers will fall down when it comes to pitching is this: They don’t pitch enough and they don’t pitch effectively. In this course, I’m going to teach you to do both and I’m going to provide you with the support, motivation, and kicks up the ass that force you to get up, take action, and work with the numbers that produce real results.”

Here’s what the 30 Days, 30 Queries e-course consists of:

  1. 30 lessons, delivered to your e-mail daily that will show you in a step by step fashion how to send 30 query letters in a month. I’ll also share tips with you on the best ways to write effective pitches that get more assignments and more money.

  2. Lifetime access to the 30 Days, 30 Queries Facebook group that will consist of all participants—current and former—of this e-course. This will be the hub where you can interact with all the other writers who are taking this challenge to get support, cheer each other on, and share goals. I pop in occasionally as well to answer questions and help you navigate through the challenge.

  3. Dozens of sample query letters, a list of high-paying markets, and links to resources that will make your marketing streamlined and simple.

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Take a peek. Check out 30 Days, 30 Queries. All thirty lessons in the class curriculum are listed. See how much there is to learn from this one class. It’s worth every penny. (One satisfied student’s opinion.) And if you don’t agree, there’s a 30-day money back guarantee.


*Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission on any classes purchased through these links.

Book Review: Shut Up and Write, by Mridu Khullar Relph

Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page

By Mridu Khullar Relph

Shut Up and Write, Mridu Khullar Relph’s newest book, is exactly what her tagline calls it – a no-nonsense, no b.s. guide to getting words on the page. Some of the statements and beliefs that are mentioned are things that most of us know. But even though we know it, too many of us allow ourselves to get stuck. We don’t write, we aren’t productive, or we keep stalling. Relph is correct in one of her early statements – reading and talking about writing is not writing.

shut up and writeRelph challenges and motivates us through 29 different chapters of ‘Picks.’ Pick Your Beliefs. Pick Your Excuse. Pick Your Days. Pick Your Responsibilities. Pick Your Tools. What’s consistent with all these topics is that WE PICK. We choose. We are in charge. We are ultimately the ones responsible for whether we get any words written or not.

My two favorite chapters were ‘Pick a Production Schedule’ and ‘Pick a Project’. Both spoke to issues that I’m currently dealing with in my own writing.

In Pick a Production Schedule, Relph discusses the realities of what we can and can’t get done. I think we both suffer from having an unrealistic idea of what we can accomplish in a year. The difference is, Relph has chosen to work through her difficulties of wanting to accomplish too much, and has learned to focus on what she can realistically complete. As with the other chapters, she always includes personal anecdotes throughout, showing us that she writes from personal experience, growth, and knowledge.

In Pick a Project, she states, “I have a habit of overwhelming myself with possibilities.” The finishing. That’s where she, I, and many others stumble. Consequently, we never push through to ‘The End’. Relph stands behind us, gently prodding, giving us that little nudge we need. She’s the slight push in the small of our back, as she whispers in our ear that she’s been there herself, she’s gotten through it, and she knows we can too.

I received an ARC of Shut Up and Write. But if I hadn’t read it first here, I’d be first in line to get my copy. She speaks to many writers, asking us to face our fears and assess our commitment. On that thought, I’m out of here. I have to go pick a project and then sketch out a production schedule for the rest of the year. Thanks to the motivation in Shut Up and Write, this is my year of ‘The End!’

Staying Focused – Tips from Carmen Welsh, Jr.

Writer’s Zen welcomes a guest blogger today, Carmen Welsh, Jr.

She writes. She blogs. She tweets. She creates artistic works far beyond what my fumble fingers can draw or paint. And in her spare time, Carmen is in graduate school furthering her education, completing papers, taking tests and completing the myriad tasks and assignments that go along with graduate work. How does Carmen maintain focus in the midst of constant deadlines and demands? Here, she shares some tips and inspiration with us about how she stays focused.

Thanks for stopping by at Writer’s Zen and sharing your thoughts with us!


Stay Focused

kayfeyFor me, staying focused is constant list making, jotting down odd vocabulary, and check boxes.

It’s putting up reminders – on my desktop, in journals, on a cellphone app, and on a netbook. It means Stickies and Post-Its(r). It means raving about my work-in-progress on my blog and other social media.

How I stay focused is to tell others who give a damn while I’m in a draft desert. Sometimes, they cheer me on. Other times, they tell me to shut up and go back to write. I guess we writers often need masochism.

Staying focused for me means to surround my outer world with references to the craft, to the topic at hand. That involves research both offline and online.

It’s jumping to a new project when I’m stalled on another; this helps to get the juices flowing and my fingers going. Both on paper and on the keyboard.

Being focused means to immerse myself in research notes and other writers’ voices so that when I am stuck in my head for too long, I will be bombarded by the very things that knock me back.

Staying in focus means there isn’t a writer’s block if the neighborhood is a constant source of inspiration.


BIO: Carmen Welsh Jr. (yes, I’m a girl) holds an AA in Art Ed and a BSc in IT. She’s published artwork, short stories and articles in fanzines, magazine anthologies, e-zines, and other literary blogs. Two of her early short fiction became podcasts. She says tweeting is an addiction. She’s an official member of the Furry Writer’s Guild and AWP. Carmen is currently in grad school. Her official site is http://TabbertheRed.com. You can find her ranting and raving about many topics on Twitter @kayfey. Her ongoing art portfolio with works old and recent can be found on http://CopperSphinx.deviantart.com

The Pact: Messages from the Other Side

It’s here! We’ve been anxiously awaiting Barbara Sinor’s newest book, The Pact: Messages from the Other Side. Published by Loving Healing Press, the book is now available, sharing the spiritual journey, the love and the heart of Barbara and her late husband, David. I had the pleasure of reading a prelease copy and enjoyed it immensely. It will touch your heart and soul, answer some questions, and possibly open up more thoughts and questions as we travel the path of life that doesn’t end with death.


Revealing The Pact

Blank book on blue background            When my husband, David, and I made our pact, we were grieving the loss of our son, Richard. It was about six months after Richard’s death, that we had begun talking about the unsettled life we had experienced with our alcoholic son–why it had to happen the way it did, and what our part had been in his life. We asked each other questions about the past choices we had made for our son and for ourselves through the years. As we continued talking and asking the unanswerable questions of why our son had to die, we discussed the possibility of his hearing our discussion from the other side. We also began talking about our own mortality and wishes for burial, cremation, and other choices. Finally, we discussed our personal beliefs about life, death, and where spirit goes after physical transition.

While David and I were grieving our loss, we wanted more answers. We wanted more information about whether our son could hear or see us, or if he could feel our pain from the other side. As we talked, I suggested we make a pact that whoever dies first would do everything possible to connect with the one remaining, and share about the other side of this physical reality. We agreed the connection could be accomplished by any means possible, such as through psychics, mediums, dreams, automatic writing, meditations, even music. Our pact was made, and we knew our bond would remain until one of us transitioned through that thin veil to what most of us call heaven. Sadly, it was only two years after binding our pact, that David passed away in his sleep.

I intuitively felt David near me for several months after he died, and I had several potent dreams in which he connected with me on many levels. Still, I wanted a more viable connection with him. It was another year before I received the visceral contact I desired from him, in the form of automatic journaling. While I was away for a healing retreat, my daily journaling included asking many questions surrounding David’s transition.

Whatever your belief in the nature of being, there can be an appreciation of open-mindedness to the concept of a soul’s progression after death. Our spiritual views are as diverse as there are people on the planet. Different types of spiritual and religious beliefs possess words and rituals used to sustain each system to bring people together for the sole pleasure of worshipping a Divine Source. Even if one does not have a spiritual belief system, that is a spiritual belief in itself.

In the beginning, it was my intent to receive only personal information from David. Channeling his words somehow kept him closer to me and I had no intention of sharing them. However, it was soon revealed that our story could guide many others to find solace with the issues surrounding death, afterlife, and reincarnation. I placed David’s “Story of Heaven” toward the end of the book which captures the interaction between the two of us during my channeling.

Each person will, no doubt, have their own interpretation of the insight and mystery found within the book’s pages. The Pact takes you on an adventure through time weaving tales of love and determination. You are introduced to David’s and my vow which traces the steps of present and past lifetimes devoted to uncovering the mysterious cycles of life, birth, death, and rebirth. In the book, I share the stories of some of my past lives and the insight I gained by channeling David’s words. I share lifetimes spent in Atlantis and Egypt, as well as, many other time periods. I believe if you keep your mind open as you peruse The Pact, your soul will help you uncover the mysteries of the Oneness.


Barbara_photo for blogBarbara Sinor, Ph.D. is a retired psychotherapist and the author of six books. Sinor’s current writing project is her first fiction novel with the working title Finding Destiny. She lives near a peaceful lake tucked in the wine country of northern California. Sinor’s other books envelope the psychology of healing from childhood abuse, personal trauma, and/or addiction recovery. Visit her web site for more information: www.drsinor.com

Endorsement Reviews for The Pact: Messages from the Other Side:

The Pact is a beautifully written illumination of the thin veil between souls and incarnations. We truly do walk within, beside, and toward one another every step of the way. Highly recommended!”

~Jeff Brown, author
Soulshaping: A Journey of Self-Creation

“Every once in a while you read a book that takes you beyond the edge of the known and into the timeless realm of the soul. The Pact: Messages from the Other Side is one of those special books. It takes the reader on a spiritual journey through life after life, weaving a tale of relationships that is like a Navajo rug. Seen from the bottom there are multiple threads; seen from above, a pattern of stunning beauty emerges. This is a story of love that is stronger than death. Dr. Sinor and her departed husband’s personal life pact unfolds as a spiritual memoir that uplifts and inspires, uniting past, present, and future.”

~Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., New York Times best-selling author

Author Spotlight: Robin Marvel

robin marvel_speakingToday Writer’s Zen welcomes author Robin Marvel as our guest. Robin is the author of several books focusing on self development and self-esteem. Her newest book, Life Check, contains inspirational tips and steps to improve the quality of anyone’s life.

Robin, you are very open about your less than perfect childhood and you own up to how with your own choices you were a teen mother. You don’t use your past to place the blame on anyone else. With your inner strength and the convictions you have, you chose not to repeat the cycles you grew up with. You’ve succeeded and you use your life to encourage and inspire others. You’re now a motivational speaker (getting busier month by month!) and you’re a published author with five books. 

What was it that gave you the courage to break free from your past and step out into new territory?

My courage to break out of my past and into new territory really came from the desire to live a better life than I grew up in.  I made the choice to not repeat the pattern because I wanted more for myself and especially for my own children.   

How did you discover that you wanted to write your first book?

I discovered I wanted to write my first book because I homeschool my five daughters and I wanted to give them something that focused on building strong self-esteem and something that was really hands on so they had to be involved with the empowerment of their own lives.  I searched for a book but I was unable to find what I was looking for so I decided to write it!

Did your writing lead you into speaking? Or, your speaking into writing?

My writing inspired my speaking.  I started doing hands-on workshops that get people up and active in their own empowerment.  I am all about getting people on their feet, having fun while adding confidence and personal strength!

I see that helping the homeless is one of your passions. You frequently post about food drives and outreach programs that you’re involved in. How did this mission become important to you?

Helping the homeless is a huge passion of mine.  It is so important to me because growing up we were homeless many times and I made the decision when I was in 3rd grade that I would be a helping hand for the homeless.  My goal is not just be a hand out but a hand up by teaching confidence, self-esteem and worth to the homeless.  Giving them a reason to start believing in themselves so they will see and live their potential.  Sometimes people just need a reminder to realize how amazing they really are and that they deserve a great life.

If people aren’t near your local area, are there ways that your readers and followers can help you in your pursuits there?

Everyone can be of help in their own areas as well in my missions. I take donations for the IMPACT kits we supply to the homeless.  The most important way people can help in by taking action in their own areas.  Be the change!

Do you have any advice to encourage people in ways to reach out to their own local community to help others in need?

The best advice to those who want to help is to take action!  You have to get out there and get involved.  There are so many small ways to help those in need. Never underestimate what you can do. Just dropping food off at your local pantry helps put food on someone’s table.  Stop talking and start doing!

In your most recent book, Life Check, you have 7 Steps to Balance Your Life.

* Rock the boat
* Leave your baggage
* Raise the bar
* Push the limits
* Setting life in motion
* Lose sight of the shore
* Live today to create tomorrow

If you had to choose one to implement over all the others, which one would you choose?

It is hard to just choose one because they are all so powerful in the balancing of your life!  They work hand in hand.

What would you like us to know about Life Check?

Life Check is written for everyday people that the world belongs to, the people like you and I who are working every day to live passionately and to experience a life full of happiness, success and joy.  It provides many tried and true methods that I learned the hard way- you know, the old school was of trial and error.  Now I want to share them with you so you can skip the trial and error, wasting no time and start to experience joy, passion and happiness in your daily living.

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Where can people find you and your books?

Robin Marvel


Barnes and Noble

Robin, thank you for joining us today and sharing your heart with us. You’re a phenomenal woman and I’m glad that our lives have crossed in this life. Keep living, loving, growing, and inspiring us all.

Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity to share with you.  Keep Being Amazing!!

The Voice & Palmetto Poison

C. Hope Clark, author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series and editor of the award-winning site FundsforWriters.com, joins Writer’s Zen today as a guest blogger. Hope has tips and suggestions for writers on finding and strengthening their voice. She shares the process of finding her voice through Lowcountry Bribe, the first book in her Carolina Slade Series. The process of finding her voice didn’t happen overnight. It took time, rewriting, and many edits. With each edit her voice got stronger and clearer. C. Hope Clark’s new release, Palmetto Poison, is the ‘proof in the pudding’, proving that this author speaks with knowledge and experience.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope and I both hope that you’ve found something useful here. Leave a comment for Hope. And check out Palmetto Poison!

The Voice
By C. Hope Clark

          In my early years of fiction, my writing wandered all over the place. Chapter three might not read like chapter six, and my characters came across two-dimensional. Being a logic-ridden person, I searched for A-B-C ways to correct my style, but nowhere could I find a hard-and-fast lesson on nailing voice.

palmetto poisonLowcountry Bribe was the first in my Carolina Slade Series.  Palmetto Poison, my newest release, is now available on Amazon, and on Kindle. It will be available soon on all other book venues. Lowcountry Bribe will always hold that special place in my heart as does any first born. Through that story, I found my voice. After throwing away that story twice to start over from scratch, and after two critique groups and twenty five edits later, my voice rose to the surface in its infancy. I’ve been raising it ever since. Palmetto Poison should hopefully appear stronger, not just in the character’s growth, but in the turn of phrase and the ark carrying the reader through the story.

Voice is an obscure, ambiguous term. Those who have it understand it. Those who seek it are frustrated since they can’t quite put their finger on what they’re looking for. To me, voice didn’t make sense until I started hearing it when I read my work aloud.


When my characters appear on a page, I visualize the scene. Every house, office, road or restaurant in my books has a tangible quality for me, meaning I’ve seen some semblance of them in real life. Same goes for many of the players of my stories.

When they speak, I stop and see them in my mind’s eye, anchoring them such that I can free-write about them. I hear the words, see the body language, and get in the head of my point-of-view character to include the snark and the silliness, fear and love. Like an actress prepping for her role, I insert myself into a character’s mind and body to sense the pang of hurt feelings, or the heart-thumping anxiety of what’s next to come.  Make myself cry at loss, smile at joy, and heat up as the love interest approaches ever so close. Being up close and personal with them, getting into their heads, loosens the writing. It becomes more about getting the feelings on paper than what words are used.

Voice is quality, style, attitude, speech patterns and phrasing. It’s knowing which character is speaking without needing the tags. It’s reaction to movement, to senses, to a message.

All of us have experienced letdown when reading a sixth, or eighth or twelfth book of a well-known author who seemed to regress in his abilities. In those books, the author fell back and rode the laurels of the voice he became known for. He forgot that voice has to be constantly honed, made smarter as each new story is birthed. He has to try harder with each story, no matter how many stories he’s written. One of the many difficulties in writing a series.


  • Relax and write. Turn off the editor and free-write with permission to forget about grammar and commas. What rises to the surface when you have no rules hindering your style?

  • Do not try to copy other writers. Be well read, but don’t try to copy. When you read a wonderfully written paragraph, slow down and reread it, then say it aloud. Let it sink in. Maybe even write it down and keep it in a list of others you’ve found. Reread them periodically, reminding yourself of your aspirations.

  • Read quality writing. Noted Southern novelist Pat Conroy entrenched himself in the classics as a young man. Readers can see the results in the ornate quality of his descriptions.

  • Write in a variety of styles. Literary versus genre fiction. Light versus dark. Humorous versus noir. Positive, negative, quick, slow. You won’t know your voice’s sweet spot until you’ve missed it enough times to tell the difference.
  • Write as if speaking to a person in the room. Make it personal, as if telling the story to a friend. If you need to, speak it and record it, then paraphrase it into your writing, taking note of what makes your choice of words unique.
  • Write about something meaningful. Find an emotional moment in your past and recreate it on paper. Do writing exercises like: The sexiest moment of my life. The scariest day. My biggest phobia. My worst nightmare. The most wonderful meal I’ve ever had. What I fear most. These exercises loosen you up.
  • Write on a taboo subject. Go where you never wanted to go before, or write about an embarrassing subject, or an off-color dream you’d never share. If it doesn’t make you cringe, it isn’t quirky enough.
  • Read it aloud to others for feedback. If you stick with a critique group long enough, they’ll help guide you to what sounds most authentic for you.
  • Repeat. Voice comes from doing all the above repeatedly, because voice is partially habit. It comes after writing thousands of words that sound generic—words anyone could’ve written. Writing until you’re tired of writing often lets the real you come out. Then one day, you reread an old piece versus one you are proud of, and you see the difference.


Because voice has so much to do with the reader’s experience, it’s critical to our recognition. A writer’s voice requires every part of a writer’s toolbox: syntax, diction, punctuation, character depth, dialogue, flow. Voice must be so natural that the reader falls into the story without seeing the words. He reads the words and knows who wrote them, or realizes he’s never read this author before.

Bottom line is voice is when the author’s thoughts flow more easily than the vocabulary. It’s your fingerprint, your soul, your personality. However you define it, voice is your most promising tool in leading you to success as an author. A good voice can tell any story.

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  • BIO – C. Hope Clark is author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, published by Bell Bridge Books out of Memphis, TN. She is also editor of the award-winning site FundsforWriters.com, with a newsletter service that reaches 45,000 readers and writers. She lives on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina, when she’s  not running off to Edisto Beach on the Carolina coast.  www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com


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