Christina Henry — of Running and Writing

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BLACK SPRING(1)I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t run I wouldn’t be a professional writer. Strike that. I’m 100% sure that if I didn’t run I wouldn’t be a professional writer.

See, when I was 12 years I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time and I decided then and there that I would be a writer when I grew up. My dad gave me a notebook and I wrote my first “novel” in that notebook.  As you might imagine, the story was just a teeny-weeny bit like The Lord of the Rings, except that it had a 12-year-old girl as the protagonist (surprising, no?).

I continued to write for fun, for myself, all through high school, although at that time I took up poetry instead of fiction because I was going through puberty and I had FEELINGS and I needed to FEEL my FEELINGS.

I went to college. I enrolled in a writing program. I did a lot of writing.  I enrolled in a master’s program to avoid entry into the real world for two years. I did a lot more writing. I enrolled in a second master’s program to avoid the real world for a further two years. There was writing.

I finished chapters. I finished short stories. I finished two master’s theses. But I never finished a novel.

I kept thinking I didn’t have the time.  Then I had a baby.

I realized that before my son I had lots of time. Oodles of time. I had so much time that I don’t know what I was doing with myself for all those years with all that time.  I could have written a million novels with all that time. All I really remember is that my husband and I seemed to go out for sushi a lot, and see movies without scheduling them months in advance.

For the first two years after my son was born there was no writing. There was only the frazzled how-do-I-take-care-of-this-squalling-baby-and-not-mess-up and the desperate desire for more sleep that categorizes early parenthood.

Then I decided to run a marathon. Because, you know, I didn’t have enough to do.

I’d run since high school. I’d worked my way up to a half-marathon distance and suddenly decided I needed to run 26.2 miles. I really needed to. I needed to prove that I could it.

And I did.  Very slowly. Very, very slowly. I’m pretty sure your average snail ran that first marathon faster than I did.

But something interesting happened once I ran that marathon. I crossed that finish line after months of training and thought to myself, “If I can run a marathon I can write a book.”

Writing a book isn’t really that different from running a marathon. When you train for a long race you do it incrementally, building up from a few miles of running to 20 miles in your longest run. When you actually run the race you never think, “One mile down, 25 to go.” Instead you think,  “One more mile. One more mile.” And slowly but surely you get to the finish line. Fast or slow, as long as you keep moving forward you will get there.

When I write a book I never think, “5 pages down, 345 to go”. I just concentrate on the five pages I am trying to write that day. Sooner or later there are 100 pages, 200 pages, 300 pages and then suddenly it’s over. Just like a marathon (and I feel the same desire for a glass of wine and a large pizza).

I’ve run 3 more marathons since then, and written 7 more books. And I’ve finished all of them – running or writing – by taking one step, and then another, and another.  As long as I move forward I know I can finish.

CHRISTINA HENRY is the author of the BLACK WINGS series (Ace/Roc) featuring Madeline Black, an Agent of Death, and her popcorn-loving gargoyle sidekick Beezle: BLACK WINGS, BLACK NIGHT, BLACK HOWL, BLACK LAMENT, BLACK CITY, BLACK HEART and BLACK SPRING. She is also the author of the forthcoming dark fantasy ALICE (summer 2015).

 

Bio pic (1)Christina was born in New York and now lives on the North Side of Chicago with her husband and son. She sees no conflict in rooting for both the Yankees and the Cubs.

She also enjoys running long distances, eating large quantities of cinnamon rolls, reading anything she can get her hands on and watching movies with zombies, samurai and/or subtitles.

 

Beth Bernobich: The Revision Monster

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BethBernobichThe moment you finish your first draft, you are filled with delight. (And often, exhaustion.)

But let’s focus on the delight. You did it! You finished this most amazing and wonderful novel and you hope everyone loves it as much as you do, which is lots and lots and lots and…

Eventually you stop squeeing and climb down from the clouds. Maybe you spend a week or so retrieving your house from chaos. You catch up on life and family and everything else you neglected, including sleep.

Finally, a week or a month later, you open up the document for your amazing, sparkling draft and…

And here, the reactions vary. Some writers revise as they go along. They end up with a first draft that’s really a final draft. But others (like me) stare at the screen with dismay.

How am I ever going to fix this? I wonder.

Same as we do every other time, Pinky.

The first time you confront a messy first draft, revision might look like a horrible monster that will eat you alive. Once you’ve gone through the process–whatever that particular process is–a few times, you start to recognize the phases. You might still go through that first rush of panic, but you start to trust yourself.

It’s a mess, I think. But I can fix it.

Again, this is just my own approach, but here is how I tackle revisions.

First I save a copy of the original draft and make backups of everything.

TheTimeRoads.CoverThen I print the whole document and lock myself in my office to read the manuscript in batches. I don’t stop to make corrections. My goal here is to capture a picture of the book as a reader might see it. The pacing and flow. The rhythm of the prose. The parts where information is missing, or where it’s presented in confusing or contradictory ways. If a section makes no sense, I draw a question mark in the margin. If the prose is clunky, I draw a line next to those paragraphs. But I don’t stop to figure out how to fix the problem.

Once I’ve made this first pass, I make a general assessment of the manuscript’s main problems. Was I too soft on my characters? Did the ending seem rushed? Did any part of the story seem too simplistic? Is anything missing?

At this point, I remember Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. My book is a flock of birds, so I tackle them one by one, chapter by chapter. I figure out how to answer those question marks. I iron out the wrinkles of the prose. I cut and trim and compress the slow parts, and add the information, or sometimes entire chapters, that I missed the first time around.

This takes a while.

When I’m done, I have a version that is ready for wider feedback. And I need to have fresh eyes look at this story. I need those impressions and suggestions, because by this time, I’m so immersed in the world and the characters, it’s often hard to see what works and what doesn’t.

When I’ve collected everyone’s feedback, I read their comments all at once, then each one again. This gives me the group picture as well as the individual reactions. Maybe they all tell me the middle section needs more work. Or maybe they all loved the part where the main characters meet for the first time.

I let this all simmer and percolate for a while, then I tackle the third draft. I fix and spackle and cut and add. Then I print the whole thing again and read it through out loud. Here is where I catch any last missing pieces, or the prose that is almost, but not quite right. Just as I did before, I don’t stop to figure out how to rewrite any section. I just draw a line in the margin.

Pause. Another backup. One last pass to call it done.

And that’s how I conquer the revision monster.

*****

BIO: Beth Bernobich is a writer, reader, mother, and geek. Her short stories have appeared in Tor.com, Asimov’s, Interzone, and Strange Horizons, among other places. Her first novel, PASSION PLAY, won the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Epic Fantasy in 2011. Her newest release, THE TIME ROADS, is available from Tor Books October 14, 2014.

http://www.beth-bernobich.com
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Self-Doubt and Perspective

Lucienne DiverLucienne Diver

BAD BLOOD, the first book in my Latter-Day Olympians series, is on sale right now for 99 cents in digital. I wanted to do a fun promotional blog, one that would convince you all to run out and buy the book, but the blog begging to be written this morning is about self-doubt and the importance of perspective. (Incidentally, if you want to read a fun promotional blog, two of my recent favorites are Character’s Court: Tori Karacis vs. Lucienne Diver and If I Ruled the World by Hermes.)

Self doubt. Here it is—for years and years lack of faith in my creative abilities kept me from even submitting my work. I’m a literary agent, after all. I have to deal with editors on a daily basis. I didn’t want any of them to lose respect for me because I was a talentless hack—not original enough or strong enough or… Well, the list of potential flaws goes on and on. Maybe this was a good thing. For certain my work wasn’t ready early on to be seen by any but encouraging English teachers way back in my school days. (I can’t even imagine where I’d be without them!)

But I realized recently how much my inner voice that chants not good enough has guided, hindered and hampered my decisions. This weekend I emceed the Lake County Library’s Trash to Fashion event, as I have every year but one since it started. Inspired by the kids and their amazing ingenuity, I decided to make my own recycled fashion for the event out of an old advance reading copy (Chloe Neill’s WILD THINGS for those curious), zebra-print duct tape and magazine covers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  I was thrilled at the way it turned out, even if I couldn’t sit down. But on Facebook when someone commented positively on my design, my response came out as, “Thanks so much! I did take fashion design in high school (it was a home ec elective), but I knew I wasn’t original enough to pursue it.” This is absolutely true. I loved fashion design. I didn’t go on with it because I wasn’t bursting with new and unique design ideas that would set the world on fire. With hindsight, I can cut myself some slack. I was in high school, for goodness sake. I hadn’t been exposed to the world or high fashion or much beyond boys, parachute pants and jelly bracelets, but at the time I let the concerns do me in.

The same went for my singing. I have a theatre background. I love to perform, which will come as no shock to those who know me. What does come as a shock is when I tell people about my stage fright, particularly when it comes to singing. (And as anyone who did school and local theatre knows, non-musical opportunities are severely limited.) I don’t know if this comes from the fact that my great grandmother was an opera singer and I felt that if I didn’t have her voice, there was no point in pursuing. (Why I thought I should have that voice as a kid with no training, I have no idea.) Or whether it comes from my sister repeatedly telling me to shut up (as sisters do), that my singing was bothering her, that there weren’t even any words in this portion of the song… Or whether my own demons of self-doubt were having a field day… The long and short of it is that back in junior high and high school, whenever I went to try out for a musical, I broke out with a psychosomatic illness—respiratory infection type symptoms, no voice. The day after auditions, the malady would mysteriously clear up. After two or three incidents of this, I figured it out. I stopped auditioning. I’d still sing in the shower or when I was alone in the car, but whenever anyone else was around, my voice would go flat. Or strangled. Or so quiet no one could hear me. It lasted for years. It’s something I’m still trying to overcome.

Writing has always been the most important thing in the world to me, as you might guess by the fact that despite everything, I haven’t let the self-doubt totally stop me…much. I’ve always been compelled to write. I don’t think there’s ever a reason for a writing compulsion. It just is. But if I had to come up with reasons why writing has always been so important to me, I’d say there were issues in my own life which made escaping into the lives of others very, very attractive. (I read like a fiend for this very reason.) Also, while the voices of my characters were talking to me, I couldn’t hear my own inner voice beating me down.

Still, as mentioned, the self-doubt worked its wiles. It kept me from submitting, yes, but even after I did and I was published, it made it difficult for me to promote, to say, “Buy my book” and bear the responsibility that someone would shell out money and be disappointed in the work. In me.

I can promote the work of others all day long—and I do. As an agent, I’m completely confident. My authors are amazing. It’s the easiest thing in the world to shout it from the rooftops and to fight for them.

But for me, I still struggle.

Which is where I come to the matter of perspective. Right now the demented little DJ in my head is playing, “People. People who need people…

If I let self-doubt rule the day, I would never finish a single book I start. There comes at least one point in every novel where I decide it sucks, that I’ve wasted my time and there’s no point wasting more. That I can’t do it. There are too many insurmountable flaws that a better writer would never have let in to begin with. (Oh, the voice goes on and on, but I won’t bore you with the entire screed.) This is where people come in. I have amazing people that I can tap for perspective, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be anywhere without them. My Vamped series, for example, wouldn’t exist without my friend Beth Dunne, who read each at my crisis point and practically beat me up for more pages. My awesome editor at Samhain, Tera Cuskaden, keeps me going on the Latter-Day Olympians series.

On the new works I’m writing, young adult thrillers, which are a huge departure for me, my fears have hit an all-time high. I’ve had to tap some amazing, awesome, incredible (yeah, I know, overuse of adjectives, but in this case I really can’t have too many) people who I have to acknowledge: Amy Christine Parker, Heather Burch, Faith Hunter and Deborah Blake. Brilliant people and writers all. They’ve provided feedback, perspective and encouragement. They, along with my long-suffering husband, are my sounding boards, without which…nothing. They give me the strength to go on.

I was out in Australia in August for the Romance Writers of Australia Conference, and one of the things I got to do while visiting was see the stage production of STRICTLY BALLROOM, where I bought a souvenir T-shirt (because I’m like that), which says, “A Life Lived in Fear is a Life Half Lived.” I’m working to make this my new mantra.   I’m a work in progress.

Pantheons and Pantsers

Lucienne DiverLucienne Diver

The absolutely fabulous Faith Hunter offered to let me step in today, so I typed up my post over the weekend, hoping my stream of consciousness screed would actually form a coherent posting come today.  Well, you’ll all have to be the judge of that.  But it’s so funny coming on the heels of Christina Henry’s wonderful blog yesterday, which I read thinking, “Yes.  Yes!  Oh, thank goodness I’m not alone.”  It’s no wonder I adore her too!  Anyway, without further ado, here are my thoughts about:

Pantheons and Pantsers

You’d think a bunch of ancient gods talking in your head would have a lot more decorum than Donkey from Shrek jumping up and down yelling, “Pick me! Oh, pick me!”

You’d be wrong.

The toughest thing about writing a series is knowing where to start and winnowing down all the many ideas flying around in your head to what will make it into the first book and what you’ll save for later on, building enough of a base so that you can go all the myriad ways come later books and not have them come out of left field. This is a particular challenge for a pantser—you know, a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants (or the wings on your ancient sandals) kind of gal who makes it up as she goes along.

The best part of writing a mythology-based series is that it provides me some structure. Some basis. Need a sun god? Oh look, I’ve got one right in my back pocket. Need a trickster? Done! Ancient rivalries? Pick a card, any card!

Sounds like cheating you say? I’ve got a secret for you…it feels a little like cheating. I’ve got all of this rich, wonderful heritage of myth and legend to draw from, complete with dangers beyond imagining. And those dangers aren’t safely lost in the mists of time. It’s so easy to get sucked into the shifting sands of research. No two references are alike in the telling of the ancient tales. There’s no such thing as a “definitive” origin story or an “agreed-upon” retelling. I could easily get lost down Alice’s rabbit hole or, because we’re talking about the Greek gods, become frozen like Orpheus in the underworld for looking back instead of moving forward. Because researching is WAY easier than writing.

But I’ll tell you another secret—writing is more fun. Writing has some of the greatest highs, like when you’re all euphoric because you’ve just come to an epiphany about your storyline or you’re chuckling over your own cleverness at that terrible thing you’ve just done to your characters (which will, of course, make them better, stronger, faster, more self-actualized—because yeah, anthropology and psychology are my copilots).  Sadly, it also has some of the lowest lows, like when you’ve arrayed your heroes against such impossible odds even you’re not sure how they’re going to get out.

Ahem, but I was talking about research and starting from a base and then making it your own. Yes, in the Latter-Day Olympians series I started with a Greek mythology base. However, I have my gods running around contemporary times. Having lost their believers and supporters, they’ve lost much of their power. They’ve had to get (perish the thought) DAY JOBS! None of which is where I start. My heroine, Tori Karacis, comes from circus folk. Her family has enough aberrations to make her almost believe the family tales that the line started when the god Pan beer-goggled one of the gorgons. (For those of you who are only familiar with Medusa, in many versions there were three gorgons, but only two of them immortal, oddly enough.) Her grandmother is the bearded lady in the circus. Her parents and brother literally fly through the air with the greatest of ease in a high wire acrobatic act. But Tori… she’s afraid of heights. And if she’s got one overwhelming attribute, it’s her unfailing ability to get into trouble, spurred on by her curiosity. She’s left the circus to join her uncle’s P.I. firm in L.A., which is where she witnesses a murder by something she can’t explain.   Gah, I so want to go on and synopsize but you can buy the first book right now at the amazingly low price of $.99 and see for yourself.

The point is that even though I’ve got the mythology to draw from, I had to modernize for contemporary times. The sun no longer rises and sets with Apollo, if indeed it ever did. He’s now a former adult film star who’s transitioned into regular film and hopes to make the leap to management. Zeus is a performer, headlining a pyrotechnic extravaganza in Vegas. Hephaestus is the new wunderkind for a Hollywood production studio… And while I couldn’t bring in all the other pantheons out there, at least not right away, I wanted to acknowledge them and also my fascination with comparative religion by mentioning some of the corollaries. Trickster gods like Hermes, for example, exist in every religion—Coyote, Iemisch, Iktomi, Loki… I wanted to build in the fact that these “gods” had been many things to many different people, which allowed me in book four, BATTLE FOR THE BLOOD, to bring in a bit of Norse mythology and will allow me to bring Egyptian mythos in the fifth book I’m writing, BLOOD HUNT.

On two different sides of the spectrum, one dark and one light, some of my favorite books have been Mary Renault’s retellings of ancient stories (for example, THE KING MUST DIE, her story of Theseus) and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, which like the Latter-Day Olympians series thoroughly modernize myth.   I wish I could claim one tenth of their abilities, but at least I’ve experienced, I think, a full measure of their fun.

I hope that if you join the Latter-Day Olympians you’ll feel the same way. (Series titles, BTW, are BAD BLOOD, CRAZY IN THE BLOOD, RISE OF THE BLOOD and BATTLE FOR THE BLOOD.)

Christina Henry–Plot and the Protag

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BLACK SPRING(1)I’ve written seven books in the BLACK WINGS series and one stand-alone novel (the forthcoming ALICE, August 2015) and I’m pretty sure I can’t tell you a single useful thing about how I plotted any of them.  I know, this sounds a lot like what I said about writing character last week. The trouble is that I just don’t spend that much time thinking in a concrete way about the plots of my books.  I don’t have a nice neat formal method.

This is what I do: I start writing the book.  And then I see what happens next.

All my books begin with the protagonist, and I tend to let the protagonist dictate the action that follows.  I don’t write an outline, summary or synopsis of any kind.   I just let the book unfold as I write it chronologically.

I do have a general idea of where the book ought to end up, but I’m never married to that general idea. I’m always happy to toss it out in favor of something better if something better presents itself.

The interesting thing about writing this way is that the book becomes a process of discovery. I’m often just as surprised as the reader is by the outcome of the story. The story works itself out in my subconscious and emerges as I’m writing,

Recently, while I was writing ALICE, I fell asleep thinking about what I’d written that day. I also had The Tubes “She’s a Beauty” stuck in my head. When I woke up the next morning the most important scene in the book was there, practically already written, thanks to these two completely unrelated things stewing away in my brain while I slept. This is a pretty typical example of my novel plotting.

I write about 4-8 pages a day. I always write the book by hand in a notebook and then I slowly transfer the manuscript to a word document, editing as I type the book. This is a good process for me because I don’t like to re-read what I’ve already written and it forces me to re-read the whole manuscript once. I might refine a scene but I almost never make major plot changes while editing.

In fact, I’m pretty sure I never have made a major plot change once I’ve written the story down. I think that’s because, for me, the experience of writing the book is a lot like reading something written by someone else. I try not to analyze it too much and just let the story flow free.

CHRISTINA HENRY is the author of the BLACK WINGS series (Ace/Roc) featuring Madeline Black, an Agent of Death, and her popcorn-loving gargoyle sidekick Beezle: BLACK WINGS, BLACK NIGHT, BLACK HOWL, BLACK LAMENT, BLACK CITY, BLACK HEART and BLACK SPRING. She is also the author of the forthcoming dark fantasy ALICE (summer 2015).

 

Bio pic (1)Christina was born in New York and now lives on the North Side of Chicago with her husband and son. She sees no conflict in rooting for both the Yankees and the Cubs.

She also enjoys running long distances, eating large quantities of cinnamon rolls, reading anything she can get her hands on and watching movies with zombies, samurai and/or subtitles.

Beth Bernobich: The Time Roads

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BethBernobichOnce upon a time, I had an idea for a story. It was tentative, as ideas sometimes are. All I had was an image of a young woman reciting prime numbers as her brother listened. The seed for that image was easy to identify—Oliver Sacks’s essay “The Twins,” which describes twin brothers, autistic savants, who recited prime numbers to each other. I chose to make my twins a brother and sister name Síomón and Gwen Madóc, both mathematical geniuses.

That initial scene came to me complete with setting and emotions and full-color video, but I wasn’t sure how the story would unfold. So I wrote as much as I knew, following the brother from the visitation room of the sanitarium (because Gwen is mad, suddenly and mysteriously mad from too many numbers), down to the lobby where a police detective introduces himself and…

…and all of a sudden, I had a murder mystery as well, set in an alternate Ireland in the early 20th century, in a world where the map of the world looked very different. German and Italy never united. Europe never invaded the western continent. And England failed to annex its neighbors, becoming instead a restless and rebellious dependency.

And as I followed my characters to the river where the first victim was discovered, I realized the police detective was much more than simply a local investigator. He was Commander Aidrean Ó Deághaidh, a member of the Queen’s Constabulary, sent by the queen to investigate these murders. He had his own story, one that overlapped the murder mystery. Then there was the queen herself, Áine Lasairíona Devereaux. Why had she ordered Ó Deághaidh to oversee that investigation?

TheTimeRoads.CoverWas this a novel? I wondered.

No, these were most definitely three separate stories.

But they were also closely linked stories. All three dealt with the problems and possibilities of time. Time travel. Time fracturing and healing and leaving behind alternate pasts. And the same characters moved through a much larger story, and in doing so moved from supporting character to main character, or retreating into the background.

Eventually those first three stories sold, but I knew I needed one last installment to complete the larger story. Over the years, more and more details for that last installment became clear. It would be from the queen’s point of view, I decided. It would take place ten years after Aidrean Ó Deághaidh’s installment, with Éire standing on the brink of the modern age. Síomón and Gwen Madóc would make a reappearance. There would be politics and time travel and at last a direct confrontation with the matter of the Anglians. And the queen will discover she needs to exorcise the ghosts from the past, before she and her kingdom can face the future.

And so last year, I sat down one last time with my Éireann characters. I edited those first three stories, expanding this section, or adding new and necessary details to that one. Then, I opened up a new document and called it The Time Roads.

*****

BIO: Beth Bernobich is a writer, reader, mother, and geek. Her short stories have appeared in Tor.com, Asimov’s, Interzone, and Strange Horizons, among other places. Her first novel, PASSION PLAY, won the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Epic Fantasy in 2011. Her newest release, THE TIME ROADS, is available from Tor Books October 14, 2014.

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Faith Hunter — New Book and Wounded Warriors

Faith HunterFaith Hunter

BrokenSoulLoRezCoverLast Tuesday was release day for BROKEN SOUL. I am supposed to be wildly promoting the book, but other things are getting the attention. So before I go on — Have you bought your copy yet? :)

Today I finished delivering and crating the last 3K books collected for the Wounded Warriors of Walter Reed. To what purpose, you may ask?

My friend and fellow author Sarah Spieth, who has spent considerable time in and out of hospitals in past months, realized how little there is for patients to take their minds off of where they are, and what they’re suffering from. Rather than just think about it, she decided to do something about it, and to make that “something” dedicated to the Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed near where she lives.

To her author friends, she put out a call for books for the Wounded Warriors to read to fill the long hours between PT and other sessions, and for their families when they come to visit. She asked several authors to donate books, and many responded.

I sent that call for donations to my fans — who are the BEST fans in the world, by the way.

The outpouring was amazing. Besides what other authors and I collected and shipped personally, people in my area donated nearly 3K books, games, videos, and audio books. The outpouring was astounding, with the entire ROTC program of Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, South Carolina sending 15 boxes of books and games alone. Cards and posters to Any Wounded Warrior came in from 6th, 7th and 8th graders at Dutchman Creek School.

One woman’s estate donated 350 books. One man went through his library and donated 10 boxes of books. The grass roots program grew so fast that Sarah, back in the DC area, had to come up with a name for burgeoning organization, start paperwork to trademark the name of it, do a website, and start paperwork to become a 501.3 charity organization.

Then the USO heard about the organization, and asked for any books that the warriors didn’t use, for active duty personnel overseas. And the Red Cross asked for anything left over.

The editors and staff from publisher Penguin/Roc donated a huge box of books!

My assistant, Lee Watts, and I were suddenly looking for ways to ship several thousand pounds of books to Walter Reed. Comer Industries offered to store the books, crate the books, and ship the books at their best, discounted cost (about 70% of standard rates) and they donated the crates. Duwayne, Gary, and Randy at Comer offered their help to package the boxes for shipping.

Larry Pendleton, who owns Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits and Bistro in Beltsville, MD agreed to receive the books so they can be processed before delivery to Walter Reed. And I am taking the last 6 boxes when I go talk to the Wounded Warriors on Friday the 17th of October.

Volunteers. All these wonderful volunteers.

This grass roots organization is growing and spreading other towns and cities. HOWEVER! The donation of books has already exceeded the space available. Which is totally cool! I’ll update as I can.

WarriorsRead1