Improve Your Introductions and Conclusions in Non-fiction Writing

by Jeanette F. Chaplin

I recently discovered I’m a cruciverbalist. It’s chronic, incurable, and inoperable. Don’t worry, it’s not contagious. But it’s probably terminal. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this blog post, which is the whole point.

The purpose of this somewhat puzzling introduction was to get your attention. Using a word that is probably unfamiliar is one way of doing that. I “hooked” you in one of two ways: either you didn’t know the word and read on to learn the meaning, or you know the term because you are one. In that case, you decided to keep reading to see what I have to say about a topic that already interests you. Or, I may have lost you while you left to look up the word.

For your enlightenment:

cruciverbalist [ kroo-suh-vur-buh-list ] noun.  a person skillful in creating or solving crossword puzzles

Two of the most challenging aspects of writing non-fiction are effectively introducing the topic and wrapping it up satisfactorily when you’re done. The trick is to find a natural and interesting way to lead into the topic in the beginning and close it off at the end.

Movies do this quite well. A classic example is The Princess Bride. The opening and closing scenes have nothing to do with the actual story (although some might challenge that statement). The well-meaning grandfather comes to read to his ailing grandson. After watching the story that’s enacted, the viewer is returned to the modern-day scene and Peter Falk excuses himself with, “As you wish.”

Using a narrator to tell the story can be useful, but it has been overdone and doesn’t lend itself too well to non-fiction. One way to make this “bookending” happen is to connect a seemingly unrelated idea with the theme of your essay, article, or blog post. Then weave it in seamlessly from beginning to end.

To accomplish this, come up with an idea, a concept, or premise that seems far removed from your topic, as I did with crossword puzzles and introductions and conclusions. Nothing is off limits: waterfalls, RV life, grandkids, politics. Well, maybe not politics.

Make a list or a cluster chart of your ideas and think of any connections between those random concepts and the topic of your essay or article. Let’s try waterfalls as an example. Waterfalls flow, they are refreshing, it may be difficult to reach them, they could present a danger, are challenging to cross, and they can be inspiring—or frightening. Those descriptions could apply to any number of topics. Do any of them spark a connection? If not, keep playing with ideas until you find a comparison that works. Brainstorming with a friend or family member may help.

So, back to my off-the-wall, totally irrelevant introduction. What connection could crossword puzzles possibly have to with writing non-fiction?

crossword-146860_960_720For one thing, both follow a very specific set of rules. Crosswords must be square, they contain a specific number of squares and answers, they must be symmetrical, and they can’t duplicate clues in the grid. Clues and answers must match grammatically. Puzzles must have a theme. Now we’re getting closer to something writers can relate to: themes and grammar. For crossword creators, that means their answers must support the theme. Writers, on the other hand, must develop a theme that carries readers logically from beginning to end. Do I even need to mention that writing should be grammatically correct?

Non-fiction also needs an attention-getting beginning and an introduction to the topic, which may include why it is important to the reader. The author has to explain the concept in a way that is understandable to the reader, preferably in an interesting way, and conclude with a reminder of what was discussed.

In the crossword puzzle, the creator may attempt to misdirect the solver to make it more challenging. In the really difficult puzzles, generally scheduled for Saturday, creators often turn to wordplay, slang, unusual punctuation, or the ultimate twist of the knife: heteronyms (words that are spelled the same but have different pronunciations and meaning, Polish and polish, for example). 1

But ultimately, the creator wants the solver to succeed. According to crossword expert David Kwong, a New York Times puzzle constructor, “A good enigmatist makes the solver feel smart.” 2

newspaper-news-media-spectacles-53209But solving a crossword puzzle is far removed from the experience of reading an article. The solver of the former is looking for entertainment and a challenge. The reader of the latter wants to be informed, inspired, or educated. Or, at times, to be entertained.

The crossword challenge ends when the cruciverbalist either a.) solves the complete puzzle unaided, b.)  resorts to subterfuge to find answers, or c.) tears it up and tosses it into the trash.

In written work, the writers’ goals are accomplished when they convey the ideas to the reader as clearly and convincingly as possible and possibly even stir them to action. A good ending helps to achieve the desired result.

A satisfying conclusion should in some way reflect the introduction. It can be a restatement, an echo, a contrasting statement, or an illustration of the point. Or as in our example in this blog post—a bookend. Which means, at this point, I’m expected to return to the original crossword puzzle illustration.

Just as puzzle solvers come to a crossword with certain expectations, so do readers. Construct your non-fiction writing to smoothly lead them into your topic, cover the main point clearly, and tie it up neatly at the end. Make your reader feel smart.

Unlike the crossword creator, your goal is not to bewilder or stump your reader. You want to skillfully lead them from the hook to the denouement. Directly from 1. Across to 31. Down.

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JFC_RomyBestSemi-retired college English and Spanish instructor. Self-publisher, editor, and entrepreneur. Jeanette has been writing, teaching, editing, mentoring, and publishing for the past four decades. Now she is available online to help writers around the world with their writing ventures.  When she’s not writing, she enjoys enjoys traveling to visit family and friends, especially her two grown daughters and her two young grandchildren.

Jeanette F. Chaplin, Ed.D.


Look for Jeanette Chaplin on Facebook, LinkedIn, & Twitter

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Chaplain-esque      https://chaplainesquethoughts.wordpress.com/

 

 

1 Amlen, Deb. “How to Solve The New York Times Crossword.” n.d. https://www.nytimes.com/guides/crosswords/how-to-solve-a-crossword-puzzle?module=inline

2 Kwong, David. “How to Create a Crossword Puzzle.” WIRED MASTERMINDS  S1  E3. n.d. https://youtu.be/aAqQnXHd7qk

 

This article was posted for Jeanette Chaplain by Jackie Houchin

What Did You Say?

By Miko Johnston

I’ve been thinking a great deal about words lately. Part of the reason is that I recently pitched a story I’d written almost two decades ago to a producer who’s shown some interest in the project. It contains language that would be inappropriate for this blog, but while the comic murder mystery at the heart of the story is meant to entertain, its satirical backdrop illustrates society’s relationship with certain words over the last half-century.

Anyone who’s lived more than a few decades has seen a loosening of standards in the media as well as in general life. While this blog – and  I suspect some of you – may eschew using certain words, I’ll bet your standards have changed along with the rest of our world. I’ve seen words in newspaper articles I’d never expect to see in print. I rarely watch TV except when I travel, but even with my limited exposure I’ve heard language in television programs – and I’m talking network TV, not cable – that wouldn’t have been permitted in the past.

Do you recall George Carlin’s Seven Words you can’t say on TV? Lately a few have slipped by. I recently heard a TV news anchor say a word I never expected to hear, having to do with bovine excrement, without a peep from the network or FCC. One of the Democratic candidates uttered another Carlin no-no during the first debate. A few words are still off-limits, and by my account we’ve added a new one to the list (hint: it starts with an N).

I’m not only thinking about obscenities. I’ve also noticed how many ‘ordinary’ words have been redefined or had their meaning augmented. Take the word average. It’s a mathematical term, yet it’s taken on social connotations. We hear about the average person and equate it with falling straight down the middle of a ranking system, not being good or bad. No one aspires to be average anymore; it has become something to avoid, either as a person or as an opinion.

As a writer, I find I must be more precise in my usage of certain words because of this. It concerns me that something I say or write could be misinterpreted. As a former journalist, my goals in reporting were ABC: Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity. Let’s not get into accuracy in news. Brevity translates into sound bites – catch phrases and such, or interrupting a speaker who takes more than a microsecond to get a point across. These days Clarity must include weighing a word’s intended meaning against what it’s perceived to mean. Social shifts, political correctness, and cultural rebranding have all contributed to this landscape, opening up new possibilities for writers as well as new dangers.

On occasion I’ve read lines of writing that could be misinterpreted. In each case I had close ties to the author, so I knew better than to take offense at what they wrote. However, readers who lack that personal advantage might not see it that way. I also worry a great deal about doing that myself and have on more than one occasion censored my work rather than risk the possibility of having someone take my words to mean something I never intended.

Have you thought about this as well? Are you concerned with the possibility that something you’ve written could be taken as insulting or offensive even if that wasn’t your intent?

 

mikoj-photo1

Miko Johnston is the author of the A Petal In The Wind Series, available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

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(Posted for Miko Johnston by Jackie Houchin)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me? Write a Memoir? But…!

by Gail Kittleson

Decades ago, some friends invited us to go rafting on a local stream. I thought our son, three years old at the time, would be excited, but he said,

          “I’m scared of those rabbits, Mommy.”

          “Rabbits?”

          “Yeah. Evelyn said we’re going to come to some rabbits…”

Those rapids would’ve scared me, too, if I thought they might hop into our raft. After a bit of explanation about the mild rapids, our son loved rafting.

**

Misunderstandings often ground our fears, and this proves true with writing. Being afraid to express our anxieties in black and white originates in false assumptions:

  1. What we write may be used against us.
  2. There’s a ‘right’ way to write, and we haven’t learned how.
  3. Once we write something down, we’re bound to the perspective we embraced at the time.
  4. Once written, our words will be “golden,” and therefore, we can’t destroy them.

          First of all, what we write may be used against us. But this is no reason to forego all the benefits of the process. Writing in a safe place that no one ever sees has done wonders for many people experiencing trials.

The feeling that we have no control over who might see what we write can keep us bound by the tide of emotions swirling inside us. Launching out to safely journal our thoughts, tied irrevocably to those emotions, may seem beyond our power.

          In order to take this tentative step, we must unlearn the second misconception, that there’s a ‘right’ way to write. Nothing could be farther from the truth. No perfect method for expressing what we feel exists.

In fact, the ‘perfect way’ will be the way our words come out. Each person’s story contains unique content, since it comes from our one-of-a-kind inner being. Each of us perceives even the identical situation with variations.

A family outsider, my sister, or my brother will see what I remember differently than I do. But my first feeble step—even if that amounts to writing one short paragraph about what’s transpiring inside me—unleashes immense healing power.

          Now to the third misnomer: we are not bound by our viewpoint at any given time. A glance around us reveals that everything changes constantly. The only constant is change, as they say.

If I still looked at what I experienced fifteen years ago with the same eyes, I would be in big trouble. But the thing is, I would never have arrived at my present perspective if I hadn’t started writing down my thoughts and feelings.

          At the time, my journal pages seemed somehow sacred, and they were. But as the years have passed, I’ve grown, and at certain points, I let go of certain writings from the pasts. Burned them, because they no longer seemed ‘golden.’ Some of them, I kept and edited. And re-edited, and re-re-edited into a memoir. That’s not the route for everyone, but proved to be an important part of my journey.

The point is, your writings are your writings. You have the right to choose what to do with them, including chucking them down a sinkhole never to be seen again.

And the broader point is that in the darkness of an emotional avalanche, we cannot even know what we think. By allowing words to flow from us, we invite clarity, and through this process, discover truths we would never have imagined.

Words equal an enormous gift—penned quietly in secret places, they blossom like hidden desert plants that bloom in darkness, where no one observes. But their flowers bear perfume, attracting the necessary insects for pollination. It may be that we will rework and launch our writings into a published memoir, but either way, this practice can become a powerful experience.

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than You.” 
Dr. Seuss

 

Gail Kittleson 2

When Gail’s not steeped in World War II historical research, writing, or editing, you’ll find her reading for fun, gardening, or enjoying her grandchildren in Northern Iowa. She delights in interacting with readers who fall in love with her characters.

Gail Kittleson taught college expository writing and ESL before writing women’s historical fiction. From northern Iowa, she facilitates writing workshops and women’s retreats, and enjoys the Arizona Ponderosa forest in winter.

catching up

Catching Up With Daylight; a Journey to Wholeness, is Gail’s own memoir. She and her husband began renovating an old house after he returned from a deployment in Iraq.  The book is “a gorgeous tapestry of non-fictional thoughts. This very gifted author knows how to weave her thoughts, memories, and the history of the old house she is refurbishing into a journey of emotional and spiritual wholeness.”

 

Women of the Heartland, Gail’s World War II series, highlights women of The Greatest Generation: In Times Like These, April 2016, With Each New Dawn, February, 2017 A True Purpose (Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and Word Crafts Press, December, 2017.)

 

  Cover_APuroseTrue    With Each New Dawn    In-times-like-these
Visit her at the following social media sites:

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NOTE: This article was posted for Gail Kittleson by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin

Kitchen Art and Edible Legacies

by Jackie Houchin

I’m so thankful that both my mom and my dad put pen to paper while they were alive to draw and write out lasting legacies for me to cherish now that they are gone.

Our Thanksgiving Dinner

Mom cooked the whole feast, all the fixings and desserts, until way after she had great-grandchildren. When she was no longer able, I took over the task for a few years before handing it down to my daughter-in law who excels in the kitchen.

IMG_4917Now, the week before Thanksgiving I thumb through the 3×5 cards in Mom’s old plastic recipe box, looking for the Cranberry Salad, the Holiday Mincemeat Cake, and the Chiffon Pumpkin Pie recipes. The writing is faint and blurred; the cards are stained. And my heart gives a twist as I picture Mom taking each one out and assembling the ingredients on the counter.  (This “treasured” box came to me 20 months ago when, at 94, she died.)

Six weeks ago my Dad joined her in Heaven. Now they are giving thanks to God continually, not just on our annual holiday.

In cleaning out my dad’s file drawers I found a stack of napkins about five inches high. I thought they were dust cloths for his crafting projects, until I took them out of the plastic bag. Instead of throwaways, I found ‘priceless’ pieces of art that I will treasure alongside my mom’s recipe box.

IMG_4915Daily for a year or so in 1999, Dad sat at their kitchen table and drew stick figure sketches of Mom in various situations, from housecleaning and cooking, to relaxing with a morning coffee on the patio, working a jigsaw puzzle, gardening,  and packing/traveling to Solvang on their anniversary.  Each filmy paper illustration has her comment in a balloon above her head. I can hear her saying them all! I admit, I cried as I looked at each one in the stack.

I’ll share a few of his sketches here, along with two of her “famous” Thanksgiving recipes.

Mom, baking her Chiffon Pumpkin Pies (Thin crusts; never soggy!)

IMG_4898 (Edited)    IMG_4900 (Edited)

Mom’s pie recipe:

  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup canned pumpkin (not pie mix)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 eggs (separated)
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 TBS. plain gelatin
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 2 TBS. granulated sugar
  • 1 baked pie shell

Soak Gelatin in water. Combine brown sugar, pumpkin, milk, egg yolks (lightly beaten), spices and salt.  Cook in top of double boiler until mixture begins to thicken (about 5 minutes)  Add gelatin to hot mixture. Chill until partially congealed. Beat egg whites stiff, but not dry. Beat granulated sugar into egg  whites. Fold into pumpkin mixture.  Pour into baked pie shell. Chill for 1-2 hours or until stiff enough to cut and hold its shape.  Garnish with whipped cream if desired.

Mom’s Cranberry Salad recipe:

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen whole cranberries
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup drained crushed pineapple
  • 1 cup mini marshmallows
  • 1 large package of strawberry Jell-O
  • 1 cup boiling water

Grind (or process) the cranberries roughly. Add sugar. Let set 3 hours.  Add pecans,  pineapple, and marshmallows.  Dissolve Jell-O thoroughly in boiling water. Add to the above mixture and set aside to mold. (When slightly thickened, stir down the marshmallows.)

Gratitude

How glad I am that my parents took time to write out and draw “every day” things.  They may never be published (other than on this blog), but they are as enduring and endearing to me as any literary classic or masterpiece painting.  They are the hearts of my Mom and Dad.

Creativity in any form is a gift from God and destined to bless (or change) someone.  Keep on creating from your heart. You’ll never know who will pick up a piece of “you” and smile (or cry).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving snoopy

“Oh, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good.” Psalm 136.1

#WriteMotivation    !    #Creativity

The Fun of Writing “Retro-Cozies”

Guest Post by Sally Carpenter*

An interviewer once referred to my stories as “retro-cozies.” I liked the term and use it to describe my work.

A retro-cozy is an amateur sleuth mystery with no graphic gore, violence, sex, or language, and occurs in the past. What defines “the past” is up for grabs—I’d say any time before the 21st century.  My Sandy Fairfax series is set in 1993. The protagonist, a former teen idol, often refers to his TV show, which was filmed in the 1970s.  My newer series, the Psychedelic Spy, takes place in 1967.

Beatlemaniac_final_ large_2500Why do I use a time machine when I write? For Sandy Fairfax, I had no choice. I wanted to write about a ‘70s teen idol because of the culture of that time when teen idols were promoted through TV shows. I like the melodic songs from the era, the cheesy clothes, and the drama that often took place behind the idols’ innocent façades.  \

Sandy was 18 when his TV show started, so if I set the books in today’s world, he would have aged up to 61 or so. But I wanted to write about a younger man who could still do his own stunts and would be making a comeback, not plans for retirement. The year 1993 places Sandy at age 38, still agile but facing a midlife crises.

For the second series, the ‘60s is a ripe era for storytelling: war protests, civil rights and women’s movements, the generation gap, influence of Eastern religions, and the Cold War.  I love the culture of the age, the bright colors, pop art, rock music, movies, mod clothes and hairstyles. Let’s face it, women’s clothing styles in 2018 are—dare I say it—drab and ugly.

I like the simplicity of past times. I use a computer, but I’m out of touch with today’s technology. I don’t even own a cell phone (gasp!). I gave up trying to figure out streaming services, podcasts, YouTube videos, Twitter, social media and whatnot.

If a contemporary protagonist gets in trouble, all she has to do is whip out her cell phone and call for help. Ho hum. But my protags have to think and fight their way out of their predicaments. If my protags need information, they can’t Google or ask Alexis; they have to put in the legwork. They need hard evidence, not just a DNA sample. With fewer crime fighting tools at their disposal, my heroes work harder.

People who stare at their phones or computers all day bore me. Characters who talk face-to-face are more interesting than those who send texts. Modern technology is helpful in real life, but it’s a story killer.  When I read for pleasure, I want to escape into another world, away from the commotion of modern times. Writing a retro-cozy lets me, at least in my mind, take a break from today.

Flower_Power_Fatality_jpg (1)In “Flower Power Fatality,” Noelle McNabb is an actress at a Christmas-theme park in Yuletide, Indiana. Her drab routine is interrupted when a stranger shows up on her porch with a bullet in his chest. Then, a super-secret spy agency recruits Noelle to find missing microdots along with veteran agent Destiny King. As Noelle goes undercover, she finds herself dancing in sleazy nightclubs and chasing bad guys at night while wondering who is going to feed her pet cat.

My next project is putting my first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” back in print. Washed-up pop star Sandy Fairfax, in a desperate move to get his career back on track, takes his only job offer—a guest appearance at a disorganized Beatles fan convention in Evansville, Indiana. What look like an easy gig turns deadly when a member of the tribute band is killed and the police finger Sandy as the prime suspect.

“Beatlemaniac” will include a new cover art, new forward, updated author’s bio, re-edited text and a bonus short story, a brand new Sandy Fairfax adventure, “The Deadly Disco Caper,” in which the 1970s get skewered. Yowzah, yowzah, yowzah!

 

306141_347563052028408_642323995_n(2)Sally Carpenter was born and raised in southwest Indiana but now lives in Moorpark California, leaving the land of rain and snow for wildfires and earthquakes.  She has a master’s degree in theater from Indian State University. She also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s also “mom” to two black cats.

Her first book, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” was named by Left Coast Crime as a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel.  She penned chapter three of “Chasing the Codex,” a group mystery written by 34 authors with Cozy Cat Press and has stories in three other anthologies.  She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles and blogs monthly at https://ladiesofmystery.com/ .

For more about Sally Carpenter and her books, go to http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com/   Reach her on Facebook or email her at:  scwriter@earthlink.net .

 

 

*This blog article is posted for Sally Carpenter by The Writers In Residence member, Jackie Houchin

 

How To Earn $1 Million on Your First Book… or NOT!

Jackie Houchin

bag of moneyI was going to write this post on “how to make $1 million on your first book” and follow the story of paranormal-romance writer Amanda Hocking who actually sold 1.5 million eBooks in 2010 and made $2.5 million. “All by her lonesome self. Not a single book agent or publishing house or sales force or marketing manager or bookshop anywhere in sight.”

Following tips she’d gleaned from the blog of JA Konrath (an internet self-publishing pioneer, who boasted of making $100,000 in three weeks), she also uploaded to Smashwords to gain access to the Nook, Sony eReader and iBook markets.  “It wasn’t that difficult. A couple of hours of formatting, and it was done.”

Then… she got a $2 million contract from St Martin’s Press and… yada, yada, yada.   Here’sHerStory

Today the self-published book market is flooded with books, and unfortunately a lot of them are inferior in quality in one way or another.  Authors in a rush to publish don’t take time to write a quality story, edit, format, proofread, and design a cover professionally. And less than half of them make even $500.

So what’s a newbie author like me to do?

I’m currently working on a middle grade children’s book manuscript. It is a collection of twelve stories from the POV of seven kids who are the children of Missionaries in Africa. The kids take turns writing emails to their friends back home, telling of adventures, mishaps, mysteries, and lessons learned. In the process they reveal amazing bits of African culture, as well as showing how kids anywhere can use the Bible to help them in life.

Because it is unabashedly a Christian book and might be difficult to market, I decided to self-publish.  I’m also determined to make it the best possible book I can.

Okay. No problem.

I’m a journalist and a reviewer. I’ve written tons of stories for my granddaughters over the years. And these twelve stories have been “kid tested” to more than a dozen children at my church. (They loved them.)

So all I have to do is a minor rework so they fit together smoothly, check for typos and grammar errors, and ask a friend to help me upload it to Kindle and Createspace. Right?

WRONG!

IMG_3243As I began to read blogs about self-publishing and downloaded PDFs like “Checklist for Publishing Your Book” and “Which Format Should I Choose” and followed marketing blogs with tips on using  social media, launching your book, advertising, newsletters, and websites, I discovered there’s a lot more to consider.

How to self publish your bookI bought and read “How to Self Publish Your Book” by Craig Gibb, which details about titles, pen names, and blurbs, as well as editing, cover designs, formatting, promoting and marketing options.

Word by Word Editing“Word by Word, An Editor Guides Writers in the Self-Editing Process” by Linda Taylor describes in detail the process of content and copy editing, proofreading, formatting, and all the front and back matter I would need to write for a complete “up-loadable manuscript package.”

 

My take away, if I am determined enough to do it:

  1. Write/rewrite my stories so they are polished to a mirror shine and have a kid-compelling first chapter.
  2. Get my manuscript professionally edited. (I sent in a sample 750 words to be edited free to one publisher, and was aghast at all the track changes suggested!) A proofreader is also high on my list.
  3. Get professional help in formatting my manuscript for the various eBook and print options. (There are just too many things that can go wrong, and I know from a dear friend on this blog that the learning curve is steep.) This is especially important because I want to include photos or illustrations.
  4. Get a cover designer/illustrator who can format for both eBook and Print, and who can portray the vision I have for the stories.

How much is this going to cost me?  A lot.

Can a middle grade children’s book with a Bible slant recoup that in sales?  Only God knows. I’m really NOT out to earn $millions. Any profit I make will be channeled back into the Africa ministries that I love.

But… I DO have a person who has promised to read the book and write a foreward for it. He’s worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators and travels the world as a Partnership Facilitator. He’s been to Malawi many times.  Who knows where THAT contact might lead.

And YOU might even know a 7-12-year-old who thinks it would be fun to grow up in deepest, darkest Africa!  And want to read my book.

IMG_3208