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YA Author Rendezvous

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Walking the Line – Sex in YA

c118acd3c2a99fb465af4dff36bbc17dWritten by K. R. Conway

If you have ever kicked around on YA blogs,

inevitably you come across posts about sex in Young Adult novels. Nine times out of ten, the post will say something about how books portray these moments, whether accurate or inaccurate, fade to black or way too much details.

I’m going to address the top three myths I see about nookie and YA, because quite frankly, there is a whole variety of what can be deemed as accurate in portraying sex.

Argument 1: Too many YA books paint first time sex as a beautiful experience, when it really is kind of . . . awkward.

My thoughts: True, but this seems more likely if both characters are inexperienced. tumblr_n0jrngdlbv1rizz8go1_1280It doesn’t have to always be portrayed as messy, or clumsy. Sex between characters should be a reflection of who they are as people and as partners. What they do between the sheets (IF they do anything between the sheets, because sex should only appear if it is accurate for the characters), should mirror their lives with one another. I’ve seen it done really well in YA books, and other times I wanted to scream (and not in a good way). Should it be an accurate reflection of real life? Absolutely, but such truths should be echoed in who the characters are without sex, and whether or not one is inexperienced or not. Sex between YA characters can be beautifully drawn, but should be honest. The Gossip Girl do-it-on-the-staircase-stuff I’d avoid. I mean come on . . . those wooden treads would suck!

Argument 2: Fade to black is a cop-out in YA. If your gonna write it, write it!

My thoughts: While some writers give a real play-by-play of sex scenes, I find myself far more impressed by those who show alot without showing alot. Plus – I have a teenaged daughter, and while she is fully aware of “stuff” (and heaven knows the stuff that is shown on TV and film now-a-days) I would rather she not read some graphic scene (not yet anyway). An intimate scene between characters can be portrayed vividly, while maintaining a PG / PG-13 rating.

2120642dcf55ac09bd2160fa5551f531Argument 3: All the girl characters become mindless idiots once kissed, and all the boys are dying to peel their love interest’s clothes off like a tangerine.

My thoughts: Bullcrap. You’re just not reading a wide enough variety of YA to realize that some writers deliberately put their female characters in the driver’s seat when it comes to sex. They are also careful to write both the bad boys that don’t give a damn about consent, along with the ones who make sure their girl / guy are in total control of the situation. Both these issues (girl power in the sack and males who boost the control of their love interests) are a critical part of the Undertow series. I wrote the contrast because I wanted the girls who DID read the series to see and understand what true love looks like (and what it doesn’t, in the case of Ana Lane’s father), and what strong females sound and act like. I’m not the only author who is a “girl power” writer – there are many of us (Sarah Maas, Eva Darrows, Jennifer Armentrout, Mary Pearson, and Holly Black to name but a few). So don’t buy the BS that sex in YA is all “boy he-man, girl fair princess.” Some of us write the warrior chick, right down to the marrow of her bones (and her hormones).

Argument 4: Sex in YA is inappropriate.

My thoughts: Maybe – it depends on the story. It depends on the characters and what the author, editor, and about nine other people who are involved in the book’s evolution believe. At the end of the day, however, the choice between characters on whether to do the deed or not reflects entirely on who they are at that moment in time in their lives and whether or not that moment actually occurs in the time span of the book. Like all choices characters make within the story, sex must be a reflection of who they are, as people (or, uh, monsters), where they came from, and how they see and trust one another.

And sometimes, when we view sex in YA, we simply need to remember what it was to be in love for the first time.

You can read more of K.R. Conway’s blogs here.

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Why the Agony of Writing for Teens is Worth It

Girl reading a book on the floor.Written by K. R. Conway

Writers can become burned out.

I don’t mean the hyperventilating, “OMG I have no story ideas!” type of burn out. I mean the grind of the words, the constant push to out-write your last book, the stiff necks, the time crunches, and the piecemealing of a life outside of your characters’ worlds.

You try to balance the requests from bookstores, the demands to meet deadlines, the desperate need to spend time with your family and your children, and (for many of us), the 9 to 5 of a day job as well.

Novel-writing is the ultimate act of endurance, with a finish line that seems to never fully reveal itself. And once you have finished one story, polished and in print, you immediately are looking to churn out the next book.

I started to feel the burn out when I was finishing up CRUEL SUMMER.  In the past 2 years, I had churned out close to 300,000 words related to the UNDERTOW series. Let me tell ya – that’s a lot of freakin’ words!

I’ve worked as a writer since 1999, and in all those years, I never got burned out as a journalist. But in all those years, I didn’t have the fans I have now. And they are like – HARDCORE FANS. They burn through those 300k words in just a couple of days, because they can’t put the book down. Because they must keep going, or they will obsess about Eila and her crew all day long, which is great and all, but I start to panic and think, “I need to get another book done for them, like, YESTERDAY!”

And my fans are voracious readers. I often get messaged that this kid or that kid has read STORMFRONT in a day (112k words) or that they are re-reading UNDERTOW for the 5th TIME! I don’t even think I’ve read Undertow cover to cover more than twice, and that was when it was in its editing phase! Some fans buy EVERY cover version, because they must have them all (0_0)

So, when I start to feel the burn out lurking in my life, I remember those fans. Those that flip out so entirely over the characters, that their Christmas lists are loaded with Undertow stuff.

I don’t get to usually see fans outside of book events, but the other day I saw one reading my book, and what I saw filled me with determination to work even harder.

You see, I drive a school bus during the day, filled with my target audience. While I can only really see the tops of kids’ heads when I drive, I do have to walk to the back of the bus when I pull up to the middle school to unload. The other day, while I walked to the back of the bus to disengage a warning button, I saw one girl sitting and reading, oblivious to the fact that we were at the school. At first I didn’t pay much attention, but then I did a double-take.

I knew that font.

I knew that line.

She was reading STORMFRONT. I didn’t bother her, but kept going and unloaded the bus, but she hung back, sliding into the seat behind my driver’s one. “This is so unbelievably awesome,” she says to me. “I was up from, like, 8 to 11 last night reading. And I reread Undertow over the weekend, but OMG. I love this!”

I thanked her and blushed a tad, thrilled she was enjoying it.

At the end of the day, I drove her home with a bus full of half-crazed teens. I was focused on getting the kids home safely and not losing my mind, so I wasn’t really paying close attention to what she was holding as I unloaded at her stop. But as I saw her walk away, I realized she had gotten off with the book tucked under her arm. I watched, floored, as she walked towards her home, Stormfront in her hands as she read.

She wasn’t on her phone. She wasn’t hanging with the other kids and talking. She was lost inside my book, living alongside my fictional characters, reading as she walked. Suddenly that lurking burn-out vanished and I remembered why I write.

I do it for teens like her, who want to fall so entirely in love with a story that their own reality tumbles away.

I write for the fans, and in turn, they are my creative jolt.

They power me past the burn out.

They are my army and my saving grace . . . and I pledge my undying loyalty to their awesomeness

Know Thy Audience. ALWAYS.

Know Thy Audience Always - Young Adult Author RendezvousWritten by K. R. Conway

If there is ever a phrase that sends chills through my body, it is: “Well, I’m not really sure if my COMPLETED manuscript is exactly aimed for teens. Maybe it is more middle grade? But then again, I guess it could be adult.”

Oh, dear lord.

There is nothing, NOTHING more important than knowing WHO you are writing for before you even put pen to paper. You need to know EXACTLY who your audience is – from how they live, talk, socially function, what would make your book appeal to them, WHY they would buy it in the first place, blah, blah, BLAH. How do you sell something if you have no clue who would want to buy it? That’s like designing a hot air balloon that can’t fly and saying, “I know this will appeal to SOMEBODY.” Well, heck – you would be 112 years old before you figured out WHO would buy an unfloating air balloon (FYI – this would sell to those funky, futuristic tent designers who want some killer fabric and who would upcycle the basket parts. SEE??? I know my audience!!!)

As cool as your story may be, it NEEDS a set audience to S-E-L-L. So . . . let’s take, uh . . . OH! The Shadow and Bone series by Bardugo. Dark fantasy set in a brutal remake of a Russian-like empire. Totally awesome. Love it. Go read it. Well . . . go read it IF YOU LIKE THAT TYPE OF THING. See???? Audience. I like dark and creepy with a few well placed bodies here and there. I can do fantasy as long as the fairies are the type to murder you in your sleep while acquiring your tooth.

So Bardugo’s audience is the type that:

A. Likes dark fantasy. This would include those who enjoyed the last few books in the Harry Potter series best, and those who liked Lord of the Rings and (if you’re ancient like me) The Dark Crystal.

61sIOGA4rqLB. They are 14 + (maybe a few, high-level 13-y-o readers too). She appeals to those who like vivid world building over smooching scenes. People who are willing to see a character fail and have mixed feelings about the “bad” guy (who happens to be a hottie).

C. Her readers tend to be thinkers. People who like puzzles, especially the ones that require you to out-manuver an opponent. They are the people who tend to be the quiet ones, but their imagination is always running and it isn’t playing Cinderella scenes over and over, if you get my gist.

D. They are bold, but not for the sake of others. They will pierce their tongue not to fit in nor stand out, but because doing so speaks to who they are as a person. They don’t follow the crowd.

E. They like twists and unseen complications. They like to see the characters fail as well as conquer. Romance is okay by them, but it is not the only reason they read the story. In fact, the romance aspect is low on their list of must-haves and they like that the main characters are a bit tortured in their love for one another.

You may say, “Holy heck, Conway – that is a TON of detail. How are we supposed to know that much about our audience?!” Well . . . that’s part of being a writer, and I was a journalist before I was a novelist. As a journalist I had to always, ALWAYS sell my story – not only to my editor, but to my potential readers. I needed to pitch every story to my editor and tell them WHY it was timely. WHY people would read it and WHO would read it. I needed to tell them how I would learn about the topic I was pitching and LEARN ABOUT WHO IS INTERESTED in such a topic.

I basically became my audience, every time, for every story. To become my audience for UNDERTOW, I began reading any and all YA books that were a bit similar. I started watching every teen movie I could find, plus those that were not aimed for teens but had young main characters. I shifted my playlist in the direction of pure Alternative music, hard rock, and a bit of metal.

I was willing to be a teenager – jump on beds (okay – my daughter’s bed at least), leap from the Town Neck bridge, argue over t-shirts at Abercrombie, and generally act like I was 16 rather than . . . well, older. I began to look at the world as a high schooler again – to understand fully what they loved, what tormented them, what mattered to them. Now-a-days it is easy for me to shift from the “run for your lives, MOM IS PISSED!” mode into a full on, nag-worthy, “Can we please, PLEASE, PLLLLLEEEAAASEEE go to the movies???? Can we go dye our hair??? Can we go hang out at the beach with our kites??”

If you have any doubt in my ability to be a teenager, just ask my daughter and her friends. They will tell you I am full-on nuts, but 100% wildly fun. Well . . . until you pick on your little brother or dare to sass me.

Then it’s GAME-ON-EVIL-MOTHER MODE.

And yes – I will totally write my Mean Mom character into a novel at some point . . . as long as it fits with the audience I am writing for. As for now, I work exclusively for the teens I strive to please, and always, always for my fans.

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Indie Author Life and Other Forms of Torture

Indie Authors - Young Adult Author RendezvousWritten by K. R. Conway

Last night I had an epiphany.

One would think it would have been obvious to ME for a while now, but it wasn’t.

You see, I am a self-published author, though I refer to myself as an “Indie” mainly because I operate like a business – like a small press. I am also a professional writer, and I don’t say that off the cuff or because I’ve written two novels.

I’m LITERALLY a traditional working writer, so I will admit that gives me a bit of a leg-up in some aspects. And I’ve been a professional writer for nearly two decades – a paid, published, prolific, oh-crap-I’m-on-a-deadline, writer.

Because of my professional background, I WAS a publishing snob – I believed that to be a legitimate success, you needed an editor to praise your work and a Big Six publisher to fork over the dough. I thought you needed the stamp of approval from the publishing gods and a few lines about the deal on Publishers Marketplace.

And even after I decided to jettison my brain and self-publish UNDERTOW (mainly because I wanted to write the story I wanted to write for the first time in my life . . . and I may have been nuts), I was still seeking “traditional” approval. I wanted an agent or a publishing house to suddenly fall on me and say, “Oh YEAH – we want a piece of the action!”

I wanted their approval because I thought I needed it.

I thought I needed their watermark to designate a book as worthy — as great. The reality is that it is still a total gamble. I’ve read AWESOME traditionally published books and ones that are total junk. I’ve read lots of terrible self-pubbed stuff too, while others are phenomenal . . .  although the kicker is I look AFTERWARDS for a pub imprint on the fabulous books. I know . . . the irony is sick.

Indie Author Struggle - Young Adult Author RendezvousAnd it’s true – to get reviewed in the big newspapers, you DO need such a mark. Many places will scoff at you and ignore you if you say you are self published because in their head, all that matters is a traditional publishing deal. The comments of fans, the rave reviews from book bloggers, means nothing. I take comfort in the fact that so many books come out constantly, that I find book sellers also don’t have a solid grasp on who an author is, even if the author has signed a huge deal and is a screaming success among fans. Seriously – if this describes you, don’t take offense by their lack of knowledge – they are hurled books and press releases all day long. Those writers with the biggest marketing buck are the ones they finally stock.

I am blessed that the UNDERTOW series gets a LOT of action. I owe that almost entirely from the one group of people who I had never really aimed for before as a journalist: fans. I started earning fabulous, dedicated fans and more importantly, they were buying Eila’s story, posting pictures to Facebook, Goodreads, and Instagram. They were talking about it, writing fan fiction on it, shooting my crazy story to the top of the Amazon bestseller heap. Teens even started recognizing me IN THE MALL, which was waaaayyyy out of the norm for me.

Yes – I wrote UNDERTOW for those teenagers of the Cape (I used to be one when dinosaurs still wandered the earth). I wrote for Cape Cod, but the professional writer in me also sought that “publishing deal” even though I KNEW I had taken myself out of contention the second I self published the book.

So last night, as I was cranking out pages for CRUEL SUMMER, my professional brain kicked in and I started thinking if I should query the manuscript (send it to literary agents). I started wondering if I should throw my hat into the ring with the publishing gods, even though CRUEL SUMMER is a spin off of my books.

But then a message popped up on my author page on Facebook.

It was from a fan. Someone I had never met who lived in Ireland and was head over heels for the series. She said she went to her local bookstore, who refused to order STORMFRONT because I didn’t have a snazzy imprint from the Pub gods. But to her – this random fan who was strolling the streets of a foreign country — it didn’t matter, because she went online and bought it anyway.

And THAT is when I finally realized that those publishing imprints mean nothing to readers. My background as a professional writer, means nothing. The fact that my name is not in Publisher’s Marketplace, means nothing to readers. Hell, sometimes MY NAME means nothing because they never looked at who wrote UNDERTOW.

To the industry, however, those things mean everything.

It was then that I realized, that while my professional self wanted to stay in the professional pat-on-the-back track, it was my READERS who made my day. It was their reviews and their thoughts, that counted. They PAID me, and paid me well (thanks BTW!). UNDERTOW will eventually make the same amount as an average publishing advance, not because one person from the right business said, “yes,” but because thousands of readers said, “HELL YEAH!”

For me, that knowledge is humbling. My readers have entrusted me to not let them down and to focus, not on my professional past, but on my rebellious Indie future. They want characters that they scream for, stories that keep them awake at night, and a crazy author that will aim to always please them.

Yes, it is true that I would like an agent someday and I offer outrageous applause to those awesome friends and writers who DO have publishing deals (and I will push your books into the spotlight as much as possible). But for UNDERTOW and all the books that live inside that world, I will write for my fans and keep it in my control.

My readers may not be from the Big Six publishing houses, but they gave me their stamp of approval . . . by the thousands.

What more could a storyteller ask for?

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Burnt Leaves and Other Weirdness

Burnt Leaves and Other Weirdness - Young Adult Author RendezvousWritten by K. R. Conway

My mother is a wise soul.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s kooky and crazy and lives out loud, but she’s got this inner Zen thing going on that makes her come out with some true treasures of insight every once in a while.

One such gem was pretty simple: she said real writers, WRITE. They don’t perseverate, they don’t make up excuses. They just write – nose to the keyboarded, possible drink in their hand (hello, Hemmingway), and a brilliant fire in their belly that demands they tell the story.

I didn’t have that drive to write when I first messed around with UNDERTOW, but once I got really rolling inside Eila’s world, I loved it – the feel of the abused keys under my fingers and how the voices and scenes washed away the world as I worked. I mean, literally – the house could catch fire and I may not realize it.

So anytime I try to excuse myself from my keyboard, I remember my mother’s words (and the fact that my readers will get on my case if I don’t finish my next novel) and I get back down to business.

But I like to think that I’m actually a storyteller first, a writer second. The tough thing about being an obsessive storyteller is that you have a MILLION stories to tell. And because the new characters and tales are screaming to come out, I sometimes think I can weave them ALL into a current WIP (work in progress). Sometimes I do, but sometimes I control the urge and tell myself they deserve their own novels. Most of the time I spin so many stories in my head, that they all jockey for attention at once, which literally melts my brain.

At night I go running for a few miles, music blaring in my ears, seeking the muse within. While I pound the pavement, those stories that are whispered in my mind suddenly come vividly to life. I no longer see the road, but rather an entire scene playing before me like a ghostly movie screen. Literally, I no longer have any sense of where I am, only that I SEE the scene in front of me. The stories that win the right to be the next one written, are the ones that build scene after scene, night after night as I run.

Tonight I went walking with Kalli, and while we strolled she suddenly asked me why I was feeling the leaves.

I didn’t even know I was doing it.

I was walking under a low slung oak branch and my fingers were trailing through the tips of the leaves above me. But in my mind, I wasn’t touching them – my character was and the leaves weren’t soft and green, but curled and windburnt.

I turned to my daughter and simply replied, “I’m writing,” as I dropped my hands and shrugged.

Of course, she thought I wasn’t normal and commented as such. A minute or two of silence sat between the two of us as we walked in the near darkness. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye as she fiddled with her phone, seeming flustered, but then she finally huffed in aggravation and halted. “DAMN IT! Now I’m gonna obsess about what you’re writing!”

I smiled like the cat who ingested Tweety and pointed to the tree, sitting content and deep green in the night air, and said, “The leaves, in my mind, are burnt and the damage isn’t from nature. I see it every night when I run.”

Kalli looked at me, a stone-still stare that she has perfected over the years, and only her lips moved. “You are so weird.”

Yup. That’s me. The weird one.

I am my mother’s daughter. Apple. Tree.

My daughter is totally doomed to inherit that gene.

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Finding Inspiration: an interview with Siobhan Quinlan.

Margaret Mead Quote - Young Adult Author RendezvousFinding Inspiration: an interview with Siobhan Quinlan.

Interview by Michelle Lynn

A lot of awful things are happening in the world right now. We see them every day. No matter where we live, no matter who we are, we are being continually touched by tragedy, our worlds dimming each time. There’s not a lot we as individuals can do to fight these bigger problems and we all deal with them in different ways. As writers, most of us here at the YA Author Rendezvous use our words to try to make a little sense out of all the madness.

Despite a feeling of overwhelming darkness that sometimes seems to be covering our planet, this past week has reminded some of us that maybe we can still make a difference. Most of us will never be on the front lines fighting terrorism or saving babies from burning buildings, but this week a community came together to do something good, great even.

This post was just supposed to be an interview, our first with someone who wasn’t themselves a writer, but when opportunity strikes to be inspired and to possibly inspire someone else, we take it. Siobhan Quinlan has been with us from the beginning. She isn’t an author, but she loves books with a passion I’d never seen before. She’s a reviewer for Reader’s Favorite and our number one cheerleader – our very own Irish Pirate.

Well, this pirate of ours needed some help. It was time for a pirate to get a new eye, a prosthetic that would cost $1200. K.R. Conway, one of our authors who writes Siobhan’s favorite book series, decided it was time to step up. A girl in the Netherlands tagged her in a video on YouTube about Siobhan’s need and became determined to make it happen. She turned to the author community, issuing a call to members of YAAR that was also eventually answered by the Indie Author Support and Discussion group as well as other friends. Within three days, the GoFundMe campaign had more than enough.

Desmond Tutu Quote - Young Adult Author Rendezvous“Sometimes the world is brutal and fate throws you the worst curveballs,” K.R. Conway said. “But when people pull together, they can do amazing things. It goes to show you that human compassion is still alive and well, despite the daily news.”

It was unbelievable to see something so inspiring on Facebook among the fear and anger that’s been going around. I don’t know about anyone else, but this writer hasn’t stopped smiling.

Now, we know many people who read our blog are other authors, so this month we decided to interview a reader to get some real answers to many of the questions floating around out there. And Siobhan is the ultimate reader as well as being a fantastic person in general.

As someone who isn’t the typical target age for YA books, what does the term Young Adult mean to you?

Young adult is usually aimed at 12 to 18 year olds and I’m 31 so I am a bit passed that, but to me the term young adult means I can relate with the characters as I have experienced the same things and having been that age and being able to look back on that I can relate and say whether I would have been the same or not.

What is it about Young Adult books you love so much?

I love being able to get lost in a young adult book. I love the wide range of books about all different things that are available in the YA section

Favorite genre? Why?

Horror. I love a good scare that will keep me up at night and worried every time I hear a noise.

You don’t just read the books, you write reviews. Why do this? What is the importance of reviews?

I write reviews and I make YouTube videos as I feel reviews and ratings are the best way for authors to be found. I also like to talk about the books I have read and authors I have discovered whether it’s good or bad

Describe your ideal heroine.

A strong independent lady who can hold her own and knows she doesn’t need a man to have her back.

Describe your ideal leading man.

A man who knows how to treat women as an equal. One who isn’t afraid to show his soft side and even flawed knows he isn’t perfect and doesn’t pretend to be

Favorite book of all time?

Well this will be a shock to anyone who knows me. My favorite book of all time has to be Undertow by K.R Conway.

What made it special?

Everything 🙂 I love the writing style, the amazing characters, and the inability to put the book down every time I reread it.

What is the one thing you hate to see in a story?

Insta-love. I cannot stand insta-love

Cliff hangers. Yay or nay?

Yay, but at the same time nay. I Love a cliff hanger if I know I don’t have a huge wait for the next book, which is why I tend to read series when they are fully or close to done so I do not need to wait so long in-between books if I fall in love.

Do you notice a difference between the indie published books and traditionally published ones?

I have found that for me indie published books seem to have more individual art work. I prefer reading indies and I find the authors seem to have more freedom with what they say.

Werewolves or Vampires?

I am a lover of vampires. There’s nothing scarier then knowing there could be a vampire lurking outside my house right now waiting to get me

Do you like books that make you cry?

I am a book crier. In fact, I can become a total mess while reading. I love books that can hit me right in the feels and have me sobbing in starbucks while being stared at by the staff and customers (thanks for that K.R Conway)

If a book has a less than happy ending, does it affect your overall feelings about it?

Sometimes I love an unhappy ending, especially if it fits in with the story and makes sense. It will probably make me cry, but leave me satisfied

Romance. Many people think books need some sort of love story, even if it’s in the background. Do you agree? Why or why not?

I do not think a story needs a love story. I can very happily read a book without a love interest. I’ve found a lot of relationships are portrayed as amazing and perfect in books and that just isn’t real life or they come across as abusive and played off as normal which gives young people the wrong idea about relationships

What are you reading now?

I am reading a few different books right now. I’m a multi reader ( no wonder I don’t have a big monthly read figure ) on my currently reading pile right now I have School of deaths by Christopher Mannino, Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas, and a scary number of review copies of books.

How many books would you say you get through a month?

This varies from month to month depending on work. Some months I could get through 10 books others 1.

And finally, the big one. Why do you read? There are so many other things that can occupy your time. You have a child. There are great TV shows and movies being made of a lot of these books. So why should someone pick up an e-reader or flip through the pages of a paperback?

I love watching certain T.V shows and movies, but I have found a lot of the shows have pretty much the same story line and they just do not make movies the way they used to I feel with reading. I can get lost in many worlds and read about many different things in the space of time it takes me to watch a movie.

There you have it folks. Most of what we do here at the YA Author Rendezvous is for the readers and that hasn’t changed, but today, this week, this is also for the author community.

Thank you to everyone who inspired me this week.


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