Friday, October 2, 2020

A Community of Writers

DEBORAH CROMBIEIt is my great pleasure today to bring you my friend Gigi Sherrell Norwood. She is my multi-talented neighbor, my long-time writing buddy, and she has a terrific new novelette out this week, DEEP ELLUM BLUES.

 

 

If I have encouraged (enabled!) her to buy cars and houses, she's set me on the road to addiction to fountain pens, journals, pottery, and quilts. I call it a fair trade. And she's always there for a cup of tea, a chat, a story critique, or a bit of baking. I call that priceless.

GIGI SHERRELL NORWOOD: What would I ever have done without the members of my writing community? I get up every morning to savor my tea as I read Jungle Red Writers. I call my panel of experts with questions about medicine, police procedure, and sports. I turn to them for encouragement, or a swift kick in the pants whenever I need it. It seems like every day I learn something new and interesting from at least one of them.

 They are my beta readers, when I need to know if a new story has succeeded or failed.

They are my street team when I release a new story, as I did on Wednesday with my latest e-read novelette, Deep Ellum Blues.

They are my tribe. They understand me. Even if they don’t like the genre I’m writing in, they know what I’m going through as I struggle to bring a new story into the world.

Most importantly, they are my critique partners—those trusted friends I know I can turn to when I need good, sound advice about my writing, or my life.

 

(Gigi and Debs, dates for a gala.)

My critique partners—particularly Jungle Red Writers’ own Deborah Crombie—have been there with support at many critical turning points in my life. Picture these actual scenarios, and see if you can draw some critique partner wisdom and encouragement from them, too.

Writer: I’m thinking about reviving a novel I wrote 15 years ago. Things have changed so much. It probably won’t work. I dunno . . .

Critique Partner: I always loved that story. I’m glad you came back to it.

 

Writer: It’s crap! It’s all crap! It’s the crappiest book I’ve ever wasted paper and toner on. I know this to my bones. Will you please read it?

Critique partner: (15 minutes later, after reading it) It’s not crap.

 

Writer: I just finished my chapter. Do you want to read it?

Critique Partner: (15 minutes later, after reading it) You bitch! How could you leave me hanging like that? Where’s the next chapter? And, by the way, great hook!

 

Writer: I need help brainstorming my new story.

Critique Partner: I have wine.

 

(Gigi and Debs' joint effort Christmas trifle.)

A good critique partner can be equally helpful when the writer is facing a life crisis of the non-writing variety. Take these actual situations, for instance:

 

Writer: I need to drive 500 miles north on yet another frustrating quest to settle an elderly family member’s estate.

Critique Partner: Road Trip! I call shotgun!

 

Writer: Where will I go? What will I do? I can’t live in this god-forsaken backwater any longer!

Critique Partner: Come spend the weekend with me. You might like my town. (And she did.)

 

Writer: Where will I go? What will I do? I can’t go back home for the holidays this year!

Critique Partner: Come have holiday dinner with us! Bring pie. And tequila.

(Gigi's pie for Debs' Thanksgiving.)
 

Writer: I HATE my car! It doesn’t even fit me.

Critique Partner: Oh, go on. Try the Mustang GT. What can it hurt?

(NOTE: The Writer has now paid off her second Mustang GT.)


 Writer: Oh, my God, I’m such a neurotic mess! I’ll never find a house, and everybody will hate me for whining so much about it.

Critique Partner: Yes, I know you’re a neurotic mess, but I love you anyway.

 

Probably my favorite example of my critique partners coming through for me in a crisis happened on my 18th wedding anniversary. It was the first wedding anniversary I faced without my husband, who had died eight months earlier. Anniversaries are hard on me—particularly those private ones that don’t mean much to anyone else, but were deeply meaningful to Warren and me. Without Warren, our wedding anniversary kicked me into a deep depression. The only reason I brushed my hair and crawled out of the house that day was to meet with my critique group. They didn’t know the day was significant to me until they asked me how I was doing, at which point I burst into tears and explained my situation. These are the responses I got:

Critique Partner 1: It will be okay.

Critique Partner 2: You’re strong.

Critique Partner 3: We all miss him.

Critique Partner 4: You’re taking notes, aren’t you, so you can use this in some future novel?

 

I loved them all, but Critique Partner 4 really saved the day, because she made me laugh for the first time in ages. I laughed because she was right. In some part of my brain, I was taking notes, even though I still haven’t written that novel yet.

If any of these situations sound familiar, tell your critique partner how much you cherish him or her. And tell us your own fun, funny, wonderful critique partner stories!

 

Gigi with Gift, her kitten adopted after last year's Bouchercon.


Gigi Norwood was more or less doomed to a life as an arts professional. Her mother was an art teacher and her father taught drafting and design. She was listening to classical music in the
womb, and spent her summer vacations roaming art museums the way other kids went to Disneyland. She took her first stab at storytelling when she was four, and turned pro when she was twenty-six. Since then she has written political speeches, press releases, brochure copy, radio commercials, and feature stories for a major regional newspaper. After a stint in corporate healthcare, she fled home to the arts. She is currently the Director of Concert Operations for the Dallas Winds. Her first published fiction, Deep Ellum Pawn, was released in 2019. The sequel, Deep Ellum Blues, was released this week. 

More about DEEP ELLUM BLUES

"People have the right to make their own hideous, life-altering mistakes.”

 As the genius loci of Deep Ellum, Ms. Eddy Weeks is a hands-off goddess who won’t micro-manage human affairs.  She’d rather sit on the sidelines and enjoy the show.

 But a young blues musician named Mudcat Randall is flirting with disaster.  Eddy’s old adversary wants Mudcat to sign a tempting management contract.  Eddy knows there are deadly strings attached.  Can she afford to stand back when a third force enters the fray, and everything Mudcat has ever prayed for is suddenly on the line?

 


82 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Gigi, on your new novelette . . . I’m looking forward to reading it.
    Your critique group sounds amazing . . . you’re fortunate to have such wonderful readers . . . .

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    1. Thank you, Joan! The first critique group I joined was a group of writers who had all taken my late husband, Warren Norwood's class on how to write commercial fiction. More than 50 of his students were able to sell their work after studying with him. Debs was one of them. They let me into their group because Warren said I was a good enough writer, and I worked hard to earn their respect. They were there for me every step of the way when Warren passed. Debs and I are the only members in frequent contact now, but we are still each other's first readers, best friends, and general partners in crime. A fellow writer friend just shakes her head when we all get together. "Lucy and Ethel," she says. "Lucy and Ethel."

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    2. Gigi, that's such a great story about Warren's class. Who knew that's why Debs got published? He sounds like the most amazing man...

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    3. He was super cool. Debs got published because she is a wonderful writer. She is a wonderful writer--in very small part--because Warren taught her to take work, and herself as a writer, seriously.

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  2. Sounds like you have some amazing friends masquerading in your life as critique partners. I'm glad you cherish them so much.

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  3. You’re a lucky woman to have these people in your life.

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    1. I am, and I'm grateful for them every day. (Except when they hate what I just wrote. Then I'm only grateful for them later on in the afternoon, when I admit that they are right.)

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  4. Your critique partners sound amazing, and the friendship they bring with them a wonderful part of your life. I especially like that one named Debs. How lovely that you two live near one another and can enjoy the fun and comfort of an in-person friendship.

    I have both books on my Kindle, and I will be getting to them soon, Gigi. I enjoy your FB posts so much, and I really covet that one painting you have used as a cover pic. Enjoy your great numbers on Amazon!

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    1. Tell me, tell me, Kathy. Which cover picture do you love? If you have the time, wander over to the Weird Sisters Blog and read how my sister and I worked with artist Chaz Kemp to create those covers.

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  5. We all need those kinds of writer friends, and it sounds like you hit the jackpot! I'm lucky to have a few of my own with the Wicked Authors. Congratulations on the new release. Curious - why did you pick that length?

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    1. I'm used to writing for myself, having spent many frustrating years trying to get published the conventional way. With no editor to please, I wrote the first Deep Ellum story simply to tell the story. It turned out to be novelette length, as did the second one. My sister and I are planning two more Deep Ellum stories (at least--Ms. Eddy keeps whispering new ones) then a combined volume with all of them together. I've written novels. So far, no single Deep Ellum story has had the heft to stretch that long.

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    2. Thanks - good to know! It's now waiting on my kindle.

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  6. Happy book birthday, Gigi!

    How lucky are you, to live right next door to someone with so many of the same interests? We should all be so lucky. Having great critique partners is a bonus gift.

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    1. Really, Karen, luck had nothing to do with it. Deb started luring me from where I lived west of Fort Worth to where she lived, north of Dallas, soon after Warren died in 2005. I liked what she showed me of the town, so she hooked me up with her realtor daughter and started showing me houses; found a place I could rent with all my dogs and cats; and made me feel very welcomed here. There's a whole crazy story about how I finally found the house I bought, but there is no happenstance to the fact that I live two blocks away from her.

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    2. That whole crazy story of the house is a great one, too!

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  7. Welcome Gigi to the spotlight! Such a funny post, and spot on too. I've had the same two writing pals since well before I was published and they buoy me up at every turn. And then there are the Reds! It always mystifies me when people go it alone:)/

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    1. Well, writers do tend to be introverts, but yes, I really think it's essential to have a support team when you're putting your heart out in the public marketplace.

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  8. Gigi,

    happy book birthday! I often see your comments. Isn't the writing community wonderful? I am currently taking a Writing MasterClass online and it is a private Facebook group. I just woke up and wanted to comment here before it was too late.

    Are critique partners similar to readers of the rough draft?

    Diana

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    1. Critique partners are the people you trust to call you on your [crap]. I think you always need a fresh perspective on your work. I even make sure I have a second reader on the grant proposals I write as part of my job. So, yes, a critique partner reads all the rough drafts, but the partnership comes from more than that.

      Suppose you hand your rough draft to a person who hates the genre you write in? Only reads for typos and grammatical errors? Has a wildly different moral perspective than you do? Secretly resents that you are a better writer? Can't say a nice word about someone else's work if you paid them? You'll get feedback from people like that, but it won't be helpful.

      The ideal critique partner respects you as a writer and as a human being, understands what you are trying to do, and helps you do that better. She may sharpen your focus on the subject or the characters, call you on excessively flowery or terribly dry language, or outline the boring parts of your story in red Sharpie. A good critique partner will give you the feedback you need to make your story better, cheer when you sell it, and run out to buy the first copy before your mother can boot up her computer and get on Amazon.

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    2. All of those things, definitely! And the ideal critique partner is also good for the occasional glass of wine:-)

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    3. p.s. I am currently writing a novel in process. It is way more challenging than I thought because writing was easy to me as a child. And I remember telling stories, which actually were borrowed from books that I read.

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    4. Good luck with it, and keep writing.

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  9. I can see where having your own merry band of cheerleaders at the ready would make a big difference in any situation, as you have shown. How wonderful that you have them and that they have you because I bet you are the same for them.

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    1. Yes, she is, Judy! Such a great friend, as well as a great brainstorming buddy.

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  10. Tell us what you're working on now, Gigi. (As I've just finished reading the draft of one novel that is fantastic!!)

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    1. You finished it? How late did you stay up?

      Okay . . . so, if you folks will refer to that comment about dusting off a novel I wrote 15 years ago, I wasn't joking. I wrote what was intended to be a romance novel back in 2004/2005. I joined RWA, I queried agents and editors, I even had one editor at Avon who took it all the way to the editorial board. Nobody bought it. Then Warren died and I had to put the writing away to focus on work that paid my bills.

      Flash forward to 2020, when I read two "women's fiction" novels back to back--Lori Wilde's The Moonglow Sisters (Lori is another of Warren's students) and Jenn McKinlay's Paris is Always a Good Idea. Loved them both, but couldn't help thinking, if those two are women's fiction, why wouldn't that story I wrote back in 2004 fall into that category, too?

      So I dusted it off, spent a weekend reading it, still loved it, and spent the last two months bringing it up to date. (2004 phones were very different from 2020 phones.)

      The book is called Wrong Way Riley. It's a story about a young woman who was raised to be a Dallas debutante but has failed miserably to fit in to every round hole she and her family have tried to pound her square peg into. Every time she tries to do the right thing, it turns out all wrong. The heart of the novel is how she finds her voice and finds her tribe.

      I gave it to Debs and my sister earlier this week for critique. I think you might have beaten Jan to the finish line, Debs, but not by much, which suggests to me that the silly thing might still be readable after all. Right now, Jan is looking for cover artists, and plans to bring it out through our indy press, Weird Sisters Publishing, sometime in 2021.

      Beyond that, I'm writing the first in what will be a mystery series--working title Ray and Sunshine--about a grumpy, retired police chief and recent widower, and what he finds when he investigates a barking dog.

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    2. 1 a.m. lol. I couldn't put it down until I finished it. I loved this book fifteen years ago--it's always been my favorite of your novels--and now I love it even more!! Terrific story, and I can't wait to see it out in the world!!

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    3. This is very exciting, Gigi! Good luck, because now I want to read it, too!

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    4. Me, too, Gigi. I just bought the Deep Ellum books from Amazon. When Irwin gives me my Kindle back...we share, remember?

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    5. Thank you, Judy. Tell Irwin to read them too.

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    6. Square peg into a round hole? Just my kind of character, can't wait to find it in... 2021? Oh well, I'll try to have some semblance of patience.

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  11. What a wonderful uplifting post! (And I love the photos.) Thank you!

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    1. Thank you! I'm glad I brought you a bit of sunshine this morning. Thank you for reading.

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  12. Congratulations on Deep Ellum Blues Gigi. I'm glad you have supportive critique partners and friends.
    Being happy to read your comments here everyday and being always curious about the writings of this great family's members, I'm going to download your novelette.

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    1. Thank you, danielle-momo. I hope you enjoy it.

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  13. Gigi, can you tell us a little about Deep Ellum and how you came to write about Ms. Eddy?

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    1. Deep Ellum is an historic neighborhood and business district in Dallas, just east of downtown. "Ellum" is an old dialectical pronunciation for "Elm" which is one of the three main streets that run through downtown Dallas and into Deep Ellum.

      In the early 1900s, Deep Ellum was literally the "wrong side of the tracks" in Dallas. In a harshly segregated city, it was where the black families, Jewish businessmen, and German immigrants found room to live and work and breathe. It was also (and remains, today) a thriving entertainment district, situated about 1.5 miles down the street from the Warner Brothers regional distribution center at 508 Park Avenue, where seminal bluesman Robert Johnson recorded half of his known works.

      Before the pandemic drove us all to work from home, I had an office near Deep Ellum, and drove through it nearly every day. The neighborhood and its history fascinated me. Eddy just popped into my brain one morning, full of sass and opinions, and did an exceptionally good job of distracting me from my house-cleaning chores. She told me wonderful stories, and I had to write them down. Mudcat--one of the central characters in Deep Ellum Blues--arose from a bad pun I hit upon one evening when I was stuck in traffic on Central Expressway.

      Ironically, Central Expressway, which is one of the main highways in and out of Dallas, runs along the old route of the Interurban rail line which was called the Central Track 100 years ago; it was the set of railroad tracks that divided Deep Ellum from "respectable society."

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  14. Congratulations to the release, Gigi!

    I love my critique group. Not only do they make me laugh, they help me fix the problems that seem insurmountable to me - and point out the problems I don't even see - and the story is always better for it.

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    1. That's the best kind of critique group to have!

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  15. This is the greatest dialogue ever! Lovely, and hilarious, and oh so perfect. You are such a glorious and necessary part of jungle red, dear Gigi. Congratulations on the book! Cannot wait to read it! xxxxxx

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    1. Thank you, Hank! By the way, I bow to your read-aloud prowess. I was recently invited to read the first chapter of Deep Ellum Blues to a science fiction/fantasy group, and dang! One short chapter was fun, but you read much longer chapters every week, and do it beautifully. I am in awe.

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  16. Happy day Gigi! You are a congenital teller of stories, a delightful woman, and the book is fabulous. Next time I'm in Texas, after this plague is done, we will all have a drink and toast your Pulitzer. Might as well think big, right?

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    1. I'm with you on that, Ann!!!! And I hope I'm invited for drink and the toast!

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    2. Definitely, Ann! Not sure about the Pulitzer (surely Hank is in line for that, not me?) but I'll settle for a TV series deal. And of course you're invited, Debs. We'll be sitting on your patio!

      I appreciate your help with the Street Team, Ann!

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  17. Congratulations, Gigi. I am delighted to say that I'm heading to Amazon to get both of your books today. Your story of friendship and support is so uplifting and just what we need to hear! I really did laugh out loud when I read, "I have wine."

    Debs, Gemma James has a friend like this, too. Different situation but same sweet connection. Love it!

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    1. We are very fortunate, Judy. As is Gemma with Hazel, and with Melody, too, as they've become friends as well as work partners. I love writing about friendships.

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    2. Thank you, Judy. The love we spread around it the best part of ourselves, and friends are the lifeboats that get us through the heavy weather. Also the wine. In better times, come on down to Texas and I'll give you the Deep Ellum tour.

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    3. In better times, I'll be there.

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  18. Love this, Gigi! That you've kept at your writing, that you have such a close group of friends to be your critique partners--that's wonderful! I'm guessing that the novella length was dictated by the stories you wanted to tell. Since you are publishing through your own press--Weird Sisters, did that make it easier to write the novella length? The only novellas I see on the shelf are from well-established authors. P.S. What about that novel Deborah hinted at??

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    1. When I read the first Deep Ellum story, Deep Ellum Pawn, my initial reaction was, "But I want more!!!" But Gigi is right, the Deep Ellum stories set their own length, and it's perfect. (As long as she writes more of them...)

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    2. Following the Lois McMaster Bujold/Penric example, I plan to write two more Deep Ellum stories (of whatever length they turn out to be) then collect them into a combined volume that I can actually put on my bookshelf.

      By the way, yesterday, Deep Ellum Blues spent an hour or so at #91 on Amazon's 2-hour Science Fiction/Fantasy Short Reads list. Lois--a personal writing goddess of mine--had a Penric novella in the same category, ranked at #93. Life has its amazing moments.

      Check out the comment above to get the dirt on my novels.

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    3. Gigi, fanning myself for you! On the list above one of the masters--you go, girl!

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    4. I know, Flora. Right? I was gobsmacked when my sister told me. She sounded a bit smug about it, as she does all our promotion.

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  19. This is terrific, Gigi - congratulations on your new release.

    Critique partners can certainly put a new spin on things, mine have helped me change genre from traditional to cozy and when I lost my job, responded by saying they were glad. I'd have more time to write. Yep, critique partners know you better than your own family.

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    1. A good critique partner is a pearl of great price. I'm glad you found yours! I was the same way, when the pandemic hit and I got cut back to half time/half pay. More time to write!

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  20. For those of you who are fans of the Song of the Week, what else could I choose this week but a traditional favorite? Deep Ellum Blues was a song long before it was a novella, and has been recorded by everybody from the Cofer Brothers, in 1923, through Doc Watson and the Grateful Dead. My favorite version is this one, by Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Wronglers. This is where it all started, folks: https://youtu.be/RFPPjNtkMDA

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    1. Love Jimmie Dale Gilmore! Glad to see another fan here!

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    2. He's something else, isn't he? Glad to see another fan here, too!

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  21. Congrats on the new release! I was delighted to find you featured today, as I truly have come to think of you as one of the Reds -- just because I enjoy your comments to much. (Same holds true for at least three, probably more, daily commenters out there!)

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    1. You are so sweet, Susan. I enjoy Jungle Red Writers, and check in just about every day, whether I comment or not, so It's nice to know my comments are appreciated. This blog has built a real community in a way I just don't see on many of the other blogs I follow. I think it's really special.

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  22. I don't think I've read science fiction, Gigi. I'm about to start exploring that genre. Sometimes it just takes knowing someone to get me a little more interested in a new genre. I think a novella is about my speed right now. Is Deep Ellum still considered the "wrong" side of the tracks or is it now en vogue? The artsy section of my town was the wrong side twenty years ago but at one time was the new center of town after the 1906 earthquake when my town was rebuilding.
    Top 91 sounds great!

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    1. Welcome to the weird side, Deana. Science Fiction is really two genres bundled together, which is why it's often called SF/F for Science Fiction and Fantasy, or sometimes Speculative Fiction. SF is theoretically based on some kind of scientific endeavor, so that's where Star Trek would come in. Fantasy is more Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter because there's usually magic of some sort in it.

      So dive into whichever end of the pool sounds most intriguing to you. There's a large and enthusiastic fan base, whichever way you go. My Deep Ellum stories are a subgenre of fantasy called urban fantasy, because they are set in modern day cities, but still have that element of magic.

      And yes, Deep Ellum, the neighborhood, is trending toward trendy these days. When I first started working in Dallas, in the mid-90s, it was sort of skeevy/hip, with a lot of bars and small music venues, but also a fair amount of crime. These days it's gentrifying, with old storefronts falling to sleek condo towers, and more hipsters than hustlers. Still not a totally sanitized neighborhood, however.

      By the way, I love the Bay Area. My aunt used to live there. Are you in SF proper?

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  23. Gigi, I'm north of SF, in Santa Rosa, Sonoma county. San Francisco had earthquake damage but the out of control fires did more damage. Santa Rosa had many more brick and stone buildings and those were taken to the ground, as were the wooden structures. Per capita, Santa Rosa had more damage and death than any place hit that day.

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    1. Such interesting history. I've been up that way, many years ago. beautiful country. Did you take a hit from this summer's fires? Hope all is well with you.

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    2. Just to clarify, the fires started August 19, 2020 with dry lightening in the mountains and temperatures exceeding 115 here in the southern Bay Area. Many of those fires were contained, but I live between where two of the largest fires ever recorded in California took place and burned until about two weeks ago. Napa and Sonoma had a big fire in August but now there are more large fires in that area. We had more 100 degree days in September than ever before. Now September is out hottest month, and 105 isn't that unusual. Here where I live we recorded more than ten days 110 or greater. We have a a red flag fire danger here in all of the Bay Area this week. Temperatures are still greater than 100 and humidity is low. We don't have fires where I live but the smoke is so thick the rising and setting sun are red. I live in a valley surrounded by mountains, and they are not visible. I actually live on a hill of one range and can't see the mountains across the street. The heat and fires are expected to continue with no end in sight. Deana is in one of the worst areas with many evacuations again.

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    3. Congratulations on your new release. I enjoyed the first and how plan to acquire the second of this series.

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    4. Just to clarify, the fires started August 19, 2020 with dry lightening in the mountains and temperatures exceeding 115 here in the southern Bay Area. Many of those fires were contained, but I live between where two of the largest fires ever recorded in California took place and burned until about two weeks ago. Napa and Sonoma had a big fire in August but now there are more large fires in that area. We had more 100 degree days in September than ever before. Now September is out hottest month, and 105 isn't that unusual. Here where I live we recorded more than ten days 110 or greater. We have a a red flag fire danger here in all of the Bay Area this week. Temperatures are still greater than 100 and humidity is low. We don't have fires where I live but the smoke is so thick the rising and setting sun are red. I live in a valley surrounded by mountains, and they are not visible. I actually live on a hill of one range and can't see the mountains across the street. The heat and fires are expected to continue with no end in sight. Deana is in one of the worst areas with many evacuations again.

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  24. Currently evacuated to my boss's house. My house is good but with the red flag warnings for tonight and my area still in evaction warnings verse totally lifted, I'm here for at least one more night.

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    1. I hope you get to go back home soon! The smoke and air quality here are intense but no fires in the vicinity for now. I am at the southern end of the Bay Area adjacent to the Santa Cruz Mountains.

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    2. Oh, my goodness, you two! I don't know if you'll even see this comment, but I'll be keeping you in my prayers and hope you both stay safe.

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    3. Thanks! I appreciate it! They cancelled my outdoor spin class because air quality in unhealthy, so I’m going running instead before it gets too hot.

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    4. Thanks! I appreciate it! They cancelled my outdoor spin class because air quality in unhealthy, so I’m going running instead before it gets too hot.

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    5. Thanks! I appreciate it! They cancelled my outdoor spin class because air quality in unhealthy, so I’m going running instead before it gets too hot.

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  25. Blogger apparently went nuts today. Sorry for the multiple posts of the same text.

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  26. Blogger apparently went nuts today. Sorry for the multiple posts of the same text.

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  27. Blogger apparently went nuts today. Sorry for the multiple posts of the same text.

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