Top Ten Writing Mistakes Editors See Every Day


Since I am in the final editing stages of “Mark of Shamash” as well as “The Gathering: Bk 1 of The Remnant: A Dystopian Paranormal Story”, I thought this post rather apropos. Enjoy

Originally posted on Blot the Skrip and Jar It:

Goya -The sleep of reason produces monsters (c1799) recut

In addition to writing and teaching, one of the things I do for a living is to evaluate manuscripts for their suitability for publication. I read fiction (and non-fiction) across several genres, and write comprehensive reports on the books. I try always to guide the author towards knocking his or her project into a shape that could be credibly presented to literary agents, publishers and general readers. You know how Newman and Mittelmark introduce How Not to Write a Novel by saying, ‘We are merely telling you the things that editors are too busy rejecting your novel to tell you themselves, pointing out the mistakes they recognize instantly because they see them again and again in novels they do not buy,’ well they’re right; I am one of those editors.

However good the idea behind a novel, when the author is still learning the craft of writing – like any…

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How Writing A Novella Helped Me Write A Better Novel

images 3Recently I enrolled in James Patterson’s MasterClass on writing. Tongue in cheek, I’ve never read any of James Patterson’s novels, though I am a big fan of his Alex Cross movies. But I believe in learning from those who’ve gone before and succeeded, so whether I’ve read his books or not, the man is the epitome of a successful author.

Besides, I’ve a short attention span and each of his twenty-two classes is only  8-12 minutes long.

What does James Patterson have to do with making me a better writer? via ShawnSpjut clicktotweet

A lot actually, especially when it has to do with outlining a novel.

Until now, I was never much of an out-liner, preferring to write by the seat of my pants. But while writing my historical novel, Mark of Shamash, I found myself having to write a short outline for each of the chapters as a way to help keep track of my scenes and plot lines.

One of the exercises presented for the class on Outlining, was to do one for the story idea we were to have come up with for the second class, Where Ideas Come From. Since I had already had an idea for writing a novella about two of the characters in The Remnant series, I decided to use that as the basis for my class project instead.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of outlines, I see Roman Numerals, letters, tabs, indentations and vague notations of what I want.

Very organized, but lacking in creativity.

Not so with Mr. Patterson’s idea of what an outline should look like. Instead of numbers or Roman Numerals, he begins every novel or story by writing out a brief description of each scene. Next he prints it out (in triple space), reads over what he’s written – adding information, details, making notes, etc.. He does this multiple times until he feels like he has everything he needs to write the story. In this way he saves time and frustration, mainly because he’s already worked through everything in the outline (though he admits every novel has chapters and scenes that don’t emerge until after he starts writing the actual book).

Now a pantser like myself might think this takes away from the whole creative processes. To my surprise I discovered just the opposite. Instead of having to deal with the frustration of needing to re-write scenes because they didn’t work, or spend countless hours in frustration because I was losing the beat or couldn’t see how to move the story, I used my outline to work all that out.

But even cooler than no longer having to suppress the urge to pull my hair out, I was being to get into my characters hearts and heads in a ways I’d not been able to in the past. Suddenly I was exploring their back-stories, motivations, internal conflicts and relationships with the other characters on a visceral level I’d not known possible.

Instead of writing their story from a distance, I felt myself sinking down inside their personalities until it felt like I was right there, seeing and experiencing everything they saw and experienced. I became their friend. Their confidante. Their confessor and their greatest fan (or enemy). I was the angel on one shoulder, the devil on the other. I became the fly on the wall and the familiar living just beneath the skin. I fell in love with those they loved and hated those they hated. When they were afraid, my gut clenched. When they got excited or nervous, I felt butterflies in my stomach.

No longer was I writing a story about strangers. This story was about individuals I knew as intimately as I knew myself – maybe even more so. I don’t need to tell you how profound this approach to novel-writing was or the fact that I can’t imagine writing a novel any other way.

So what does this mean for the first draft of The Exodus, the second book in The Remnant series which is currently waiting for me to read through the first draft?

Excitement. Trepidation. Excitement. Trepidation.

And oh yeah, hopefully what I need to make the characters and their story come as alive for you as they are for me. Granted, it’ll mean taking the extra time to go back and re-write some of the scenes and adjust the plot, but in the end I believe The Exodus will be the kind of story that keeps you turning the pages over and over again.

Because let’s face it, Isn’t turning pages what writing and reading a novel is all about? vis @ShawnSpjut clicktotweet


PS. It also produced my first novella for The Remnant series, which I hope to have ready to publish next spring as well.

Thanks for sharing the journey.
2015  All rights reserved.

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The Exodus
(Book 2 The Remnant)

by Keri Westin

Chapter ‘Betrayed’

CLIFTON’S WOLF SLIPPED THROUGH the shadows, its pelt, like the men he followed, designed to allow him to move through the forest unseen. Careful not to walk where his paws might leave tracks, he drew close enough to the intruders that he was able to distinguish their individual scents before moving upwind.

Choosing a trail canopied by enough tree fall and bracken to keep the ground from being covered in snow, his wolf trotted north, keeping the lake on his left until he reached a crag high enough above the lake’s shoreline that he could observe and listen to his prey without being seen.

He didn’t need to confer with either Dakota or Kile to know that the men he followed were part of a mercenary team of assassins Innis’ son used whenever he needed to make his enemies disappear. Clifton also knew Morgan would have never sent them into pack territory without a damn good reason. He would liked to think it was because the Marshall was worried about his mother’s welfare, but knew better. A man like Morgan didn’t send killers into pack territory without first seeking the alpha’s permission, unless  he didn’t want anyone knowing his business.

No, there was only one reason Morgan would have sent his pet assassins into pack territory without permission. To make sure Innis McCray was never seen or heard from again. That Morgan had done so, had sealed his fate as far as Clifton was concerned. No one, not even Cain, was going to lay a hand on what belonged to him. But knowing why they were there, didn’t answer the question of how they even knew where to look.

The Pacific Northwest pack claimed over fifty thousand square miles of land, half of which consisted of mountains and forest. It would have easier to find a needle in a hay stack, than their cabin.  Unless someone had told them. But even if Morgan had somehow managed to bribe a pack member into revealing the location, no one, not even Cain, knew about Innis becoming infected with the virus. Only those Clifton and those he’d trusted enough to bring along to help with her training and protection.  And none of them, not even Mikka and Kile who she’d tried to kill during her escape, would betray her or Clifton.

So if not his people, then who? Who else knew about Innis becoming infected with the lycanthrope virus?

Rage reverberated deep in his wolf’s throat.

Kim Luo. Captain Jyun’s master gunner.


Because he’d been so goddamn focused on keeping Innis alive, Clifton hadn’t really had time to think of much else.  But now that he did, he remembered two things about that night. First, that Luo, being a shapeshifter, had recognized Innis attack on her for what it was – an emerging female werewolf out to kill anyone she thought a threat to her mate. Second, that she’d been sent to tell Innis that the pirate king had whatever it was Innis had hired him to find.

Clifton knew he should have followed Varloc protocol, and killed the Morphkind bitch. But he’d had more pressing matters to deal with, and let her go instead. Dell had warned him more than once that his tendency to show mercy, would eventually come to bite him in the ass. And now it had.

So now he had the why and the who. That left the little matter of why Luo had been sent to the governor’s mansion in the first place. As Innis personal assistant and her lover, there was very little that happened in her life, both professionally and personally, that Clifton didn’t know about. Learning that she’d gone to Jyun without his knowledge, made him nervous.

The only reason Innis would have kept her meeting something like that from him was if she believed Clifton would try to stop her from doing whatever it was she was planning.

The wolf raised its head. Below, six heavily armed men combed the beach, looking he now knew, for his mate. Further up the lake,  hidden where only another wolf could sense them, were Dakota and Mervin. Originally he’d told Kile to help the other two wolves deal with the intruders and send their dead bodies back to Morgan as a warning. But now that he’d had time to think about it, Clifton decided to have them brought to Wallace Falls instead.

Teaching young werewolves how to manage their beast wasn’t the only thing the pack used this area for. Before the Great War, many of the Varlocs built underground facilities where they could keep their families safe while training their soldiers, undetected by General Thorton and the governments biological anti-terrorist division, BATMD.

Though few of these underground bunkers were still in use, there a few, like the one at Wallace Falls, that were still in operation. Clifton decided it was time he and his people paid the training facility a visit.

Head back his wolf howled. Seconds later the forest echoed with the voices of others.

Careful to keep the Morgan’s men within sight, Clifton jumped to the forest floor and felt his mind explode with pain. His entire body shuddered as psychic waves of agony ripped through the neural pathways in his brain.

Lionel was dead.

Like the shock waves after an earthquake, the senior werewolf’s last moments spread through the collective mind of the pack, drawing each member into the drama of what he experienced as he died.

Limbs braced, Clifton’s own wolf trembled under the shared pain of its pack mates passing. He may have despised Lionel the man, but he was still pack. Still Cain’s second in command. Not only would his death leave a power void in the alpha’s life, but the packs as well.

As soon as the initial reverberation passed, Clifton shook out his coat and took off at a ground covering lope.

Cain couldn’t afford to leave the position his second-in-command vacant and he’d be demanding Clifton’s council on who that replacement should be.

Suddenly the time he’d planned to spend preparing Innis for her introduction into the pack, just got shorter. (read the rest here)

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Cannon Beach

September for me was full a new ideas, going back to school along with taking a much needed break at one of my favorite places on earth – Cannon Beach, Oregon.

The first time I went there was when my sons, Aaron and Stephen, were four and seven.  Since then I’ve had several opportunities to go back and never once have I been disappointed. No matter what the weather is like – sunny, cloudy or storm tossed – Cannon Beach has always been for me, a place of endless possibilities.

I also had a chance to connect with friends I haven’t seen in over twenty years.

You know how there are friends that, no matter how much time goes by before you see each other, it’s as though no time has passed at all? Well, meeting up with Helen and Lisa was like that. From the moment we saw each and squealed like teenage girls, if felt as if we’d only stepped out of the room for a moment, and now were picking up the conversations exactly where we’d left off all those years ago.

FYI – we’ve no intentions of waiting twenty years before the next get together.

Next month I hope to have a surprise for you. I’m horrible at keeping secrets, but I’ve promised myself that I’m not going to spill the beans on this one, so you’ll just have to wait and see.

Okay. Just a hint. It’s someplace where things definitely go bump in the dark.

Oh yeah. Here’s some pics from my vacation (and a few I borrowed from the Passive Guy). Is it just me or does Hay Stack rock look like a sleeping dragon? And what about the stones jutting out of the ocean? I’m thinking they might be forgotten sentinels. Guardians, sent here by the gods to watch over the inhabitants of the Northwest.

What do you think?




Sharin the journey –

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The gallop draft: 5 smart tips for writing a useful draft at speed


Getting the story down is the hardest part of writing it. Roz Morris sharing what she does to get that first daft done.

Originally posted on Nail Your Novel:

gallop draftNovember is when web-aware writers get their speed boots on; NaNoWriMo is afoot. We’ll see growing wordcounts reported around the tweetwires, in the forums and Facebook groups. I’ve never formally Nanoed, but I’m definitely a fan of the fast first draft. Here’s why.

It’s not just about speed for its own sake. It’s about harnessing all possible oomph from that initial ride of discovery with the characters. This draft is when we first make them speak and act instead of viewing them from a distance in note form. I’ve found a fast, intense blast is the best way to capture this in full vividness.

I’ve also learned what disrupts the flow – so here are five tips to keep the ideas coming.

1 Ignore the language. If the perfect wording comes to mind, fantastic. But my main aim is to write what I see, and that’s a scramble in itself…

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Writer’s Journal 3.1 To Hell With Lemonade – I Want A Margarita


We’ve all heard the old adage, When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. Well I don’t know about you, but I’d rather make a margarita, thanks anyway.

Every writer has moments, days, even weeks, when it feels like the universe is conspiring against them. Sometimes it’s because it feels like the muse has left the building with no forwarding address, or because life has thrown you the proverbial ‘lemons’ and your so tired of trying to figure out to do with them,  you end up throwing them in a blender, adding a little tequila, lime and salt – all the while secretly hoping you won’t run out until the pain is numb enough you no longer care.

Like lemons, which are corrosive by nature, those uncontrollable life events and situation can eventually begin to erode our dreams, our passions and ideas until before we know it, we’re wondering if we even have what it takes to become a successful author, let alone finish that novel or short story or memoir we’ve been working on for God knows how long.

As those who follow me know, my sister and I just recently helped our parents downsize into a retirement community so I could move in and help care for my father, who has been diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s. What you may not know is, within days of making that decision, my life went from one of focused intent, to feeling like a fish thrown up on the beach without any hopes of ever being able to find water again.

Now I’m generally an optimistic person and make valiant efforts not to allow myself to wallow in the pools of depression and self-doubt – at least not for longer than five or ten minutes. But between caring for my parents and struggling to find time to sit down, undisturbed, while I work on the next novel in The Remnant series, I was beginning to experience serious, prolonged, moments of self-doubt. Especially whenever I logged into my Facebook or Twitter account and started reading how much success my fellow writers were having.

(In reality, one or two success stories, out of thousands, isn’t really all that crushing. Even so, it sure as hell felt like it at the time.)

But . . . the universe does have her moments of benevolence, as she proved when I was scrolling through a back log of emails the other day and came across Joanna Penn’s ( newsletter. Inside was a link to an article by author Steven Pressfield,  entitled “Killer Scenes and Self-Doubt“.

In the post Pressfield talks about the muse and how writing, ‘Virtues of War‘, a novel about Alexander The Great, helped him remember why he needed to tell Alexander’s story and how in the telling, he was finally able to overcome years of the self-doubt.

Why bring it up? Well, the whole point of this section of my newsletter is about sharing the journey of becoming the writer I some day hope to be. And part of that journey is learning to deal with the lemons of life, as well as the things within and without, which contrive to erode my confidence and self-worth.

Writers, like all artists or entrepreneurs, battle demons of self-doubt on a daily basis. It’s a beast that must be slain over and over again. Caring for my parents has not only made setting aside time to work on my novels difficult, but on those days when I do manage to grab time, it’s getting harder and harder to pick up where I left off. Which invariably has led to moments of despair as the demons of self-doubt tickle my ear with words that make me wonder if I even have what it takes to write the bloody thing?

Like me, Pressfield is a firm believer in the muse. The neshama or soul. The spirit within all of us that speaks of destiny. Purpose. Desire. Passion. That spiritual aspect of our lives that helps to answer the burning question inside all of us – Why am I here?

I may not be Jewish, but I do believe in destiny. I believe that every one of us has a divine purpose in life that only we can fulfill and that by simply living our lives to the fullest, taking risks and not being afraid to fail, is all part and parcel on the journey to get there.

Now I’m not sure how spiritual turning lemons into margaritas actually is (though the Gospel’s record Jesus turning water into wine), but I do believe that part of the neshama Pressfield talks about, means our lives are the culmination of everything we’ve experienced, said, thought and wish we’d done. Good and bad. Happy and sad. Ugly, beautiful or something in between. It’s all part of the tapestry that makes up, Us.

So if learning how to overcome the demons of self-doubt during this season of caring for my parents is something I have to do, something that will ultimately add to the tapestry of me as a person and a writer, then it would be in my best interest to lean how to embrace it.

Not in a ‘martyr’ kind of way. (Trust me, I’m no martyr.) Not even in a ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, kind of way. But in a ‘Who I am is part of the fabric of who I will be as a friend, mother and lover, which in turn flows over into who or what I am as an author and the kind of stories I’m destined to tell’, kind of way.

As a side note, I’ve since learned that while caring for others it’s important to set healthy boundaries. And one of the boundaries I’ve set is that for four hours a day, three days a week, I and my laptop leave the house and go sit in a nearby cafe that doesn’t offer WiFi.

Not surprising that it only took me a few days to finish what I’d spent literally months, trying to write before.

Which means the first draft of ‘The Exodus’ is done, and while I’m waiting for the creative juices to ferment (It’s always a good idea to set your MS aside for a couple of weeks and go do something else. That way when you come back to begin the revisions, you’ll have a fresh outlook.), I’ve begun outlining a novella in the series, which I hope to have  published by next spring.
Sharin the journey –
2015. All Rights Reserved

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Reigning Press|September Newsletter Podcast


For those of you who would like to read the entire Newsletter, sign up now and get a FREE copy of

The Gathering, (Book One The Remnant)

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Reality Check For Authors #26:

It is what it is#26: It Is What It Is

There are no guarantees that life will go smoothly, or that when you least expect it the universe won’t throw you a curve ball you are ill prepared to catch: one that interrupts all your best laid plans, writing deadlines and social media schedules.
Reality Check #26: It Is What It Is. Life happens, so be prepared to make adjustments to those hard held deadlines. Cut yourself some slack when the muse refuses to be moved. Stop beating yourself up because you didn’t make your daily word count. And remember, the world won’t end because that two-per-year-book you promise you made a vow to complete, isn’t going to happen – at least not now.

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Writer’s Journal Vol. 3.6

It Takes A Village To Write A Novel


Being Mean For Critiques Sake

Writing a novel or any work for that matter, is going to necessitate finding others who are willing to read your work and give you honest, critical, feedback. (Hopefully for the price of mutual gratification – you read my novel and critique it, I’ll do the same for you.) The kind of feed back that requires putting on the big girl/boy panties, with feelings tucked away where they belong.

Aunt Betsy’s Turkey Stuffing

One of the greatest challenges I’ve found in writing a novel, isn’t so much about putting the story down in words, but finding a community of fellow writers with the expertise and kahunas to tell me what I’ve written, sucks. It’s as if their mothers had come to the meeting as well and were sitting next to them whispering troupes like, ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’

Well, that’s fine if you’ve been invited to Christmas dinner at Aunt Betsy’s and cousin Suzann blurts out how delicious the stuffing is. When in fact you think it tastes like cardboard. Absolutely nothing good will come from your being honest. Instead, you take too large a sip of wine, pretend to choke – all the while praying the conversation will move on.

Unfortunately, its that kind of thinking that makes most writer groups ineffective for anything other than a place to go when you’ve realized you haven’t left your writers cave in over a month.

Lacking Empathy

Now this isn’t to say I’ve never gotten good feed back from my fellow authors. If not for a small group of writers I met with for a short period of time, I would have never known that, despite my efforts to show my readers what I wanted them to see, they told me my characters lacked emotion, texture and depth (In other words, they were as flat as Aunt Betsy’s stuffing.).

As you might imagine, their comments were invaluable and I’ve since made a concerted effort to crawl inside my characters hearts – not just their heads.

But emotions are just one aspect of writing. What about the story itself. Flow, plot, scene accountability? (I personally get incensed when I read a novel and discover plot discrepancies.) Not everyone can afford to pay a structural editor every time they do a re-write. Besides that, shouldn’t I wait until I think my MS is perfect, before shipping it off to my editor so I can be told it isn’t?

I would think so, but maybe that’s just me.

images (6)Putting On The Big Panties

Anyway – After publishing several books, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the key factors in helping me write a good story, one that gives my readers bang for their buck, is a writing group with seasoned authors able and willing to point out where my novel needs improving and why. Hopefully within the genre I’m currently working in.

A little rabbit trail here. I was at a conference in Montana last year and asked one of the guest speakers whether a writer should in fact, stick to writers within his/her own genre for critique partners? His answer was no, as he felt the diverse background would help to uncover things genre specific critiques might not.

I’ve since discovered I disagree with that theory.

While writers of other genres might add value to my novel, only those familiar with the genre itself, and thus reader expectation, would be able to give me the type of help needed to make my book marketable. Unless of course I wanted to write for purely altruistic reasons. In which case I might welcome an author who wrote SyFy or woman’s issues, to look at my MS about Madame Curie’s life and tell me where I might improve the technical descriptions of her research, or flush out the challenges of what it meant to be a woman physicist in 19th century Europe.)

But if I want to  stay current with the market trends in the genres in which I write, finding a group of mutually like minded people would, in my not so humble opinion, be the better choice.

Desperately Seeking Susan  download

So I’m back to the question of, Where do I go to find the type of writing group that will help me become a better writer? (Please don’t tell me Facebook. Accept for Indie Author Writing Group [of which I’m a member], all the others I’ve looked into are just spamming sights for authors trying to get noticed.) I’m currently scoping out ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors) andbooksgosocialauthors, a UK based group of authors helping and promoting authors.

The following article, ‘The 4 Hidden Dangers of #WritingGroups‘ by #JaneFriedman, is by far one of the best articles on this subject I’ve read to date. I especially appreciated comment #2;Struggling writers are not often the best judges of struggling writing.

In the article, Ms. Friedman quotes Edwin Catmull from Pixar, as saying this about critique groups; ‘A good note is specific. A good note does not make demands. Most of all, a good note inspires.’

Catmull goes on to list the four things the ‘note’ should include: What is Wrong; What is Missing; What Isn’t Clear and What Doesn’t Make Sense.

As I work to complete the first draft in my Blog2Book ‘The Exodus‘, I feel like Rosanna Arquette in Desperately Seeking Susan. Only its not Madonna I’m looking for.

All constructive and potential critiques, welcome. ‘Mean’ comments – not so much.

Sharing the Journey’


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The First Re-Write of The First Draft

Writer’s Blog Star Date 1-09-2012

Writer’s,Blogger’s & Wannabe’s

The re-write. What can be said that probably hasn’t been said a gazillion times before? Or how deep the sigh that hasn’t been sighed before?

As this is my first novel, the kinks that need to be worked out are almost as daunting as getting the story down on Word.doc itself was. Figuring out my writing mojo. How to transport the thought from grey matter to ‘bright white’. When does so-and-so need to do this-or-that, and did you have the character already do it?

How do I move the plot along so that the reader doesn’t doze off after the second page?

Is the character even interesting enough to keep in the story or should I assassinate them with mercy delete?

If it’s true that the character actually tells me what to write, do I need to acknowledge them as co-authors?

Is it OK to add new character’s in the re-write? Can you begin the story differently and should you?

Do I writer better at night or in the morning, and does 4:00 AM constitute evening or morning?

How many cups of coffee will it take to get through the first chapter re-write of the first draft, and should it be coffee? Maybe this would be a great time to begin my New Years resolution to drink more water – less other stuff.

Is junk food really ‘brain food’ or am I being deceived by slick advertising and shiny objects?

Is Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory really that anal retentive? Because if he is, then my cousin Martin could very well be his doppelganger.

OMG! The list goes on and on and I’m only on my first cup of Starbucks French Roast of the morning.

From The Laptop of An Uncensored Dreamer


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Writers Journal Vol 2.7


Library – A Refuge From Reality

Before there was Google or Yahoo or Bing or SEO’s, there were libraries: entities of great wisdom and knowledge; archives of fact, fiction, history, speculation and education.

Since I was old enough to read the titles on the spine of a book, I have been going to the library. Whether it was the one in my school, the town we lived in or the book mobile that parked at the end of my neighborhood once a month – I was combing their shelves  for either new adventures to indulge myself in or sources of information to write whatever homework assignment my teachers had given me.

A refuge from reality where I was able to feed my growing addiction to story – be it fantasy, paranormal, romance, mystery or adventure.

The locations may have changed since then, but that same sense of adventure and excitement I felt while walking through their hallowed doors at age six, hasn’t. If anything, its grown. Decades later and you can still find me there, eagerly pursing row upon row of brightly colored books, my eyes scanning the blurbs on the back of interesting looking covers in search of new adventures by my favorite authors or those authors whose works I have yet to discover.

Though I appreciate the convenience of sitting at my desk and at the click of an icon, read whatever book I’ve just downloaded, that experience will never replace the feeling of well-being I get while passing through the portals of a library; their quite halls filled with an unspoken assurance of peace that tells my inner child all she and I need do in order to satisfy our mutual hunger for story and information, is choose the books we want to read, swipe our member card beneath a red beam of light, then repeat the process with each of the books waiting to go home with us.

Just as the library offered me a place of refuge from life as a child, it continues to be the one place I can  go as an adult where the requisite for my being able to escape into its hallowed stacks, is the zip zip of my library card followed by a silent nod of unspoken anticipation towards the ‘Guardian of Knowledge’ sitting beneath the sign marked ‘Information’.

So when was the last time you took a stroll down the hallowed halls of your local Library?

Sharing the Journey


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