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How would you define “artist?”

apple being painted

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Some people say an artist is a person able to create beauty that many others can see, feel or experience. Does that mean you have to have an appreciative audience to be considered an artist? Does art itself have to be beautiful and who gets to say it is?

Others would define an artist as someone who is doing exactly what he or she wants to do in ways people never thought of before. But that takes the audience factor out of the picture, and some might say it also removes the beautiful. Are the serial killers in Criminal Minds that come up with creative new ways to murder someone “artists” as their often-sick minds think they are?

That brings me to this question: is an artist someone who can make a living creating something unique or beautiful instead of standing behind a machine or sitting at a desk? I’m afraid many starving artists would greatly object. In fact, most of us doing something creative would starve if art was all we did.

This is my definition of an artist and it’s based on what I see every day. Most of us spend our spare moments—those times when we’re not at work—playing games on our tablets or phones, watching movies or television, texting, connecting on social media. When it’s time to relax, we need an avenue that takes us away. If the vehicle that provides that escape is performing or making music, polishing words or putting a brush to paper, you’re an artist. You choose to give some of your leisure time to your chosen art form. You also have enough faith in what you’re doing to enjoy the act of doing it and you have enough passion to push yourself to do it.

If you’re extremely lucky, you can find a way to do this during the working day. Only a few fortunate souls among millions can do that, however.

The rest of us plod along, spending most of our hours on everyday realities and trying to find time to continue doing this thing that gives us so much pleasure.

How would you define it?

–Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Learning My Circus Act

juggling blog

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One of the thrills mom and I get when we talk to groups is the excitement audience members express for what we do. Written on the faces and weaved into their questions is this: “It must be so fulfilling and romantic to be an author.”
At the moment someone says this, it’s true. However, being an author in today’s hugely complicated world of publishing is not just being a writer. Authors today also have to be:
Bosses: I’ve learned to be a mean boss because someone has to get my sorry butt out of bed an hour early in the morning if I’m going to find time each day to write. That same mean boss has to wave the red flag after the hour is over, which is even harder than getting up. Once the writing begins, it’s heart-breaking to stop the flow of creativity so I can get on to my paying clients.
Traffic cops: I sometimes feel like Linda Blair in The Exorcist with my head spinning round and round as the whirl of advice to writers that’s out there goes by. I read, I attend conferences, I talk to other authors, I research my options constantly on the web; what I’ve discovered is there is no one-lane road headed to success. It’s a clover leaf of congestion out there, and the one person that can make the multiple decisions that will give it any sense is me.
Psychologists: The only way to survive the extreme ups and downs that comes with getting published is to band with other people going through this clover leaf. I have to lean heavily on other writers for the mental support that sorting through everything requires. Part of the reason is that I need to lament to someone besides my cat about the frustrations. But the other part if that I need the bond that listening to others creates.
Bean counters: To move forward in any business venture requires a way to measure what’s behind that forward movement. I have excel spreadsheets and multiple file storage locations on my computer so that I can at least stop once in a while to gather and count my beans—what events have worked; which books are selling well. I have to admit, however, that I often look at those beans and wish just one of them was a magic one.
Jugglers. Most authors can’t afford to write full time. We are trying to hold down a job, take care of families, find time for old and new friends, keep up with daily household tasks while adding a fifth ball to the mix: pursuing a passion for storytelling. It’s the same juggling act that anyone who finds a way to go after what they truly want must perfect—finding time for what we love. So I guess instead of hoping for that magic bean, what I should be doing is being grateful that life has allowed me to have that fifth ball in the mix.
—Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Dancing Among the Snowflakes

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A session on the bare bones of mystery

As happy and fulfilled as I am finally discovering a channel that has me pursuing my lifelong dream—writing fiction—this dream gave me an additional benefit I never could have foreseen: it’s allowed me quality time with my mom and given us both a sense of community.

Neither Mom nor I could have imagined even five years ago that we’d be pursuing the same dream, and we don’t actually do the writing at the same time, though we talk out plot points. Mom is legally blind and cannot read her own words so she creates the first draft and I take it from there. But what we are doing together is being authors, and believe me, that’s a lot harder work than the actual writing. Still, we feel blessed to go through this journey together. This weekend, that journey took us several hours south for the Suffolk Mystery Writer’s Conference at the beautiful Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. Here’s what we discovered:

Authors share their successes

Authors share their successes

Writers are like snowflakes—no two reach the ground looking the same. Even though you feel like you’ve somehow joined this prestigious society when you succeed in getting a book published, no author gets from point A—finally sitting down at the computer to put down thoughts, to point B—holding the printed baby in her or his hands, the same way. This is especially true today as publishing is facing a blizzard and there are no longer any lines that are visible to help those lost in the middle of it.

Once a writer gets to Point B in this blizzard, they’ve only begun the journey. It doesn’t matter whether you publish through a traditional publisher, land a book agent or self publish: getting the book into the hands of readers is increasingly the job of the author. That’s not because publishers or agents have slacked off: it’s because there are so many books out there. One of the most astounding facts we learned came from a speaker who had researched Amazon to help with her session: she reported that the site now lists 12,000 cozy mysteries—up from 5,000 just a few years ago. And that’s only one type of what are dozens of mystery genres and hundreds of fiction genres.

Some of the snowflakes

Some of the snowflakes

Writers are like snowflakes—no two have the same career. In the same session, we had a speaker who had a 50-60-hour workweek at another job then used lunch hours, sleep hours and weekend hours to write, to a speaker who was retired and using that retirement to travel and write, to a woman who began writing fiction during her children’s nap time.

Mom and I had a good time learning just how diverse this author business can be, and on the way home, we discussed whether we should be discouraged by this blizzard. But we also came to the conclusion there was one thing we saw in the eyes of every snowflake that we also possess: a passion for what we’re all doing.—Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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We’ll see you at the fair!

Mom and I are purposely filling up our summer and fall schedules with author events and arts and crafts shows. We’ll soon be busier than we’ve been in years. Unfortunately, that’s because both of us were confined by taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s. We spent many hours making sure Dad was safe, and we did so willingly and with love. We even dragged him to a few of our book events, where we occasionally were rewarded with glimpses of my dad’s great, gentle smile. Alzheimer’s took much away from him, but it did not take his friendliness even when he had no idea whose hand he was shaking.IMG_4108

But we are now enjoying the freedom to attend what we want. With three books under our belts (and two more in the works), we are in another phase of being authors: getting out there and letting as many people know about our books as possible. We’re returning to some of the communities where we started our marketing efforts. We are also pursuing a new venue that began last holiday season and really took off: arts and crafts fairs.

In both cases, we are there to get people to buy our books and it feels great when they do. Selling anything piece by piece is a hard way to market a product, but it can be rewarding: we’re doing something we love and hoping to make some money at it.

Also, selling this way allows you another great benefit: you get to meet your audience. Whether you make earrings, quilts or books, creating something but just sticking it on a shelf never allows you the greatest reward of all: exposure to those who love your art. We are now at the point that we occasionally run into people who have read our books and want to talk about them. We also just love to meet the people that might be potential readers. If they stop at our booth, listen to our story and flip through our books to check our writing style, they have shown an interest in reading and/or writing. They are fascinated by what we’ve done and they validate the hours we spent doing it.

Don’t believe the naysayers that say reading books is a dead entertainment. We’ve been there first-hand and seen the passion in people’s eyes. Unless you’re a reader, it’s hard to understand. But reading is an activity that allows your brain to create the story from within. Even children, who have pictures to help them along, are using their brains to fill in the blanks. They don’t have a giant screen and loud music and noises telling their brains exactly what to think.

So gather up your pennies and come see us at a fair or event. You can spend those cents at another booth, and we’ll be perfectly happy. We are all artists and crafters and we want you to see what we do.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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It’s a Small World After All

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In the blog I wrote following my emergency hospital visit, I talked about an unhappy coincidence: ending up in the same room where my dad was taken when he was first diagnosed with what would eventually take his life. It was a chilling incident. This week, mom and I experienced a more positive kind of “it’s a small world” situation.

We were attending the first book event of this year: an arts and crafts fair at Ft. Belvoir. After the terrible beginning to 2015, it felt great just to be out, talking to people about how much we love writing books. I kept glancing at the woman whose booth was catty corner to ours. She was friendly and had smiled our way several times as she painstakingly dragged out pillows and stuffed animals and other goods she’d handcrafted. I almost offered to help her because I felt so sorry for how hard she was working to set up her extensive collection. She also seemed so familiar to me that I could visualize what her voice sounded like. When we did finally stop in our preparations for the fair and approached each other, she sounded just like I’d imagined. Within minutes of exchanging pleasantries, I found out that she does extensive volunteer work, including taking her dog around to medical facilities. Then I knew.

“Where do you visit?” I asked too loudly.

Her eyes widened slightly, but she rattled off a few places. They included the rest home where Dad spent just a little over a week before passing.

“I knew it. I knew it. I met you.”

Then she remembered as well. In fact, she remembered what room we were in when she and two other volunteers brought their dogs through and stopped to cheer mom and I, and my two sisters up. We had gathered to talk to the administrator who had gone to bat to get dad admitted and were awaiting an appointment to finalize details.

We were very much in need of some cheer and the dogs and the friendly ladies showing them provided a moment of respite from sorrow.

In a metropolitan area like ours, that kind of coincidence is pretty shocking. The rest home was 30 miles away from where we live, which is another 15 miles away from where the arts and crafts fair was held. And there are millions of people in all those miles. Yet here was a woman I’d met by chance and even shared a hug at the door as we said our goodbyes at the rest home. She’d promised to pray for our family that dad would be admitted. I guess it worked.

When I told my little sister and fellow author Allyn Stotz this story, she was amazed, but wasn’t surprised. Allyn is also from a large metropolitan area—Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She’d been to her first book event several weeks before. She was talking to a woman who loved Allyn’s current books and mentioned that her neighbor, an illustrator, had just had her first picture book published. When the woman shared what that book was about, the two discovered the illustrator was the very same woman who is helping Allyn with her next book!

It truly is a small world … or at least it feels that way sometimes. It makes you wonder how many times you bump into someone whose path may have crossed yours at some point without either of you knowing it!

Genilee Swope Parente

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A Spoonful of Sugar as Momentum

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One of the most common questions I get from would-be authors or young people is: what makes you write?

In answering, I usually talk about the love of words and the joy of crafting good stories and creating images in people’s minds. All of that is my basis for writing. But for those of us who have been doing this for a while there’s often another answer: we need to go somewhere besides our daily lives, and writing is the ticket.

I’ve never had a time when that reason was a stronger motivation. Mom and I are going through a really tough time dealing with my father who is currently in a rehab center after going into the hospital and coming out with a diagnosis of advanced lung cancer. Before this hospital visit and the diagnosis, we were at the doctors constantly, waiting for tests to get done and hoping (mostly foolishly) that someone can make my father feel better. We’re having to make some very hard decisions that affect a person we both love dearly. The heartbreak of it all threatens to overwhelm us both. It’s one of the few times in my life where I’m taking it all day by day, hard-pressed to make long-term plans.

As a result, neither one of us is sleeping well. The boogeyman of worry is too often present. But those days when I can, I still get up an hour early in the morning or take a few stolen hours on the weekend or at the end of a long day to write. It’s a vacation from pressures, the stress raining down on every day and the sadness that comes when a loved one is in pain. I’m spending that vacation time helping mom’s characters come to life—giving them the faces mom intended, creating the action that will get them from point A to point B of the plot, and polishing their dialogue and what readers “see” when they read our books.

It doesn’t make what’s happening any less awful. But the fact I choose to write at this point in my life shows me how vital creating these books has become to my psyche.

Our thanks to all the people that have wished us well. Book three (Violet Fate) will be coming out in the next few weeks along with the revamped and improved books one (Twist of Fate) and two (Wretched Fate).

Genilee Swope Parente

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Swope Clan in Edgerton

I don’t think I’ve ever received as many hugs in as short a time as I did during a 48-hour period last weekend. I went to Edgerton, my home town, for a book tour with mom and my sister Allyn. Mom and I weren’t the stars of that show; Allyn has kept in touch with many people and has some really close friends who are her cheerleaders. They became our cheerleaders too. But all of us, including those of us not there as pen-wielding celebrities, but rather as supporters, got a huge dose of Home Town Pride, and it was nice to be a small part of that pride.

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Our hostest Susan Herman of Susan’s Hair Flair and president of the Edgerton Chamber of Commerce

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Verna and mom

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Allyn & Sondra

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Mr. Smith (center)

A few highlights:

We were sitting at breakfast the first morning, already happy to be together and sharing laughs when my nieces walked into the restaurant. They flew in from Texas to surprise grandma and grandpa—arriving at 3 a.m. the previous night after a grueling flight on a cheaper airline. Once I saw them, I knew that—no matter the results of our book events—the weekend had just become something I’d never forget.

Our high school English teacher Richard Smith came to the Edgerton Public Library signing. I am quite certain I never hugged Mr. Smith in high school. Hugs were not so plentiful in those days. But neither Al nor I could help ourselves when we saw him. He is the teacher that got us interested in words. He laughingly explained he doesn’t read fiction (though he read our first book) anymore because his life was so consumed by it when he was a teacher. But he still has that delicious acerbic wit that delighted us as teenagers so much that we paid attention to him in class.

Verna Wortkoetter, the friend mom has remained closest to, not only had the clan and some old neighbors over for lunch, she invited some of mom’s old sorority sisters. The gesture was especially thoughtful because Verna was not part of that club. But she knew how important it was to mom, and she knew they’d all soon be trading memories of the parties they had and what had happened to the rest of the crew. I believe my nieces got a taste of grandma’s (and grandpa’s) wilder days by listening to the stories.

My husband saw his first parade, and (as I expected) instantly transformed into a kid. He kept himself from scrambling into the street after candy, but it couldn’t have been easy.

All of us choked up when grandpa struggled up out of his chair to sing the star spangled banner word for word. Alzheimers has nothing over patriotism!

God seemed to be smiling down on the whole weekend as the weather, which is usually hot and humid and miserable this time of year in Ohio, was gorgeous and sunny and cool.

The number of people who told us they were proud of what we’d done was incredible. It just kept coming and coming from old classmates and neighbors and friends of friends.

One of the signings we had was at Susan’s Hair flair right downtown Edgerton in the building that used to house the Edgerton Public Library. As I looked around at that building, I realized that it all really began there with mom pushing us all to learn to love books. Here it was, 50 plus years later, and we were back, signing books we had written ourselves. Thanks Mom, for getting us started on this path.

 

–Genilee Swope Parente

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Getting Back to Edgerton

125th

Some of the Swopes at the 125th town birthday

Despite the fact we haven’t lived in our hometown for years, Edgerton remains a deep part of who the Swope family is. For that reason, we’re going back there this summer carting boxes of books and hoping to meet up with some of the best supporters we’ve had.

Allyn’s current connection with the hometown runs deepest because she has family there from her marriage to Brad Stotz.  For those of you who don’t know that name, Allyn Stotz is my sister, a children’s book author (www.allynstotz.blogspot.com) who will be carting boxes of The Pea in Peanut Butter and the recently released Kailee Finds Magic IN Words with her to Edgerton. Allyn has kept in contact with many of her friends from high school and made some new ones in the years since she and Brad moved to Louisiana. Allyn, Mom and I all feel strongly that Edgerton is part of who we are, and we often talk about what a wonderful environment Edgerton provided for our family. Mom was a substitute teacher there and wrote a local column for the newspaper that my dad ran (the Edgerton Earth). I developed a nucleus of high school friends so strong that when I celebrated my 60th this year, my husband invited a couple of them to travel great distances so that I can have a truly wonderful surprise. I have tried to reconnect with some of my friends from the awesome years of high school through facebook and to follow what’s happening with some of the other people of Edgerton.

Many of the good people of Edgerton have already bought our books and wrote to cheer us on. Allyn had a book signing and reading when The Pea was released. Still, we’re all packing up the cars and heading that way, dragging not only boxes, but our husbands and Mark, a major supporter for Allyn and for us and a researcher for Mom and I (not to mention our dearly beloved brother/son).

Verna

Verna and dad at the old Edgerton Earth

Mom is 86; dad is 88 and ailing from Alzheimers. Mark, Allyn and I are still young enough NOT to want to mention how very old we are. So why are we traveling 12 and 15 hours for book signings?  Because it’s part of who we are. Mom and I acknowledged Edgerton and one of our great cheerleaders, Verna Wortkoetter in our last book. Mom and Verna developed a relationship early in the years when we first moved to Edgerton. Verna showed mom quickly what the town was like when she made sure mom felt comfortable in Edgerton and knew that if the Swopes needed help in any way, the Wortkoetters were there. I still feel thrilled when Verna’s daughter Jane Jacobs, who I became close to growing up, announces another grandchild. And I still go through the Edgerton Earth each week looking for the names of the families we knew.

And we all try to stay in touch. I’ve learned that Facebook’s greatest strength is that it allows people to maintain links with their past, and it has been a great tool for the Swopes.  Several of my high school buddies pop up almost every day and when I read about their lives, it reconnects me with who I am.

It’s a long way back to Edgerton. Not only in miles, but in years. But I’m very much looking forward to the trip.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Stepping it Up

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One reality prospective authors need to face is that getting published is not winning a sweepstakes. No one is going to show up at your door with a giant check, flash you a brilliant smile, shake your hand and shout: Congratulations, you’re a winner!

Getting published is a series of steps. If you can keep your momentum, the steps go upward—working towards bigger and better goals and often getting easier as you climb. Some of those steps are major ones: my sister, children’s book author Allyn Stotz (http://allynstotz.blogspot.com/), took a giant hop up this week: she saw her second book, Kailee Finds Magic IN Words, in final form—ready for press. I know that seeing the heroin of her first book, The Pea in Peanut Butter, come to life again on the pages and knowing people will soon hold her creation in their admiring hands has to be a wonderful feeling: in this case, it’s enough of a leap up to carry her past some challenges to come.

I took a big step this week, too, though it wasn’t that golden glow event of seeing my name on a printed page. My step was that I submitted our first draft of Fate of the Violet Eyes, book three of the Sam Osborne series, to our publisher. That means for just a moment, I can sit back, take a deep breath, and realize I’ve done all I could to make this book better than the last two. Having been through this twice already, it also means that I can finally let the experts at Spectacle Publishing Media Group, tell me how to make it even greater.

While it’s vital to our sanity as authors for us to acknowledge and feel our accomplishments—pat ourselves on the back for the steps we overcome, Allyn, as well as Mom and I, will not rest long in this heaven. That’s because as authors of more than one book, we know there are many steps ahead, even after the book is in print. The hardest part about becoming an author is the reality that getting to the point where your book populates the crowded lists on Amazon and Barnes & Noble is much easier than what comes next: getting someone to notice it. And having tracked the blogs of several major writers, I know that, unless you’re James Patterson, you have to direct and participate in how well your book goes over. You have to force yourself to become what you may not be: a marketer. And I bet even Mr. Patterson sometimes dreads putting on a suit or combing his hair to give a speech, an interview or to make a video to post on his official website. We are writers―our art is creation of stories and the alignment of words in such a way that we lead readers down a path we want them to travel. The reality is that, even if you’re shy, you have to believe in your own work enough to want others to feel what you felt when you were creating it.

My intention in saying this is not to throw water in prospective author’s face. While Allyn, Mom and I have been learning how tough it is, we’ve also seen the rewards. Every time you lift a foot and climb up another step, you gain a little strength; you make the next stage of the climb a little easier because you have one thing going for you that you didn’t have before. Whenever you need it, you can turn and gaze back down the staircase and see yourself on that first little stair. You can remember that you are climbing towards your dream—which is a brave step not many people do in their lives. You can feel what it’s like to have recognized what you want enough to have built the staircase in the first place.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Want to know what’s in book three?

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I’m getting close to finishing the third book in the Sam Osborne detective series, and while there’s still a long process before the book goes to press, it occurs to me that mom and I have given very few hints about the plot of this book.

The title, Fate of the Violet Eyes, does not fall off the tongue as smoothly as Twist of Fate or Wretched Fate, but I think the story is our best and the eyes play a major role partly because they affect the lives of several main characters. One of those characters, Maggie, needed special consideration and crafting because we knew we wanted to give her a precious gift: the love of Sam. It’s a gift because, as we’ve brought Sam more and more to life with each new book, we’ve both fallen in love with him. His gentle, but persistent ways, strong personality and inquisitive mind are easy to fall for, and Maggie needed to be worthy of him.

In Fate of the Violet Eyes, readers will learn even more about Sam and meet Maggie for the first time. In our other books, the characters who hire Sam and work with him fall in love with each other. In this book, Maggie is the person who hires him—a mother mourning her child Jenna, who was kidnapped. Even though the police and the FBI have both conducted investigations, her child is still missing so she hires someone who is not constrained by procedures or resources—private investigator Sam Osborne.

My mom has done a terrific job creating both the villain in this book and the victim (the snatched child). She takes us into the mind of a man who has gone from a religious background to a killer. She shares with us her thoughts on how a small child could survive such a heinous crime as being snatched from her own mother’s arms and delivered into a killer’s grips without showing fear or weakness.

The mystery in this plot is sprinkled throughout the story revealing clues and false clues in layers as you read. Mom designed it that way and we both have worked hard to confuse and surprise you.

Meanwhile, Maggie and Sam begin to work together, and as they do, you’ll see them gravitate towards one another. As readers of our first two books know, Sam’s own child was kidnapped many years ago and that plays a role in how Sam reacts.

This book also travels outside the bounds of Lancaster, which is where our first two books took place. Maggie and Sam hit the road to investigate and love happens along the way.

I can’t tell you much more, but I’ll promise this: If you liked Twist of Fate and Wretched Fate, you will love Fate of the Violet Eyes.

Keep tuned to this site to learn the book’s progress.

Genilee Swope Parente

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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