The Conflict in Conflicts

It’s well known that every story must have conflicts. That’s the reason even most children’s books and movies have at least one argument, bad person, or any twist that elicits an, “Oh no!” Controversy plays a part in everyone’s life, so without it, a plot comes off as unrealistic, uninteresting, and/or even gag-worthy.

Conflict is an aspect of creative writing that takes time to develop, however. When we play pretend as kids, don’t we often throw in obstacle after obstacle? At that age—and beyond—, many of us incorporate that into our writing, putting characters into peril time and again.

I wrote my first draft of what became Forgetting My Way Back to You in my late teens and early twenties, and in retrospect, I saw that I fell victim to this trap. Once I read it the second time, I realized a couple of my characters were a wicked cackle away from being Disney villain! Since I wasn’t going for that vibe, I weeded out a lot of the cruel words and schemes that plagued the manuscript…and eventually removed those personalities altogether.

I ran into this issue with Husband in Hiding, as well. A few readers grew tired of the protagonists’ arguments. While I felt that I’d limited them and only placed them in suitable contexts, those opinions helped me to see that entertainment is an escape from reality. Thus, some might not enjoy reading about all the traits real life has to offer.

Another caveat that needs to be considered besides the quantity of conflicts is the quality of them. We’ve all had the experience of listening to somebody else venting about a disagreement or problem they have with another and wondered what the big deal was. Everyone has their own triggers, and naturally, so will our characters. To cultivate a reader’s empathy for them, then, we have to either make their struggles relatable to most people or give sufficient background information that illustrates what makes the character tick—or have a tick, in some cases.

In an effort to keep a plot both realistic and pleasurable, an author needs to find a balance. Of course, certain genres call for more conflict than others. Regardless, it’s another instance where we have to know our readers and put ourselves in their shoes. In turn, they’ll step into the world we’ve created and go through the story’s conflicts and victories with us.

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The Fleeting Lifespan of a Book

We all know the literary classics we’re assigned to read in school—Tom Sawyer, Pride & Prejudice­, almost anything by Shakespeare, and the list goes on. Twenty years or so later, our kids are reading them, and decades after that, their youngsters are. If you’re one who already has dreams of becoming an author, you envision having your work someday pass through generations like such tales.

I didn’t enjoy every classic I was required to read, but I admired their longevity and yearned to pen something that would stand the test of time. Truth be known, I’d be happy if one of my books would survive through just one generation. As I became more serious about my pursuit to write, however, I realized even that was a stretch.

While preparing for my first book release in 2015, I was stunned to discover from my research that the general lifespan for marketing a book is a single year. That means you have just twelve months to convince readers to read it, booksellers to buy it, and—if you’re fortunate—make the media notice it. Upon learning this, I didn’t want to believe it, reasoning it was a mere opinion and perhaps from authors whose books weren’t so great.

Looking at it as a reader, though, I began to understand its validity. Several times, I’ve rushed to buy my favorite author’s book, read it, and three months later, forgot he released it such a short time ago. The world moves quickly, especially since technology has boomed and allowed us to change conversations and tasks every few seconds. When somebody ‘likes’ a photo you posted three days earlier on social media, doesn’t it seem like old news?

With our constant stream of information and entertainment, I’d dare to say a book’s lifespan is ever dwindling. Regardless of how famous an author is, much of the hype of a new release wanes within weeks. So, does this mean we’re all doomed?

No, but it forces us to work harder and with more expedience. In the case of my debut novel, it didn’t take me long to see the truth in the one-year rule. While I had success early on with lining up signings, the interest in such dried up before too many months had passed. I also wasn’t proactive enough in seeking out book awards and fairs, which often require entries to be under a year old. There was no getting those opportunities back. I missed a one-way boat.

It’s almost been six months since my second novel came out, so the halfway mark is looming. To this point, I can report that my marketing efforts have been more efficient and—hopefully—more skillful. That said, I’ve had my share of disappointments, as many of them haven’t met with success. However, I’m pleased my taking the initiative has paid off on other fronts, including my acceptances into two book fairs this coming month.

The realization that the clock is ticking on your book promotion is a bit daunting, but we can’t let it distract us. Instead, we can only do our best to make the limited time we have count. Like with everything in life, there’ll be victories and fails, but gratitude and satisfaction is always within our reach.

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Can One Write While Uninspired?

It’s well known that there’s a close link between emotions and art. An artist throws in one or often many emotions into his/her work. In turn, that can translate to his audience, creating a stir of sentiments in them, as well.

Emotions are delicate, which makes what they inspire equally fragile. A sudden event can transform a masterpiece before its conception. For instance, Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” was inspired by his observing the blood red colored sunset and a faint creaking noise in the distance. The experience made him feel like nature was screaming out to him, impelling him to paint the famous scene.

Suppose he hadn’t heard that sound, and instead, maybe he heard a baby’s cry. Would we now know of The Cry or would the painting cease to exist? I doubt even Munch could tell us.

My point is when one isn’t feeling the proper emotions, it can all too easily impede his creative process. Those of us who are authors fear the notorious ‘Writer’s Block.’ Some may think this is a mental problem, but in my opinion, it’s an emotional one. When our writing is an outlet for our feelings, it only stands to reason that it’ll suffer if we don’t have any we want to express. Our creativity may still be there, but there’s no spark to bring it to life.

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Sometimes, even happiness can squelch inspiration, as one may not need that escape to release their tender feelings if they have joy. In my decade of writing, though, I’ve run across the opposite more often. Like anybody, I’ve gone through various ups and downs, and the latter is a real inspiration-crusher.

My first experience of this came only a few months after I started writing, when two friends of mine were killed in horrific accidents nine days apart. So limited on experience, I took a longer period to recuperate and return to my manuscript than I ever have since. Other challenges—even one within the past week—have dampened my creativity, and I’ve learned not to be ashamed to take a short break to allow myself to heal.

Something else I’ve realized, however, is how writing can help in that healing process. Sure, it’s hard to go back to imagining fun stories when your world has imploded. Never underestimate, though, the power of one little idea. It can blossom into something you didn’t expect and get you right back on track where you left off.

What’s more, you can use whatever you’re feeling to breathe life into your writing. This happened to me as I was finishing Forgetting My Way Back to You. An upsetting development occurred at that crucial point, and initially, I wanted to give up on writing altogether. After the shock wore off, however, I chose to use the misery I felt to create what became—in my opinion—the book’s most powerful moment.

As this has highlighted, our emotions play a huge part in our works, and that’s what makes them live. When they end up hindering our process, we need to be patient with ourselves for a while…but not too long. Being uninspired can sometimes turn into just the inspiration you need. This very post is a testament to that!

See also: The Therapeutic Benefits of Writing

Driven to Success or Running from Failure: Which is the Better Motivator?

Throughout my life, I’ve often been called an inspiration. While I’m accustomed to the flattering title now, I can’t say I’m comfortable with it. I have a variety of reasons for this, but the biggest one is that I haven’t made any of my pursuits because of extraordinary ambition or talent. Rather, I’ve done it all with one of the few goals everybody shares—to be happy and fulfilled.

That motivation, in itself, has given me the needed boost to strive for a productive life. As highlighted in the About page, my parents didn’t raise me to focus on my limitations. They adapted opportunities instead of denying them, so I’ve always seen more prospects for myself than others might. Those prospects usually need some tweaks, but my upbringing gave me the willpower to make them.

At the same time, I must admit I’ve always had something to prove. As discussed in previous posts, people stereotype me because of my Cerebral Palsy, and from an early age, I’ve been eager to prove them wrong. I’ve even wanted to prove professionals’ expectations wrong. For instance, my neurologist told my parents I may start to walk on my own by my late teens. My competitive and contrary soul, however, yearned to blow that prediction out of the water by walking before I hit thirteen. Though I didn’t accomplish that, I still relished in beating his prediction by a few years.

Fast-forward to my early adulthood, and I had ever more to prove. I graduated seventh in my high school class, so there were differing opinions on what path I should pursue. I disappointed some by not going to college, and this led several—with good intentions—to plot out my ‘Plan B.’

One professional I was required to meet with offered options that do help many but that didn’t fit in with the life neither my family nor I had in mind. She didn’t seem to appreciate our declining her suggestions, and initially, I was crushed by her bleak view of my future and potential. Once the emotion wore off, my misery turned to determination to have a better life and career than she could imagine.

Returning to the theme of this post, I’m unsure if one would say I’m a driven individual or just a rascally and stubborn mule! In light of my confessions, am I really an inspiration?

No need to assure me either way, as I don’t truly aspire to be one. Like I stated earlier, I’ve reached for my achievements for my own well-being, and that’s still the case. I’m no more certain of my future triumphs or failures than anyone is, so I take the steps I can today to better my life tomorrow.

To answer the question in the title, I believe one needs to both reach for success and run from failure. In some instances, one is stronger than the other, but coupled together, they keep us focused to continue in our endeavors. Like a quirky and complex Rube Goldberg machine, we all need pushes and pulls of one sort or another in our quest for success.

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Photo credit: Flickr

Secondary Storylines: A Plot’s Friend or Foe?

For starters, this post—as is the case with all my others—expresses my opinions and conclusions about the craft of writing. Having written for just ten years, I can only speak for myself and what I’ve learned works for me.

Every story needs characters, and unless the protagonist(s) is stranded in space or on a deserted island, it needs secondary ones, as well. According to NYBookEditors.com, a secondary character “is necessary to the story because this character reveals key details, motivates the protagonist, foils the protagonist, or helps define the story’s setting.” In short, he/she is more than a maid of honor who holds the bride’s bouquet. They add life to the story and bring their own perspective of what the protagonist is facing.

In my writing, I’ve tried to employ secondary and minor characters to accomplish the objectives cited above. With them, I’ve hoped to fill my plots with humor, conflict, and originality. After all, few would want to read a story that relies solely on one character.

This said, I’ve found the need to refrain from putting too much emphasis on secondary characters and their own stories. Sure, it’s nice to pan over to them on occasion, but what they do should have some influence to do with the main storyline. Otherwise, the reader could be distracted or confused.

Even with protagonists, however, it can be easy to throw in too many elements. Just the term “novel” can intimidate a new writer, as it might seem impossible to carry one story through 50,000+ words. Out of desperation, one might decide to bop back and forth between subjects. While some transitions do enhance a plot, too many can, again, lose the reader.

One of my favorite writing techniques is flashbacks. I feel that they give a glimpse into a character’s current traits by uncovering past experiences, so both Husband in Hiding and Forgetting My Way Back to You have them scattered throughout. As much as I love sculpting them, though, I realize too many can detract from the present happenings. Even if my readers enjoy them, I wouldn’t want them so engrossed in them that they lose interest in the rest.

As I stated earlier, my views are based on my tastes and individual style. Some authors are great with balancing several storylines and making readers care about each one. Regardless of style, I think it’s important to stay in touch with who we were before writing—readers! We should be our story’s first and most frequent reader, and if certain elements aren’t as captivating as we thought, we can’t be ashamed to cut them. That way, we put ourselves in our audience’s place in efforts to give them the pleasure our favorite authors have given us.

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“This is the Year…”

From 2011 to 2017, I’d watch the Times Square ball drop on television and tell myself, “This is the year I’ll have a book published.” In that span of time, that determination only came true once. While I’ll admit it frustrated me to watch another twelve months pass without fulfilling that, I never allowed myself to be crushed. Why, you ask?

Unlike all the goals that are set every January, I realized mine couldn’t be achieved through my own resolve. Since I couldn’t pursue self-publishing, my success depended, in part, on a company or agent looking for the right story at the right time. With the publishing world flooded by aspiring authors, it doesn’t stop and let you hop on. One has to dive in as it spins at full speed, and oftentimes, is thrown out repeatedly regardless of his/her willpower or even talent.

Knowing this helped me stay positive through all the failed attempts to secure a place in that world. At one point, I accepted the prospect of going decades without a book deal. Nonetheless, I stayed motivated to do my part to accomplish the objective. In 2014 alone, I queried 77 agents and publishers, with no prospects by the end of it.

My understanding of the intense industry wasn’t the sole reason I persevered, however. As a disabled person, I’ve had many endeavors that required cooperation from another person or my own stubborn body. I can safely say both have let me down, but the latter has the advantage. For a lot of my childhood, I vowed to walk before the calendar was up, but no matter how much I wanted it, my body wouldn’t let it happen until I was a teenager.

While reaching for that, I discovered the danger of putting a date on such a purpose. Having wished to walk independently before I faced my teen years, I became disheartened at the thought of turning thirteen without the desire satisfied. With some encouragement from loved ones, I overcame my despair, and in an ironic twist, I began walking almost exactly a year later. Nonetheless, the experience made me shy away from placing deadlines on myself.

Thus, I learned the right balance—no pun intended!—of setting goals but resisting a “now or never” approach, especially when it’s dependent on an uncontrollable variable. If you’re looking to have a book published or accomplish another pursuit that requires some outside influence in 2019, then, give it your all but stay optimistically realistic. Some aspirations take longer than twelve months to take form, but like well-percolated coffee, they’re deliciously worth the wait.

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My Book’s Published…Now What?

Two months have passed since the release of my new romance novel, Forgetting My Way Back to You. Those outside the publishing world think a book’s launch is the end of the author’s work. The writing’s done, copies are printed, and you’ve informed the media. Time to just wait for the royalty checks and the call from Good Morning America, right?

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Wrong!

While I grit my teeth when people don’t understand why I’m still so busy, I can’t blame them. Before my first book came out, I, too, thought, writers write and publishers do the rest. Maybe that’s the case when you hit the ‘big time’ and can afford a publicist and marketing team, but until then, being an author encompasses so much more than signing autographs.

In truth, the term ‘marketing’ used to petrify me. Prior to working with a publisher, I listened to a webinar about self-publishing, and one of the major topics was marketing. An author who spoke during the program brought out that even big name companies do little of the promotional aspect. She implied the depictions of publishers who line up book tours and jet-set the country with his author were mere fantasies.

I wouldn’t hear that, so I came to reason that she just made those claims to endorse self-publishing. I closed out of the presentation, a little discouraged, but I continued with my plan to seek a traditional publisher. As I did so, however, I came across several who asked for a marketing plan. Still in denial, I exited every one of them, concluding they were inept.

Well, six months after the webinar, I signed my first book contract with a company who never mentioned a marketing plan. In fact, the contract stated that they were developing a marketing team, who’d place our books in stores and do a lot of the promoting for us. What a relief…until a few weeks later, when I was asked to be part of it.

That opportunity—though not proving to live up to its hype—taught me there was no getting around the dreaded ‘m’ word. Thus, I had to embrace it, which started with understanding it. To do that, I began to do research and found myself overwhelmed by all the internet had to offer. I figured out what topics about which I wanted to zero in, before I purchased a couple how-to books, much like I’d done to learn about getting published.

The one I consider most helpful is The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson. Its tagline reads, “How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partneringfrugal with your publisher,” so it appealed to both the deal-hunter and the scaredy cat in me. As I’d hoped, it offered a plethora of options and strategies to spread the word about one’s book, enabling authors to choose which techniques work best for them. I consulted it numerous times during that first year and still pick it up often now.

The Frugal Book Promoter helped me to appreciate that an important part of marketing involves what authors do best: write. From media releases to newsletters to sell sheets and beyond, we can use our talent to promote ourselves and our books. No need to overthink that.

Once I accepted and dove into the marketing world, I realized I’d been marketing myself all along. Instead of publishers and agents being my audience, I had to appeal to press outlets, stores, libraries…and most importantly, readers. In fact, I just had to do minor tweaks on my original query letter to suit each purpose. In addition, my current publisher has guided me to new avenues, as well, like doing author interviews and expanding my social media efforts, which makes up my to-do list these days.

If you’re a new author who’s skittish of that ‘m’ word, don’t despair. With the right guidance, you can be your own press agent, publicist, web designer, and more—in short, an author-preneur.

The Therapeutic Benefits of Writing

Journaling is a known psychiatric treatment. It gives ample time for introspection, makes one organize his/her thoughts, and helps the writer track his/her progress.

Even as a preschooler, I couldn’t get the hang of journaling. To whom was I really addressing it? Myself, or a tiny bug who read it after I put it away? It confounded me, so the entries I wrote throughout elementary school typically began with “Dear Journal,” followed by two to five sentences about my day, and concluded with, “That’s all. Bye.” A literary phenomenon in the making, am I right?

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Once I started writing fiction, I began to understand the hype. True, making up stories doesn’t allow you to analyze how a real-life situation unraveled, but it gives you the chance to perhaps create a similar one. This can make it easier to relive an experience in a way that doesn’t seem so revealing and raw.

When you do that, it opens the door to all kinds of fun, stress-relieving tricks. Most amusing, in my opinion, is the ability to make a character react as you wish you could have. The real world imposes so many limits on us, making us either unable to respond the way we feel or too afraid to. In a fictitious plot, however, an author can make the rules. Early in my writing, I often made a character storm away after a heated argument, because I, being disabled, never can. Granted, consequences of actions should be realistic for the most part, but it’s the character who has to live with them, not you.

On the contrary, writing your actual reaction to a scenario has its benefits, too. It helps you step back as a narrator, giving you an outsider’s perspective. A few times throughout the years, I’ve added something I’ve done or felt, and initially, I’m proud, typing with a rather smug smirk. By the time I finish it, though, I realize I was wrong…and sometimes erase it, wishing I could do so in reality.

Another advantage writing gives your psyche is the opportunity to figure out someone else’s point of view—or try to, at least. All good stories showcase people’s different opinions and personalities, even if only through dialogue. Hence, an author has to contemplate why both protagonists and antagonists act as they do or make the decisions they make. When the character is inspired by someone in the author’s life, then, it can give him/her better insight into that muse.

I’ve heard several say they always wanted to write, but life thwarted that. I can understand, as it does take a lot of time and dedication. But if disappointments or anxieties are holding you back, break free. You may well find that writing’s just what you need to persevere.

A Review on Reviews

When I started playing around with the idea of writing a novel, I learned quickly that asking for one’s opinion was risky.  Candidate A of that short-lived experiment turned out to be my well-meaning mom.  After completing a page or two of the story that would become Forgetting My Way Back to You, I proudly begged her to read it, and it didn’t take long for her to point out the unrealistic elements in it.  I later realized the truth in her gentle remarks, but as a hormonal sixteen-year-old, I succumbed to the discouragement of being human and gave up on the draft.

Once I became serious about being an author, I knew I’d have to toughen up if I wanted to survive.  I had to allow someone to proofread my work, and if all went well, I’d work with an editor one day. (See  Editors: A One-Person Jury or a Friendly Doorman to the World of Readers?)  Then, of course, I’d have the fearsome yet delightful prospect of friends, family, and total strangers alike able to critique my every sentence if they wished.

Why hadn’t I gone into accounting?

Nine years after my experience with Candidate A, that prospect came to fruition with the release of Husband in Hiding.  There was no turning back; my book was in people’s hands and on their lips.  To my relief, everything I heard initially was great.  No one could put the book down, they told me.  They were invested in my characters and plot twists, and even the professional reviewer I sent it to gave it more praise than I ever expected.  Was it really this easy?

No.  Within a month, I received a pretty critical opinion from an unexpected source.  Thankfully, it was said in private, and I could laugh it off.  In truth, though, it crushed me, and the pain stuck with me for weeks.  I may not have quit like I did as a teenager, but doubts plagued me for some time.

I recovered, however, and thankfully, that was the harshest review I received.  Still, a writer—especially a worrisome one like me—often wonders how their future stories will go over with readers.  When I finally had my second novel published, I kept worrying if it would disappoint those who enjoyed my debut and were anxious for more.

One month after its release, I can say the reception’s been good…but I’m not yet releasing the breath I’ve been holding.  Like I discussed in a previous post, books are like their authors’ babies.  We’re protective of how others view our works.  Comparisons, I’m learning, can be tricky to hear —even if they’re favorable.  After all, no parent wants someone to say, “Your baby’s so much cuter than his big brother!”

As scary as it is, though, I encourage my readers to review my books on Amazon, Goodreads, and/or elsewhere.  Good or bad, they inform other readers about what they can expect and help me grow in my craft.  Just, please, don’t dump a whole truckload of fertilizer on me!

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And to my fellow authors, I can’t pass along a foolproof way of handling criticism.  I haven’t mastered it myself.  However, what I keep in mind when I hear a less-than-glowing remark is that my favorite authors disappoint me from time to time, but do I give up on them?  Nope.  So, why give up on myself?

GUEST POST-Behind the Pages of Teal Paisley Tights

Today’s a huge day for my friend and fellow author, Barbara Brutt. Her new contemporary romance novel, Teal Paisley Tights, leaps into the writing world, making Barbara a first-time published author! Like Forgetting My Way Back to You, it takes place in Pennsylvania, and though it’s just been released, it’s been in the making for the better part of a decade.

The 8-Year Journey of Teal Paisley Tights

Books have always been a love of mine. And though I read a lot as a child and teenager, becoming a writer was never on my radar. In fact, I planned to be a teacher. But then, halfway through college, I had a bit of a crisis: I loved kids but I LOVED English. So I switched my major—easiest and best decision of my life.

And with that switch, I started a writing concentration. My writing professor, Kim Peterson, asked me if I wanted to work on a novel.

*cue brakes squealing*

Me? Write a novel? I read those. I didn’t write them.

But even as those practicalities ping-ponged through my head, my heart leapt forth, “Yes! Yes!”

The Creation of a Character

Jadyn, originally named Janette, slid into my life in a flurry of teal paisley, random shoes, and messiness. And I liked her immediately. Sure, Jadyn was annoying with her people-pleasing tendencies and her over-packed schedule. But I loved her anyway.

And so I let her story come forth in a bunch of really bad writing. Because let’s be super honest, first drafts are pretty crappy.

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Rewriting and Rewriting and Rewriting

By the time I graduated college, I had a novel-length work, and I knew I wanted to see it published. I also knew that I still needed instruction and guidance. One day I was creeping on a favorite author of mine (Hello, Sandra Byrd), and I discovered that she did novel writing coaching.

I signed up so fast (and got a job at Dunkin Donuts to fuel the dream).

And this novel writing coaching with Sandra Byrd was like a 6-month boot camp for Jadyn and her teal paisley tights. I wanted someone to show me my weaknesses (and strengths) as a writer, and Sandra Byrd definitely did. My favorite weakness is having no idea how to create tension (I don’t like tension in my life so I don’t know how to write it).

My final question to Sandra Byrd when we closed out our last coaching session was, “Do you think I have what it takes?”

I’ll never forget her words. She told me, “I don’t know if you have what it takes, but I know your story does.”

And you know what? I love that. I love that it was about the story and not me.

A Trail of Rejection

That first rejection was a hard one. Why? Well, because I actually never heard back. And that’s normal (apparently for the industry). But nothing is worse than that silence, right??

When I received an actual email rejection letter, I did a happy dance. I know, weird, right?03F9432C-1975-4C1C-9CFD-BAAD205496F2

But here’s the thing. I loved KNOWING. And I saw that tangible rejection as a badge of I’m-actually-a-writer-trying-to-do-this-book-thing. I’ve kept them all. Each rejection felt like another confirmation that I am a writer. Sometimes I was sad, though, like when one of my favorite agents turned me down (does anyone else dance out sad emotions?).

The Publishing Dream Comes Alive

In November 2017, almost seven years after I met the main character of Teal Paisley Tights, I received word that Vinspire Publishing wanted to publish my novel. And now, today, on November 15th, Teal Paisley Tights will be released to the world.

If you’d like to keep up with my book news updates, you can follow me on Instagram at @CordiallyBarbara. I can be cute sometimes.

About Teal Paisley Tights

After graduation, Jadyn Simon expected to launch her art career. Instead, this PittsburghIMG_8923 native finds herself locked into a low-paying marketing position with an impossible boss.

Evicted from her apartment because of a small spending problem, she is forced to move in with her know-it-all sister. While everyone else plans a neat, buttoned-up life for her, Jadyn longs to paint professionally. Stretched like canvas between responsibility and dreams, she must choose.

Will practicality always win?

Buy it today on Amazon or another retailer listed on VinspirePublishing.com

About Barbara Brutt

headshotBarbara Brutt, a born and raised Pittsburgher, spent her growing-up years with her nose in a book. After claiming her bachelor’s degree in English, she plunked down hard into a smattering of jobs from shop girl to communications director with a healthy dose of nanny and house-cleaner. Flying to new adventures is her favorite, especially on an airplane or aerial silk. Barbara adores ice cream and only buys purses that provide room for a book or two.

Barbara talks books, aerial silks, faith, and travel on her blog.

Find Barbara on her website: www.BarbaraBrutt.com