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Part One: Diversity is not Racism, I Just Wanted Them to Look like Me


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This all started after my husband’s beloved mother died mid-September 2013. His niece graciously arranged for us to stay in a three story condo in Cape Charles, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The condo was wonderfully decorated to represent an oceanic theme—huge seashells, pictured images of magnificent sea creatures, and sea ornaments, purposefully arranged to reflect life in the nearby Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. However, with all the wonderful décor, there was one piece in particular that captured my attention. It was a framed painting of a mermaid displayed in the master bedroom, titled Metamorphosis by Sheila Wolk. Her beauty captivated me to the point where I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.

A few days following the funeral, we returned home to Louisiana. I desperately missed the ocean beauty that had mesmerized me. I had to have this mermaid poster. When I found her online, I purchased two of them—I wanted my brother in SC to share in my discovery. I was surprised by his reaction when he received my gift. He expressed how beautiful she was, but toward the end of our discussion on where we would display her, he said, “I wish she was black.” I agreed with him—in my heart and soul, I wanted to see what she would look like with a brown complexion. For days I wondered why something of such extraordinary beauty could not possess our dark skin color and still maintain her perfection. My thoughts made me feel guilty. Surely, I was not a racist for wanting to see this image in darker skin. The mermaid was beautiful just as she was, why then should I want to see her any differently?

As the days passed, I contemplated having her framed and mounted on my wall. But this would prove to be very expensive as the print was 266” x 375” which also left the question of where I would place such a large piece in my home that boasted African-American historical art throughout. A huge painting of The Buffalo Soldiers’ March on Fort Sumter was displayed over the fireplace, The Civil Rights icon, Rosa Parks was displayed on an adjacent corner wall, and other smaller figurines representative of African-American culture were displayed throughout my home.

To my regret, I could not hang this beautiful sea creature up without disrupting my historical theme. I had to put her away until I could figure out how to incorporate her display. Meanwhile, I could not stop thinking about mermaids—in particular, Black mermaids. I recall that I had never really seen a black mermaid in literature. I decided to do a search on Google ™ and low and behold, there they were—lots of beautiful images. However, when I searched local libraries and bookstores, I discovered very few, if any, in children’s or adult literature—that is very few Black mermaids.

During the summer break of 2014, I decided to try my hand at painting. I wanted to paint my own version of the beautiful mermaid that had captured my heart on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. She was perfectly fine as I drew her void of color onto paper. The problem for me started when I applied brown paint to her face. I absolutely hated it. She was ugly to me and completely destroyed what I’d perceived for a beautiful brown-skinned sea creature. I decided as a compromise to make her white and faceless with an orange outline. I was so disappointed in myself. Why couldn’t I paint a black mermaid and see the beauty in her?

Despite my obvious conflict with diversity, I finally embraced my painted "white" rendition  My reasoning being, she was abstract and could represent any and every one of us—Black, Brown, or White. For me, she represented acceptance—my warped acceptance. Now, there was one little feature that I had subconsciously added. My abstract image of “mermaid acceptance” had curly, short hair at first. Then she evolved into having long, golden, straight hair, and then in her final evolution, she ended up with long, wavy, wet hair that cascaded down her back.  The little bit of my image that I had allowed came in terms of her thick, wavy, golden-brown hair.

I still had more work to do. One abstract mermaid in a vast ocean environment wasn’t nearly enough. I needed more to integrate our mighty Atlantic ocean. I decided to make a template of her and reproduced two more mermaids to her exact specifications. The triplets all had white, feature-less faces with varying degrees of curly hair. While I was disappointed in myself for not creating them to be Black, I readily accepted my compromise and decided to have my three nameless, faceless, beauties framed as an original work of art (artwork included in my book).

My framers loved them and favored me by showing off my mermaids and introducing me as an artist--me, an artist. I brought my work of art home and proudly mounted my faceless, white mermaids onto my wall. My son also loved my work and applauded it to be as good as any professional could produce. He often stared at the three mermaids in wonder, just as I did during my days of summer bliss. What were they thinking? How did they fit into their ocean environment? Were they even supposed to be there in all their faceless, nameless, glory?

While I loved my creation, I knew deep in my heart that they weren’t complete. One night in the wee hours of the morning, I got up out of bed and went to the wall where the three mermaids were displayed. They needed to talk to me—but they had no voice, no facial expressions. Even I, their creator, could not connect to their blank white faces. I knew at that exact moment I had to name them. I had to write about them. I had to give them some of my own identity before I could bring them to life.                                        

 – Continued in Part Two

Support diversity in Children’s Literature. Please visit my website, www.readtoachieve2.com to purchase The Hunt for the Magic Pearl today.

http://www.amazon.com/Hunt-Magic-Pearl-Shirley-Perry-Church/dp/1480814814 Seek Preview with the image of the three faceless mermaid sisters.

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Your mermaid odyssey brings to mind a growing trend that has stirred controversy on social media, Shirley.  It started with the negative reaction  to the idea of casting black actor, Idris Elba, as the next James Bond.  About the same time,  protests  emanated from the nerdy comic book community over the changing from white to black the race of Johnny Storm one of the original superheroes in The Fantastic Four movie.  Close on the heels of this was a lack of enthusiasm among a segment of Star War devotees  over the hero in its newest incarnation being played by a black actor. The latest buzz is how nonplussed Harry Potter fans are about a major stage production  based on this series selecting  a black actress to  play the popular Hermione character..       .     

Also along these lines is how the remade black version  of the popular film "Annie"  drew white criticism as did the all-black "Oz",  a holiday TV special based on the Wizard of Oz,  its critics clueless about this musical having once been a Broadway hit and later a movie starring Michael Jackson.There have also been rumblings about bi-racial Zoe Saldana playing dark-skinned Nina Simone in a movie coming out about Simone's life.

Traditionalists obviously have a problem when their favorites are tampered with and racial undertones frequently figure into their resistance to change.  I am looking forward to seeing how you fared in your endeavor to be color-blind.;)

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Cynique, it is certainly a battle for us. Why can't we be beautiful and black in superhero roles, princesses of the deep, wizards and good witches, etc.? I am so tired of this. I want our children to see themselves as beautiful, strong, and powerful... We want to save the world sometimes too! Well, despite the fight, Black Oz is here along with other victories. My dreams are to see my dark-skinned mermaid trio on the big screen. I want them to reintroduce our non-swimming babies to the joys of not only reading, but swimming as well. That's another subject of contention. Some in society still don't want us in swimming pools--Olympic swimming pools, that is. That's another reason why I choose powerful dark-skinned swimmers to save Merland.

Thanks CDBurns. You are the third professional person who have told me how nice my website is. I so appreciate you sharing it. It was hard work to get it where it is currently. I have many visitors, but not many to actually make a purchase. I think it may do better in the Spring and Summer.  I am researching advertising under Children's Books on Mermaids and Mermaid Art on Google. Now that you've seen the website, what you do think about this type of advertising? I want my books in schools, libraries, and in the hands of all children--especially our Brown and Black children who struggle with literacy.

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@Shirley Gale, I notice our people are less likely to buy directly from an author's page than via Amazon or B&N.  I have offered signed copies of very popular books, at lower prices than Amazon, and have generated very few sales this way.  If given an option people buy from Amazon.  On my new site I'm consider selling books directly (drop shipped by Ingram), but I'm not sure it is worth the effort given the purchasing habits of people who visit the site.

I have to tell you when I set you book up and noticed the $32 price tag--I know folks will balk at that.  Is there a way to offer the book at $15 on B&N and Amazon too?  

Will you be able to offer that $15 price you offer on your website permanently?  If so I can place a buy link to your website.  I also noticed a three week delivery time (why so long?), and I could not determine shipping cost in advance (what do you charge for shipping?).

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Troy is always on point on these things. I can't add anything to what he just said because he's right on point. It's not just for books, but in sneakers as well. This weekend I did a Flash Sale on my site for a 100.00 dollar shoe. I was selling it through my site for 49.99. The price on Amazon was 99.99. I ran the sale for a few hours and not a single sale through my site. I've known this for a very long time that people simply feel more comfortable buying through Amazon... UNLESS... You've built a rapport with the buyer and they know how much it benefits you to buy directly from you. That requires some serious brand loyalty and it takes year to build that type of relationship.

There are some brands that are so powerful that they can gain sales through their own sites, but those brands are very established and have really, really good spokespeople. It's like on Shark Tank when people stand in front of the Sharks and say they are getting sales through their site; I never believe them. It's a very difficult thing to do.

As far as getting your books into schools... as a former school teacher, you better work on your cold calls and e-mails. Teachers only respond to what is directly in front of them. But I know from experience that if I can have an author come to my class, and replace some of my lecture time, that is the best thing in the world so I can grade papers or take a break, lol. With that said, I think the way to go is to conquer your region first. Make a very nice flyer with the cost of a class set of books for a teacher and send a sample with a purchase order. If it's something that interest the teacher they will get a class set and incorporate it into their lesson plans. That's your best bet. Target Title 1 schools as they have miscellaneous funds available every year for just this type of thing. That would be my advice. As far as Google, hey go for it. The more you advertise the more eyes that see your work, but there aren't any guaranteed conversions. You have to try every path. No one thing work for everybody. Like me, I have in my budget this year AALBC and Amazon Ads. I've found that is the best thing that I can do for my book biz and sneaker biz. Other than that, the most important thing I can do is add another writer to CBP and continue to build content and get people to visit the site and hope that I can convert some of those visitors who visit. I'm also focusing on the Youtube channel in hopes that the information will convert a buyer or two.  That's my angle this year.

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Thanks guys for the excellent info and advice. Troy, I cannot lower the price of the book as it stands--Archway Publishing has complete control over it. I can only lower it on my website. In fact, the soft cover is priced at $10.99 on my site. I have explained this fiasco in Part Three of my story which I will post right after this. I want people to know about Archway Publishing and many others out there who are killing new authors. Also, I see that people are reluctant to purchase directly from unknown sites. I have placed added security in terms of having the lock displayed on the website's URL and also on my check out. I am hoping that this will eventually help.  My shipping is based on weight. For the book, the shipping is $4.50. And the delivery is placed at a standard three weeks because I had to order the books from Archway. I did order some books and have a small inventory. However, I will not order a large quantity of books from them because I am being robbed with their meager author's discount. I can definitely change the shipping time with ease. Next month, I will be pulling my book from Archway. This is another issue in and of itself.

Troy, I am certainly going to market/advertise on this site. I love aalbc.com. I left a response on your post for more info. As soon as you get back to me, I will place the order for a spot on the author's page. Thanks for that :).

When you read Part Three of my post, you will understand what I did with Archway Publishing. I think I must have bumped my head. Now, I have to fix it! "Live and Learn" is the saying. I would much rather learn and live! It's what you don't know that bites hardest!!!

CDBurns, thanks for the advice on getting into the classroom. I will try it. I have much to do. Right now, I have enrolled in Gotham Writer's Workshop, It starts today, so I will be a little busy with the courses. But the fliers are an excellent idea. I have this as part of the plan for my marketing strategy starting early spring.

All I can say is that I sure wish I had known about aalbc.com earlier. You all have provided me with so much support. I am very grateful.

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Oh I forgot to say that in order for a teacher to purchase from you you often have to be on the school district's vendor list. Many schools do this independently, but in Memphis I know they are big on driving everything through the vendor's office which is pain. So before you begin to spend any money on fliers, call and see if you have to be a vendor with the school district first.  Keep pushing and making it happen. I'm in your corner.

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I  wasn't able to access the third installment of your mermaid project, Shirley. ( My browser may need upgrading. ) When i clicked on to the link you provided, what came up was that there were too many "redirects".  Maybe you can just copy and paste the text directly on a thread here.

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I was having trouble posting it for some reason. I am going to try again. I had to go to start my course. I'm back now to fix it :)

Hello Everyone,

I tried to post again without success. I don't know what is happening. Well, I will post it here. Troy if you could move it, to where it is supposed to be, that would be great. This is when technology in its finest drives me crazy.

Part Three: Diversity is Not Racism—The Difficult Road through Publication for Three Mermaid Sisters

“Why didn’t you make the mermaids White?” he said. “You would sell more books if they were white.” These words still echo in my head.

Everything had seemingly come together. At the onset of my dream to bring Shimmer, StarFire, and SeaStar to life, my research directed me to Archway Publishing’s Author Solutions, a division of Simon and Schuster. I went online completely ignorant of what it would take to become a published author. I did know, however, that as a first time, no name, writer, I didn’t stand a chance of getting a literary agent to even think about considering my work. Self-Publishing was my only option if ever I wanted my three mermaids to swim into existence.

Archway Publishing offered five packages for getting published. I choose the ILLUSTRATOR Package for $3,999.00 that included everything I needed to get started. The packages ranged from $1,599.00 to $8,499.00. In addition to this package that included only eight color illustrations, I added another four illustrations at $399.00 each so that I would have adequate representation of my characters. You see, I truly believe that Black mermaids should be a part of our mighty oceans. I paid the price for their inclusion.

At first, everything was going along well. The timeline toward publication was on point. I paid an additional $250.00 to have my narrative edited. While the editing was taking place, the artwork got started.  With only a few revisions here and there, Shimmer, StarFire, and SeaStar were born into literary bliss. They were perfectly suited for their ocean environment. I loved them—their voices, actions and attitudes, expressions, and more importantly, their beautiful brown skin.  My young mermaids were complete in every way that I could imagine, except one—the price of integration.

During production, Archway told me that they would set the price for my book and that I would not have any input in negotiating a change to lower it. I could request to raise it, but I could not go lower.  They told me that the price would be based on color and the number of pages. Honestly, I had no idea that this 60 page children’s fantasy would come back with a price tag of $31.99 for the hardcover and $23.99 for the soft cover. After the book’s completion, I was very concerned at first, but my Book Consultant, along with others that I spoke with, convinced me that all the beautiful color and the great narrative would move my book with no problem. I went along with what they said because the eProofs looked great. The colors were vivid and the mermaid sisters were performing just as I had envisioned.

On the day that I received my author’s copies, the color, or lack thereof, was the first thing that caught my attention. The wonderfully vivid colors in the eProofs were not there. The teal blues were teal greens. The color in the soft cover version was a bit richer than the color in the hardcover book. To my misfortune this is where all the back and forth heated discussions began.  Everyone on my team at Archway seemed to resent my disappointment with the finished product. To them, my complaints were totally unwarranted. To add fuel to the fire, the book’s title was not on the spine. Now I am wondering if the color of my mermaids’ skin had anything to do with the high costs and the diluted color.

Needless to say, the only solution was that I pay more money to send my work back to the illustrators. And on top of that, there was no guarantee that they could improve the colors. In fact, there was a risk of distorting the colors to the point of making my dark-skinned mermaids darker--blacker.

I was given the option of having another run at printing to see if the printer could at least get the quality to that of the soft cover print. I was also offered thirty additional free copies to see how my reading audience would respond to the look of my book. I hesitantly took Archway up on their compromise and when the thirty books arrived, the colors were a little more representative of what I’d originally specified. I still could not get the title on the spine. Supposedly, I did not have the maximum page count for this feature.

All of my sampled audience enjoyed their books and when asked about the color, they all said that they liked it. What they did not like was the price of the book. There was no way that they would pay such a high price for a children’s book. I was devastated. My first book with my beautiful brown-skinned mermaids was priced for abject failure. However, despite many back and forth arguments about the pricing, Archway Publishing insisted that the book was priced according to industry standards and they could not do anything about lowering the price without drastically altering the book at my expense.

Eventually, I did go about trying to market my book without any help from Archway Publishing. I even got Barnes and Noble to purchase a few and put them on display in the local store. The books did not move. My husband ended up purchasing the books in an effort to support me. I did sell four books to faithful friends, along with another five to family members. I purchased an additional twenty-five copies at a 20% author’s discount just so that I could have them on hand to sell or give as gifts.

My author’s contract with Archway Publishing will be ending in February 2016. I intend to pull The Hunt for the Magic Pearl from them and do a revision so that I can lower the price. It is a great book that encourages young girls in beautiful darker skin tones to be brave, adventurous, smart, and beautiful.  The themes speak to family relationships, loss, and determination. And as Kirkus has stated in their review, “…With it glossary and several paged of mermaid-related information, this book is classroom-room ready, as well as a worthy bedtime tale… “They concluded that The Hunt for the Magic Pearl is “A fun, exciting underwater romp.”

The purpose for this Three-Part Post is so that I may share with you how difficult it was for me to be writer of diversity and how difficult it was to be a first time independently-published author. The sharks are definitely alive and well. Please don’t get caught up!

My book is available to you on my website, www.readtoachieve2.com at less than 50% of the original price. I would love for you to purchase The Hunt for the Magic Pearl as a gift for a middle grade child—especially a young girl who is not sure of who she is.

Please share my story with others who might appreciate knowing a little something about Archway Publishing.

Support diversity in Children’s Literature. Please visit my website, www.readtoachieve2.com to purchase The Hunt for the Magic Pearl today.

 

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Damn!!!!!! I didn't want to hit the like button because this was foul. It happens so much that I'm not surprised, but I've never seen it happen at this cost. I wouldn't buy another book from them. I would consider suing them, but the expenses on that could get pretty big. Your only possible recourse is to pitch it to a class action lawyer and find other parties who have been robbed like this. I just did a video on this, but hearing your story I need to go back and clarify and stress the problem with vanity publishing even more. I'm sorry to hear about this and I hope that moving forward we all can help each other to avoid pitfalls.

Here is the video, but I definitely didn't go into enough detail here: 

 

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OMG Chris, I hope you don't mind me calling you Chris. The video is fantastic!!! Of course, it is a little late for me as I have researched and discovered all of what you shared the hard the way. But there is so much more that I know I can learn from your experiences. As for Archway Publishing, I have contacted one attorney. He did not get back to me yet, and I haven't had time to stay on it. But you've just hit the nail on the head. I am not going to rest until I expose them in one way or another. My contract ends with them in February.

My new Book Consultant is still calling me to try to get me to buy books from them. However, every time I mention lowering the price of the book, all calls suddenly stop. They really think me to be a fool. I know that people are still being victimized and I just want to get to them before they are too deep into Vanity Publishing. From the packages offered, you see that it could have been a lot more expensive. In addition to the package price, they wanted to order to 1,000 books after publication. Had I done that, can you imagine where I would be right now trying to sell my expensive mermaids. Anyway, all is well with me. I have learned an expensive lesson. God has a way of making me an example so that I can help others. Please incorporate this information as you see fit. I am so glad that I have gotten to know you. I think we will have so much to share. Thanks for all that you do to help others.

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@Shirley Gale, Google can be a good way to advertise, but like everything else Google, it is not simple. You'd be best served getting to know they Keyword Tool.  For example, there are no searches on "Children's Books on Mermaids" on Google, but "books about mermaids" get about 320 searches a month. and cost $0.41 per click, but are the people who click you ad looking for children's books--with Black characters?  It is an art and science using Google.

Try Post number 3 again, I can move it but it be better if it was posted under your name.  If you have a problem let try to describe exactly what is happening.

I was not familiar with Archway, but when I saw the S&S connection I did not exactly get a warm and fuzzy feeling.

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I don't mind  Chris at all. It's cool. I love how Troy just broke down how Google Ads work. In everything I've written I don't promote Google Ads as a means of advertising for us small guys and Troy just explained in a very simple way why. Although I said it's good, you definitely have to have a very strong grasp on how to write the ad and how to target your audience. It's not easy. It is better than Facebook ads, but you can almost take what Troy wrote and insert Facebook and change the wording a bit and you get the same result when advertising. You're up against a big market and the only real path I see is exactly what you are doing here by being part of a community. Community is the only way for us small people to compete. It's all that we have. My only other solution is using this board to blog, and also using your own website to blog. The more searchable content you have the more people who are likely to visit your site on a daily basis. 

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@Shirley Gale I'm pretty sure the problem with part three is the Em Dash "—"   you are pasting in the title.  If you type the title by hand (or remove the em dash before pasting) you'll be fine.  You can paste the text into the body of your post.

Yeah Chris I don't even bother with Google you really need some serious paper IMHO to make an impact.  I've stopped advertising on Facebook for the reasons we discussed.  I find with some cooperation from others on Facebook you don't need to advertise.  The sharing by others is much more effective.

The advantage of AALBC.com is that it is a book site, people who come here are already looking for books, so the ads are not really ads, they are content.  Which is why the click through rates are orders of magnitude higher that what you will get via social media.  

 

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Thanks for sharing your mermaid adventure with us, Shirley! I have heard nothing but negative things about these vanity publishers.  My friend, who could trace her lineage back to Thomas Jefferson's black descendants, decided to write a book about her search and this is the route she went. The book was was about 80 pages long and had a few old photographs in it.  The vanity publisher she settled on soaked her for a lot of money for extras and proofreading and priced her book at $17.98, a price she wasn't happy with.  Another friend's son was in an automobile accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down.  He decided to write a book about his battle with depression; This was also a short book and he, too, went with a vanity publisher who gouged him.  His book was also $17.98 and he ended up stuck with a lot of unsold copies he had been convinced to order.  I hesitated to  discourage these people when they  embarked on their publishing ventures because i didn't want to deflate their enthusiasm and come across as a spoil sport because these vanity publishers do, indeed, play on the vanity of their perspective clients, making them think that their books have been "accepted" for publication when, in fact, the companies never reject anyone who has the money to pay their exorbitant prices.

After I retired, I decided to write my first book and self publish it. This was back in 1992, the days before such conveniences as simply e-mailing pdf files off to editors. I bought a little Canon desk top word processor and with the instructions from the book printer I contacted,  followed his guidelines and typed up the book in what was referred to as  "camera ready", a format which meant the recommended 5x8 dimensions, the headers, footers, margins and font would be reproduced just as I had typed it. I next became a publishing company of one, complete with a logo I created,  I also designed my own cover, a xeroxed copy of which accompanied the hard copy manuscript I shipped off to the printer.  I was quite pleased with the final perfect bound product.  I started out with a short run of 100 units and the total price for all of this was around $1,000, payable in installments. It took me about 2 years to unload all the copies of the 120-page novel @ $5.00 each,  selling them to friends and at all kind of little generic venues, placing a few of them in small black book stores and local libraries. But it was fun because I obviously wasn't profit-driven and this was one of the most fulfilling projects  I'd ever undertaken because I did everything myself, including the proof reading and revisions, not to mention figuring out how to use a word processor.The last book I wrote I went with LuLu, one of the  companies Chris recommended in his helpful video, and I was pretty satisfied with their professional services. 

Sorry your experience was different from mine but as you say, you learned your lesson.. Still,  your dream did come into fruition and young black girls everywhere will benefit from your vision. That makes it all worthwhile.

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Thanks so much Cynique. Your words are as good as my morning coffee. I am not discouraged. I am usually the one that is put into the fire in order to help others. I am out of a lot of money that I could be definitely using so much better right now. But such is life--live and learn I always say.

I do intend to spread the word about Archway Publishing to anyone who will listen. I don't have a set plan of action on them as yet because I have to concentrate on keeping my foot on the pedal to get my other publications off the ground. Currently, I am taking some online, professional development courses at Gotham Writers' Workshop. As a lifelong learner, I am already enjoying this experience. I am determined to get my work into the hands of our challenged youths. Thanks for your vote of confidence.

I so appreciate you all for being such a delightful audience for my three part posts. As you can see, I absolutely love to write. I have more to come. Stay tuned. :)

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