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The Importance Of Taking A Writing Break

This blog post is the first thing I’ve actually written, aside from emails, in a week. I’m in the middle of a two week break. And despite having deadlines to meet this year, both hard and soft, I don’t feel an ounce of guilt. In fact, I’m sitting on the patio of my windy side yard on a sunny day, listening to three hawks terrorize every bird on the block. If it were just a tad warmer, I would probably be at the beach with my girls, getting sun, listening to the waves and reading a battered paperback. Oh, and waiting for the guy to come by selling coconut ice.

Lately, I’ve been listening to podcasts and reading posts by other writers who seem to never stop. Once they finish one manuscript, they set it aside and dive right into the next, maybe taking the time to drink a Coke before moving on.

Not me. I need time off. As much as writing has been both my life’s dream and a way to get away from my daily problems, I have to give my brain a rest every now and then. The break I’m on right now is already paying dividends. As I wait for my first readers to deliver their feedback on the book I gave them last week, I’ve done a lot of reading. (I’m going through some of Stephen King’s suggested reading list from his book, On Writing.  Just this morning I finished Anne Tyler’s A Patchwork Planet –  a book I would have never read if I hadn’t plucked it from his list. Thanks SK!). I’ve spent more time with my family – three of the four of us dealing with health issues. Netflix has gotten a workout. My wife and I anxiously awaited the latest B movie presented by Svengoolie on Saturday night and werent’ disappointed. I love creature features, even the awful ones. I’ve caught up on correspondence and even worked with my graphics main man to create some cool stuff like banners, bookmarks and my newsletter logo.

I decided two days ago to completely revamp a short story I wrote, expanding on it and publishing it on October 1st, just in time for Halloween. I’m also doing some research on the next book I start writing over the summer, as well as one I plan to write in the fall. While all this is going on, my subconscious is gearing up for the last round of edits on my next cryptid book. So even if it looks like I’m dozing in my chair, there’s actual work going on, I promise.

With time away from my laptop comes insights I would have missed if I hadn’t taken the time to just walk away for a spell. The last thing I want is for writing to feel like a job. I already have one of them. I don’t want two.

Learning meditation years ago has helped me immeasurably. When you calm your mind, the thoughts that have been bouncing around become much clearer. Even if I don’t meditate, I’ve learned the value of silence.

So if you’re feeling stuck or tired or in need of fresh ideas, just stop, kick back and relax. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, it can only make your writing stronger. Brains, like batteries, need recharging every now and then. And boy, mine was running awfully low.

Now, I’m off to take my daughters out driving, armed with their permits and my father’s spirit urging me to stay calm, just as he did when he taught me.

Lessons in advertising my eBook (what worked, what didn’t)

Hunter Shea:

A huge thanks to author Matt Manochio who boldly explored the world of marketing and selling his book and lived to tell the tale…and provide invaluable information!

Originally posted on Scary Funny:

How many books do I need to sell to make a bestsellers list?

Every author at some point has Googled a variation of that question. Because let’s face it: most of us want to see our name on The New York Times bestsellers list right above or below whichever 50 Shades book is befouling that list, and there’s no shame in admitting that. (Yes, technically it would be nice to be #1, but you’ve got to start somewhere.)

So how do I get on the bestsellers list without cashing out my 401k and buying 9,000 copies of my book? (I read somewhere that 9,000 is the number of books you’d need to sell in a week to get on the NYT list. Whether that’s true, I have no idea. God bless what you read on the Internet.)

My point is you need people to buy your book. And for a…

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Writing Your Book – The Thousand Word March

I’m about to let you in on a secret that will help you write that book that’s been dying to get out. The best part is, you can do it without having an existential crisis.

It’s been too long since I’ve posted anything about writing in the trenches in this genre I love so much. Back when I was locking myself away in my room, tapping out words and getting nothing but rejection or worse, silence, I never dreamed I’d be in the position I’m in today. Sure, I did it with the goal of legitimate publication (whatever your own definition of that may be), but I just never thought I’d have a year like this one with three books coming out and writing four more for three different publishers for next year.

I’m not a full time writer. Writing doesn’t have health benefits, and if you’ve stopped by the blog and chain, you know I need them for my wife, who is the queen of auto-immune diseases. So I have a full time job that is more than that – it’s a solid career that can’t be ignored or pushed to the side. I have two amazing kids – teens now –the same number of cats, old friends, new friends, things to do and places to see every day.

The question everyone asks me is, ‘How in the world can you manage to write several books a year? Do you sleep? When’s the last time your family saw you? Or you saw the sun?’

My answer is usually that I just sit down and write because I truly enjoy the process. And yes, that is part of it. But what is the process?

Hunter writes

Basically, what works for me is something I’ve called The Thousand Word March – or TTWM if I’m too lazy to say or spell it out. When I started working with editors, I quickly found out that they think and talk in terms of thousands. Discussing the length of your work in progress, whether it’s a story, novella or novel, it’s all about word count, not the number of pages or file size of your Word document.

They’ll say, “I’d love it if you could get me that novel under 95,000 words, but no less than 90,000.” Or if you’re pitching a novella, they might say, “Anything between 28,000 and 50,000 words will do it.”

So, if they’re thinking in thousands, I had to rethink the way I worked and made my own projections. My first horror novel, Forest of Shadows, was a true labor of love. I worked on it for almost five years. When people asked about my progress, I’d tell them I was 185 pages in and so on. Come time to pitch it to the sole publisher I sent it to (fodder for a later post), I proudly stated it was 550 pages.

But to an editor, 550 pages does not translate. The number of pages I write will never equal the print pages in a book because of font and paper size, spacing, etc. It turned out my 550 pages equaled over 100,000 words, which was a little more than Samhain wanted at the time. So, I had to do some editing to get it under 95,000.

When it came time to write my next book, I came up with The Thousand Word March to wrap my head around the best way to proceed. Knowing that my editor would like something between 85,000 and 90,000, I looked at the calendar to see how long it would take me to get the first draft done. Since my editor also hinted that he’d like me to write two books a year for him, I knew I couldn’t just cruise along at my own speed. That’s a good thing. It prevents procrastination from rearing its ugly head. Nothing works better than a fire under one’s posterior.

Staring at the calendar, I thought, if I just did 1,000 words a day, I’d have a 90,000 word book completed in three months. Hmmm. A thousand words a day. I could do that. I don’t have tons of free time, but I almost always have time to write 1,000 words. In fact, as I started working on that book, I realized that even on a day when the words were hard to find, I could accomplish my mission within an hour. So, if I set aside an hour and a half each weeknight, I could hit my writing goal, that extra half hour spent doing all the other things a working writer has to do, like marketing, responding to emails and maybe tooling around with a short story.

On weekends, I shoot for 2,000 – 3,000 words a day. This way, I can finish ahead of schedule, giving me more time for editing later on. I know it sounds like a lot, but when you work at it all the time and get into a rhythm, it’s really not so bad. In fact, I’ve found that by writing on Saturday and Sunday mornings, before the day drains my brain, I can write far more in less time. The key is to get at least 7,000 words in a week so I can meet my goal of a full novel in three months.

Weekends are also a good time to catch up on days you might have missed during the week. Look, we all have lives to live and you can’t always find the time to write. Here’s what my past week looked like :

Monday – 1,900 words (I doubled up knowing that Tuesday was my day off, so to speak.)

Tuesday – nothing (It was St. Patrick’s Day and I’m Irish. ‘Nuff said.)

Wednesday – 1,100 words

Thursday – 1,000 words

Friday – 1,000 words

Saturday – 2,300 words

Sunday – 2,500 words

So, if my goal is 7,000 words a week, even taking a day off, I was able to write 9,800 words, putting me ahead of the game. Total time spent writing, marketing and other stuff – 10 hours. When you think of it, that’s not bad at all. I still had time to work, cook meals, watch movies, spend time with my family and friends and read. I read at least two books a week. I can’t function without my books.

Where do you find 10 hours? Look no further than your TV or YouTube or any other time suck. Turn ‘em off for a while. I promise, they’ll be there when you’re finished. Think of it as a reward for a job well done. What’s more important, watching housewife cat fights or creating your own work of art?

Some weeks are going to be far more productive than others. If you lock your mind on The Thousand Word March, you’ll always know exactly where you stand and what you need to do to accomplish your goals – all without having to become a crazed recluse.

Look, I know there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing. Everyone has to find their own way, just as they find their own voice. This is what works for me. If you’re struggling or feel intimidated by the blank page, give it a shot. The Thousand Word March can take you to some pretty amazing places.


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Editing The Hell Out Of Your Book

From my understanding, hell is a place where bad people go.

First drafts are places where hellish sentences, plots and characters lurk. When you edit, you’re a manuscript exorcist. The power of revision compels you! The power of revision compels you!

As imperative as the editing process is, I’ve seen plenty of aspiring writers stuck in revision hell. I know people who have been editing and tweaking their first novel for over ten years. Then there are people who think a first draft is all you need, forgetting that when you say first draft, that implies there must come a second, third, yadda-yadda-yadda. We all can’t be Robert B. Parker who obtained legendary status as a writer who loathed rewrites. Let’s consider him the outlier, not the standard.

When you edit, you have to set tight rules. You want to polish that lump of coal into a diamond, but it has no value if you never get it out to an agent or publisher.

When 2014 ends, I will have published 8 books in 3 years. I’m always working on something, so I can’t let myself slip into editing hell. But, I also can’t scrimp on revising each novel and novella.

Editing, to me, is synonymous with the word rounds. Each book will require several rounds of revisions. And when I say round, I mean going from start to end, re-reading and rewriting like a person possessed. Here’s an example of how I edited my upcoming novella, The Waiting.

First Round : Also known as the first draft. My main concern at this stage was getting the story down. Occasionally I would go back and tweak what I wrote the day before, but the theme in this round is always onward and upward! Hell, what’s pouring out of me at this point may not even make sense, but somewhere in that mess is the backbone of the book. The key is to power through and get to The End.

Second Round : This is where the hard work comes in. I read every line from start to end, making changes, wiping out whole sections, adding more, tightening plot points, checking for grammar, punctuation, etc. Of all the rounds, this is the one with the most heavy lifting. This is where the story truly comes alive.

Third Round : I have several trusted people who are  my first readers. For each book, I’ll select two of them to read the manuscript. One looks at it like a line editor, finding all of my many mistakes, checking for continuity and basically making it look like I passed English class with flying colors. Another reads it to give me feedback on the story itself. They make suggestions on how to improve the story. Some parts need to be placed in earlier sections of a book, others tossed into a deep, deep pit. They’ll also point out sub-plots that my conscious mind wasn’t aware of, affording me the chance to further explore them and make the overall story stronger. The feedback from my first readers has a value impossible to quantify. I’m eternally in their debt.

Fourth Round : In this round, I take the line edits from my first reader and correct all of the mistakes. For me, this is the easiest round since someone has already told me what to do. I just need to follow orders.

Fifth Round : Now another very hard part. Scrambling the pieces of the story around based on my other first reader’s feedback. This can be a heavy rewrite that can take weeks, or a little less punishing that may only take all  my free time for a week.

Sixth Round : After I’ve retooled the entire book, I have to read it again, making more revisions as I go. This can be heaven or it can be hell. If it’s heaven, it’s ready to go once I’ve reached the last page. If it’s hell, it means another round of edits.

Luckily, for The Waiting, I was able to stop at 6 rounds. Double lucky was that it was a novella and only a hundred pages. Sweet. Now, when I wrote my thriller, The Montauk Monster ,a book that was just under 100,000 words, I believe I went as far as 8 rounds. Remember earlier when I said you have to set editing rules? That was essential for The Montauk Monster because I only had 4 months to write and edit the book. If your goal is to be a working writer, you’re going to be writing your ass off, year in and year out. There’s no time to be trapped in editing hell.

Don’t let the multiple rounds process scare you. Believe it or not, you’ll like the book more and more with each round. You may even grow to love it! The passion you felt on writing the first page will be rekindled. Honest.

I’m not saying this is the way you have to do it. It’s just the way I do it and it’s been working…so far.

Anyone out there stuck in editing hell? You have a revision trick that could benefit the rest of the class? Come on, let’s hear it. When it comes to writing, old dogs learn new tricks every day. I’ll send a signed promo copy of the cover of The Montauk Monster to the first 10 people in the U.S. who add to the conversation (have to watch that postage! if you live outside the US, I’ll find something else for you).

Happy editing!

Glenn Rolfe Toes the Line with Samhain Horror Head Honcho, Don D’Auria

Hunter Shea:

How could I not share this great interview with my Samhain editor and all around swell guy, Don D’Auria!

Originally posted on Horror Novel Reviews:

Interview conducted by: Glenn Rolfe

Samhain Publishing editor and lead dog on the company’s horror line, Don D’Auria, has been in the business since the eighties. Driven by love of horror and the passion to bring this fictional evil to a world in dire need of great distractions, Don has brought the literary world of terror (not manned by a King or Koontz) back from the dead (in the mid-nineties with authors like Ramsey Campbell, Richard Laymon, and Jack Ketchum), only to watch his work sink in the great Dorchester Publishing debacle of 2010. He remerged in 2011 with Samhain and a boat load of amazing authors to once again conquer the horror world.

In 2011 Smahain author Frazer Lee’s debut novel, The Lamplighters, was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. John Everson followed in 2012 with a nomination for Superior Achievement…

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When Book Signings Go Bad

OK, in actuality, the book signing where we took this picture went quite well. My daughters thought it would be funny to take this pic to show what a disaster a signing can turn into if no one shows up. I’ve had a few of those in my time. I laugh about them now, but when they were happening – damn, they sucked.

Bad Book Signing

Want to hear about the worst book signing ever? About 10 years ago, I self pubbed a darkly comedic suspense novel. It had mobsters, porn stars, UFO nuts, a benevolent drug dealer, old men on a quest, a dominatrix and gay fashion desingers. I still love that book and hope to give it another life, but that’s another story.

I somehow snagged a signing at a huge Barnes & Noble. At the time, I was petrified of public speaking, so when I arranged it, I expressly said it would be a signing only.

When I showed up, I saw they purchased about 40 books! Whoa. How the hell was I, an unknown with a self pubbed novel, supposed to sell 40 books? And on a Tuesday night no less?

Imagine my growing horror when the manager walked me to a podium that stood in front of 50 chairs. She said they wanted me to read from the book and talk about the writing life. I almost had a heart attack.

In those 50 chairs was my wife, her friend, and a half dozen men who didn’t look well at all. Turns out, they were a hepatitis support group. When I spoke in my trembling voice, they looked at me like I was disturbing them – which I was. Thankfully, no one other than my wife and her friend listened to me at all. I said my piece and quickly sat down.

Aaaaand, for the next 2 hours, I proceeded to sell ZERO books. The manager looked like she wanted to hang me. I wanted to crawl  under the building.

To this day, I use that night as my unit of book signing success measurement. So far, everything since has been FAR, FAR BETTER. Lower those expectations, and the world is your oyster.

What are your book signing horror stories? Ever had one, or watched one go down in flames? I know I’m not the only one.

Travelogue of a Novel

So often, writers give advice on how to write (or not write) a book. It’s high-time someone gave a glimpse into where to bang those keys for your next novel.

The answer is simple – you can write anywhere! There’s no need to wait until you have that perfect ‘study’ with the mahogany desk, shelves lined with important books, bay window overlooking Mother Nature in all her glory. If you want to write, if the words just have to come out of you like that little guy from Alien, you’ll write anywhere you can. SinisterEntity_v3

My latest novel, Sinister Entity, was written all over the place. In a year’s time, I worked on it everywhere from New York, to Pennsylvania and Maine. I worked mornings, afternoons, nights, basically any time I could steal away to purge the story from my mind.

I started in the corner of my bedroom I call my office. Here is where I’m surrounded by all my stuff, the things that make me comfortable, my reference materials, signed pics of Elvira, yadda yadda yadda.

Home office

About a dozen chapters in, we went with my family to our annual trip to the Poconos. I woke up early every day to write downstairs in the living room and kitchen (which had a great view of the sunrise, by the way).

shawnee

Then it was back to the home office. Before we knew it, summer hit and it was time to go camping, our my family’s version of camping that involves a cabin with cable TV, a full kitchen and shower. Again, I mostly worked mornings on the porch, smelling the surrounding forest and flicking dew drops and strange bugs from the screen.

Jellystone 2

That was a special year because we took 2 vacations. The second was to my home away from home and favorite place in the world, Maine. I wrote all times of the day, either on the back porch or by the lake. It’s especially cool and inspiring to write a horror novel in the very same town where Stephen King penned a few of his own.

Maine porch

Now all I had was the last fourth of the book to go. And after so many tranquil locations, where did I end up? My cramped kitchen, of course. Not sure why it is, but I seem to write best there. Go figure.

Kitchen

I also did some writing in an airport during a four hour flight delay and made quite a few trips to the library to tap out a few hundred words here and there. The thing is, I wrote wherever I was at the time. I didn’t have time to wait for the perfect moment or place. I simply wrote.

Now go out there and create!

The Joy of Deadlines

Whether you hate them or not, if you’re crazy enough to make it a go of this whole writer thing, deadlines are going to be a part of your life. I’ve heard people say they work better with a deadline – the sound of that little clock ticking lights their creative fire. Others lament that the pressure of a deadline drives them down Writer’s Block Lane, sometimes with a short stop at Xanax Drive.

In my experience, every writer vacillates between embracing and running from deadlines. It depends on your mood, the project (horror writer takes on romance novel for single grannies – wtf???), what’s happening in your life at the moment and – here’s an important one – the money. I’m not saying that money makes it easier. Heck no. Sometimes, the carrot of a big advance can cause temporary paralysis. Other times, you want to put that pool in and that advance will pay for it and the party to christen it, so watch those fingers fly!

deadline2So, what do you do when a deadline looms and you can’t get the words from your brainpan to the keyboard? Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill. I’m sure Pfizer is working on one, but we’re years from it hitting the market place.

All I can offer is my own experience. One thing I’ve done over the past few years is to set a personal deadline for everything I write, whether an editor has a set expectation or not. This way, I’m training myself to write both with a purpose and a plan.

Here’s an example. It’s May 1st and I’m about to start my new novel. Now, my editor has only asked that I send something to him any time in the next year. Well, if I want to build my brand, I can’t rest on my laurels. I have to write a couple of novels and some short stories and maybe even a novella for good measure within that year. Oh, and I have my day job that requires most of my time and my family.

If I didn’t set deadlines for myself, I’d be sunk. So, on May 1st, I estimate that my book will be about 90,000 words. I figure 4 months is a good amount of time to get ‘er done. In my mind, the book has to be complete on September 1st. I want to get that first draft finished by mid July so I have time to show it to my first readers and do several rounds of edits. That means I have about 75 days to write my first draft.

Editor deadline

If I do 1,000 words a day on weekdays, and 2,000 on weekends, I’ll cruise on in to my deadline. Then I have to take into account days when life just prevents my ass from sitting down and writing. Well, I’ll make up those words with a week of 1,500 words or maybe cram 5,000 on a Saturday.

The key is that through the entire process, I know exactly where I am, where I need to be, and what needs to be done each day to make it. You have to factor in situations that will throw a monkey wrench in the works. Shit happens. You’ll be fine as long as you’re planning ahead how to get back on track without adding more gray to your scalp.

It’s vital to remember that you’re in control. Writing is more than just something you’ve chosen to do – it’s something you love to do. Always, and I mean always, strive to have fun.

And repeat after me. Deadlines shmeadlines.

What’s been your experience with deadlines? What are some of the tricks you use to get over the hump? Inquiring writers want to know! I’ll give a free e-copy of my book, Sinister Entity, to a random person who comments about their deadline joy.

Must Haves for Horror Fans – Part 1

OK horror hounds, it’s time for some basic training. I understand there are a lot of new recruits out there, and even some lifers, that need the foundation to become a true horror aficionado. Now, put your chainsaws and machetes down and listen up. I’m going to give you a list of books and authors you must know inside and out. Are you hearing me Private Pyle?

Decades later and I still obssess over Full Metal Jacket. I’m not going to say you look like 50 pounds of chewed bubble gum. I won’t raise my voice. I’m simply here to open your horror eyes a little wider. Shall we begin?

This is what you should read to see how a master works their trade. I’m only leaving out Stephen King because he’s soooo obvious.

Algernon Blackwood. Get your hands on everything he’s ever done. Read it at night and enjoy your nightmares.

M.R. James. I can’t count how many horror writers cite him as an inspiration.
Richard Matheson. He’s the author of I Am Legend, Hell House, the best Twilight Zone episodes and Kolchak, The Night Stalker. “Nuff said.

HellHouseMathesonCover-thumb-330x500-50213

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Maybe the scareist haunted house novel ever written.

The Store by Bentley Little. So close to the truth that it’s terrifying.

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. Gut wrenching, brutal, incredibly sad and real. A master work. The Monster Men reviewed it on our podcast. You can check it out here.

The Magic Cottage by James Herbert. I’m always astounded by how many folks in America have never heard of Herbert. He’s only like the Stephen King of the UK. You can’t lose with any of his books, but I highly suggest you start with this one. He just passed away last month, so cherish each book as you tread down the path of discovery.

Curfew by Phil Rickman. Another UK import, Rickman’s books can be hard to find, but when you do, treasure them.

Curfew_07_11_2011_21_40_32

Richar Laymon. He was taken from us way too soon, but thankfully he was prolific. Almost every up and coming horror super star waxes poetic about his books. My favorites are Bite and One Rainy Night.

Ghoul by Brian Keene. Yes, Keene may be responsible for resurrecting the zombie genre, but Ghoul is still my favorite.

Oh no, I’m not stopping at 10. My list goes to 11.

Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon. Words can’t express how great this book is.

You have your list, now hit the bookshelves. Hard. Stay tuned for part 2 where I highlight movies.

And if there are any books/authors you feel should be on the list, speak now or forever hold your peace.

Dismissed!

Getting off the Island : Writing Life Rafts

When it comes to writing, we often feel like we’re on a desert island. Some days, we’d love to run into Gilligan just to have someone to talk to. We chose this path, and we have to go it alone (cue The Hulk walking away music).

Yes, writing is a solo endeavor, but you can get a helping hand from time to time. A lot of people don’t know where to turn. Here are a few reference materials that will not only walk alongside you, but also help you get to your destination. Being a horror writer, I’m going to come at this from that genre’s angle, but this is really for everyone.

Inspiration/Self Help

There are so many writing self-help books out there, you can spend a lifetime reading them and never getting any actual writing done. In my 20 years of writing, I’ve found two books have helped me more than any others. The first, naturally, is Stephen Kings On Writing. There’s no magic here, just good homespun advice that you a put into practice right away, The second is Errnest Hemingway on Writing. The man changed the way people read and write. Learn at his feet.

On_Writing

Writing References

I know that every english teacher will tell you Strunk and White is a necessity. I have my copy sitting on my shelf, but it has enough dust on it to choke a horse. I much prefer Bill Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words. Not only will he teach you the difference between affect and effect, but he’ll amuse you as he guides you along.

Bill Bryson

Submitting Your Work

For my money, there’s really only on place to go, and that’s the Writer’s Market. I prefer the online version to the biblically sized print because it stays current and won’t strain your arm. Here you’ll find agents, publishers, magazines and guidelines for submission.

For a horror writer, you can also join the Horror Writer’s Association (HWA) and persuse all of the genre specific materials they have on archive.

Marketing Your Work

And you thought all you had to do was write! :) Marketing and promotion are a large chunk of every writer’s life. Learn how to do it best by picking up any of Kristen Lamb’s books, We Are Not Alone : The Guide to Social Media or Are You There Blog? : It’s Me, Writer. I’ve read more books on the subject than I can recall. These 2 short books are all you need. She gives tips that work the moment you put them in place. Great stuff.

Knowing Your Genre

I know I’ve said this a million times, but you can’t expect to be a writer if you don’t read…a lot. So if you’re a horror writer like me, you need to read as much as you can get your hands on. Know what works, what sells, where the genre is going, where it’s been. I know there are a lot of Leisure horror fans that were crestfallen, like me, when they went under. The good news is that a lot of those writers are putting out books with my publisher, Samhain, because that’s where editor superstar Don D’Auria has set up shop. But make sure you read in other genres as well. Being well rounded only makes you a better writer.

See, short and sweet. No need to be bogged down with books and organizations to follow, but at least you know there’s help out there. We don’t need Professor to get off the island from time to time.

What are some of your favorite writing themed books? What’s worked best for you?

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