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I want to end the year with a little gift giving. I’m offering two winners complimentary admission to my picture book writing course Art of Arc. In addition, I’m offering two Art of Arc students or alumni complimentary picture book critiques. The winners will be determined by a drawing.

love-sweet-love.

How do you enter in the drawing?

By giving the gift of inspirational and touching words to your blog readers and my blog readers. Please read through to the end of the post for all the instructions. Leave a comment, sharing your favorite quote, short poem, or essay (100 words or less for each) related to any of the following topics:

 

Giving/Generosity
Peace
Love
Gratitude
Believe
Magical/Miracles

 

mlk

 

Your entry does not have to include the above words. It only needs to convey the heart of any one of the words. Don’t forget to include attribution if the work you share is not your own. And if the work is yours, be sure to add your name at the end.

miracles

In addition, your entry should be posted on your blog with a link back to this post between Sunday, December 4 and Sunday, December 25. Please include a link to your blog post in your comment.

great-love

The winners will be announced on December 27. I will be traveling at that time, which means if for some reason I have problems with an Internet connection, the winner announcement may be delayed.

“Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.”               – Henri Nouwen

Happy Holidays!

heart

Some of the quotes in this post were found at brainyquote.com

This post was originally part of Marcie Flinchum Atkins’s blog seried WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

Marcie had asked the contributors to this series the following question: How do you keep yourself motivated? We all like to have written, but find it hard to stay motivated to write.

Following is my response to the question.

Some words my thesaurus gives for “motivated” are inspired, stimulated and encouraged. Some antonyms for those words are demotivated, uninspired, depressed and discouraged.

When it comes to writing, do you ever feel demotivated? Discouraged? Uninspired? Depressed or frustrated? What might be behind those feelings? Following are ten obstacles to consider when you lack the motivation to write. I have listed a few ways to combat each obstacle. Can you find some other ways of your own?

1. Fear
List the beliefs, thoughts, events, situations etc. that are behind the fear and find a way around those obstacles.

2. Lack of Knowledge
Take classes; read; ask questions; participate in writing community discussions; attend conferences; join a critique group; read blogs; join a group like Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12, or kidlit411, or Sub Six, or WOW nonficpic, and many more.

3. Lack of Ideas
Join Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo; start an idea file; live life thinking like a writer – eventually you’ll hardly go through a day without hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting or feeling something that sparks an idea; ask other writers how they get ideas. This is a common question in author interviews, so read interviews.

4. Rejections
Read “We’re All in This Together” posts on rejection (post #1 and post #2) and my post on TWELVE METHODS FOR COPING WITH REJECTIONS.

5. Other People’s Successes
Instead of letting the green-eyed monster frustrate, discourage or depress you, do something nice. Congratulate the other writers. Buy their books. Share their success on your blog or elsewhere. Let their success inspire you. Believe the same is possible for you.

6. Feeling Overwhelmed or Overloaded
Take a break by doing enjoyable things that you have not allowed yourself to do for a long time. Cut yourself some slack and prioritize. Are all those “shoulds” spinning around your head really that important? See time management link in #10 this post. Journal, meditate, vent to someone that you know truly understands.

7. Distractions
Set limits on social media and other computer distractions. Find a place and time to write that is void of distractions. Are you a distracted mom? See Marcie’s “Mom’s Write” series.

8. Writing for the Wrong Reasons
Ask yourself why you are writing. If it is to become famous or make lots of money, those reasons might not be enough to motivate you after you’ve received a few rejections. They might not be enough to motivate you away from distractions. There has to be something in it that makes you want to write no matter what. Even if no one ever reads it, you are compelled to write. What makes you love writing? According to my Webster’s Dictionary, the definition for motivate is “To provide with a motive.” The definition of motive is “Something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act.” What is your motive for writing?

9. Beating a Dead Horse
After sending the same story to your critique group twenty times, you might feel like you are beating a dead horse. After getting twenty rejections for the same manuscript, you might feel like you are beating dead horse. When going around in circles editing the same old five stories, you might feel like you are beating five dead horses. Try putting the dead horses away for a while and start writing five fresh stories.

10. No Time
Look at your time realistically. Are you trying to fit a 72-hour day into 12 hours? If so, you have too much on your plate and something must go. What will it be? When considering this, the first place to look is time wasters. Check out these time management tools.

Your turn: What keeps you motivated when things in your writing life get tough?

heartWHERE IS THE LOVE?

by Alayne Kay Christian

“Until you have learned to be tolerant with those who do not always agree with you: until you have cultivated the habit of saying some kind word of those whom you do not admire: until you have formed the habit of looking for the good instead of the bad there is in others, you will be neither successful nor happy.”  – NAPOLEON HILL

If you haven’t heard, I’m very excited to share that I have signed a multi-book deal with Clear Fork publishing. SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: TRYING TO MAKE IT RAIN will be the first chapter book in the series, which is expected to be released in April 2017. More information to follow. I had an outpouring of love and cheers from the writing community, and I am overwhelmingly grateful.

Speaking of love, I spend a great deal of time sharing “the love” by trying to help fellow writers for free outside of my paid services. Why? Because that’s the kind of community I want to be a part of. A community that lifts others up not puts others down. I’ve always been proud to be a part of our loving, kind, and giving writing community. But I’ve noticed that sometimes people get caught up in negativity on social media. Writers talk a lot about diversity. We write about tolerance and acceptance of others. But sometimes we forget to apply them ourselves.

This is a close-knit community where many of us belong to the same groups. This means there is potential that most everybody sees a popular thread. Remember people, publishing houses, agencies, and people’s books that are called out by name in a negative way will likely be read by those being harmed by that discussion. Just for a moment, I will deem myself Grandmother of the kid lit world and ask that everyone, regardless of your personal agenda, please, please, please be respectful and considerate of the feelings of those who have chosen a different path than you or have taken a different path than you think you might choose in the future. For the dreams, goals, hearts, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears that they put into their work make them the same as you. Remember, you are talking about human beings and their projects that are near and dear to their hearts. Before you make a negative comment, consider who might read it, and try putting yourself in their shoes. How would you feel?

Don’t judge. Celebrate. Show some tolerance, acceptance, and compassion to your fellow writers. Bring back the love.

  • If you’re experience makes you concerned that a fellow writer might be making a bad career choice, reach out to them privately.
  • If your experience makes you want to warn new writers about contracts and signing with certain types of publishers or certain agents. Consider doing it in general terms and not by focusing on any one publisher or agent. Or again, do it privately.
  • Lastly, condemning people or their work publically is not cool.

My goal here is to stop negative, hurtful, and harmful discussions. I always welcome comments, but please in the words of Thumper, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” Much appreciated.

 

 

roller-coasterA LITTLE OF THIS

This year has been one wild and crazy ride for me, and it seems it’s time to share just a little bit. The year began by purging my house of a lifetime collection of possessions, and by the time my husband and I were done in April, about two thirds of all we owned had been donated or sold. We also sold our house with no intention of moving into a traditional home or apartment. We moved onto our 35-foot sailboat. My husband retired in May, and our next step was to start our RV hunt, which did not go as smoothly as anticipated. Actually from the time we moved onto the boat, it seemed we had one challenge after another. But I won’t bore you with the details. Maybe another time. In July, we settled into our 43-foot RV just across the way from our boat. A beautiful setting. Yet, the challenges continued. We believe this month will be the last month of getting the creases out, and we can finally settle down and start traveling in November.

Did all this have an impact on my life as a writer? Oh yes. Big time! And even now that I’m finding my way in this new lifestyle, there are still challenges like inconsistent Internet, which drives me crazy. But, getting up each morning and looking out at the lake with our boat’s mast waving hello sooths my soul and all is well. I must also say that I’ve never seen so many beautiful sunsets in such a short time. Life is good.

In the midst of my madness, I was invited to write a guest post on maintaining your health as a writer. It took me a while to get around to it but it is finally here!

balance-writing-lifeThis month, I’m honored to share that Colleen Story is featuring my guest post HOW TO BALANCE AN OUT-OF-CONTROL WRITING LIFE on her blog and in her newsletter, WRITING AND WELLNESS: Putting the Power of You Behind Your Best Creative Life. I hope you’ll take a little time to read it and ponder the balance or lack of balance in your writing life. Thanks to Colleen for inviting me to be her guest.

A LITTLE OF THAT

Writer friends often express their struggles with rejection and the temptation to throw in the towel. So, I’ve been trying to post inspirational quotes here and there. I share a few of them below.

If you are thinking about or feeling like giving up, don’t do it! Hold your ground. “Victory is not won in miles but in inches. Win a little now, hold your ground, and later win a little more.”

– Louis L’Amour

“I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game’s winning shot . . . and missed. And I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why . . . I succeed.”

– Michael Jordan

“Perseverance is not a long race: it is many short races one after another.”

– Walter Elliott

“Fall seven times, stand up eight.”

– Japanese Proverb

I like the following quote because it not only applies to us as writers, but it applies to the stories we write as well. Think about it. . . . “If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”

– Frank A. Clark

This brings me to . . .

WHY ARE CHARACTER ARCS IMPORTANT?

In most picture books, the main character doesn’t just wander through the plot. They move through with purpose. They overcome challenges. And most importantly, the plot changes them. They learn from the events and challenges that the arc builds, and this is how they arrive at a satisfying conclusion/resolution. The tension and emotional core that the arc creates show the reader that the story is worth reading. It makes the reader care about the character and shows them why the story matters.

Art of Arc V3Whether fiction or nonfiction, if you’ve been told your story needs more arc, or it needs more tension, or it needs more heart, or it needs more focus, my Art of Arc picture book writing course will help you find what your stories need to take them to the next level. And it only costs as much as one professional critique.

Enjoy putting more balance in your writing life!

“Potential vanishes into nothing without effort.” I’m not sure, who to attribute this quote to, so I’ll tell you where it came from and let you decide. During her RNC speech, Ivanka Trump quoted her father, Donald Trump, as saying this to her as a child. Please don’t let your political views stop you from receiving those words of wisdom. When I heard them, I heard them with the ears of an author. An author who sometimes gets discouraged. And I was inspired.

 

In my critiques, I often tell the author of the manuscript, in a variety of ways, something like “This story has potential.” I believe that a portion of writers receive my critiques as inspiration to take their story to the next level. And I fear that a portion of them become discouraged and put their story aside. So, I offer this simple blog post as encouragement and inspiration.

 

KEEP ON.png

 

How do you react to critiques? How do you react to rejections? If you give up, your story’s potential vanishes. If you stand strong and keep on keeping on, that effort may nurture your story until it blooms into the beautiful flower it is meant to be.

12X12 NINJAOne of the many benefits of Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 group is the Manuscript Makeover section in the 12 x 12 forum. Members post their picture book manuscripts in the forum and critique ninjas pop in and offer critiques. Last month, I had the pleasure of being a critique ninja. I’ll be returning in September for another month as ninja. There are many talented writers in 12 x 12, and I read lots of stories – some fun, some funny, some touching – all creative. I found a pattern in many of the stories I read. They had elements of episodic storytelling.

 

Following, I provide a brief overview of episodic storytelling in an abbreviated lesson from my online picture book manuscript writing and analyzing course Art of Arc.

 

Rising Chaos

 

A while back, in response to a critique I had done for a chapter book, the author responded, in part, with the following:

 

“For me, rising action means adding story problems! Rising chaos!”

 

That’s one way I would describe an episodic story. While the story might be entertaining dogand move forward, it meanders. An episodic story reminds me a bit of the expression, “The tail wagging the dog.” For a while, the story is taken over by some fun and entertaining scene(s), but eventually it has to get back to the story as a whole – the one with a cohesive beginning, middle, and end. The entertainment is the tail – the dog is the main character who is being wagged by the tail – and as a result, your reader is also being wagged by the tail.

 

The story takes the reader down a meandering path that is disconnected from the other parts of the story. Perhaps the path is loosely connected because the protagonist is involved and there is some sort of loose connection to the character’s problem. But the question to consider is, how connected is each scene to the scene that came before and the scene that follows?

 

The goal in a picture book with a classic arc is to have scenes flow seamlessly, building off each other until they are so blended you don’t even notice the changes that lead up to the end.

 

In an episodic story, the scenes often feel disconnected.

 

The scenes feel erratic, and even though the scene itself might have some tension, it doesn’t add tension to the story as a whole. The story might be moving forward, but the reader has a sense that she is not getting anywhere.

Whackamole

In the picture book manuscripts I critique, I often find main characters taking action, going from one place (or one thing) to another with no real reason. It’s a little bit like the main character is playing a game of Whack-a-Mole. To the reader, it feels like the main character is spending all his time reacting to any obstacle that pops up. He has no real plan or reason for his actions – no real direction. Episodic stories lack focus and direction. Many times circumstances or other characters drive the direction the story takes, and the main character seems to go along for the ride. We see no change or growth in the scenes or in the story. One way that change and growth are revealed is through decisions.

 


SOME WAYS TO TEST YOUR PICTURE BOOK MANUSCRIPT FOR EPISODIC ELEMENTS

 

DOES IT MATTER WHERE EACH SCENE APPEARS IN THE STORY?

 

With storylines built via cause and effect, scenes rely on each other to tell the story and to build tension. What if you moved your scenes around? Would the plot change? If it doesn’t matter where a particular scene happens in the story, it is likely episodic.

 

ARE SCENE GOALS RELATED TO THE STORY GOAL (larger plotline)?

 

Although scenes stand alone, they also need to be steps in the story plot. How does each scene advance the story (related to the plot as a whole)? Does the resolution or discovery made at the end of one scene set things up for the next? Or stated differently, does the next scene start with something that stemmed from the prior scene – an event, a decision, an action – and then move on to something new that leads to the next scene?

 

IS THE RISING ACTION, RISING CHAOS?

 

Are the main character’s challenges independent problems that create a meaningless (as related to the big story problem) obstacle course for the main character?  How can the challenges all be connected to the common thread of the story? Resist causing unnecessary trouble for the main character. Even when the trouble is entertaining, fun, and exciting, if it doesn’t have “whole story” purpose, it is probably episodic.

 

Each of the main character’s challenges should involve the following:

 

  • Overcoming the obstacle for that portion of the story.
  • Have significance to the bigger story. Remember, the main character has a big story goal and then smaller goals as the story builds. The smaller goals should not be too far removed from the big goal.

 

IS THERE A GOAL DRIVING THE SCENE?

 

Why is the main character in this scene? Why is he taking action? Is he taking intentional action or is he just reacting with no goal in mind?

 

DO THE SCENES INFORM THE READER?

 

  • What will the reader learn about the story (as a whole)?
  • What will the reader learn about the main character?
  • Do these events and actions move the plot forward in a way that makes the reader care about the main character, become curious, want to know more?
  • What is the purpose of the scene?

 

At the end of this post you will find a couple of links that will lead to excellent posts on episodic writing. Although they are not about picture book writing, they still help clarify what an episodic story is and why it can be problematic. Although some people write episodic stories intentionally, I believe there is no room for episodic storytelling in picture books. Young children do not have the attention span to follow the chaos that is created in such a story.

 

Let me be clear about the above statement. I am talking about classic stories. There are picture books that may seem episodic, and at times that’s okay. Concept picture books are a good example. The reason these books can be episodic is because they are built around a theme or concept. Take a look at THE BELLY BOOK by Fran Manushkin or EVERYBODY SLEEPS (BUT NOT FRED) by Josh Schneider. Many of the events in these books could have happened at any point within the book (or story). But these books are not built around a classic arc. Every story you write will NOT need to be analyzed for episodic elements. However, if the story you are writing is built around a classic arc with rising action and cause and effect, watch for episodic elements.

 

In the Art of Arc Course, I list some books in the cause and effect section that have somewhat episodic segments, but they are still built around cause and effect. NO DAVID, by David Shannon and WHAT IF EVERYBODY DID THAT, by Ellen Javernick are a couple. Although many of the segments could appear anywhere in the book, these segments each have their own cause and effect.

 

In NO DAVID, David’s actions lead to a reaction from his mother. But eventually the sum of the events lead to a reaction from David and that event leads to the final reaction from his mother.

 

In WHAT IF EVERYBODY DID THAT, each time that question is asked the reader sees the effect.

 

In BECAUSE I STUBBED MY TOE, by Shawn Byous you will find a perfect example of how important the order of events can be. Everything that happens in this story is a result of the boy stubbing his toe, but it is also the result of the event that came before it. This is a true cause and effect book.

Copyright Alayne Kay Christian 2016

LINKS TO ARTICLES ON EPISODIC WRITING

 

Plotting Problems – Episodic Writing

By Marg McAlister

http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/plottingproblems.html

 

From Moody Writing

Episodic Storytelling is a problem

http://moodywriting.blogspot.com/2012/11/episodic-storytelling-is-problem.html

 

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CAUSE AND EFFECT, EPISODIC STORIES, art of arc extraOR STORY AND CHARACTER ARCS contact me and ask about the new TRY IT plan where you can try the first five Art of Arc lessons for $35.00 – purchased with no obligation to buy the remainder of the course. You may contact me using the “contact” tab at the top of this page, or via my Art of Arc webpage.

 

An outline of the first five lessons follows:

 

WELCOME SECTION

 

The welcome section includes a nine-page supplement demonstrating sixteen different picture book structures with diagrams, descriptions, and book titles.

 

LESSON ONE: BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

 

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What drives your protagonist?
  • Beginnings and hooks.
  • Who, what, where, when, why?
  • Story promise, reader’s expectations, and story questions.
  • Page-turners.
  • How the whole story connects to the ending.

 

This lesson includes supplemental materials that demonstrate the components of strong beginnings and endings. It also includes worksheets for analyzing published picture books and your manuscripts.

 

LESSON TWO: BEYOND THE HOOK

 

  • Setting the hook.
  • Creating a connection with the reader.
  • Inciting incident.
  • Ways to keep the reader reading.
  • More on page-turners.

 

This lesson includes supplemental materials that demonstrate the components of strong beginning and endings. It also includes worksheets for analyzing published picture books and your manuscripts.

 

LESSON THREE: OVERVIEW OF PICTURE BOOK PLOT STRUCTURE

 

  • Story arc (plot development)
  • Character arc (character development)
  • Questions to ponder
  • Small, scene goals
  • Tension
  • Feelings
  • Character turning points

 

LESSON FOUR: CAUSE AND EFFECT

 

  • What is cause and effect and why is it important
  • Diagrams
  • Writing exercises
  • Worksheets
  • Examples
  • Bonus supplement with links to additional info

 

LESSON FIVE: EPISODIC STORIES

 

  • What is an episodic story?
  • What causes a story to be episodic?
  • Worksheets and tips for testing your story for episodic elements
  • Links to additional info

 

 

 

 

UNEARTH YOUR PROTAGONIST’S TRUE GOAL.

By Alayne Kay Christian

dig

CAN YOU DIG A LITTLE DEEPER?

In my picture book writing course, Art of Arc: How to Analyze Your Picture Book Manuscript, I talk a lot about consequences. What does the protagonist stand to lose if he does not solve his problem or reach his goal? Why is it important to him on a personal level? This is one way to get your readers to connect with the protagonist on an emotional level. That connection makes the reader want to keep reading.

Sometimes, writers have difficulty giving their protagonist a strong goal that will carry the story and engage the reader. I often fall back to my life coaching days when I think about story characters, and I’d like to share how I relate character goals to coaching clients’ goals.

Very often, clients come to a life coach with surface goals. One of the first things I do with new clients is work to get to their deeper goals. The goals that really matter. The goals that will motivate the client and drive her to take action. If after exploring and digging, the client can’t unearth her true desires, I try a different approach. I ask the client what she doesn’t want. It seems that it is much easier for most people to identify and express what we don’t want. And this brings us back to our story writing. When searching for a strong goal, try asking yourself, “What is my main character trying to avoid? What does he NOT want?”

One more little tip along the same lines. A main character’s goal can be something he doesn’t want. And that is what I will leave you to think about today. Now for some exciting news.

 

AWARD WINNER, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA HAS BEEN RELEASED!

gong gong cover

 

Books that we authors write often feel like our babies. Books that our critique partners write can sometimes feel like nieces and nephews. Today, I would like to welcome my new little niece into the world. The winner of the Lee & Low New Voices Award, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA was written by my friend and critique partner Sylvia Liu. The fabulous illustrations were created by Christina Forshay.

Gong gong signing

Sylvia signing preorders at Prince Books in Norfolk, Virginia.

gong gong book shelf

On the shelf!

REVIEW

By Alayne Kay Christian

Inquisitive, bubbly Mei Mei watches Grandpa “dance slowly among the flowers in the garden.” He moves “like a giant bird stalking through the marsh.” His arms sway “like reeds.”

“What are you doing, Gong Gong?” Mei Mei asks. And this starts a dance between inquisitive, bubbly Mei Mei and patient, loving Gong Gong. Every page walks the reader through this beautiful, playful relationship. Mei Mei’s creative attempts to follow her grandfather’s tai chi moves bring smiles when I read and explore all there is to see in the illustration. While I keep smiling, the end tugs at my heartstrings as the dance continues with a fun but touching role reversal.

Sylvia Liu and Christina Forshay are perfect dance partners as well. Liu’s wonderful storytelling with lovely lyrical language paired with Forshay’s lively, flowing illustrations create a dance of their own. It’s a winning combination! As a mother, grandmother, author, and picture book writing teacher, I highly recommend this beautiful book.

Gong Gong spread 2

Art by Christina Forshay, used with permission from Lee & Low Books

 

MORE REVIEWS AND SOME GREAT INTERVIEWS

I considered interviewing Sylvia, but there are already some excellent interviews and other reviews out there, so I thought I would share the links to them.

Lin Gong offers a review and a great interview.

The Reading Nook Reviews gives an extensive review.

Kirkus Reviews offers their praises of A MORNING WITH GRANDPA.

Publisher’s Weekly offers their views here.

Yvonne Mes interviews Sylvia with questions about winning the Lee & Low New Voices Award and much, much more.

 

Sylvia NewSylvia Liu was inspired to write this story by the playful and loving relationship between her children and their Gong Gong. Before devoting herself to writing and illustrating children’s books, she worked as an environmental lawyer at the U.S. Department of Justice and the nonprofit group, Oceana. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and two daughters. This is Sylvia’s debut picture book. Visit her online at www.enjoyingplanetearth.com.

 

Christina ForshayChristina Forshay is a full-time illustrator known for her colorful images and joyous style. Born and raised in sunny California, she was inspired to become an illustrator by her many visits to Disneyland and by watching hours of cartoons as a child. Today, she still watches cartoons for inspiration for her illustrations! Christina lives with her husband, son, daughter, and two dogs in California. Visit her online at www.christinaforshay.com.

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