Friday, January 9, 2015

Imagination Plus Talent Equals Success

Thought for the day:  You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. [Mark Twain]

It doesn't require much imagination to appreciate what an overabundance of imagination our feline friends have. Ever watch 'em stare at a wall? For hours? What do they see...? Or how about when they gaze mesmerized at the ceiling? (Just to make us look up, I suspect.) And then there's the times they suddenly jump up and tear out of the room at top speed, as if they're off on some important mission.

Yep, no doubt about it. A cat's imagination can provide us with great entertainment. Come to think of it, I could say the same thing about writers with great imaginations, too. Imaginative writers who can create a whole new world and transport us there with their words truly have a gift. (And they never jump on your head or lick your face in the middle of the night, either. At least, none of the writers I know do...)

Like this gal. Dianne Salerni. She's a writer with a great nose for a story. That's what led her to research and write two YA historical novels, We Hear the Dead, about the early days of spiritualism, and The Caged Graves, about a couple of, um... caged graves.  A couple of real caged graves she spotted in a Pennsylvania cemetery. It took a lot of digging (HA) to ferret out as many facts as she could for both of those books, and a good deal of imagination to flesh out the bare bones of history to create books as good as those two. But her next book took her imagination to the next level. (Kinda like going from staring at the wall to looking into the future...)





The first book in her imagination-out-the-wazoo MG series the Eighth Day came out last year. Reeeeally good.




And NOW... (ta DA!) the second book in this series is gonna be released on January 27, just a couple short weeks away. I may not be in the MG category... heck, some of my GRANDKIDS are even beyond that... but I WILL be reading this book. Know why? Because good is good, and Dianne's books are... good. And did I mention? Very imaginative.

And now, I'm very pleased to say that the lovely Dianne has agreed to answer some very nosy questions I asked her recently. Hey! Inquiring minds want to know!

So here we go, for your entertainment:





ME:  So how did it go down, Dianne? Were you just sitting back in your easy chair one evening, sipping an adult beverage, and listening to an old Beatles album when they started singing Eight Days a Week, and a light bulb suddenly went off in your head? I mean, what inspired you to come up with such a super cool idea as a secret eighth day of the week?

DIANNE: The idea of a secret day came from a family joke. Whenever my daughters asked my husband when they could do something (go to the beach or to an amusement park, for example) and he didn’t have an answer handy, he’d say, “We’ll do it on Grunsday!”  One night, as this joke was being played out over dinner conversation, I wondered out loud, “What if there really was a Grunsday, but only a few people knew about it?” My family loved the idea, but after that initial thought, it took about 18 months for me to come up with a plot to go along with the premise and start writing.

ME:  It must be fun to write continuing tales about characters you know and love, but how difficult is it to strike a balance, such that you include enough background information to draw and keep the interest of new readers, without annoying your return readers who want to get on with the new story without too much back-pedaling and re-hashing? In other words, is it your goal for each book to stand on its own, or are you primarily trying to develop a returning fan base of readers who will eagerly await each new installment? Yeah, I know... BOTH! (And I hope you get both.)

DIANNE: It’s not impossible to read these books out of order, but readers will probably enjoy the series a lot more if they start with Book 1. The re-hashing thing gave me some trouble when I started drafting Book 2, but I thought I had a clever way to do it. In chapter one, I introduced a new POV character, 12-year-old Dorian Ambrose who, as a member of the nefarious Dulac clan, watches his father interrogate a prisoner about the events that occurred in the climax of Book 1. Doing the recap as a prisoner interrogation? Brilliant, right? My beta readers hated me starting the book this way. HATED IT. But they couldn’t articulate a reason why it didn’t work for them, so I ignored them and sent it to my editor anyway. My editor, being truly brilliant, explained why this didn’t work as an opening. If readers didn’t remember who the Dulacs were and what threat they posed to our heroes, the tension and significance of the scene would be lost. She convinced me that I needed to start the book with my protagonist, Jax, and make sure the reader was re-acquainted with all the characters before throwing the villains at them. She was right, of course, and I wrote a new first chapter that hopefully will serve as that quick re-hash and still keep the reader interested.
The prisoner interrogation comes in chapter two. ;)

ME:  Do you already have a long list of plot ideas for future installments, or do you prefer to operate with more of a one-book-at-a-time mentality?

DIANNE: When HarperCollins signed me for a 3-book contract (with two more optioned books), my editor asked me to plan a 5-book story arc that could end on Book 3 if they decided not to pick up the options.  At that point, I planned out a premise for each of the 5 books.  But I didn’t develop a plot for each one until it was time to write it.

ME:  Are any of your beta readers youngsters? If so, is their input helpful?

DIANNE: My youngest daughter served as the #1 reader for The Eighth Day when I was writing the first draft. (I recall printing out my latest chapter one day, walking into the next room to pick up the pages and discovering they were already gone. She’d been standing next to the printer to collect them as they came out!) Of course, she was 12 back then. Now that she’s 14, she’s far too busy with her social life to read Mom’s work!  However, I still had other young beta readers. Lenny Lee, blogger extraordinaire, read the first and second books, and of course I had my fifth grade students.  Their feedback was immeasurably helpful! I will miss them now that I’m retired.

ME:  I'm way outside the parameters of the target age for your books, but I thoroughly enjoy them. I don't know if that's because you do such a good job tapping into the imagination of my inner child, or if it's something else. I mean, the most successful animated children's films also incorporate some language and humor directed at an adult audience. Is any of that in play in your books? Do you consciously try to appeal to an adult audience, as well?

DIANNE: I do try to appeal to adults, especially by adding a self-aware wink and a nod here and there. A number of adult readers commented that they enjoyed how Jax, the first time he experiences the un-populated eighth day, assumes it’s the zombie apocalypse and stocks up on survival gear just like he’s seen people do on TV. Jax asks his guardian if they (the people who experience the eighth day) are human, and Riley answers: “Of course we’re human! What kind of bad science fiction movies have you been watching?” When Jax learns about his connection to people in Arthurian legends, he does what any of us would do: Googles his famous ancestor – only to find out he was “kind of a jerk.” And anyone who has ever lived with a teenage boy has mentioned to me how much they laughed at Jax and Riley blaming each other for why they were constantly running out of groceries. I guess it’s no coincidence that these are some of my favorite parts of the book too. I’m also way outside the target age!

ME:  What's next for you? Is your focus going to be on writing more Eighth Day books, or do you have another series or more stand-alone books on the horizon?

DIANNE: I recently revised a YA historical mystery that I wrote several years ago and also wrote a brand new kids’ science fiction adventure. Both of these will go to my agent for consideration, and I hope she’ll decide they’re worthy of submission to publishers. In the spring of 2105 I’ll need to expand the premise I have for the optioned Eighth Day books into something resembling a synopsis to submit for consideration.
I also have a few more ideas germinating (2 Middle Grade and 1 Young Adult) that might need that 18-month germination period before they blossom into full plots ready to be drafted.
Publication of any of these books is not guaranteed. Even with two prior YA historicals and this 3-book fantasy series under my belt, every work I write has to go through the same submission process as my first book. Sometimes, the answer will be “no.” All I can do is write as many as I can and hope that some of them get a big “YES!”

ME:  Anything else you'd like to share with us?

DIANNE: Just that I’m ridiculously excited for this release. The Inquisitor’s Mark was probably my favorite book to write in the series so far – and my favorite scenes involve a chase through the Central Park Zoo, a garbage chute and a fire escape ladder, and a monster under a luxury Manhattan apartment building!
***
Plot Summary for The Inquisitor’s Mark:
After the all-out Eighth Day war in Mexico, Jax, Riley, and Evangeline have gone into hiding. There are still rogue Transitioners and evil Kin lords who want to use Riley, a descendant of King Arthur, and Evangeline, a powerful wizard with bloodlines to Merlin, to get control over the Eighth Day.

So when Finn Ambrose, a mysterious stranger, contacts Jax claiming to be his uncle, Jax’s defenses go up—especially when Finn tells Jax that he’s holding Jax’s best friend, Billy, hostage. To rescue Billy and keep Riley and Evangeline out of the fray, Jax sneaks off to New York City on his own. But once there, he discovers a surprising truth: Finn is his uncle and Jax is closely related to the Dulacs—a notoriously corrupt and dangerous Transitioner clan who want Riley dead and Evangeline as their prisoner. And family or not, these people will stop at nothing to get what they want.

****
Thanks, Dianne. I hope you sell a bazillion copies, and kids are lined up outside the book stores to get a copy.

Wow, I'm ridiculously excited about Dianne's new release, too. She isn't just a terrific writer; she's a terrific person. With a great imagination. (Did I happen to mention that?) And now... I hope you're excited about her books, too. 

                               Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Things are definitely looking up. [Morguefile}
P.S. While I have you looking up, how about looking into a nest... an eagle's nest... with two adorable babies in it? This eagle cam is set up in the Fort Myers. Florida area. Really cool

85 comments:

  1. Now I can't stop singing Eight Days a Week. Thanks. Best wishes to the author.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Do I detect a touch of sarcasm in that "thanks"? I at least hope you like the song; our daughter used to delight in sneaking songs I DIDN'T like into my head, and then every time she head me singing or humming the dastardly thing, she'd laugh like a loon.

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    2. Oops. That should be "every time she HEARD..." (sheesh)

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  2. Thank you - and drat you. Again.
    Target, schmarget. Good and imaginative writing will suck my weak willed self in every time.
    So... thank you for the introduction to an fascinating woman with an intriguing premise. And, as always, drat you.

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  3. Cats are so easily entertained... then I wonder since I look at what my cat is looking at... does that make me easily entertained... lol

    Good luck and success to Dianne with her new book, it is so nice that she is living her dream... I hope she sells many books xox

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    1. If watching cats makes you easily entertained, then I must be easily entertained, too. (Beats NOT being easily entertained, dontcha think?)

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  4. haha oh cats can sure amuse themselves and stare at the ceiling or wall like they spot a winning lotto ticket. Imagination they and writers have a lot of.

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    1. Hmmm, maybe that's why so many writers have cats? Because we have so much in common. Except for that whole using the litter box thing, that is. Not that I'm judging. If anyone want to use a box, far be it from me to say anything about it...

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  5. A cat spends its first two years playing and exploring, and the rest of its life it contemplates and stares, unless, of course, you take out a laser.

    I remember asking my mother when I could do something and she would often say, "Some Sunday, in the middle of the week." That must have been the eighth day.

    I wish Diane the best of luck on her new book. What a great and exciting way to start off the year.

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    1. Our cats alternate between running around the house like idiots on speed, leaving toys strewn all over the place, (Uh, yeah, they DO have their own toy box...) staring off into space, climbing all over us and cuddling, and sleeping. Sleeping is verrrry serious business for them. They like lasers a little, but they LOVE bubbles.

      That "Some Sunday in the middle of the week" rings a bell. My mother might have said something like that, too. Also... "the twelfth of never." That was one of her favorites. And one of MY favorite songs. :)

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  6. The Inquisitor's Mark is an excellent book. This reminds me that I need to get to working on my review for this book. The release date is fast approaching. This series is fantastic, and I can't wait for the third installment. Thanks Dianne for sharing your "process." I feel a bit better about how long it takes to come up with a fully fleshed idea for a story now.... :)

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    1. I KNOW it's gonna be terrific, and it's super cool that you've already read it. Now go write that review!

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  7. Susan, Thank you so much for the opportunity to visit your blog today and talk about my books! And Squeeee! One of my books is in your new blog header picture! And in excellent company, too!

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    1. My pleasure, Dianne.

      HA! I figured you'd notice your book in the header pic. I took a bunch of pictures of some of our bookshelves, and decided to use that one, simply because it showed your book. Kinda fitting.

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  8. Sometimes I get a bit freaked out thinking about what exactly cats (or animals period) are seeing (and thinking about?).

    Thanks for giving us insight from your perspective, Dianne.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Yeah, you're right. Cats probably think WE'RE entertaining, albeit a bit beneath them. We make good staff.

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  9. i read The Caged Graves and loved it.

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  10. Thank you, Susan, for drawing attention to Dianne!
    As to cats: one never knows what they think - very independant characters!

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    1. You're welcome, Britta. Dianne is quite the talented writer.

      Yes, cats are very independent, but ours DO like to stay very close to us. Verrrrrry close.

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  11. Best of luck to Diane! Cats are indeed very entertaining. I think they might take offense at hearing you say that though. :D

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    1. HA! Yeah, they just might find it offensive. Seeing's as how they're royalty and all.

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  12. Between you and Michael de Gesu, this writer is now on my radar. She sounds wonderful, and the books sound great. Excellent interview.

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  13. I'm supremely impressed with how Dianne is navigating her success. Sincerest congratulations!

    Happy New Year, Susan! Thank you for that excellent Mark Twain quote as an opener.

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  14. My compliments to you and Dianne. Excellent, informative and instructive interview and promotion, Susan, accomplished with humor and craftpersonship. Of course, I would expect nothing less of you. Thank you and best wishes in this and all years.

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    1. Thanks, dude.

      All the best to you and yours, too.

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  15. Congratulations to Dianne! I could watch cats all day too. Sometimes I stare at the wall or ceiling, but there's always a lot of action happening inside my head. :) Have a lovely weekend!

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    1. HA! I suspect a lot of writers can be caught staring off into space. It's merely a sign of deep thought. Yep, that's what it is.

      You have a super weekend, too.

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  16. Congrats to Dianne. I have one or two of her titles and hope to read them this year.

    Cats are fascinating. I have a few of them, and each has his or her own quirks. In a brain science class I took, I learned their vision is very different from ours, which is why they might get distracted by a shadow or anything else we might not really notice.

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    1. Good. I think you'll love her books.

      Interesting about cats seeing differently. Makes sense, but I still think our cats just wanta "make us look."

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  17. I read the The Caged Graves a while back and loved it. Having a teen has opened up my eyes to the world of YA books. Not normally a genre that I would otherwise read, but like you said, good is good and Diane is a fantastic writer.

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    1. Yes, she IS a fantastic writer, and I think you and Spawn would love her Eighth Day series.

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  18. Great interview...you know to ask just the right questions. Good luck to Dianne!

    Cats are funny...when we got our first front-loading washer, Fluffy used to sit in front of it and follow the movements of the drum with her head. Circles to the left, left, left...stop...circles to the right, right, right... She thought she had her own television.

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.

      HA! You should have made a video of Fluffy sitting in front of the washer.You could've won money with it on Funniest Home Videos!

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  19. Congrats, Dianne! I love the idea of Grunsday as well as the story behind it. I'll have to add it to my TBR list.

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    1. Hey, stranger! Long time, no hear. Happy New Year!

      Yes, I think you'd reeeeeally like Dianne's books.

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  20. Love the interview and the premise of this series. I will definitely have to get the books for my granddaughters who are so into this kind of story.

    Love the cats, too. :-)

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    1. Thanks! Your granddaughters are SURE to enjoy these books. (You might even want to read them yourself before you hand them over.)

      What's NOT to love about cats...? :-)

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  21. Great interview!

    I also loved the speech bubbles and the cats...just like my bird post! ha. I'm always making my pets talk for my blog! lol...

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    1. Glad ya liked it, Betsy!

      My hubby and I like to "talk" for our cats just to amuse ourselves. (Kinda like we used to do when our kids were babies... back in the Dark Ages.)

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  22. great talk and the kittens made me laugh :)

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  23. >>... the most successful animated children's films also incorporate some language and humor directed at an adult audience.

    My favorite example of that is the 'ROCKY & BULLWINKLE' episodes - animated cartoons from the '60s.

    I loved them when I was a little kid, just because of the funny voices and the animation (all kids love cartoons). But when I revisited those shows as an adult I was completely floored by the witty writing that certainly went over every kid's head but which must have amused the parents tremendously.

    Now I own every R & B episode on DVD and I don't hesitate to say that the show was way, Way, WAY ahead of its time and contained wonderful wit and wordplay. They were often "breaking the fourth wall" with Bullwinkle expressing disapproval with the cartoon's narrator. Even now, in 2014, I think it was one of the cleverest shows ever produced and it literally makes me laugh out loud often.

    Whoda thunk I'd like R & B more as an adult than I ever did as a kid?

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

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    1. Rocky and Bullwinkle was a classic, and you're right about how it appealed (appeals) to an adult audience. Some of today's animated film have adult appeal, too. My hubby and I enjoy them as much as the grandkids do. Sometimes more. (Like the 'Mr. Peabody" film that came out the end of last year. The historical references were over the kids' heads, but they totally cracked me up.)

      No surprise you're still a fan of R&B. You're still a kid inside. (As we all are, if we're lucky.)

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  24. I'm outside of the age parameters too, but bet I'd enjoy the reading. I took a class once on children's literature and we delved a bit into YA historical fiction. The selections we read were pretty awesome! Happy to 'meet' Dianne Salerni here at your place!

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    1. I bet you'd enjoy them, too. (And after you finish, you could save 'em for your son.)

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  25. Love the eagle cam. How cute.
    And it's great to meet Dianne. I have to read Caged Graves, what a creepy find!

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    1. Yay! I'm glad someone checked out the eagle cam. I think it's fascinating to watch.

      Yes, you'd LOVE the story about the caged graves. Right up your alley.

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  26. WOW ! What a great post. All the books sounds great and something I would like to read if I could read. I am trying.
    What a terrific review.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad ya liked it.

      Cheers back atcha.

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  27. Great interview Susan and Dianne. Like Janie I can't get Eight Day a Week out of my head. I don't own Beatles VI. Any chance of choosing a title from The White Album next time? ;-)

    Best of luck to Dianne on her series. Sounds fabulous!

    VR Barkowski

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    1. Thanks. HA! Actually, I don't own any Beatles records, (or tapes or CDs) but I'll see what I can do about planting a different earworm next time.

      (It IS fabulous!)

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  28. Cracking post. Loved the interview. Above, I love your new header: books, book and more books. Yeah, rock on! :-)

    Greetings from London.

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, books, books, and more books... that's me!

      Greetings back atcha from Atlanta.

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  29. I'm outside of the age parameters, too, but thankfully I have the mentality of a child, so this may just be for me. Fun interview! After our post on the perils of cliched YA, it's nice to read about YA books that are unique, fun, and not just riding the coattails of a trend.

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    1. There are actually quite a few really good YA books out there that don't follow a standard pattern or trend, and Dianne's books definitely fall into that category.

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  30. I remember The Caged Graves, it was pretty good. I'll add this new series to my list, but can't be buying just yet.

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    1. Cool! These books are a lot different from "The Caged Graves," but I think you'd like them.

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  31. I love that a joke about Grunsday kickstarted those book ideas. As for cats, our two are always busy with some imaginary foe or other. Great entertainment...or can they really see things that we can't?

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    1. I really like the origin of the Grunsday idea, too.

      I don't know if cats can actually see things we can't see, or if they simply want us to believe they can.

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  32. Kids can make really good beta readers, as far as story line goes. I ask my kids their opinions on my writing all the time.

    (Cats are interesting creatures, aren't they?)

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    1. I'll bet Bubba is a GREAT beta reader! Heck, I'll bet he could feed you some reeeeeally unique ideas.

      (Yes, they sure are!)

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  33. Great interview Susan and Dianne! As Susan is a voracious reader with exceptional taste, it's quite a compliment when she says your books are both "good and imaginative," Dianne! If only I could quickly catch up with your last book! Oh well, there's always "Grunsday!" Best of luck with The Inquisitor's Mark, Dianne! Thanks for shining a light on this, Susan!

    Julie

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    1. Thanks, kiddo. I think we could all use an occasional Grunsday.

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  34. a good wink and nod is crucial!!! love Dianne and love you to susan!!

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    1. Absolutely! A wink and a nod can make a huge difference in a book's appeal.

      Thanks. Right back atcha.

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  35. My cat was entertained by a grape stem last night. Good fun all night. Why do I even bother buying toys?

    A writer with a good imagination is a find! Best of luck to Dianne.

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    1. Wouldn't it be nice if kids were as easily entertained as cats? Our kitties have so many toys, they have a toy box to keep 'em in. (I kid you not!) And just like kids, they like to drag toys out of their box and leave them strewn all over the house. I still haven't figured out how to train them to put their stuff away...

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  36. I have known Dianne for a couple of years and I adore her. Great interview between two of my favorite blogging friends :)

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    1. There he is! Our favorite newlywed! I hope all is going well with you and your bride.

      Thanks. I'm glad ya liked the interview.

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  37. The idea of Grunsday is cute. :) Loved hearing about your book, Dianne!

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    1. Isn't it? And Dianne really took the idea and ran with it!

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  38. Great interview from two awesome writers. Dianne, I like the way you presented the premise to all five but the plot for only the first. Hi, Susan!

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  39. Fun interview! Thanks so much for taking the time to set it up.

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    1. I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for taking the time to READ it!

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  40. Palavras gentis são um favo de mel, doçura para a alma
    e saúde para o corpo.(Pr 16,24)
    Leitura...uma bagagem que nunca será roubada!!!!
    Obrigada amiga, pela visita atenciosa!
    Beijo grande, Marie.

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    1. Great quote, Marie. There really is nothing sweeter than words spoken in kindness. Thanks for stopping by. It's always good to hear from you.

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  41. I love the Eight Day premise. In fact, I could use one of those myself. Great interview. Best of luck to Dianne.

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    1. Isn't it a super premise? Yeah, I could one of those bonus days, too... or maybe a couple. (Then I might actually accomplish something!)

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  42. This was a really good and thorough interview, Susan and Dianne. The books sound interesting, too!

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    1. Thanks. All of Dianne's books are darned interesting.

      And talking about books being darned interesting, I read "Who Stole My Spandex?" other day, and thoroughly enjoyed it. (And yes ma'am, I did post a review on Goodreads and Amazon.)

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