Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Guest Post - Acquisitions Editor's Life

What is it like to be an Acquisitions Editor?
by Susan M. Baganz w/Prism Book Group

My plans for last weekend tanked. I won’t go into details except to say I missed out on warmer weather in North Carolina and was stuck in the chill of the never-ending Wisconsin winter. I missed out on meeting other authors that I might be able to encourage and maybe even publish at some point. I love going to conferences and meeting authors.

My week had been spent finishing the major first round edits on a manuscript. The tedious part was flagging all the duplicate words. It didn’t take long to find that her favorite verb was—was. I almost felt bad sending it back to her as she has her work cut out for her. Her manuscript resembled a rainbow of color. I also flagged problems that she needs to fix. I tried to make it as easy as possible.

I also had to send a rejection this week. I don’t like those but try to be encouraging and constructive. Can I put it on my resume that I do those well? What a dubious honor to be sure. One writer responded with effusive thanks and called me an angel. Now that I should put on my resume, right?

In the midst of my hard work and disappointment, an opportunity arose. One of the authors I contracted, released her book in January. It is doing well. It was a spur of the moment thing to attend her book signing. She was worried no one would show up. Huh. The place was packed. Copies of her book were everywhere. Her husband even came up to thank me for making it all possible.

My heart welled with contentment. It was her first book and took her five years to write. Anything I threw at her with the editing she did and even thanked me for. I couldn’t count the number of emails we had back and forth through the editing process and settling on the perfect title. All the hard work to get that polished gem in people’s hands was forgotten. I was validated and affirmed in my choice to publish her book as people raved about the story.

If I have to say what my favorite part of my job is, it wouldn’t be the conferences. It would be the pleasure of seeing an author’s dream come true. It is an intangible and elusive thing, but there’s something sweet in being a part of that journey, even if it is behind the scenes. 

When asked how Susan Baganz got into the field of acquisitions editor, she said, "A friend thought I'd be good at this type of work and it seems she was right."

What is Susan looking for at Prism?: "I look for great romance novels or novellas."

Learn more, including the Imprints and Submission Guidelines at the Prism Book Group.
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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Long and The Short of It

As I've stated before, I'm an avid reader, often not getting my writing done because I'm caught up in a book. I'm also cheap. I look at prices and shop at Wal-Mart, etc. I compare prices online when I shop. I also look at the length of ebooks that I would like to purchase and if I don't feel the length warrants the price I pass. I know I've missed some pretty good reads but if I just can't justify the price for a short read I won't.

To me story development should dictate the length of the work, not word count. If the story can be adequately developed and come to a gratifying end in 40,000 words that's fine. As I read reviews of novellas I find frustration on the part of the reader that they would have liked the book to be longer. That the characters could have been fleshed out more. That the ending seemed rushed. I also see comments which indicate the price was too high for the length. Unfortunately, I'm seeing more and more of all of these comments. Writers should take note of this.

Some authors are including word count or length information in the description. I think this is a good idea. It gives the possible purchaser a good reference so they can decide if they think the cost is too high. Amazon puts the page count on the page. This really doesn't mean much since it's based on the print book. There are a couple of problems with this. The size of the page and font size make this pretty meaningless. If I use a small font on a larger print format the number of pages will be smaller than if I use a large font on a smaller page.

This is even more true with digital books. The number of pages is meaningless. If the book has no print edition Amazon estimates the number of pages. Listing the word count is a much more accurate indicator of length.

So what are the standard word counts for classifications of books? I checked several websites and the general amounts I've found for adult works follows. I don't write children's or youth books so I'll add the links to the sites I referenced at the end of the post so you can find them.

Novels: 70,000 - 100,000  Some say over 40,000 is a novel but many traditional publishers won't publish a work that short.
Novellas: 17,500 - 70,000
Novelette: 7,500 - 17,500
Short Story: Anything under 7,500

The general consensus is that a target between 80,000 - 90,000 words is a good length for a novel.

 The decision as to how to price your work will include many things only one of which is the length. For myself, as a reader, I seldom pay more than $5.99 for a book of any length. Those are usually traditionally published, established authors.

I read a good number of self-published authors. (Often their work contains fewer errors than traditionally published ones. But that's a different topic.) Pricing for self-publishing authors is challenging. I know, I'm one. You are proud of your work. It took time and labor to get it written, edited, proofed, beta read, marketed, etc. You know it's worth $7.99 for a digital copy. The question is: Are you established enough that a lot of people will pay that much? I know I'm not. I'd rather sell 50 books at $3.99 than 12 at $7.99.

Like I said before, I'm cheap. If Amazon lists the number of pages as under 150 I probably won't spend $2.99 for the book no matter how many 5 star ratings it has. $1.99, yes. Under 100 pages it better be .99 or I pass it by. Those are just my standards. There are exception. If I've read and liked the author's books before I'll pay more.

I like a good long book. I like to read them. I try to write novels long enough to satisfy the reader. Each author has a different way of approaching word count and pricing. So does each potential purchaser.

The long and the short of it is that length and price are being included in reviews often to the author's detriment.

Links to sites I referenced:


Sophie Dawson is an award winning author of Christian fiction. She's self-published six novels, a compilation of the first three Cottonwood Series books and a collection of flash-fiction and short stories which will grow as she writes more. Her books can be found on most digital online sites and in print at You can read samples of her books and read her blog at

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Friday, February 21, 2014

The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck

As a Pearl Buck fan, I was thrilled to see that they’d found a manuscript by her last year. She died 40 years ago, and to think there were words penned by her hand that had not been seen by the public was truly a thrill. But how the book came to be is even more interesting.

How The Eternal Wonder Came to Be

Buck’s son, Edgar Walsh, received a message in late 2012 about a manuscript that was found in a Texas storage locker. The person who bought the locker said that they’d found a 300 page manuscript penned in Pearl Buck’s own hand. Beneath the handwritten copy was a typewritten version.

The family had dealt with some issues toward the end of Buck’s life. Walsh talks about them in detail in the forward of The Eternal Wonder, namely that some of the people Buck had helping her toward the end of her life took advantage. Walsh’s brothers and sisters didn’t have the control over their mother’s work as they would have liked.

This makes the discovery of The Eternal Wonder even more amazing, and if you’re a Pearl Buck fan, you’ll finally be able to devour her final work.

Still Good, But Unfair to Judge It Against Earlier Works

The Eternal Wonder is described as a “coming-of-age story of Randolph Colfax (Rann for short), an extraordinarily gifted young man whose search for meaning and purpose leads him to New York, England, Paris, on a mission patrolling the DMZ in Korea that will change his life forever—and, ultimately, to love.”

As I mentioned, Buck could write on just about anything and I’d read it. The Eternal Wonder has that direct yet thought-provoking vibe she’s known for, and since it’s her last work I really enjoyed it. If you’re new to her work, however, I’d stick with her earlier books.

It’s rather unfair to judge a final (and as far as we know, not yet completed) book after someone’s death. Buck’s husband, who had edited her work for years, was not a part of this book, and I can’t help thinking that if he had tightened it up it would be more attune to what we’d expect from her work. Even with that, it’s a cerebral journey, leaving you thinking about the main character Rann and what he represents in society today.

Cherie Burbach specializes in writing about lifestyle and relationships. Visit her website for more info.
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Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Google Free Images

A question was asked on my agent's email loop, one that I'd also asked a young member of our local writer's group recently. What is Steampunk?

Wikipedia defines steampunk as "a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialised Western civilisation during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American "Wild West", in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Vern, or the modern authors Philip Pullman, Schott Westerfield, Stephen Hunt and China Mieville."
Google Free Images
Google Free Images

The first thing that came to my mind was Will Smith's Wild Wild West. That half guy in the steam powered wheel chair really creeped me out.

There are some examples of  Steam Punk short stories here:
Steampunk Short Stories. Can't vouch for the content, although some of them look interesting.

 I like what Kathleen Y'Barbo said in her article on the ACFW Blog: "Unlike traditional steampunk, which sometimes introduces an alternate reality or culture in which people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives, I prefer my stories to have a slightly futuristic flair while maintaining the viability of the machines the pair invent. In order to keep the inventions in the realm of possibility, I combed the files of the United States Patent Office to determine which inventions were patented within a few years of my story taking place. In that way, I could allow for my heroes to have a variation on an idea that eventually becomes reality." Here's the entire article: A Dash of Steampunk

 We have a series in our library by Scott Westerfield and Keith Thompson called the Leviathan Trilogy. It is very popular with our young adult and adult patrons. There are Facebook pages and Pinterest boards dedicated to Steampunk. I find Steampunk fashion interesting - a combination of Victorian styles and well, hardware.

This is obviously an up and coming genre. Splickety Magazine recently hosted a Steampunk and Cyberpunk short fiction contest. I expect to see some good writing in that genre there.

Do you  have any Steampunk genre recommendations? Are you writing Steampunk?
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Monday, February 17, 2014

40 Things An Author Absolutely Must Do To Succeed

1. Facebook. Get on there, get 5,000 friends and post every day. ‘What are you reading and why?’ ‘What is your protagonist’s worst attribute?’ ‘How do you edit?’ Be sure to post photos of a little girl in a tutu. Any little girl. People love that.
     2.  LinkedIn. More professional. Post every day. ‘Got a good response from my critique buddies on chapter three.’ Speaking of that,
     3.  Join a critique group. Online or meet at Starbuck’s for a seven dollar chocolate whipped coffee. Keep the receipt, deduct it when the book sells. Where to find critique friends?
     4.  Join a writer’s group. Meet once a week, listen and smile while Nancy gushes that she wrote her first romance, pitched it to one agent and has sold five thousand copies.
      5.  Attend a writer’s conference. Dress for success, put together a perfect pitch, rehearse it a thousand times, then tweak it so it doesn't sound memorized. Rub elbows with other writers. Smile at dinner while Stephanie gushes that she pitched her novel to one agent and he’s got her lined up with Harlequin. But don’t just attend…
     6.   Teach a class at a writer’s conference. Put together the ‘Rainbow Story Arc.’ Weave the colors through the tome. Red represents anger, Blue depression, Purple epitomizes passion and yellow, pleasure. Figure out what orange represents. How can you teach?
     7.  Join Toastmasters. Learn to speak in public with conviction and ease. And who knows’? Perhaps a fellow Toastie will read and critique your work. Then,
     8.   Find speaking engagements. Rotary Club, Lions and anywhere else where people will listen to your story. Come up with something clever to speak about.
     9.  Shop at Barnes and Noble. Watch people shop and see what they pick up in your genre’. Marvel at the myriad books in your genre.’ Speaking of what people are buying,
     10.  Check out Amazon. What’s selling? What are your competitor’s reviews looking like? Oh, speaking of that,
     11.  Write reviews for your critique and writer’s group friends. Oops.
     12.  Read books for your critique partners. Don’t like sci-fi? Read it anyway. It’ll broaden your horizons. Oh, and
     13.  Read books. Read in your genre.’ Read classics too.
     14.  Put together a killer website. You’ll probably need help on this too. Don’t go cheap. Keep it fresh. Videos are big too. So,
     15.  Get a YouTube account, make videos that support your work. Speaking of that,
     16.  Put together a trailer for your book. You might need help on this so,
     17.  Find an expert to put together a trailer for your book. Be sure to put puppies in it, even if there aren't any in your story. Puppies sell.
     18.  Figure out Hootsuite. Cool! Now you can post once and send it everywhere. Except Goodreads. Oh, that’s right,
     19.  Join Goodreads. Make lots of friends. Keep them apprised of what you’re reading. Participate. If someone disses your buddy, stand up for him. Be brave, but don’t overstep and alienate your followers.
     20.  Get going on Twitter! ‘@B&N cheking out thrillers. Lite traffic 2day. #B&Nlitetraffic.’ Tweet a lot. Follow. Follow more. Follow a lot.
     21.  Find a graphics artist for your cover. Don’t go cheap or your best seller will look cheap and won’t be a bestseller.
     22.  You're supposed to write what you know. Don’t know anything about Maine and lobster for your breakout? Get out there. Be sure to wear the bib.
     23.  What are you thinking? You've missed so many social sites. Join Pinterest, Google Plus+, Tumbler, Instagram and Flickr. Don’t be a social site outcast, get in there! Be faithful, you don’t want to lose your followers.
     24.  Buy and read the book by the agent you met at the conference. ‘Being a Connected Writer.’ Be sure to post a nice review of it.
     25.  What? You haven’t gotten a blog built yet? Come on! Make it fresh, post faithfully and keep your followers interested. You need to stand out from the 150 million other blogs. If you don’t have 5,000 followers, a publisher won’t even glance at you. Speaking of publishers,
     26.  Pitch that book! Knock out some query letters, get those submissions going.
     27.  What? Sure you’re on Facebook, but you don’t want to look like a rookie. Set up a professional page. Send your followers over there. Keep it fresh and catchy.
     28.  Get that computer fixed up. Bring it in and get those five thousand viruses taken care of. Speaking of that,
     29.  Clean up the junk in it. Old pre-edited works, photos, abandoned blog posts and goofy ideas. Ideas?
     30.  Make a file of great story ideas. Need help organizing it? Set up an Evernote account, study how to schedule, make notes and organize contacts.
     31.  Keep a journal. You’re a writer, correct? You need to document insights, thoughts and emotions. You should do it every day.
     32.  Set up a professional email. Come on, isn't going to cut it.
     33.  Get a professional head shot. You aren't going to impress potential agents and publishers with that selfie of you with the pink boa. Put it on all the social sites, the blog and the website. Now you’re branding!
     34.  Find a good editor to clean up your work. Yes, Aunt Jenny taught second grade English, but you've seen her Christmas letters. Be honest, it’s not going to work.
     35.  Shop for e Magazines that fit your work and offer to write articles for them. Send a sample article. Send another. Okay that’s enough, you’re becoming a stalker.
     36.  Find a buddy and offer to guest write on her blog. One hand washes another, right?
     37.  You haven’t posted anything on your writer’s group’s Facebook page! Stick SOMETHING in there, or they will forget you exist. Add some comments on others’ posts. Be clever. Someone posted on their blog? Read it and comment. Speaking of that,
     38.  Check your blog for comments. Reply to them. You don’t reply, people assume you’re dead.
     39.  Get to the weekly writer’s group meeting! Listen to others read their work and struggle not to grimace. They don’t grimace at your work.
     40.  Check FB posts. Connie Blair commented two days ago, come on! Are you there? And look at that post! The one below the kitten wearing the tutu. ‘Scientists find that sniffing rosemary can increase memory by 75%.’ Be sure to remember- somehow- to get rosemary.
     Oh. Yes. And write. 

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Book Review: Shelf Life of Books with Pascal's Wager

Pascal’s Wager

Publisher: Multnomah Books (August 9, 2001)
ISBN-13: 978-1576738269

Shelf Life

Staying power: that’s what every author wants. If our purpose is to be read, the secondary part of that answer is, we want to be read a lot.

Rue, who is perhaps better known for her tween and YA work, has also written for adults. Pascal’s Wager came out in 2001, and got a little breath of fresh air when the publisher put it out ten years later in e-book format. Welcome to the new century, Multnomah/Random House. Though, seriously—hardly anybody pays ten bucks for an old book on Kindle.

I bought this book a year ago because I was exploring attending a conference taught in part by the author. I wanted to check out her work, and e-mailed a couple of the teachers. The one who did respond to me had no idea what he was doing. With so little confidence, I chose not to attend, but the book has stayed in my TBR pile.

I like literary-style prose; I like somewhat genre-free reading; I enjoy a challenge that does have a conclusion at some point. I got all three in this quite intense story. It’s dated, of course. Authors of contemporary lit have to use contemporary reference points, so some of the music and films and events are forever encased in turn of the century-mode. But the premise is timeless: the challenge of seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal to live as if God exists, no matter how you reason his existence, for you have nothing to lose.

Jill McGavrock’s elegant and renowned mother, Dr. Elizabeth McGavrock, is losing to her mind to a terrible disease. Jill’s never given thought much to matters of faith, preferring sarcastic self-defense in order to maintain her incredible busy life. When she learns of her mother’s condition, Jill is horrified by the idea that Elizabeth’s essence, her soul, might be gone, too. But if a person doesn’t believe in God, why should the state of her soul matter?

Jill’s encounter with a philosophy professor on the Stanford University campus where her mother worked and where Jill pursues her doctorate in mathematics, changes her life on many levels. Fighting through much of the story with the mostly gentle and always charming ways of Dr. Sam Bakalis, they each learn the depth of wounds and struggles which has formed their personalities. Jill and Sam need to grow and see through their defenses, and slowly form an attachment.

More than a conversion story, Pascal’s Wager challenges to reader to reach inside to determine the depth of our faith commitment. Are we paying lip service? Are we happy? What is happiness, anyway. What does it mean to live as if God exists?

The main character isn’t necessarily likeable, certainly not at first, but her crustiness and the fear that keeps it as a barrier, is almost loveable as she deals with her mother’s deterioration. I empathize in some ways with that dread. It would be easier and certainly reasonable to let others take care of Elizabeth, and I kick myself when I want Jill to give up. Mother and daughter were estranged and I wondered why Jill kept trying so hard to take care of her when she didn’t have to. My attitude shows me the depth of my faith, and I didn’t always appreciate that mirror.

Staying power: I don’t know the sales from the first release days; I don’t know when the publisher put the book online. It doesn’t have many reviews. I was able to gloss over the references; younger readers may wonder about some events, but intelligent readers know how to look up stuff we don’t immediately connect with. In fact, I’m surprised and a bit disappointed that we still have CDs and cell phones. What allows this novel some staying power is the question: who are we when we can no longer think or share relevant thoughts? Where does our psyche reside? How do we really allow others to know us?

Pascal’s Wager is told entirely in first person from the main character’s viewpoint over the course of about eight months. Readers who enjoy these types of discussion will find much to appreciate in this age-old debate.
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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Spotlight on Small Publishers: Write Integrity and PixNPens

Tracy Ruckman is an entrepreneur, student, wife, and mom. In 2010, she opened two traditional publishing companies and started back to college. In her dreams of spare time, she loves to travel, cook, and explore. In real time, she's thankful to get sleep and a shower. She's married to the Prince Charming, and has two grown sons. They all live in metro Atlanta.

1. Why did you choose to open your own publishing company?

With all the changes in the publishing industry, this is an exciting time to be an author and a publisher. We were at a crossroads in life, and as a freelance editor, some great manuscripts were coming across my desk that were being ignored by the larger publishing companies. A desire sparked to help change that.

2. How do you see your role in the current industry?--competing? providing a service? filling a neglected niche?

Our role is all of the above. We're competing - not necessarily with other publishers, but we're competing with the market in general to get our books into the hands of readers, and to make our authors known.

Yes, we provide a service for both readers and writers. (I'll answer the writer portion in the next question.) For readers, we produce good quality, wholesome books. This was an area we felt was lacking, except for Amish fiction. So we decided to fill that gap. Books under our Write Integrity imprint may or may not have a gospel message, but they'll still be clean and wholesome books safe for the whole family to read. Books under our Pix-N-Pens imprint carry a strong gospel message. We publish fiction and nonfiction.

3. What does your publishing house have to offer the author?

For writers, we give them the best of both worlds - we're a traditional publishing house, paying royalties, and not charging authors for any service. Yet, we allow the authors to have a great deal of input on all phases of their books - cover design, formatting, editing. We all work together - all our authors and myself - as a team for marketing purposes. We cross-promote each other and share the burden to get our books out to the public. We view our authors as family - we pray for each other, support and encourage each other, and hopefully help each other grow.

Our company isn't for everyone, and we realize that. (We didn't at first - so that is growth on my part.) Some writers feel they're not "legitimate" unless they're published by a large press, but our goal is to get the author visibility and get their books out to readers.

Our authors work together. We're becoming famous for our collaborative novels. The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt (2012) and A Ruby Christmas (2013) brought several of our authors together, and brought new authors on board through writing contests we had for each book. Treasure Hunt quickly became a bestseller and put our authors on Amazon's bestselling author list alongside John Grisham, Stephen King, and others. That book is still selling well. As I answer these questions, A Ruby Christmas is being promoted and will be released later this week, so we're hoping it follows a similar path.

A Dozen Apologies is our Valentine 2014 collaborative project - check our blog right now for all the details. We'll be announcing (or have just announced) another contest for next year.

4. What genre/style are you most interested in? What are you looking for?

For fiction, we love contemporary stories for the most part, although I'm still looking for a 50's family series. Pitches for series get my attention much quicker than standalones, because of the marketing aspect. We like women's fiction, romantic suspense, mysteries, romance (with depth, not formula romance). Love stories with themes.

For nonfiction, I'm open to various ideas, but prefer books that point people to Jesus in whatever book form that takes.

5. How and when can an author submit to you?

We're open for submissions, although it may take me a little longer to respond during the school year. (I'm currently a full-time college student.) Our submission guidelines are on our websites - and

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Monday, February 10, 2014

The Wonder of Pearl Buck’s Writing

When I first picked up a Pearl Buck book, it was The Good Earth. I was a teen and on a personal “read the classics” mission one summer. I read the description and didn’t think I’d like it. Oh, but then I found out that when a good writer puts words on paper, it doesn’t matter what it’s about. It draws you in.

I had this same response when I read Willa Cather’s My Antonia. I learned something from these two writers: clean, simple writing can be beautiful and poetic.

Buck, especially, has been criticized by having “too simple” of a writing style. Some argued that she wasn’t worthy of the Nobel Prize she received in 1938, but I think this kind of snobbery is the worst thing we can do to each other as writers.

The ability to reach a variety of people with your writing is a gift. There are some who read The Good Earth, for example, and enjoyed learning about the characters and the Chinese culture. Others saw symbolism in characters like the poor fool, and still others were drawn into the story itself.

Does it matter why people liked the book? Do we need to argue about the worthiness of a writer’s work once it becomes popular?

Besides the fact that Buck wrote an extremely popular book and won a prestigious prize for it, there’s another reason I admire her. She was prolific. She didn’t sit around talking about writing. She wrote. Over 100 books, in fact, 43 of them novels.


This was before computers and word processors. In fact, she wrote out everything by hand, right to the end of her life. Her son said, “She knew she was dying. But she sat down with a pen and wrote out over 300 pages. Just an amazing tour de force."

Her final book, The Eternal Wonder, was found years after her death and has quite an interesting story that goes along with it. I’ll review that in my next post.

Cherie Burbach specializes in writing about lifestyle and relationships. More info is available at her website.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Book Review - Silent Witness by Nicola Beaumont

The Amazon description for this book reads: "Danger. Deception. Conspiracy . . .In the shadow of forgotten memories, lies the deadly truth. The arrival of a mysterious letter turns an accident into murder and drives Nina Thomas to investigate her father's death. But what lurks in the past is a secret so deadly that searching for answers may be the last thing Nina ever does. H. Rylan Anderson has been undercover for years. Just when he's about to close the case, Nina shows up. Now he has to protect his identity, protect the girl, and keep hidden the truth about himself that threatens to shatter her life forever.To chip away the lies and unlock the mysteries hidden in her mind, Nina must learn to trust the one man who s sworn to help her . . . but how can she trust him when he may be the very soul responsible for her father s death?"

The first three words in the blurb - danger, deception, and conspiracy - jump off the page from the get go and never let up. Layers and layers of deception are peeled back  as Nina gets closer to the truth. I found myself rooting for her protector, and worrying about him as well. Nina must go to Shadow Creek, the small town where her father died in an accident. She was with him, but only a small child and can't remember the details. Everyone in town is owned by some mysterious thug, and anyone who tries to help her suffers loss. Anderson, her protector, risks his life to save her, and is surprised by what he gains in the end. Nina's quest provides answers that she never expected, and her life is changed forever. I really enjoyed this story.

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