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It’s my turn to post over at the newly relaunched group blog, The Great Noveling Adventure. Since we now have set themes for each day, this is List of 5 Friday. I decided to give everyone a sneak peak at my top five favorite things I learned from the SCBWI LA Summer Conference. For those of you following along with my series of posts here, it’s a nice preview into some of the things I’ll be sharing more in-depth on this blog, coming very soon.

TweetDon’t forget that I’m also hosting AM #sprints every weekday morning on Twitter @Novel_Adventure. Join me if you need some motivation to get started or if you just need some companionship as you work on your own great novel.

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There was a very lively Editors’ Panel this year, and the discussion was all about what you should have in your manuscript and what you shouldn’t. The dynamic panel included:

Alessandra Balzer, VP and Co-Publisher at Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books

Mary Lee Donovan, Editorial Director at Candlewick Press

Allyn Johnston, VP and Publisher of Beach Lane Books, a San Diego-based imprint of Simon & Schuster

Wendy Loggia, Executive Editor at Delacorte Press/Random House Children’s Books

Lucia Monfried, Senior Editor at Dial Books for Young Readers

Dinah Stevenson, VP and Publisher of Clarion Books, a small imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Julie Strauss Gabel, VP and Publisher of Dutton Children’s Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers

 

Editors Panel w/Lin Oliver moderating. Pic from Official SCBWI Conference Blog

Editors Panel w/Lin Oliver moderating. Pic from Official SCBWI Conference Blog

 

 

The first question addressed to the panel asked for one good thing they looked for in a manuscript.

Overwhelmingly, the answer was voice.

Mary Lee Donovan expanded on this: Voice is what you bring to your manuscript automatically. Don’t try to imitate, or echo another writer or style. Make sure you are writing authentically as yourself so your voice comes through. “If you are writing authentically, you are writing in your voice.”

Allyn Johnston added that she wanted the unexpected; something that gives her goosebumps. And no elaborate cover letters, for her. She would rather you spend more time developing your manuscript.

Lucia Monfried said, “Originality. It’s a rare quality that grabs you.”

Dinah Stevenson said she’d like to see a beginning, “Not only an invitation into the story, but something that contains the seeds of the ending, so it sets up a satisfying journey.”

Julie Strauss Gabel echoed the importance of voice, and then mentioned for her personally, she’s very attentive to fit. As in fit for her imprint and for her as an editor. And she said this isn’t just a surface fit, it’s about that unique one-on-one relationship. Never write to general masses or trends. From your voice to your manuscript, you have to be able to stand by it. “I’m looking for something I can champion.”

Others echoed this and the importance of diligent research before submitting. Suggesting writers look over editors’ lists, read interviews, and find other useful information that is available on the internet.

Alessandra Balzar, Mary Lee Donovan, and Allyn Johnston. (pic from Official SCBWI conference Blog)

Alessandra Balzer, Mary Lee Donovan, and Allyn Johnston. (pic from Official SCBWI conference Blog)

 

Second question asked editors to discuss things they did not want to see in manuscript submissions.

Allyn Johnston said, “Don’t be weird.”  Don’t send your manuscript inside a green plastic fish (which she held up for all to see) or with a satin eye patch.

Boring manuscripts was another common theme.

Alessandra Bray added that she sees some writers, in an effort not to be boring, overload the start their manuscript with so much action or sex drama that it is overwhelming. She suggested we as writers should, “introduce us to your characters” and leave out the “dark and stormy night bits”.

Wendy Loggia gave this insight on how to know if you have a boring manuscript: If only you get excited about your work, it’s probably boring. When you practice pitches, if others show interest, that’s good. If not, that’s bad.

Julie Strauss Gabel added that If she doesn’t get engaged or see the voice or if it’s pedestrian, she’s out. She then said that the very best stories come from very personal places. Always think about why this story has to be told.

Allyn Johnston, Wendy Loggia, and Lucia Monfried (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)

Allyn Johnston, Wendy Loggia, and Lucia Monfried (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)

Dinah Stevenson and Julie Strauss Gabel (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)

Dinah Stevenson and Julie Strauss Gabel (pic from Official SCBWI conference blog.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Third question asked each editor to discuss what they looked for in a fresh, snappy manuscript.

Many reflected on ideas of craftsmanship and dealing with a writer who understood story structure. An emphasis on educating ourselves as writers was expressed over and over. Too many manuscripts come in that read like first drafts. Writers are not taking enough time to edit.

Lucia Monfried stated, ” There’s no speeding up how to get better as writers. Take your time; learn your craft.”

Dinah Stevenson said that a manuscript screams out first draft when a writer has thrown in everything and the kitchen sink. “Craft means making choices. It’s part of the process.”

Wendy Loggia added that she looks at the overall structure of the manuscript. Paragraph structure, sentence breaks, chapter endings, etc. “I love to step in and make suggestions, but it’s great when I can tell that a writer has an idea of how they want the manuscript to look.”

Allyn Johnston said, “When I’m in the hands of a professional, I can relax.” She then shared a quote from Mem Fox to share what she’s looking for: “When the emotional temperature of the reader has changed through the experience.”

Julie Strauss Gabel expressed ‘sharability’ as something she looks for. “Word of mouth is the key to this business. We’re here because we care about who is going to read this book.”

Alessandra Balzar said she wanted to see a hook – that thing that makes a manuscript fresh, unique. “What hook really means is the ability for the book to stand out.” What’s going to make someone say, ‘Oh, you have to read this book.’ – and that book is yours?”

Allyn Johnston and Mary Lee Donovan both commented on wanting books that fulfilled this golden moment when they become a reader. When they let go of the editor part of themselves and just enjoy the story. That is the golden moment and that’s when they know they’ve found something special.

Overall, a fabulous panel with lots of great insights and pearls of wisdom from these experts in the field of publishing.

 

 

 

 

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This week has been incredibly busy with the relaunch of my group blog, The Great Noveling Adventure, and hosting all those AM writing sprints, but what fun! I’m going to continue doing them as it gets me up and writing every day. I didn’t want September to start without beginning my LA conference recap posts, so here’s the first one. I had hoped to bring back some extra signed copies of some books, but due to another sold-out conference, this one with record-breaking attendance, the bookstore was pretty picked over by the time I got around to it. Still, I think I may just have something up my sleeve to give away later in the month.

MEG ROSOFF SPEAKS ON IMAGINATION

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Meg Rosoff, author of Printz Award book HOW I LIVE NOW and THERE IS NO DOG, opened the conference with her keynote entitled “Warning: Peter Rabbit May be Hazardous to Your Health” where she discussed how some psychologists and other “experts” were telling parents not to allow their children to read fairy tales. Why? Because fairy tales were dangerous.

Yes, dangerous.

They teach children an unrealistic view of the world. She quoted from an unnerving number of sources, which stated things like this jewel of wisdom:

“Even fairy tales, the ones we all love, with wizards or princesses turning into frogs or whatever it was. There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it’s statistically too improbable.”(This was from a Telegraph article.)

Who can argue with such logic?

In Rosoff’s opinion, they were all missing the point. Imagination is not a dangerous thing for a child to develop, in fact, it is essential. To prove her point, she began her talk with a retelling of GOLIDLOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS and she gave it a realistic bent, as these experts would have us do.

(Me paraphrasing extensively.) She entered a house, actually it was a cave. And instead of finding three bowls of porridge what she actually found were three rotting rabbit carcasses. “This is disgusting,” she said.

She went to lie down after this, but instead of beds, there were piles of leaves mixed with bear excrement. When the bears came home, they growled at her – “if they could speak a language, it would probably be French-Canadian” – and then they disemboweled her and ate her.

The End.

Not exactly warm and fuzzy. And quite nauseating, to boot. But hey, it’s more realistic, and according to the “experts”. exactly what children, today, need in their stories. Can you imagine a childhood devoid of imagination? A world where children grow up learning only to think in rational ways? THAT is a truly terrifying tale.

When her own child went off to college and shared fears of not being as good or as smart as the other kids in the physics department, how_i_live_now_3-125x200this is what Meg said to her:

“You may not ever be a genius, but you read books. You know about plot, character, stories. You know about letting your unconscious mind follow things to new conclusions. Reading books strengthens imagination and lateral thinking. A good scientist needs imagination. Reading books may even make you a GREAT scientist.”

Imagination is essential to great thinkers, to creative minds. It’s not something one should outgrow or overcome.

“Imagination and the ability to tell a story will make anyone better at anything, with the possible exception of politicians and accountants.”

Reading about the fantastical, the improbable, allows kids to imagine the what ifs. It’s our job as writers is to try to understand the world and take risks to write the strongest, fiercest, most subversive tales. This means not being afraid to engage with the darker parts of ourselves. That’s where some of the really important stuff can happen. Break the rules, be subversive. Write a book no one else may want to read.

In one review after her second book, it said, “Meg Rosoff is the queen of weird.” She took it as a compliment.

“Imagination is very dangerous. It can change the world. And that’s why we write.”

Learn more about Meg Rosoff here.

Follow Meg on Twitter here.

tgnalogorevampI mentioned a few days ago that we were mixing things up over at The Great Noveling Adventure (TGNA) – the other blog that I contribute to – and that I would have some details for you soon.

Time to spill!

We’re making our blog more about you, our fellow writers. We want to make our writing adventure more interactive with yours. So, we’ve invited a couple of new, well-seasoned writers to join the team and we’ve created a new structure to the blog. Each day will have a set theme and we, the contributors, will rotate instead.

Here’s the new schedule:

  • Media Mondays: This is a brand-new content feature–we’ll share downloads, printables, playlists, and more!
  • Travel Tuesdays: Our ever-popular “Your Adventure” posts, link roundups, and guest posts.
  • Writing Wednesdays: Craft posts.
  • Things I’ve Read Thursdays: Book reviews!
  • Top Five Fridays: Lists of our five favorite things.

Each quarter we will have a flash fiction writing prompt contest. (I had so much fun with our Christmas-themed flash fiction that I really can’t wait to do this, again.)Tweet

There will also be group writing sprints on Twitter, starting this Monday. I will be leading some sprints, myself, usually in the mornings. If you’re taking the day off for Labor Day and want some writing companionship, look for me under the Twitter handle @Novel_Adventure and @litbeing using the hashtags #tgna, #sprint, and #amwriting. I’ll be doing at least few rounds of twenty minute sprints before I take the kids to the ballgame downtown.

So, you mentioned something about a ginormous contest?

Oh, right! So much to talk about, I nearly forgot. From now until Sunday evening at 7pm EST (that means 5pm locally) you can enter to win some of the following prizes:

  • Two mystery book packages – Two lucky winners will each get a set of 3 books chosen by Serena, Kit, Isabelle, and Megan.
  • Character Sketch — one lucky winner will receive a character sketch from the super-talented Laura Hollingsworth, thanks to Alyssa.
  • Outlander Audiobook — one lucky winner will snag an audio copy of OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, courtesy of Lauren.
  • Ultimate Submission Package — one lucky winner will receive a Query Critique from Danielle Ellison, the author of SALT and FOLLOW ME THROUGH DARKNESS, and Senior Editor at Spencer Hill Press; a Pitch + Synopsis Critique (with up to three revisions!) from Sarah; and a 30-Page Critique from Valerie (that’s me!).

That submission package alone is totally worth entering, right?

So, click on over to the TGNA website and enter today!

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Things have been moving at a break-neck pace ever since I returned from the SCBWI LA Summer conference earlier this month. My less-than part-time job has picked up substantially and the group blog I participate in is coming back from vacation next week with a bang – all new format, a few changes to the line-up, and one hell of a fabulous contest with a gazillion prizes, including books and critiques! (Details on that coming very soon.) Not to mention squeezing in all the important revising that must continue. And I haven’t even talked about our Fall Retreat that’s (ack!) in just a few weeks.

Despite all of the chaotic activity, I really wanted to get started with my yearly conference-inspired blog posts. To tease you all a bit with what I have in mind, I thought I’d start with some of my favorite quotes from this year’s event.

 

“Imagination and the ability to tell a story will make anyone better at anything, with the possible exception of politicians and accountants.”

- Meg Rosoff

“Craft means making choices. It’s part of the process.”

-Dinah Stevenson

“Teletubbies, better than a valium.”

-Judy Schachner

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block; you’re just editing too early.”

-Stephen Chbosky

“When stealing from real life, there’s a process of subtraction.”

-Maggie Stiefvater

“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth…Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words and they backhand them across the net.”

- Megan McDonald reciting from famous E.B. White quote

“You never again love a book the way you do as a child.”

-Linda Sue Park

 “I’ve always struggled with my own smallness.”

-Sharon Flake

“Being an artist is the way you live your life.”

-Tomie de Paolo

“I was brave in my writing in a way that I wasn’t in my life.”

-Judy Blume

Yes! Judy freakin’ Blume! Her talk was the perfect way to end the conference, I have to say. I actually teared up just watching her cross the stage to the podium. LOVE HER!!! She’s so freakin’ adorable and moving and everything you imagine that you just want to hug her to pieces and then stuff the pieces into your mouth. Too weird? Sorry. But it’s Judy freakin’ Blume!

Snapping out of my fangirl fog, let’s get back to the quotes for just a second. See if you can guess how these fantastic little tidbits will play out as blog posts in the weeks ahead as I dole out the jewels of wisdom I received on my journey out west. Until then, I leave you with some vacation pics. Enjoy!

 

Me and my lovely critique partner Barbara Lowell at the PALS event where she just about sold out of her first book! Love her!

Me and my lovely critique partner Barbara Lowell (remember when I did an interview with her on the blog?) at the PALS event where she just about sold out of her first book! Love her! (Probably didn’t hurt that Bonnie Bader used her book as an example during one of her talks. Impressive, no?)

 

Insanely gorgeous art installation/wall of plant life at the mall across the street.

Insanely gorgeous art installation/wall of plant life at the mall across the street.

 

 

The Jerry Bennett allowing me to admire him for a moment as we both show our excitement for Stephen Chbosky's keynote.

The Jerry Bennett allowing me to admire him for a moment as we both show our excitement for Stephen Chbosky’s keynote. I have a sad update for all of  you Jerry fans – he has had a facial hair accident of unknown origin and is currently beardless. It’s shocking to all of us, but we’ll should try to help him through this sad, trying time.

 

And then I got to admire Stephen Chbosky for a moment where he told me story about how nervous he was accepting an award right after Bill Clinton spoke - "Yeah I wasn't as good."

And then I got to admire Stephen Chbosky for a moment where he told me story about how nervous he was speaking at an awards show right after Bill Clinton spoke – “Yeah, I wasn’t as good,” he said.

 

 

Me and some more of our Oklahoma group, Brenda Maier and Catren Perks-Lamb at the Golden Kite Luncheon.

Me and some more of our delightful Oklahoma group, Brenda Maier and Catren Perks-Lamb at the Golden Kite Luncheon.

 

A beautiful night in LA.

A beautiful night in LA. Can’t wait for next year!

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I keep thinking about this poem, today. Robin Williams’ character, John Keating, read it in one of my favorite movies, Dead Poets Society.

I also keep thinking about all of the great artists we’ve lost recently. Writers and actors. Some to depression, some not. All huge losses that have left a profound silence behind.

I’ve explored the relationship between the artist and depression a few times in my blog postings (The Creative Soul and Depression, What Music is Supposed to Do, and With a Little Help from my Friends), trying to better understand this disease that seems more prevalent among our creative communities. I’ve struggled with depression and I know many other writers who’ve voiced the same struggle.

This year, depression left its mark on some loved ones very close and very dear to me. The only thing I know to do for them is to listen.

And listen some more.

Maybe throw in a few dozen hugs just for the hell of it. Anything to tell them that I know this sucks, that I love them, appreciate them, and that I’m in this with them for the long haul. I hope if you’re struggling with depression that you find someone to listen to you. Please don’t stop until you do.

I leave you with the words of Walt Whitman, which, if you’re anything like me, you’ll hear in your head read in the voice of  John Keating.

O Captain, my Captain! We will all miss you, dearly.

O Me! O Life!

O me! O life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I,

            and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle

             ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and the sordid crowds I see

            around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me inter-

           twined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring – What good amid these, O me,

             O life?

                                                  Answer

That you were here – that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

- Walt Whitman

Doug Solter is a delightful addition to our local SCBWI family and he has to be the hardest working author on the self-publishing front. I read all his notices about the daily word counts he pushes to achieve after a long day at work and I see him all the time on the Twitter chats interacting and encouraging his fellow writers. So when Doug asked if I’d liked to be a part of his cover reveal, I didn’t hesitate.

There’s also a giveaway for those paying attention, so make sure you’re one of them!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Growing up in Oklahoma, Doug Solter began writing screenplays in 1998 and became a 2001 semi-finalist in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. His script Father Figure was one of 129 scripts left from 5,489 entries. Doug made the switch to writing young adult novels in 2008. Doug is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Doug respects cats, loves the mountains, and one time walked the streets of Barcelona with a smile on his face.

 

ABOUT RIVALS

Eighteen-year-old Samantha Sutton is back for a new racing season in Formula One. The hot new racing star of Wolert Porsche has everything she wants. An awesome team. An awesome car. And the perfect boy. But her optimism sinks when her boss steals arch-rival Emilio Ronaldo away from Ferrari and makes the jerk her team’s number-one driver.

Stressing about Emilio, Samantha struggles with her new public life as a teen sports star. Finding time to be the best girlfriend to Manny proves more and more difficult. It also doesn’t help that Manny’s ex-girlfriend Hanna shows up. The girl treated at a mental hospital for poisoning his grandmother’s dog.

The pressure on Samantha becomes unbearable. Paranoia, mistrust, and jealousy take over. She lashes out at everyone as the world seems determined to bring her down.

Can Samantha rise above it all and win the world championship? Or will this be the end of everything she’s worked so hard for?

This novel is the sequel to Skid which is available for free download in either eBook or Audiobook form when you sign up to the author’s free email list.

 

RIVALS RELEASE DATE

Tuesday, September, 23rd

 

EXCERPT FROM RIVALS:

“Are you ready to meet your new teammate?” Benito asks.

            Not really.

            Outside the main garage, the three of us take the little sidewalk that leads to the scenic overlook near the back of the office building. The overlook is this cozy spot with chairs and benches. Lots of Wolert Porsche employees walk over here to have lunch or to take a break from work to stare at the pretty view of the deep valley and the pointy tops of the Alps surrounding it.

            A slight breeze runs up the valley and smacks the side of the mountain we’re on. The sun spreads Emilio Ronaldo’s shadow over the molded-stone pavement as he leans against the wood safety rails that prevent people from falling over the steep drop.

            I join him along the rail.

            Emilio takes a long drag from a cigar, blowing out a large plume of smoke. He tucks his hand inside his sport coat and pulls out another cigar. “Do you smoke?”

            “Seriously? You’re offering me a cigar?” I ask.

            “They’re very good. Very strong. Grow hair on your chest.” Emilio grins.

            Yeah, right. Smoking a cigar is a macho-guy thing. They need it to feel like men. Hmm. I wonder if little-old me is intimidating him again. The same girl who made him flinch during that race at Spa. That would be awesome if I’m getting under his skin.

            Emilio slips the cigar back into his coat. “But if you don’t feel adventurous I understand.”

            Wait a second. Is he saying I’m too timid? That I can’t handle a cigar just because I’m a girl?

            “I’d love a cigar,” I say, acting like it’s no big deal.

            Emilio pulls out the cigar. I snatch it and place it in my mouth. The foreign object lays heavy on my tongue and feels like I have a wad of paper stuffed in my mouth.

            “You need to cut off the end first.”

            “I know that.” I pull the cigar out and notice the round end that isn’t cut off. I bite into that and rip it off with my teeth. I taste flakes of pure tobacco on my tongue and it’s like ash and it’s disgusting and I spit it all over the stones at my feet.

            Emilio smiles and holds up some rectangular-looking tool with a round hole in it. “I have a cutter. You don’t have to bite the end off.”

            Now I feel like an idiot. Emilio must be enjoying this. Another genius plan to embarrass and humiliate me. Too late to stop now. I hold out the cigar and he cuts off the end. I put the cigar back in my mouth.

            Emilio takes out a lighter and flicks. The flame licks the end of my cigar. “You must inhale to draw the flame in and light the tobacco.”

            I breathe in and smoke fills my lungs.

            Oh My God! I cough hard and bend over, belching smoke from my mouth like a dragon. I feel my eyes watering. A definite sign my body is yelling. What the hell are you doing to me, Samantha?

            Enjoying my discomfort, Emilio inhales his cigar, the end of which glows bright red. Like a demon.

            I take another drag on the cigar and my lungs belch out the foul smoke again. But I try to stand casual. Like the smoke doesn’t bother me.

            “I would like to begin,” Emilio says. “By mentioning that our past grievances should be left in the past. We are both competitors. We both fight to win. But starting today, we will be teammates. Do you understand? When both of us do well, the team does well. The team will always matter more than one driver. I look forward to working with you. Not against you.” Emilio takes a moment for a puff on his cigar. “What is your opinion on that?”

            My opinion? Someone actually wants to hear my opinion? It’s a mountain of cow puke. That’s my opinion. This is still my team and Emilio is not going to come in here and take it away. All this crap about team this and team that. It’s only to put a pacifier in my mouth so I won’t complain. Be the good little girl, Samantha. Play nice and get along with the boy who stole your place on the team.

             I puff the cigar and cough. Jeez. That’s what this cigar is. It’s a pacifier. Make baby Samantha shut up.

             I take the cigar out of my mouth.

            “Is it too strong?” Emilio asks.

            This guy can read people crazy-well. He read me like a book right before our final race at Spa. Emilio detects weakness in others like a hawk drifting over a limp sheep, patiently waiting for it to fall over before attacking.

            I won’t let him read me ever again.

            “I agree. We so got into it last year and it was insane.” I use my sweet girlie voice that fools most guys. “And there were times I actually wanted to kill you. Like that time at your home in Brazil?”

            “I remember,” he says. “I mentioned something about how you could never win the world championship.”

            “Because I was a woman and didn’t have the killer instinct or something like that.”

            Whoa. Easy, Samantha. Don’t lose it. Stay under control. Do not let Emilio beat you.

            “Yes. Something like that,” Emilio says, his voice quieter. “You proved me wrong. The way you hunted me those last few laps at Spa. You were ruthless. Unyielding. You chased me down like a cunning animal that had learned patience and the art of intimidation. My observations please you?”

            Crap. He caught me smiling.

            “It was impressive. We are teammates now so I can mention this. You are not some female racer who shows off her body more than her racing skills. You are quite different.”

            If that’s his version of a compliment, I guess I’ll take it.

 

COVER REVEAL

Now that we’ve built up plenty of anticipation, without any further ado, here it is…

 

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Jealousy is a powerful emotion, it can destroy even good people.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed being a part of this reveal. For participating, you can enter the Giveaway below to win either a signed copy of RIVALS, SKID 2 or a signed copy of the first book, SKID. Simply click on the link and follow the directions.

Learn more about Doug Solter here.

Follow Doug on Twitter here.

➤ ➤ ➤ ENTER GIVEAWAY HERE!!! a Rafflecopter giveaway