Why Reading is Awesome

Magic of Books 6Reading is Awesome. Let me show you why.

Reason #1: It builds brain power. Reading makes you smart. Unlike watching television, which requires no thought process, reading is an active learning experience that will keep your mind sharp.

Reason #2: It reduces stress. The stress of dealing with parents, relationships, schools, teachers and the future slips away when you lose yourself in a great story. A well-written novel can transport you to other realms, letting tensions drain away and allowing you to relax.

Reason #3: It’s a great way to share with friends: Talking about your favorite characters, discussing an unexpected plot twist and voting on which celebrities you’d like to play the different characters in the movie adaptation of your favorite novel is a great way to pass the time with you friends.

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Reason 4: It provides low-cost entertainment: If you’re like most young people, you don’t have a lot of money. If you’re looking for entertainment on a budget, you can’t beat books. Reading books takes longer than watching movies, and the discussions with friends that follow can go on for hours. Or even spark a romantic relationship. Remember The Fault in our Stars?

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsJohn Green’s phenomenally successful young adult novel centered on the romantic relationship between two young people who were brought together over a book. Not a bad way to connect with the girl/guy you like.

Reason #5: It eliminates boredom: Have you ever found yourself saying “I’m bored?” Especially during the summer when it’s all re-runs and you’re tired of looking at a computer screen? If so, pick up a book.

A great book lets you escape to a more interesting place: Sometimes our daily life can start to feel dull, dry or depressing. At times like this, a great release is to dive into a novel for a much needed escape. Whether you want to travel to the land of the Hobbits, a galaxy far away, or a tropical island, the choice is yours. You can go anywhere in the world, to any dimension—at least for a little while. Those few hours away from your own reality will probably be the best few hours you had all day.

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Reason #6: It makes you look totally cool. Next week’s post will be “Celebrity Bookworms” Come back and read about the stars you never thought were into books–in totally big and awesome ways.

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Meet Aisscha Rivera

Aisscha 3Meet Aisscha Rivera, a twenty-one-year-old from Lajas, Puerto Rico. Aisscha, like our hero Dante of DANTE’S KISS, feels like she doesn’t always fit in with Puerto Rican society but finds her way in the world through books, Buddhism, and the martial arts. Read on as Aisscha shares her thoughts.

SN: Describe yourself, first as you see yourself, and then as you think others see you.

AR: Honestly, I haven’t found one single word to describe me fully. People tend to describe me most of the time as reserved, quiet, or shy. A small percentage of people may describe me as sweet, caring, respectful and maybe even strong.

SN: What has it been like for you growing up in Puerto Rico? Do you fit in with the rest of society, or do you feel like an outsider?

AR: Puerto Rico is my identity; it’s what runs through my veins; that mix of Taíno, African and Spanish blood. I love Puerto Rico, don’t get me wrong, but I have always felt like an outsider. Whether it’s because of my music and fashion likes or the way I live, Puerto Rican society has always made me feel restrained. And when I try to show who I really am, it’s as if everyone takes me for granted or, in simple English, pushes me away.

SN: In the novel DANTE’S KISS, with which character did you most identify with and why?

AR: In the novel, I feel a connection with Dante, not only because of his unique name (like mine) but also because of the way he is: wanting to “fit in,” looking for ways to defend himself, being madly in love in the teen years, and expressing himself through a type of art. Also, Kiriela is the good side of me while Jadiel is (in a way) my alter ego … I’m not saying that I’m a bad influence, but at some points in my teen years, I was a rebel child and well, I’m still so-so in the rebellious department!

SN: Do you prefer to read in Spanish or in English?

I love reading in both languages! But here’s the thing, if I start reading a novel or a series of books in one or the other language, I must finish the book in the same language. Some stories lose their essence in the process of translation.

SN: What is your favorite book and why?

AR: This is a hard one! I’ll go with THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton. The reason why I love this book so much is because I can identify with the social aspect of being either accepted or rejected by the people around you. The emotions evoked by these teens are mind blowing to the point where it makes you question how hard these teen years actually are.

SN: What emotions ran through you as you were reading DANTE’S KISS?

AR: Can I just say that I went back to my teenage years? It was amazing how this book made me go through everything I felt at that time in my life. I felt love, anger, jealousy, etc. I felt the need to protect Dante the way I wanted to be protected at that time.

SN: What is your biggest source of inspiration in life?

AR: Many things inspire me, many things spark my imagination; but my biggest source of inspiration in life is my “Life Philosophy,” which is a 50% Buddhism and 50% Martial Arts lifestyle. This lifestyle brings me peace, clarity and inspires me to give the best of me and through it I have discovered my strength.

SN: What hurts you most in the world?

AR: Beside unfairness, lies, gossip, broken trusts, the winner is conflict. Like in English class when the teacher asks you the types of conflict the main character can have, it all boils down to Person vs. Person. It hurts me to see how people give up on themselves, to see how they don’t love themselves enough to say no to things or yes, to speak up or stand up for themselves.

SN: What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced as a young adult?

AR: So far, it’s independence. I still don’t know what independence is and I know why I’m having trouble with this, but I guess that I’m having problems like any other young adult.

SN: If you could live one day as another person, who would that person be and why?

AR: I would definitely live as Shakira, what’s not to love about her? Her knowledge, her passion for music and dance, her organization in Colombia named Pies Descalzos… This woman is the epitome of what I want to achieve in my life!

SN: What’s the last song you listened to from your music library?

AR: “Believe” by the amazing and iconic superstar Cher.

SN: Finish the sentence, I most want my father/mother/parents to understand that …

AR: I’m a strong woman…

Aisscha

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Meet Maranyalie Torres

MaritaMeet, Maranyalie Torres, a sixteen-year-old from Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Marita—as she prefers to be called—is creative, fun-loving, and is inspired by music. She is an accomplished singer and guitarist and recently wowed audiences in the female lead role, playing Dulcinea in her high school musical Man of La Mancha.

Read on as Marita shares her thoughts on being young and Puerto Rican, and on the new novel DANTE’S KISS, set in her island home.

​Hey! My Name is Maranyalie Torres and I am a sixteen year old Puerto Rican. I consider myself to be a creative person and always look forward to doing new things that involve music, theater or creative writing. My friends think I’m a little goofy and crazy but that’s just part of my personality and the main reason we get along so good.

Being born Puerto Rican for me has been a blessing. I live close to the beach, and often visit the surroundings of my beautiful island. The society here comes in all shapes and sizes but I fit in perfectly with the teenagers in my school. Most of us just like to create our own ways of having fun, and enjoy seeing life with another type of vision.

I prefer to read in English and that’s how I found out about this book DANTE’S KISS. If I were to identify myself with a character from the book I’d have to choose Salena. She is the kind of teenager that acts like the crowd but at the end of the day she has her own personality and talents to share with the world. She also has built these sentimental walls for her not to get hurt, and even though my situation is different, I can identify with that part of her.

Marita 4My favorite scene in DANTE’S KISS was when Dante got accepted into the music school. I felt like I knew right away the sensation because I am in a music school too and trust me it is not that easy to pass an audition. Other scenes I enjoyed a lot were whenever Dante was with his little sister. It showed the soft side of him and I thought that was very sweet.

​As a Puerto Rican teen one of the biggest challenges I have faced is the people with no morality and a cold heart. These people usually have low self-esteem and always find a way to blame others for it. Just like Jadiel when he got jealous and tried to mess up Dante’s life. Another challenge is growing up knowing that the world thinks so wrongly about us Puerto Ricans, just because some decide to get violent and ruin our Puerto Rican reputation whenever they lose control of themselves.

From this book (DANTE’S KISS) I feel teenagers can understand that we all go through similar situations but that with the right choices we can survive. We can also learn about the value of love and sacrifice, which is so important now-a-days. I hope this is never lost. These values are what Kiriela let us feel throughout the book.

If I were to complain about one thing about my parents it would be that they could be very over protective sometimes and that gets me extremely mad. It seems like they don’t understand how tough being a teenager can be. We go through so many changes and emotions. It’s not easy to deal with all of them at once. That’s why it hurts me when people judge us. Everybody has a story behind their actions but it’s the understanding that might make a difference in all of us. This is just like the feeling that Kiriela had of protecting people, she knew that understanding could mean change.

Marita 3I want the world to know that Puerto Rican teens are just like any normal teens in the world. We have our own weird styles, we feel, we fall in love and we get our hearts broken to just fall in love once again. Not many of us like reading but there’s a low percent that makes the difference, just like me.

Read DANTE’S KISS. It was incredible. At the end it gives the opportunity to reflect and think about the things that really matter the most: our families, our sacrifices and our love.

Thanks, Marita, for sharing your thoughts. I hope that through your words the world will come to know the real Puerto Rico and the beauty of it’s people.

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Meet Geilimar Garcia

This is the first in a series of interviews with Puerto Rican teen readers. And in case you had any doubt, let me assure you: there’s a lot we can learn from these interesting young people.

GeilimarMeet Geilimar García, a nineteen-year-old from Bayamón, Puerto Rico. Geilimar, like our hero Dante of DANTE’S KISS, feels out of place in school but finds her way in the world through books and art. She is inspired by the author Neil Gaiman and says that the last line of her autobiography will be: “No matter what happens, let go of hate and love with all your might.”

Read on as Geilimar shares her thoughts.

SN: Describe yourself, first as you see yourself, and then as you think others see you.

Geilimar: I think I’m pretty average. I’m an introvert and I enjoy doing introvert things, art, reading and writing being at the top of my list.  I guess I’m intelligent to some extent. I taught myself most of the English I know if that amounts to anything. People often say than I’m respectful and I try my best to be. They also say I’m kind. I care for animals very much and four years ago became a vegetarian. As for the bad, I guess I lack social skills. I’ve had people in the past assume that I think I’m better than them just because it’s difficult for me to talk to them. There’s also this thing I do in which I sabotage myself knowingly.

SN: What has it been like for you growing up in Puerto Rico? Do you fit in with the rest of society, or do you feel like an outsider?

Geilimar: Growing up in this island has been harsh for the most part. I’m not sure if outsider would be the word I would use since it had to do more with the kind of people I surrounded myself with. Not that they were exactly bad people but I settled for them rather than surrounding myself with better people. I just wanted to make the best of things and settled for so little. Now that I am older I get to see a kinder side of the world so I like to think back on bad experiences as something to prepare me so I would be able to appreciate things in the future.

SN: In the novel DANTE’S KISS, with which character did you most identify with and why?

Geilimar: That’s a difficult question because I’m very empathic and I could relate to most of them. I guess I would have to pick Dante because I can relate to his experiences the most.  Like with the bullying and feeling out of place. Also not wanting to be in school and the resentment towards a parent. In those aspects I feel particularly close to him. I too made bad decisions choosing my friends at that age.

SN: What is your favorite book and why?

good-omens-1Geilimar: GOOD OMENS by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Up to now that is. I guess it has to do more with the time in my life when I first read it. Somehow it helped me understand things about the world, about good and evil. Or maybe it was just something that kept me busy at a time I needed it. For whatever reason, that book is really important to me.

SN: What details of the story told in DANTE’S KISS could you identify with and why?

Geilimar: One of the things I could relate to the most was Dante’s despair in school. Since very young I adored learning and I looked forward to it but thanks to the other kids in school I often prayed for days off so I wouldn’t have to deal with them. I could also relate to Kiriela in the sense that often I’ve wanted to help people even when it’s beyond my power and like her it has brought me a lot of trouble. Another thing was when Dante was admitted into the music school. It reminded me a lot of when I began studying art and I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.

SN: What emotions ran through you as you were reading DANTE’S KISS?

Geilimar: Oh, wow so many.  It was so interesting, thrilling, frustrating at times. It felt so real to me. I suppose this has to do with the fact that I’ve lived several experiences narrated in the book. I can’t say I know exactly how those things felt because everyone feels things differently but I feel very close to the characters.

SN: What hurts you most in the world?

Geilimar: Lies, hypocrisy. But more than that the fact that I actually believe people I know I shouldn’t trust. I just want everyone to have a fair chance but I’m let down a lot.

SN: If you could live one day as another person, who would that person be and why?

Geilimar: I haven’t really thought about it much but if there is someone I truly admire it is Angelina Jolie. There are so many things I could say about her as to why I admire her but in short, I’m baffled with the love and passion that goes into everything she does. Every interview, every speech. She is so famous, so beautiful, so rich, and yet you see her in a refugee camp helping the less fortunate. I really have so much respect for her as a person.

SN: If you were to write your autobiography, what would the last line be?

Geilimar:  I’m not sure as to what the exact line would be but I would like it to be something that encourages people to be less hateful. Or rather, that it encourages them to spend more time and energy on things they love rather than focusing on what they hate because really, nothing good comes from that. I guess it would be something like,” No matter what happens, let go of hate and love with all your might.”

Wise words from a girl not yet out of her teens. Thanks, Geilimar, for sharing your experiences with our readers. Can any of you relate to this young woman? Tell us how in a comment below.

 

 

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Orange Blossoms and Incense

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As a writer, I particularly enjoy describing scent. So it may not be surprising that Scent of Sorrow was the original title of my debut novel CITY OF SORROWS. Why? Because for many of us, the scent is the story.

In CITY OF SORROWS, the scent that both seduces and torments the novel’s protagonist, Diego Vargas, is the orange blossom. If you have ever walked the streets of Seville in the early evening on a warm spring night, you will identify with this smell. It is the perfume of the azahar, of Andalusia. Of romantic evenings strolling cobblestone streets lit by iron lanterns. It is illusion. Youth. Romance. Freedom.

But for Diego Vargas, the scent is bittersweet. It is passion. Pain. A heavy reminder of his loss. And eventually, healing.

The iconic scent of Seville is the orange blossom. As Holy Week nears however, it is often overpowered by clouds of acrid incense that hang heavily in the air.

Altar boys arrive in procession during a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI to commemorate cardinals and bishops who died this year, at the Vatican

For the antagonist, Andrés, it is this scent that stirs up heightened emotion: the pungent incense that wafts over the city in the weeks leading up to Holy Week. As he says in the book, “Holy Week is the highlight and harbinger of spring.” (page 212, CITY OF SORROWS). And no scent announces spring quite as effectively in Seville as the aroma of burnt incense.

Being neither Catholic nor Sevillana, these are not scents that I grew up with in New England. But I have grown to love the delicate aroma of the orange blossom. I love the sweet, seductive smell of this small white flower. The way its perfume floats on the air on a warm spring night, announcing the intoxicating olfactory arrival of primavera. I also remember with fondness the smoky sharpness of burnt incense. Of Easter and Semana Santa. To me, orange blossoms and incense takes me back to a special time in my life when I was young and in love. To that magical city of Seville.

CITY OF SORROWS is an olfactory rich story perfect for the Easter season. Enter here to win a free copy: Goodreads Giveaway: CITY OF SORROWS.   http://susannadathur.com/home.

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Sensuality and Semana Santa

Jesus del Gran Poder 2

In my opinion, no city celebrates Holy Week like Seville. The colors, the aroma, the passion and the pageantry are epic. CITY OF SORROWS captures all the wonder and majesty of this grand event, mostly through the eyes of Andrés.

Holy Week is Andrés’s favorite time of year. A complex person and the story antagonist, Andrés is as wounded as he is passionate about the week between Palm and Easter Sundays. He is a member of the religious fraternity La Esperanza de Triana, a brotherhood whose liturgical year triumphs in the glory and splendor of Semana Santa (Holy Week).

As Andrés says, “Holy Week in Seville is everything he likes about the city. Death becomes a work of art. Grief becomes beauty. Sensuality and Semana Santa go hand in hand. Holy Week is the highlight and harbinger of spring. A time for new beinnings. New life.” (page 212, CITY OF SORROWS)

From dusk to the early hours during Semana Santa, the city’s residents – and up to a million visitors– line the streets to watch the processions that count down the days to Easter Sunday. Rooted in simple storytelling, the processions were devised in medieval times as a way of explaining the crucifixion to the common people.

Today, wooden carved statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary are carried high above the crowds by cofradías – religious brotherhoods scattered throughout the city. Richly-adorned  floats sway through the streets as the human shoulders that carry them negotiate Seville’s cobblestoned alleys. The floats are flanked by a brass band playing iconic Holy Week funeral dirges – as well as the Nazarenos, the cloaked candle-bearers in conical headdresses whose appearance reminds us of the Spanish Inquisition.

As a painter, Andrés would certainly appreciate the glorious artwork paraded on the floats during Semana Santa. Highly regarded artistically are the iconic carvings Jesus del Gran Poder (by Antonio Ruiz Gijón, circa 1682-1692) pictured above and La Esperanza de Triana (possibly attributed to Juan de Astorga, circa early 1800s).

La Esperanza de Triana
La Esperanza de Triana

Sorrow. Loss. Restoration. Redemption. CITY OF SORROWS is a thought provoking story perfect for the Easter season. Enter here to win a free copy: Goodreads Giveaway: CITY OF SORROWS.

Are you as passionate about Holy Week as Andrés is? Please share your cherished traditions with our readers by leaving a comment below.

Happy Easter

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Gypsy Pentecostals in Spain

In my novel CITY OF SORROWS, many of Diego’s family members belong to a Pentecostal Gypsy church located in their neighborhood. This church was based on one that I worshipped in. You may wonder, as I did, how Pentecostal Christians came to establish churches among the Gypsies in Spain. Here’s a little of that history, which actually starts in Brest, France with a French pastor named Clement Le Cossec.

Christian Gypsies in Seville
Christian Gypsies in La Iglesia Dios con Nosotros, Seville Spain

At the beginning of the 1950’s, Clement Le Cossec—a former Catholic priest who later converted to the church of the Assemblies of God—began a small ministry in Brest (Normandy). At that time in France there was a clear, carefully-guarded separation between the French, and other marginal groups who came to the country in search of work. Le Cossec ministered to the French, not to the Gypsies or any other ethnic group. His interest in ministering to the Gypsies began unexpectedly when one day a Gypsy couple entered his church. They were not turned away. They heard the Word, and at the end of the service when Le Cossec called forth all those who wanted to accept Christ as their Savior, the Gypsy couple walked together to the altar and accepted the call.

After that day, they continued to come to the church—even though their relationship with the French congregation was strained by the ethnocentric attitudes of the time. Then one day, the couple approached Le Cossec and offered him money in exchange for receiving the same treatment as other members of the church—meaning pastoral visits, counseling, and support during the difficult moments of their lives. Their petition moved Le Cossec, who then decided to bring the Word not only to this couple, but to all Gypsies who had come to France to work the grape harvest. Among those temporary workers were many Spanish Gypsies. These first converts eventually returned to their native country and, having been touched by the Spirit, began to share their experiences with their family and friends.

Clement Le Cossec
Clement Le Cossec

Seeing the success of these first conversions, in the year 1957 Le Cossec founded what he called the Evangelical Gypsy Mission. The purpose of this mission was primarily to offer training to Gypsy converts to become evangelical pastors. In 1965, the first seven Gypsy pastors arrived in Spain. These seven men founded what is known today as La Iglesia Evangélica de Filadelfia, an Evangelical, Pentecostal Church which is completely governed by, financed by, and lead by Gypsies for a predominantly Gypsy population.

The expansion of Pentecostalism among the Spanish Gypsies was rapid, despite the difficult political conditions of Franco’s Spain. During Franco’s dictatorship (from 1939 to his death in 1975), Catholicism was declared the state religion and non-Catholics, especially Evangelicals, were objects of persecution and discrimination. After Franco’s death, however, the newly-adopted Constitution of 1978 guaranteed equal rights for all ideologies and religions and so the 1980’s and 1990’s saw especially accelerated growth for Gypsy Pentecostalism. In the year 1980, there were 30 churches in Andalucía. By the end of 1995 there were 78 congregations, and at the end of 1998 (the last year for which statistics were available) La Iglesia Filadelfia counted 700-800 churches dispersed throughout Spain—comprising a total of approximately 150,000 to 200,000 members.The question then arises: why this rapid spread of Pentecostalism among the Gypsies, but not among the native Spaniards? Follow me to the next entry for some exciting answers to this provocative question.

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YA Authors: Learn from Twisted

Twisted 2As an author of young adult literature, I have learned much from the ABC Family series Twisted. Its writers do what all of us are taught to do but sometimes fail to accomplish. They keep the audience engaged, hungry for more, and totally sympathetic toward the lead character. I have spent far too many late nights watching back to back episodes of series 1, unable to stop and go to bed—even at 3:00 a.m.

How I hope my readers say the same about my books.

Twisted is a one-hour mystery full of twists and turns that follows Danny Desai, a charming 16-year-old with a troubled past who returns to his hometown after spending five years in juvenile detention. Immediately branded an outcast, Danny attempts to reconnect with his two childhood best friends, Jo and Lacey. But when a fellow student is found dead in her home, Danny instantly becomes the prime suspect and town spirals into a frenzy of suspicion and mystery. Jo and Lacey must decide if their childhood friend is unforgivable, or if he’s really a victim being persecuted for his own dark secrets.

I remember so clearly how I stumbled upon this series. I was bored, my favorite shows Arrow, The Originals, Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries were off for a two-week break. So I scrolled through Netflix but nothing appealed to me—until I stopped on Twisted, a high school drama. Yes, most would consider that odd considering I have a 22-year old daughter and even she has graduated away from teen TV. But the story blurb caught my eye, especially the “immediately branded an outcast part.” My whole life has been a secure identification with the “outsider.” And it only added to my interest that the lead role was played by Avan Jogia, who—like my daughter—has an Indian father (which gives him that killer dark look). So I clicked on the play button and two episodes later, was completely hooked.

Young people, I promise, you will be sucked in. Young people at heart, be prepared to lose some precious sleep. Writers, study the series. And then pray some good karma your way.

 

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Books Set In Spain

Don QuijoteWhen I travel to a foreign country, the first thing I do after purchasing my plane ticket is search for books, usually novels, set in the country I’m travelling to. Spain is the setting for CITY OF SORROWS and a country I hold close to my heart. It’s where I met my husband, established life-long friendships, and lived with a family of Christian Gypsies. If you are traveling to Spain and would like to read a book set in this fascinating country, check out this list by the awesome Spain blogger Molly Piccavey. I cannot believe how many books Molly found to include in her list. And what an honor to see CITY OF SORROWS included there.

So, grab a glass of Rioja, put on some Spanish guitar music and enjoy a good read.Then let us now what your favorite titles are from Molly’s list.

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My Office at Christmas Time

harriet beecher stowe writingAs a fan of writer’s homes, I love to be in the space where famous authors created their work. For most of these writers, a peek into their world only happened many years after their death, when their books were famous and people’s curiosity peaked. Here are two of my favorite author’s writing spaces (both Connecticut natives, like myself):

Harriet Beecher Stowe (pictured to the left) wrote wherever she could, penning Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the nooks and crannies of her home in Hartford, Connecticut.

Mark Twain (pictured below) wrote many of his famous works behind this desk in his home in Elmira, New York, but his signature works–Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer–were penned in his brick mansion in Hartford, Connecticut.

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And then there’s me, nowhere near as famous, nor as renowned as Twain and Stowe, but an author, none-the-less. Here’re a few pictures of my home office decorated for the holidays. It’s not always this neat, but it’s my vintage space in the Caribbean. A little bit of my New England heritage inspires all that I write.

My Snow Flake Christmas Tree, to remind me of New England Christmas long gone by
My Snow Flake Christmas Tree, to remind me of New England Christmas long gone by

 

The space that inspired City of Sorrows, Wondrous Woman, and Dante's Kiss
The space that inspired City of Sorrows, Wondrous Woman, and Dante’s Kiss

 

What about you? Do you have a special space that inspires your writing?

 

 

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