Vast Imaginations

A Community of Children's Writers. Learning. Growing. Creating.

Private Matters

From a Writing Prompt: Write about someone who tells other private things as if they were close friends:


The bus slogged on and on in the soupy traffic. Stop, start, stop, start. Bore, bore, bore.

Until she got on. I’d seen her before. Can’t forget that face; crooked mouth, leaning teeth, and eyes that looked in different directions. I quickly turned my own eyes downward to my book.

“May I sit down?” said a reedy voice and I looked up to see Ms. Cross-eyes. She didn’t wait for an answer but plunked a billion bags down around her, toppling onto my lap, and sighed. I’d heard of rabbit breath before. Or was it rabid breath. Either way, her’s wafted across my nose and was worse than either of those.

“Ooh, my bunions! Been walking so much I’ve got to give them some air. Oh it’s alright, they’ll not smell, deary,” she said to me. “I use Jonson’s foot powder. Helps with the athletes foot you know.” The shoes came off, then the socks, which she laid in her lap and I discovered she lied. The foot powder didn’t work. I delivered a stare out the window.

She did not take the hint, and carried on, poking my arm for my attention. My mother taught me to be polite always, so I turned back to Ms. Cross-eyes when she sighed again. I stopped breathing for a moment.bilde

“Walking too long is tough, what with 3 ingrown toenails and all. But the problem with sitting is my tailbone’s too long, see. Broke it once. Healed wrong. Now if I don’t sit crooked it digs into my–well–you know.” She leaned my way and grinned, hiding her mouth with one hand, whispering. The bus rattled on through a huge puddle and mud water sloshed on my window.

“Then I get constipation. Terrible you know, you don’t go for days and then your stomach explodes with pain when those logs finally start moving down their track. Doc says ‘remember eat lots of fiber and to use your donut cushion or one day you’ll rupture something.’” She leaned yet more my way.

Her foul breath she didn’t have to tell me about, I could smell that myself.

“So how are you this fine day? Isn’t it a treat out there today after that storm yesterday?”

I muttered a “I’m fine.” Well I was until she started her health tirade.

“Me too, me too. I do despise those cloudy days, makes me cough. And all that humidity, makes for a lot, I mean a lot, of phlegm. My throat just clogs up and I gotta clear it all the time, and that makes me vomit. You know, the pressure combined with all the new food allergies I develop constantly. I’ve such a big house, but since I got my late brother’s dog, I don’t worry about making it to a bathroom in time. Did you know dog’s love vomit? Thank goodness they do. It’s not easy at my age to get down on your hands and knees to clean. Well,” Ms. Cross-eyes giggled here, “Actually it’s easy getting down, but not getting up again. Oh the times I pulled my ligaments or tensions or what-you call them, the doctor was threatening to remove my kneecaps! I ask you, does that make sense?”

I shook my head, but said nothing. I’m only 19 what am I supposed to know? Ms. Cross-eyes sighed and sunk her head into the headrest. I did the same, in relief. then her packages tumbled as the bus flew over a bump.

Ms. Cross-eyes straightened them, looked at me, and when she was sure I was only faking sleep, began again, whispering this time. “Have you ever had an oozing green infection in—“

I stood, pulled the bus string, excused myself and got off, tripping over half a million of those bags of hers. I had no idea where I was, but hey, there’s only so much phlegm and ear wax one can take, after all. I’ll walk home.

VastI footer…writes for under 18’s & is currently torturing her first complete manuscript with revision. She encourages all writers thus:

To know is nothing at all. To imagine is everything” -Anatole France

Writing YA? Respect your Audience

Over a year ago fellow VI blogger, Suzanne Costigan and I attended local writing conference and, both of being YA writers, we chose to attend a session on writing for this age group. Not much from the conference lingered with me, but one thing did. One of the presenters commented that teenagers are “stupid.” Both of us took strong offense to the comment.

I thought the sentiment was isolated, certainly YA writers don’t think of their audience as stupid, until I came across a blog post by another YA author reflecting the same opinion. To be honest, I’m appalled. Why are you writing for an audience you clearly don’t respect?

Because of my husband’s profession, I’ve had the honor of teaching, mentoring, and hosting teens in my home for close to two decades. Twenty Jr. High students in my basement–bring it. And now I also have three teenage children. This is a wonderful time of life, full of growth, discovery and so, so much potential. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every moment with these smart, energetic, and fun-loving young people.

Maybe you’re saying, “but you haven’t encountered the bad ones.” Nope, I guess I haven’t. I’ve encountered more than a few hurting teens. I’ve encountered some that lash out, some that live as though they’re invincible, some that don’t take consequences into consideration when they act.

With my own kids, sometimes I’ve been frustrated. Like when I find the milk in the pantry. Or I worry because they’re coming home late.

But, I have yet to meet a bad or stupid teenager.

I love this age group and that’s why I write for them. Because of their potential. Because of their zest for life. Because they will be the ones that change the world.

Don’t write for them because you want to teach them a lesson. Try listening. Try allowing them to teach you something. I’ve learned so much from them.

In a nutshell: Respect your audience or find a different one.

The Franklin Quandary

pictureWhen news broke last week that Canadian search teams had discovered one of the ships from the ill-fated 1845 Franklin expedition, it was BIG NEWS indeed. How two ships –Terror and Erebus – and 129 men under the leadership of Sir John Franklin virtually disappeared in the Canadian Arctic has long puzzled historians, scientists, and many an armchair adventurer – this writer among them.  Despite a century and a half of intense investigation, few clues surfaced to tell the tragic tale: three graves on Beechey Island, remnants of a winter camp on King William Island, an abandoned lifeboat, tin cans, the occasional tool, the odd weapon, a few books, a couple of scrawled notes, a number of human bones.  And now, a ship.
View of the newly discovered ship

View of the newly discovered ship

I’ve been following the Franklin story for decades. I’d written about it twice, first in Mysteries of Time (1992) just after anthropologist Owen Beattie opened the graves of three sailors from the expedition, and added lead poisoning and cannibalism to the tale. I wrote about the Franklin expedition again in Case Files: 40 Murders & Mysteries Solved by Science (2012). By then, scientists and historians had uncovered other clues and were just beginning to troll Arctic waters for the lost ships.  My story incorporated the latest facts and speculation – debates about the source of lead, hints about the ships’ locations from Inuit lore, conjecture about the route the sailors might have taken across the ice as they fled their crippled vessels.
Graves on Beechey Island

Graves on Beechey Island

When news surfaced about the Franklin ship, my first reaction was a mixture of amazement and awe. Amazement that searching for a needle-in-a-haystack prize like this ended so successfully. Awe at the astounding combination of technology, expertise and determination that led to this point.
Right on the heels of amazement and awe, though, I had a second rush of reactions. Disappointment led the group.  Here was something new, a huge discovery.  Anyone reading my accounts of the Franklin expedition would find this information missing.  Wouldn’t that date these pieces?  Make them less accurate and reliable, and perhaps less worthy of a reading? Screen-Shot-2013-04-03-at-3_04_44-PMAs writers we face the problem of dating our material all the time. Fiction writers who include references to the latest pop tunes, electronic gizmos, fashion crazes, food fads and the like, run the risk of losing future readers when these latest and greatest trends trade places with new ones. Anyone who watches old TV shows like MacMillan & Wife or Rockford Files and sees someone using a shoebox-sized cellular phone (or perhaps no cell phone at all), knows how quickly dated material detracts from the story.
Non-fiction writers run similar risks. Sometimes facts that seem solid and indisputable become less so with the passage of time, not through any fault of the writer, but simply because new and more current facts supplant old ones. Case in point: Pluto. Once a mighty planet like eight others, it is now considered to be something less – a dwarf planet.
imagesT552DDA4But non-fiction material also becomes dated when current information is omitted – Franklin’s ship, for example. While my accounts are still factually accurate for the time they were written, by not mentioning the discovery, they assume a yellow-with-age quality.  Hence, my disappointment at hearing the Franklin news.
Along with disappointment, I also felt helplessness. There was no way to add new information to my books. Even if they were to be reprinted someday by the publisher, tampering with the original files would be a costly, unwieldy affair, hardly warranted by the addition of a line or two of updated information.
Disappointment and helplessness aside, I experienced a flood of questions, too. Which ship was it – Terror or Erebus?  What combination of factors brought it down at this spot?  What new things will we learn about Franklin, his men and the ill-fated decisions they made?
Irrational decisions by the crew add to the mystery

Irrational decisions by the crew add to the mystery

Isn’t this the allure of the Franklin story? Uncertainty.  Speculation.  More questions.  The best a writer can do is to tell the story with the facts at hand, and leave the door open for new information.  In Case Files, I ended with such a line: For now, the Franklin mystery remains very much an open case, a puzzle with many more questions than answers.
It’s entirely possible that we will never learn exactly what transpired, and every written account about the Franklin expedition will be judged incomplete at some point. For writers like me, discoveries like the Franklin ship just mean having yet another opportunity to tell the story again.
Franklin search crew

Franklin search crew

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Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 13 non-fiction books for youngsters. His middle grade novel, Missing in Paradise, is scheduled for release by Rebelight Publishing Inc. in November.

What An Improvement!

writers-groupI read a non-fiction manuscript at my writers’ group meeting last week. I’d been working on the piece for a long time and had already submitted it to some publishers. I had debated whether I should read it, since a number of the group members had already critiqued an earlier draft. I’m so glad I did. There were new people in the group, and everyone, including the people who’d heard my earlier draft, had valuable advice to offer.  They made excellent suggestions. 

WritersGroupWould it be good to add more sensory detail to some of the descriptions? Of course it would. 

Could I organize the examples in my text in chronological order? Why hadn’t I thought of that? 

Might I include more varied examples age wise and gender wise? Absolutely! Why hadn’t I noticed that the examples I’d used were often similar? 

Was the first paragraph really necessary?  Reading the manuscript over again I knew it wasn’t. It prevented the reader from jumping right into the text and wasn’t that exciting or realistic. 

critiqueWeren’t there some places where I should use stronger verbs? What an improvement that made.  

Did I want to reconsider the title? I was offered suggestions for titles that were more direct and catchy than the one I’d picked. 

Would it be good to be even a little bolder and more direct in addressing the controversial issue at the heart of my book?  It would. 

better-writing-skillsThe feedback of my fellow writers was so helpful that I plan to read the manuscript to them again once I’ve reworked it. I also want to let a number of  other people read it. Getting feedback from other writers does IMPROVE your manuscript. 

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MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?

Opening Doors

b72c42d050f4d83eb6a7d7f6d2308472Writing is not just just churning out words into sequence. It’s about opening doors and exploring the mysteries beyond.

The thrill may lie in the deeper exploration of a character in your story, one whom you don’t know well yet. Or it may be a trek into how some of your characters react to each other.

And there’s the possibility of discovering uncharted settings that throw wide a whole new world of scenarios, options or difficulties for your protagonist.

My major work in progress takes place in one location. So I have this boarding school, a 1500’s converted estate home located in England. I saw it in my mind’s eye as an austere stone affair with expansive grounds and formal gardens surrounded by 12′ granite walls. I had no trouble originally placing certain things on the yard: a bog, a summer kitchen, a carriage house, a herb garden, etc. And inside too, I sat and dreamed up the usual school type things, set in a building still full of armoire’s and persian rugs and portraits and panelling. Antiques, alcoves with suits of armour, ballustrades, corbels, and I could go on and on, but I’ll not spill all my ideas, my inner doors.d5700cce922769270e1df24601c619c0

But sometimes, when it comes to the minute details, my minds eye wants a magnifying glass, a bit of help. Because it’s true what they say about the details, and in writing, so long as you don’t get carried away, the details are what helps put readers right in the action and feel like they are in the pages of your book.

That’s when I open doors from without. Anyone who’s read enough of this blog knows how I love images—drawings, sketches, photos. It’s the artsy fart in me. And when it comes to detailed ideas that prick the imagination on to greater heights, images do it for me.

So for the above story, I began to look around for details provided by a picture of all the small things on an old vanity, what all hangs in a toolshed, or what falls out of a suitcase found in a 200 year old attic. A perfume bottle collection with one tiny bottle of something that smells vile–poison? A sickle, rusted, hedge shears, exceedingly sharp, small animal traps. Papers so old that they crumble to dust in your hands, but you catch your grandfather’s name with a large red cross through it. All these things can spawn ideas or snippets for a fuller story.

77ba78c8c51a46c913f51bb74048c613Recently I had a tremendous brainwave for a book. I had been looking at several unrelated pictures that I found pleasing to the eye, and badda-bing–they amalgamated unprovoked in my head as a rather unique novel worthy idea. I proceeded to make copies and began furious scribbling. The doors don’t always stay open long so catch those snippets. Tie them down and nourish them.

There are other sorts of doors. Listening at the coffee shop, in the mechanic’s garage, at the hair salon. Taking note of smells, of rain, cigars, the bakery, a florist shop, cheap perfume, a fresh heap of doggy doo as you go for a walk. Don’t ignore them. Don’t worry about the new idiot at the office. Think about these things–that’s opening a door.

“Good writing is in the specifics,” some writer said. What would you rather read:

  • “The boy was blond.” or
  • “As he leaned against the window frame, his hair blended with the morning rays shining into the room.”

This tells us so much more and sets a mood. It opens a door for the reader too, and welcomes him in. He’ll feel at home.

VastI footer…writes for under 18’s & is currently torturing her first complete manuscript with revision. She encourages all writers thus:

To know is nothing at all. To imagine is everything” -Anatole France

Four Things I Wish I Knew About Twitter Before I Started

untitled (3)I came late to Twitter. Just over a year ago I set up my account and have been trying to learn its ins and outs ever since. At first I hated it, but it’s become my favourite social media outlet. Unlike Facebook, there’s no algorithm choosing my content for me so a get the raw material. Over the past month, though, I’ve considered dumping my Twitter account and starting over. Why? I’ve learned a few things and if I could start over I’d do things differently.

  1. Some people just want to sell you stuff. And that’s all they have on their Twitter feed–ad after ad. It’s called social media, key word SOCIAL, not commercials. If I wanted a commercial I’d turn on the TV. I’m on Twitter to interact and many of these Tweeters use apps that time their tweets (their commercials) and rarely interact with others, which also means they probably aren’t even seeing your tweets. Now, before I follow anyone or give them follow back I check their past ten tweets. If more than a quarter is self-promotion, then I don’t follow them.
  2. Bigger isn’t better. When I first started I thought my goal was to accumulate as many followers as possible. I saw accounts Screenshot (2)with 500,000 followers and coveted those giant numbers. However, I’ve learned that its not the number of followers you have, but the number of interactive followers you have. I have over 1200 followers, but in reality, I have a couple dozen quality followers–people who respond, retweet and favourite and in turn, I do the same for them.
  3. Keep a close eye on your followers list. When people follow me, I usually follow them back unless they fall into the shameless self-promoters category or unless I find them offensive. But, when I noticed my “following” and “followers” numbers getting out of whack I investigated. I discovered that some Tweeters follow me and then, when I follow them back, they unfollow me. I call this the Tweet Slap because it’s a slap in the face. I think it’s a total jerk move. I went through my list of over 1000 people and removed a couple hundred Tweet Slappers. Again, I want to interact and if they don’t want to do the same, then I don’t want to follow them either.
  4. Lists. A Twitter miracle! Want to keep track of certain people, so they don’t get lost in your feed. Use the Lists option. You can have as many lists as you want. I have one for friends, one for writers I know, and one for stuff I just find interesting.  Once the list is formed you just have to click on it to see what those people are up to.

Hopefully, now you can be a wiser Twitter user than I was. Do you have any Twitter tips?

Want to follow some of the VI bloggers?

Me: @melindafriesen Mention VI and I’ll give you a follow back.

Christina: @marionalbig

Suzanne: @suzannecostigan

And for good measure, you can follow my publisher @rebelightbooks. They love to interact on Twitter!


Melinda Friesen writes shorts stories and novels for teens. Her first book, Enslavement, is set for a November 2014 release from Rebelight Publishing Inc.


Making a Difference for Writers on a Shoestring Budget

 untitled“I didn’t notice it going,” Canadian novelist, Deborah Ellis, says in a 2012 MacLean’s Magazine article.  “It’s all whisked away before I see it, like an automatic savings plan.”
Ellis was referring to her donation of over $1 million in royalties from her popular Afghanistan tween trilogy, The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and Mud City, money that has gone to causes dear to Ellis such as the literacy-focused Canadian Women For Afghanistan.
Ellis is not the only writer devoted to large-scale philanthropy. Topping a long list of generous donors is J.K. Rowling. In addition to the $160 million she already contributed to various charity organizations from her Harry Potter series, Rowling recently announced that all royalties from her adult crime novel, Cuckoo’s Calling (under the pseudonym Robert Gailbraith) will go to The Soldiers’ Charity, an organization that provides support for British soldiers and their families   Also on the list of generous benefactors, romance novelist Nora Roberts who donated $3 million to The Nora Roberts Foundation, which supports literacy.
Admirable as these donations are, most writers are hardly in a position to give back in such magnitudes.  According to a 2010 Writers’ Union of Canada article, incomes for authors of books in Canada average less than $12,000. Another source pegged the annual average in royalties for fiction writers at $500.
How can cash-strapped writers bent on philanthropy give back?  While there are dozens of volunteering opportunities in every community, here are a few for writers who want to make a difference without shelling out money or leaving their keyboards.


GoodearchThe principle behind GOODSEARCH is simple.  For each search conducted on Goodsearch’s search engine about a penny from advertisers goes to a designated charity or cause.   Considering the number of searches most writers conduct, the pennies add up, especially when thousands of other users are contributing the same way. A few things to keep in mind: You must use the GOODSEARCH search engine which is patent-protected and Yahoo!-powered.  A number of the charities on the extensive list are rooted in the U.S., but there are international ones too, such as Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Make A Wish, Salvation Army and World Vision.
For further details, check the GOODSEARCH website:

Care 2

care2If you have a cause you are passionate about or an issue you feel needs attention whether it involves local politics, animal welfare, literacy, human rights, or the flow of traffic down your street, CARE 2 may be for you. Start an online petition on the CARE 2 site, interest others in adding their signatures, and CARE 2 becomes a way to affect change.  Petitions are tracked on so it’s easy to tally signatures and just as easy to sign up for causes you might want to support.
For more, check the CARE 2 website:

Infinite Family

infinite familyThe site INFINITE FAMILY uses weekly one-on-one 30 minute video conversations to link adults around the world with youth of the sub-Sahara affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty. Mentors undergo a short online training program to help them understand culture, technology and the needs of their mentees. Following the training, mentors are ready to chat to their Net Buddies and link with them through email exchanges or blog posts. The goal is to provide long-term, personalized interaction for disadvantaged youth to strengthen confidence, develop literacy skills, and enhance opportunities for global success.
The INFINITE FAMILY website is a rich resource of information about the mentoring approach.  While cash donations are gladly received, the focus here is on strengthening bonds and language proficiency, something writers of all income levels might find fits their mandates nicely.
For more detail, check out INFINITE FAMILY:
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Larry Verstraete ( is the author of 13 non-fiction books for youngsters. His middle grade novel, Missing in Paradise, is scheduled for release by Rebelight Publishing Inc. in November.

My First Writers’ Retreat

cottageThis lovely cottage  provided the perfect setting for my first ever writers’ retreat. A writers’ group I recently joined was gracious enough to include me in an event they host annually. writingAlthough we did go for a couple of walks through the woods to a nearby lake the weekend was all about writing. writer at workThe eight women on the retreat each found their own little writing niche somewhere in the spacious cabin and hunkered down to work. writers groupThe first night at supper we shared our writing goals for the weekend and periodically when someone was encountering a problem in their manuscript they’d seek help and we’d brainstorm for ideas and solutionswriters at workbut for the most part we were in front of our computer screens ‘getting things done.’ The weather was cold and rainy which actually made it perfect for a writing retreat. how many writers fit into a kitchenHow many writers in a kitchen is too many? We did take a break from writing to enjoy some wonderful meals.  Everyone had brought food items to contribute. talkingThe weekend provided an opportunity to get to know some of the people in my writing group on a more personal level and I was able to complete a manuscript for a picture book I’d had in the works for several months. It got sent off to a writing editor and mentor just a few days later for feedback. computerIf you are looking for a way to make real headway on a writing project – a writers’ retreat where you get away from your regular routine to focus on your writing might be the answer. I’m already looking forward to next year’s retreat. 

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MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?

His Sister’s Soul

Another of my free-write exercises:


The corridor, all checkered tiles and lichen-eaten, crumbling brick walls, was overhung by mist and fog and darkness.

Worthers scanned both directions with eyes wide and wary. He never assumed anything. It was midnight. It was Saturday. It was summer. But that didn’t mean the abandoned, derelict school was empty. Still he looked again and, everything quiet, began to drag the fellow lying at his feet across the corridor. Worthers was a small man and the fellow on the floor much taller, though still a boy.

Worthers reached his knuckly fingers under the boy’s armpits, the fake leather jacket slipping beneath his grip, but by bumps and lurches he pulled the limp form over the rough tiles, white then black, white, then black. Stopping halfway to catch his breath, he looked again each direction, then continued. His goal, the dumpster behind the gym.

On the dusty surface, the boy’s dragging hair and body swept the hall clear but at last Worthers had him in through the intended gym doorway and all else that was left to show their journey was a thinning streak of blood. And a fallen shoe by the door. Worthers picked it up. He gave the corridor a last sweeping glance and saw, through the fog a gliding figure, eyes closed, black hair, white dress. Worthers’ heart leapt and he fled.

The boy’s ghost was—a girl.rec 35 51068


VastI footer…writes for under 18’s & is currently torturing her first complete manuscript with revision. She encourages all writers thus:

To know is nothing at all. To imagine is everything” -Anatole France

Top Six Reasons Why Giving Birth is More Fun Than Querying my Novel

I spent months researching how to write a query letter, visiting the plethora of blogs dealing with the matter. I picked through Nathan Bransford’s upbeat and encouraging query instructionals. I read through 130 of Query Shark’s query critiques, which were helpful, but terrifying (what did I expect? The site isn’t called Query Cuddly Bunny or Query Momma with Cookies and Milk). I studied Kristin Nelson’s blog. I went on Agent Query and learned from their advice. But, as I studied I came across a lot of conflicting information—some agents wanted me to make a personal connection, some wanted me to stick to the business at hand, Kristin Nelson only wanted to hear about the first fifty pages of the book, while the Query Shark didn’t want to be left in the dark about the ending.

Then, I spent a year writing a query letter for my fifth novel. Yes, a year! Is that because I’m slow or anal? I’m not sure. Maybe both. The terrible part is, after over a year of effort, I’ve not succeeded in gathering an agent’s affection.

I imagine a lair buried deep inside a dormant volcano, a glass floor with magma flowing beneath it. Literary agents and editors gather untitled (2)around the table. One puffs on an over-sized cigar. A woman with a German accent purses her lips. And their leader, a bald man in a grey suit, strokes his hairless cat. Together they devise ways to thwart people like me. “After they write their book. We shall make them condense it to five sentences. These five sentences must be active, interesting, and make me hear angels singing the hallelujah chorus. Mwahaha mwahaha MWAHAHAHAHA!”

Paranoia aside. I get the why’s. I know these people receive a lot of emails. I know I’m an unknown. I know I’m asking them to take a huge risk on me. I know they’re doing their best to find some gems in the slush pile. I get that, but it doesn’t make this process any easier. I’m querying this thing and have already received plenty of rejections. This process is painful and honestly, giving birth was more enjoyable.

So without further ado: Top Six Reasons Why Giving Birth is More Fun Than Querying my Novel

6. When I give birth I have a 95 per cent chance of a positive outcome.

5. Everyone around me in labour is full of encouragement. No one tells me I can’t do it or I’ll never make it in the baby making business.

4. People ask to hold your baby. Even if it’s your first baby! Unlike publishing where no one will touch your baby with a nine foot pole.

3. A day or two of excruciating pain and it’s over. I get to enjoy the efforts of my labour.

2. No one looks at my newborn and says, “Not interested. I see 50 babies like yours everyday.”

1. No one pushes the baby back inside because it needs more work.


Melinda Friesen writes short stories and novels for  teens. In her spare time researches how to write query letters and beats her head against walls. Her first novel, Enslavement, is due for release from Rebelight Publishing Inc. in October 2014, so clearly not all her queries have ended in failure.



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