Category Archives: Guest post

Guest Post: 7 Best Tips for Writing an Effective Query Letter to Get Your Book Published; by Writer’s Relief

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This article has been reprinted with the permission of Writer’s Relief, a highly recommended author’s submission service. We assist writers with preparing their submissions and researching the best markets. We have a service for every budget, as well as a free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit our site today to learn more.

Congratulations, writer—you’ve finished your book manuscript! You’ve had it professionally proofed and edited, and your beta readers gave you great reviews. Now it’s time to write your query letter. Sometimes, even the most gifted writers may feel the query letter is more challenging to write than the novel. But in order to score a literary agent for your book and get published, you will need to write a persuasive query letter. Luckily, Writer’s Relief has been creating effective query letters for over 26 years, so we have some great tips to help you grab an agent’s attention and boost your odds of getting a book deal.

7 Tips For Writing The Best Query Letter For Your Book

Ace the salutation. Getting the agent’s name right is very important. At one time, it was customary to address literary agents with the title Mr., Mrs., or Ms. However, current publishing industry etiquette is to use only the agent’s first and last name. You can check the agent’s blog or website to be sure you have the proper spelling.

Include the title, genre, and word count. You’d be surprised how often authors leave out one or more of these important details! Also, make sure the agent you are querying represents the genre you are pitching. Pinpointing your book’s genre can sometimes be as tough as writing a great query, so be sure to check out this article and confirm the genre you’ve selected is correct.

Craft an engaging (and brief!) book blurb. Some literary agents request that you first send only the query letter (rather than a query letter, synopsis, and pages all at once), so make sure your letter does the job! The book blurb in your query letter shouldn’t be longer than 200 to 250 words. You want the reader of your query letter to be attentive, intrigued, and eager to see more. This can be the most difficult part for most writers—it’s hard to encapsulate your novel into a small, tasty bite.

Provide the overall story arc in your query letter summary, but don’t include less essential points. Ending on a cliffhanger is fine—and never give away the ending in your query letter! Save secondary characters and plot points for the two-page synopsis.

Have a hook. Be sure your book blurb offers a tempting hook for the reader. It doesn’t have to be just one sentence, but you want to keep it short, tight, and engaging. The hook highlights what makes your book unique and sells your book to the reader.

Mention your writing credentials and/or your educational history. Mention your publication credits, especially any relevant to the book manuscript. Attended a master class with Joyce Carol Oates? Yay! Are you a member of a writing group, and you’ve attended a few writing conferences? Bravo! Make the agent aware. Did you study organic chemistry in college and now write about carbon bombs in your dystopic spy thriller? Were you a detective with the LAPD when you came up with the idea for your story? Don’t leave this info out—it shows you can write with expertise on your topic.

However, if you won a writing contest in second grade—well done, but no need to mention this or any other irrelevant history to the agent. Nothing screams “amateur” more than including extraneous details in your query letter.

The key to a great query letter is selling your book and yourself without overselling yourself. Confidence and bravado are two totally different things. Don’t put in your query letter that you are the next [insert famous author name here].

This is also where you could include a sentence or two about yourself. What’s that? You don’t have any idea how to write an author bio? You should read this.

Show gratitude. Literary agents receive hundreds of queries per day. Let them know you appreciate their valuable time. Something simple like Thank you for your time and consideration is enough to make them feel appreciated.

Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. A query letter filled with grammar mistakes will not impress an agent—more likely it will be deleted as the agent moves on to more promising submissions. Check the spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and then have another proofreader take a look. Leave out unnecessary exclamation points, underlining, colors, or odd fonts. And don’t even think about adding emojis.

To see what elements of query letters make agents cringe, check out this list of literary agent pet peeves.

Question: Which part of writing a query letter is hardest for you?

Guest Post: Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett Millais, from Joy of Museums

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Thank you to Joy of Museums for this wonderful discussion of Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett Millais.

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“Christ in the House of His Parents” by John Everett Milla depicts the Holy Family in Joseph’s carpentry workshop. The painting centers on the young Jesus, who has cut his hand while assisting Joseph in his workshop. The composition has a plethora of symbolism representing the theological aspects of this religious subject. The most interesting aspect of this painting was how controversial it was when it was first exhibited. It received many negative reviews because of its realistic depiction of a carpentry workshop, especially the dirt and wood shavings on the floor.

The portrayal of the Holy Family, in the painting, was in dramatic contrast to the general view of Jesus and his mother, traditionally represented in Roman togas and traditional costumes. Charles Dickens accused Millais of portraying Mary as an alcoholic who looks:

“…so hideous in her ugliness.”

Critics also objected to and criticized this new and unique portrayal of Jesus. Because of the controversy, Queen Victoria asked for the painting to be taken to Buckingham Palace so that she could view it in private.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Guest Post: Why I Embrace My Inner Weirdos by Kimberly Brock

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Thank you to author Kimberly Brock and to Writers in the Storm for this marvelous article about characterization.

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Kimberly Brock

[Subtitle:] And You Shouldn’t Even Bother Me with Your Stable Characters

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of Netflix with my husband – particularly British crime shows. Well, actually, anything British. I don’t know why. But this blog is not about that. What it is about is the fact that I am always, always, always most interested in the trashiest, quirkiest, strangest, darkest, most unstable characters. Liars, cheats, addicts. Personally, I would rather eat cold, overcooked oatmeal than read about a good character who does good things in a good world where everybody is on time and well-groomed, consuming a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, living life in tastefully decorated rooms with Barry Manilow piped in to set the mood. My husband pointed this out to me a few weeks ago when we were talking about my girl crush on actress Nicola Walker’s character in “Last Tango in Halifax,” which then led to binge watching another of her series, “River.” I actually sank back into the sofa and sighed and said, “Oh, she is so screwed up. I love her.”

My husband was perplexed. But he wasn’t really worried until a few weeks ago when we finished our nightly romp through the “Luther” series. In the final episode, my favorite character, a narcissistic psychopathic serial killer who saves the hero, uttered the most fabulous line to his little wisp of a girlfriend. It was the best line of all time, delivered with steely eyes and a smirk. If you hurt him, I will kill you. (INSERT DELISCIOUS PAUSE) And eat you.

OH, YES! I jumped off the couch, cheering and laughing. I made my husband rewind it. (Do you rewind anything anymore?) Twice. I said the lines with her, dramatically. Gleefully! And my husband, who is a brave man, rolled his eyes. The same way he rolled his eyes later in the week when he caught me making a Pinterest board dedicated to these characters. If you make fun of my Pinterest Board of Psycho Characters, I will kill you. And eat you.

Now, really. I don’t want to kill anyone, much less eat them. But, man! It got a reaction out of me – this character saying those perfect words at that perfect moment and what it meant to the person hearing them. Even though, obviously, the character is quite the psycho, I loved her.

So, why am I confessing all of this to you at risk of sounding like a sicko and losing your readership forever? Because I’ve been trying to work out my fascination with the most unstable characters and why I love them best when I’m a reader. And – here’s the twist – why I’m always so afraid to write them.

Don’t get me wrong! I DO write them. I ALWAYS write them. I write them cloaked in what THEY believe is noble, but they’re screw ups, heroes and villains, alike. Listen, I’ve been to the conferences and the panels and the workshops. Dammit, I teach them! I know what they SAY about how your characters are supposed to be three-dimensional and flawed. I know what they SAY about how a good story is only a good story because there’s CONFLICT. I know how books like Gone Girl have flown off the shelf and been made into blockbuster movies and caused us all to despise Ben Affleck and get our own secret badass undercut bobbed haircuts. Girl Reading This Blog, I know!

But it’s a challenge to actually do it. And I often fail at it before I succeed. Why? When I first sit down to create characters I love they come out fabulously twisted and depraved and socially awkward. But inevitably, I start to lose all confidence that readers will stick with them. I’ll invest tons of energy second-guessing their morality and editing their language. I will smooth out their rough edges and bad habits and cover up their body art. I will make them better parents. I will sweeten up their motives and switch out the shots of whiskey in their hands to a tall glasses of sweet tea. All in an effort to convince my readers they can safely embrace my paper people. They can love us (because, the truth is all of my characters are an extension of me.) We’re perfectly acceptable, if you just don’t notice that little bit of psychopath sticking out from beneath our neatly pressed collars.

Before I know it, my characters turn out like a whole new cast of the Mickey Mouse Club, chilled out on anti-depressants. They turn into cold oatmeal and nobody, not even me, wants to read about them. I’m perplexed. I loved all those super freaks when I started. What went wrong? It’s a common lament and I think I know the answer, but it might not be what you think.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Guest Post: 5 Mistakes Writer Make on Their Author Websites (And the Easy Fixes)

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This article has been reprinted with the permission of Web Design Relief.  Whether you’re just starting out or a best-selling author, Web Design Relief will improve your existing website or build you an affordable, custom author website to support your author platform, boost your online presence, and act as a hub for your social media outreach. Web Design Relief is a division of Writer’s Relief, a highly recommended author’s submission service. Sign up for their free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit the site today to learn more.

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Did you know that every website needs regular care and housekeeping? So unless you have a fairy godmother or can sing well enough to inspire woodland creatures to assist you with your chores, you should keep a virtual broom and wrench handy. Even the most meticulous author website design may experience issues that arise over time: Links break, information becomes obsolete, plugins stop working, etc. Thankfully, the most common mistakes writers make on their author websites have easy fixes!

Check out these website blunders and Web Design Relief’s tips on how to fix them without IT support intervention.

5 Easy-To-Fix Common Website Mistakes

Broken images: Uh-oh, has your beautiful photo been replaced by a sad face or what looks like a torn piece of paper? This means that the file containing the image may have been corrupted. But this can be fixed simply by re-uploading your photo to your author website or installing a handy plugin to solve the problem for you!

Typos: Some of the most damaging mistakes on an author website are typos, grammar mishaps, and incorrect punctuation. After all, you’re a writer—you’re held to a higher standard of web content than your online neighbors. Typos and grammar gaffes on your website may cause visitors to question your writing skills in general.

And you can’t count on website building elements to alert you to typos; they don’t feature spellcheck like word processing programs do. Thorough, expert proofreading is the solution to this common mistake and can ensure that your author website is up to professional standards.

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Dead Links: Is there anything more frustrating than a link that leads nowhere? If the hyperlinks you have included on your website are no longer active, your site will look abandoned and poorly maintained. Worst-case scenario—improper use of links can even get your site banned.

Fortunately, reviving dead links is easy! If a website has a new web address, simply update your link with the new URL. If the site you are linking to no longer exists, remove the link altogether or find another source. And remember to check your hyperlinks often to make sure you aren’t letting dead links lurk on your website!

Slow Response Times: Does your website take a long time to load? Having too many elements running can cause lagging. Download time is an overlooked issue on many author websites. And if your website is taking too long to load, visitors will bounce off your site.

To fix a lagging website, reevaluate what you really need on your web pages and what is simply clogging up response times. For example: There is no need to have images larger than 1500px, so you may want to resize large photos so that they do not take up so much space. However, don’t lose the resolution—make sure your photos have at least 300 dpi (dots per inch). Another tip: Instead of uploading videos directly to your website, upload them to an external website like YouTube and then embed them on your site to save space!

Design Is Not Mobile-Friendly: Your author website may look perfect on your desktop computer, but nowadays more and more people visit sites using their cell phones and tablets. So it’s important that your website looks great on mobile devices too! The key is sizing. Make certain that your buttons are big enough to be seen on smaller screens, but that your photos and graphics aren’t so big that they are cut off.

Our pro tip: Test, test, test! View your author website on as many devices as possible and adjust your design elements accordingly.

Check out these 7 tips for a more mobile-friendly author website!

BONUS TIP: While most mistakes on your author website can be easily fixed, there will be glitches that require more complicated intervention. But don’t panic! Regular website backups can still save you lots of grief. Backing up your website frequently gives you the option to revert back to an earlier version (before the error kicked in!).

 

QUESTION: What are some overlooked mistakes you’ve found on websites you’ve visited?

Guest Post: How to Gain That Last 1% in Your Writing by Ryan Lanz

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Thank you to Ryan Lanz and A Writer’s Path for this repost. The end of the article is an exercise in which one paragraph is written six ways, illustrating how a change in focus can make all the difference.

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It’s been said that the difference between a good novel and a great novel is only 1%. When I first read that, it used to drive me nuts. What is that 1%?

If you asked 100 people, you would probably get 100 different answers. What I’m talking about here may not be all of the 1%, but it certainly is a very important part of it.

Someone that I have brought up before is Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time series. One of his many strengths as a writer was to flavor the world through his character’s eyes. A prime example of that is a character called Siuan Sanche, who was raised as a fisherman’s daughter. She would often pepper her dialogue with examples and comparisons to fish and nets. She would notice things, due to her experience, that others wouldn’t.

While many people may not have noticed it on a conscious level, those things dramatically impact the reader. When a reader doesn’t feel attached to a character, it can create an emotional barrier. By the same token, when a reader feels like they see everything in the world through the character’s eyes, everything becomes more interesting.

How the author guides this perspective—as well as how consistent the author is—makes all the difference. In fact, you can tell a lot about the protagonist just by how he/she perceives things. Now, it’s fine and dandy to hear all this said to you, but how about seeing it exampled? I thought it would be much more of a learning experience to try out an exercise and have you all guess things about the protagonist by what he/she notices in a room.

To continue reading this article, click here.

Guest Post: 5 Real-Life Elements That Will Make Your Author Website Appeal To Real-Life Readers by Web Design Relief

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This article has been reprinted with the permission of Web Design Relief.  Whether you’re just starting out or a best-selling author, Web Design Relief will improve your existing website or build you an affordable, custom author website to support your author platform, boost your online presence, and act as a hub for your social media outreach. Web Design Relief is a division of Writer’s Relief, a highly recommended author’s submission service. Sign up for their free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit the site today to learn more.

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Rather than relying on overused marketing concepts, your author website should be designed with one goal in mind: to connect with the right audience for your work. At Web Design Relief, we know that once you’ve determined who your real-life readers are, you can then offer better, more targeted content. Don’t be afraid to share your personality with website visitors—they want to know more about the real-life YOU! (Discover your web personality here.) Sharing some personal details can help readers form a bond with you and keep them coming back for the long term.

How Featuring The Real-Life You Helps Your Author Website Appeal To Readers

Tell Your Story

Your author website is the best place to showcase your books, poetry, and short stories. But don’t stop there! When you also share personal moments, thoughts, and inspiration on your website (and your blog), visitors will see you more as an actual living, breathing person and less as an anonymous face on a book cover. Sharing personal anecdotes is one of the best ways to build your personal brand, create a following, and increase book sales!

Update Your Headshot

Standard headshots are often…well, standard! There is nothing wrong with a headshot that shows you in business casual wear in front of a plain background. But this is your author website, not your LinkedIn profile shot. Post a fun headshot, or even a series of photos that captures your personality. Website visitors will want to see your playful side, not just the let’s-get-down-to-business side. Help your audience connect with you on a personal level. If you write horror stories or serious nonfiction, you might want to choose a headshot that reflects your genre. But you can still crack a smile in another photo to show the person behind the pen (or behind the vampire fangs, if that’s the case).

Uncomfortable in front of the camera? Well, say cheese, because we’ve got you covered with Headshot 101.

Integrate Social Media

Do you often find yourself tweeting, scrolling through Facebook, or uploading your new selfie or food photo on Instagram? Odds are, your followers do this too! Integrate your social media into your author website through widgets and live feeds so that visitors can learn more about the real you and share your posts—helping to expand your reach with more opportunities to market your writing.

Share A Video

Clearly, your author website visitors love to read. But if you have a video camera, a GoPro, or a smartphone, you can also share a video on your website. This can be a vlog or welcome video, a guide to your writing process, a tour of your writing space, a reading of your favorite passage, and more. Your audience will feel more allied with you if they have a face and a voice to put with your words!

Write A Dear Reader Letter

If your website comes across as too generic or just the opposite, too over-marketed, maybe a Dear Reader letter is just what you need. This welcome letter can be the place to share insight into your writing process and/or what’s going on in your life in a personal, relatable way. For more tips on writing a letter that stands out, check out the anatomy of the Dear Reader Letter.

Don’t Overdo It

While sharing personal stories and information can be a great way to connect with your audience, don’t put every aspect of your life on display. It’s always best to keep your website tasteful and secure, and your identity safe. Here’s how to steer clear of getting too personal:

  • Don’t share anything you wouldn’t tell a stranger.
  • Don’t post photos while you’re on vacation, letting people know your house is empty.
  • Avoid the gross and grand aspects of your life (no pics of your recent appendectomy).
  • Details matter, but skip the second-by-second updates of your life (nobody needs to know that you are eating toast).
  • Never, EVER share your personal address or phone number, or email address (use a contact form instead).
  • This goes double for your social security and credit card numbers: Do NOT give them out.

Final Thoughts On Appealing To Your Audience With Real-Life Elements

Sharing some parts of your life with your audience is great! It shows that you are willing to connect with them as real-life people, not just as unknown readers or potential sales. Author website visitors prefer author websites that aren’t heavy-handed with marketing buttons and purchase links. Be smart about what you share with your visitors—but don’t be afraid to have a little fun either!

 

Question: Which personal aspect of your favorite author’s website do you most like?

Guest Post: Margie’s Rule #9: Cliché Play by Margie Lawson

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Thank you to Writers in the Storm and to the incomparable writing coach Margie Lawson for this wonderful article on how to eliminate tired and meaningless phrases from your writing.

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Most writers know to avoid clichés. Every basic how-to book for writers includes a section on avoiding clichés. Those experts refer to clichés as lazy writing.

So do I.

Clichés represent weak writing. They’re easy to throw on the page. No thinking required.

Clichés don’t share the specificity and emotion as the phrase or sentence you could write.

No power words. No power.

What are power words? In my world, power words are the words that carry psychological power.

What’s wrong with using clichés?

  1. They’re predictable.
  2. They’re annoying.
  3. They invite the reader to skim, and tune-out.
  4. They don’t add specificity.
  5. They don’t deepen characterization or draw the reader deeper into the scene.

There are times when using clichés or cliché twists works well.

  1. When they are so rich, so perfect, they make you smile.
  2. When they are so twisted, they make you laugh.

Dennis Lehane, Moonlight Mile

Dennis Lehane uses two clichés in the passage below from Moonlight Mile. The one in the last line works well. It’s a perfect fit.

Set Up:  The POV character is angry with Helene, the scuzzy mother of the teenage girl who is missing. Here’s how he characterized Helene earlier: “If it smelled of stupid, Helene just had to be somewhere nearby.”

After the silence went on a bit too long, Helene said, “What’re you thinking?”

“I’m thinking how I’ve never had the impulse to hit a woman in my life, but you get me in an Ike Turner frame of mind.”

She flicked her cigarette into the parking lot. “Like I haven’t heard that before.”

“Where. Is. She.”

“We. Don’t. Know.” Helene bulged her eyes at me like a pissy twelve-year-old, which, in terms of emotional development, wasn’t far off the mark.

I’m sharing my deep editing analysis of that passage for fun, and to share the learning opportunities. After my analysis, you’ll find more examples of cliché twists. Enjoy!

Deep Editing Analysis:

Cadence – Read it out loud. You’ll hear the cadence driving the reader through every sentence. No stalling.

Allusion – Rhetorical Device – the reference to his Ike Turner frame of mind.

Clichés

  1. Like I haven’t heard that before.

In this scene, that overused line carried power, strengthened characterization, and made me laugh. I approve using this cliché here.

  1. . . . wasn’t far off the mark.

It works. It’s tight. I like the cadence. And I can’t think of a better way to end that sentence.

Period. Infused. Sentences. My way of describing when the author morphs what would have been a normal sentence into sequential single word sentences. Like. This.

“Where. Is. She.”

Lehane shared what I call a Dialogue Cue. He didn’t add a sentence describing how the words were delivered. He showed it structurally. The punctuation indicates that each word is clipped, and that the character speaking is big-time irritated.

He also did something I haven’t seen on the page before, but I’ve heard it in real life. He had one character speak in that clipped style, and had another character respond the same way.

“Where. Is. She.”

“We. Don’t. Know.”

The reader knows the second character is mocking the first. But Lehane doesn’t TELL us. He SHOWS us. Smart. And smart alecky too.  🙂

Facial Expression, Amplified:

Helene bulged her eyes at me like a pissy twelve-year-old, which, in terms of emotional development, wasn’t far off the mark.

Lehane could have stopped with:  Helene bulged her eyes at me.

Lehane could have stopped with: Helene bulged her eyes at me like a twelve-year-old.

Lehane could have stopped with: Helene bulged her eyes at me like a pissy twelve-year-old.

Ah! Adding the word, pissy, adds psychological power. It taps a universal emotion in readers.

Most adults have dealt with a pissy twelve-year-old, a child, niece, nephew, neighbor. Adding pissy elicits an internal nod. It ratchets up the tension and tightens the emotional hook.

But Lehane didn’t stop with that strong sentence. He amplified the line and empowered the emotion. Here’s his sentence again:

Helene bulged her eyes at me like a pissy twelve-year-old, which, in terms of emotional development, wasn’t far off the mark.

Back to Clichés!

Writers often write body language, dialogue cues, and visceral responses in clichéd ways.

  • She arched an eyebrow.
  • His face was as red as a beet.
  • She had butterflies in her stomach.
  • Her legs turned to jelly.

Avoid them. Write fresh.

Clichés are sneaky devils. You may not catch them until a 7th or 11th or 27th read-through. Or you may not catch them at all.

According to Donald Maass, clichés sprout up everywhere. Donald Maass has a sensitive cliché-meter. So do other agents.

Some people are cliché blind. They don’t recognize them. Working with a critique group, critique partner, the clichéd phrases and sentences they miss may be caught.

REMEMBER — Compelling Cadence:

Every sentence should have a compelling cadence. Read these examples out loud. You’ll train your cadence ear.

Cliché Play from a few Immersion-grads:

Megan Menard, Pursued

Before:  It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

After:  It’s all fun and games until the river wins.

Before:  “I’m done with Little League, Ketterman. Time to knock this one out of the park.”

After:  “I’m done with Little League, Ketterman. Home runs can be caught. We’re going for the grand slam of escape. Set off the alarm and run all the way home.”

Before:  “Forget it. You’re slower than molasses.”

After:  “Forget it. You’re slower than dial up internet.”

Set Up: Seniors in the retirement home are playing poker.

Before:  …winner takes all

After:  Those scoundrels cheated and rigged the deck to beat Esther Scott’s full house with four of a kind, leaving her as the loser-takes-all new owner of Tank, the meanest cat in God’s creation.

 

Suzanne Purvis, Fused

Before:  My heart jackhammers.

After:  My jackhammering heart pounds get-down, get-down, get-down.

Before:  Matt throws another rock and barely misses Avis’s ear.

After:  Matt throws another rock and misses Avis’s ear by a flea’s foot.

Before: The last sentence was:  Each time, setting me up as his fall guy.

After:  He started the fire behind the Friendship Hall, the fire at the Chamber of Commerce, the fire at the library. Each time, setting me up as his fire guy.

 

Lori Freeland, The Accidental Boyfriend

  1. I’m selfie-conscious.
  2. This girl’s kick-boxing my ego’s ass.
  3. I didn’t sign on to be his bud-with-benefits.
  4. Tension’s strumming off me like a badly played guitar riff.
  5. I try not overthink the whole commando-thing while I’m putting on Gabe’s pants without Victoria to cover my secrets.

BLOG GUESTS:  IT’S YOUR TURN!  

Click the comment link and say Hi. Or share one of your cliché twists.