Reflecting on Goals set in January

To start the year, I set myself some goals for the year ahead.  I plan to check how I’m getting on with that periodically during the year to check I’m on track.  If you set yourself goals it is important to check on yourself to make sure you are on target and to re-focus yourself.

On Reflection

Summary:  Considering these were annual targets I think I’ve kicked off the year with a really good start at achieving them.  I’m not sure listing my goals as bullet points was the best idea, so to re-focus I shall put my goals into a table.

March 2018 goals

Blogging Goals Review

  • ACHIEVED:  I migrated both my blogs into one blog and I am using categories to split the content up from ‘writing’ topics and ‘beauty topics.
  • ACHIEVED:  I planned to post at least once a week and I have been exceeding this – posting two to three times a week.  Sometimes as often as four times.  Taking the pressure off has increased my productivity.
  • ACHIEVED:  I’ve reduced my scheduled posts on LoCal so that they only run for two weeks so if I run out of time to change them, I am not Constantly spamming people with the same things for weeks with no end.
  • ACHIEVED:  I have started including some personal posts on my blog such as my son’s World Book Day and What I’ve Been Watching.
  • ALMOST ACHIEVED:  I wanted to start vlogging.  This has involved researching how to do it and plucking up the courage.  In addition, I need the house to be quiet for recording which doesn’t happen often.  However, I have posted a video on YouTube reviewing Agent Hunter (see below) and I have a scheduled blog post about this coming soon.Wri
  • NOT ACHIEVED:  I haven’t approached any brands to see if they’d like me to represent them. However, my Instagram pics of my The Pip Box won and I got my March box free (review of the free box coming April).

Writing Goals Review

  • ACHIEVED:  I have stopped editing Drift and started querying.
  • NOT ACHIEVED:  I have not started work on finishing Glide. I have been really busy with my course at college and work.  However, I have three weeks off for Easter break and hope to re-visit this project over the coming weeks.
  • NOT ACHIEVED:  I have not started a new story idea – not that I’m not full of ideas.
  • NOT ACHIEVED:  I’ve not had time to read the programme for Felixstowe Book Festival but intend to buy tickets and go. I have decided to miss YALC this year (will explain more soon).
  • NOT ACHIEVED:  Completing a writing course is on hold until I finish my current course at college.
  • ALMOST ACHIEVED:  I have been reading more since getting my Kindle.  I have almost finished The Gender Game and will review the title and my Kindle once I have.  I am a slow reader with only a few chances to read.
  • NOT ACHIEVED:  I have not found out more about how Twitter queries work.  However, I have been networking more on Instagram and meeting lots of writers online this way.

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Poems for April

April appears to be the month for celebrating all things poetry.  I am aware of two groups promoting poetry celebration in April so I shall start by introducing them.

April for Poetry

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-Logo

Academy of American Poets – National Poetry Month

The Academy of American Poets founded National Poetry Month in April 1996.  The celebration is used to acknowledge the achievements of American poets, share poems and encourage support and awareness of their work.

Click here to find out more about the celebration.

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Maureen Thorson – NaPoWriMo

It was started in 2003 by Maureen Thorson, a poet living in Washington, DC.  She was inspired by NaNoWriMo – hence the similar name.  It stands for National Poetry Writing Month.  The challenge is to write one poem a day for the 30 days of April.

Click here to find out more about how to participate.

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Taking the challenge

So, I am going to dare to take the NaPoWriMo challenge.  It might not be great to start with as it is a while since I’ve written any poetry but I hope we will see an improvement towards the end.  I also hope that I find time to participate everyday.

Please let me know if you are taking part or have a poetry blog. It would motivate me to see what you are doing and I would find it inspirational.

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Review: Skin Organics Beauty Box (March)

What is it?

Skin Organics Clean Beauty is a subscription box with a selection of non-toxic, cruelty-free, organic and natural products.  These may be skincare, body care or beauty products.  Their aim is to help you discover clean, green and cruelty-free products and brands.  They dispatch on 20th of the month.

Cost:  £19.00 (+£3.95 P&P) subscription, UK

I decided to try them out since the products that they are promoting are by the sort of brands I really want to use more of.

What was in my box?

The box came with a piece of paper with ‘Rebalance’ on it.  I’m wondering if this is the theme of the box but as I’ve not had one before I’m not sure if there is always a sheet of paper with ‘Rebalance’ written on it.  On the other side, it has details about the products inside and discount codes.

Apothaka face oil

Apothaka:  Rejuvenating face oil – normal/combination skin (website RRP £19.50, Sheet lists price as £19.95)

This oil has been shortlisted for the Beauty Awards 2017 and featured in Vogue.  It arrived in a blue organza bag and a personalized card from the owner of Apothaka.  I have normal to combination skin so this oil is perfect for me.  It is very moisturizing and I’ve only tried it before bed – I’m not sure my make up will stay on it.  It reminds me of Antipodes Divine Face Oil – which is one of the best face oils I have ever used.  I really like this oil. I’m going to continue to use it and see how my skin gets on.

NK naturals cleansing balm

NKnaturals London:  Delicate – Healing Cleansing Balm (website RRP £25.00 for 60ml, Sheet lists price as £15.00 for 30ml)

This balm arrived in a black box but as soon as I saw it I was excited to use it.  It reminded me of my Moa Balm and has a similar texture and colour. However, this seems more ‘delicate’.  I have used it for removing my eye makeup and it is so gentle it hasn’t irritated my eyes at all. My skin has never felt so soft after cleansing.  I’m going to see how my skin reacts to this as I use the pot up but on first impressions, I’m won over!

It smells like honey and lemon.

The Salt Parlour Scrub

The Salt Parlour:  Calm – Salt and Sulphur Scrub (Rose and Shea Butter) (£15.00 RRP for 200g on the website, £5.90 on the sheet for 60g tin)

This tin looks lovely but as I am not a fan of scrubs I thought about giving it to my husband’s best friend who loves scrub and the anchor theme makes it a little more masculine as you think of the marines and sailors but… I don’t think he’s going to get this one.

As soon as I opened the box, the delicious scent of this scrub caught.  I had to sniff everything in the box to figure out what smelt so good.  I decided to give it a go and found that it doesn’t scratch the skin, it scrubs and melts.  It’s full of nourishing ingredient so my skin didn’t feel dry.  This scrub is for keeps!

It’s a beauty shortlist winner and the wooden spoon that came with the box is for scooping it out so you don’t need to use your fingers.  It also has tiny rose petals in it and you can see all the natural ingredients.  I’m not sure my photo has captured how beautiful this product is.

Northburn bath salts

North-burN:  Revive – Luxury Bathing Salts (Orange, Lavender and Palmarosa (£4.00 on the sheet)

I thought the wooden spoon was for the bath salts but it was for the scrub.  I haven’t had a chance to use the bath salts yet but I was looking to buy some so I am really pleased this was in my package and I will keep it ready to try in my cupboard for a special occasion.

Beauty Kubes

Beauty Kubes – Organic shampoo for normal to dry hair  (£1.00 on the sheet)

The ‘Kubes’ are about the size of a sugar cube.  You crumble them in your hand to make a powder, add water to make a paste and then rub it into your hair to form a lather.

I’m not a massive fan of products that I have to make up myself – I’m lazy.   So, I never would have bought it myself.  However, I actually found it incredibly simple, fun and it lathered up quickly.  At first, it felt a little crumbly on my head so perhaps I didn’t get the paste quite right but it soon worked into a lather and didn’t matter.

Would I recommend?

I am really pleased with the contents of the box. I can see myself using up all the products.  I am considering repurchasing the cleansing balm, facial oil and even the scrub!  The Kube was fun but I’m not sure it is my thing and I’ve not yet tried the bath salts.

All the products meet the promise of clean, green and cruelty-free – so if that’s something you desire, this is a great box for you.  I’m going to continue my subscription; I think that says it all.

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Mystery blogger award

Mystery Bloggger Award

Thank you Shabri for my nomination

This is my first nomination and it came from Shabri – A Door To My Life, a blogger I recently connected with.  Her blog is varied but always has an upbeat positive vibe and the first post I read was about going bare (no makeup) and how it has empowered her.  Go check out her blog – she posts regularly.

MYSTERY BLOGGER AWARD:

“It’s an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging, and they do it with so much love and passion.” Created by: Okoto Enigma

The Rules

  1. Put the award logo/image on your blog and List the rules.
  2. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  3. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
  4. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  5. You have to nominate 10 – 20 people
  6. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
  7. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)
  8. Share a link to your best post(s).

Three things about me

  1. I am pregnant – I’m planning a blog post soon with gender reveal.  We’ve kept it off social media and only told a few select people.
  2. I married my first love and best friend.  This year will be our 7 year wedding anniversary but we’ve been together and in love for 18 years.
  3. I was born in East London and although my parent’s moved out when I was very small, I still feel a connection and pride for my former London roots.

Answers to the questions set for me by Shabri

Whats the reason behind your blogs name?

It’s my real name.  I did have some unusual blog names. I started with ‘Ethereal Vanilla’ for my organic beauty blog and ‘Writer to Author’ was one of my writing blogs but when I merged it all together I just went with my name as I felt it would help people connect and identify me.
Would you go a month without pizza or would you go a month without chocolate? why?

Ooo, this is a really tricky one as I love naughty food.  I like savoury food and melted cheese so pizza is winning – as long as there isn’t a spicy topping.  I love milk chocolate but a bit fussy with other types and I think you can have too much of a sweet thing.
When did you start to love yourself more? how?

I spent a lot of my youth feeling like I didn’t fit in – mainly for my red hair.  My husband helped me to see it was beautiful and then I did a little modelling and realised that being different is good.  I still sometimes feel awkward and like a sore thumb and every so often I will get a rude comment about my hair but I am much better at brushing it off and picking myself back up and I hope to pass that on to my son.
If you could have one superpower for a week what would it be except for reading people’s mind and being invisible and why?

Ha ha, my husband and I play this game all the time.  My ultimate power is ‘luck’.  If you can influence luck in your favour you are pretty invincible.  Someone shoots a fireball at you, luckily it rains and puts it out or they trip and luckily it shoots up into the sky.  You got to the bank and borrow money and luckily they are offering free money to the next customer to walk through to door which is luckily you.  I think you get the gist.  You also could use it to help friends and ruin enemies – mu ha ha ha.

Your favourite blog that you have posted and why is it your favourite also provide a link too

Oh my… I am still not very good at blowing my own trumpet.  I looked at my statistics and identified the post with the most likes.  It is Writers and YouTube Playlists and was a featured article from my writers blog (that has now merged with this one).

My nominations

I’d like to nominate Shabri because her blog really is awesome but she has already been nominated by someone else so here are some fresh nominees:

Hev with This Pug Can:  If you love pugs and keeping fit, this blog tells it as it really is. You won’t see any of those fake glam shots here.

Nathaniel Tower with Juggling Writer:  I recently discovered Nathaniel and featured one of his articles.  His blog is a wealth of information for writers.

Andrew McDowell with An author of many parts:  Andrew was the first blogger to welcome me to Word Press. I have featured a few of his articles and always find his posts engaging.

Theryanlanz with A Writer’s PathI have featured quite a few articles from this site.  The blog covers topics that are really useful for writers, especially for fiction writers.

Keithgarrettpoetry with Man of many thoughts:  This guy is knocking out poems faster than you can read them – I don’t know how he does it.

Radiant Behavior:  This was the first bloggers whose post I shared.  It was on how to contour and how to highlight using Vapour Organic.  She often reviews ethical beauty product and on how to use them.

Beccapbeauty:  She writers beauty reviews and posts often.  Whenever I have commented on her blog she always acknowledges me.

Rabia with Rabia Rambles:  Rabia’s website has beauty product reviews and stationery that looks so beautiful that it makes me want to take up bullet journaling.

Ross Hunt with IsaBlog:  Ross writes about being a father to Isabelle.  There are lots of cute pictures of his daughter but mainly engaging articles about parenthood.

Slow Days, Small Feet:  This mum shares tips and activity ideas to help out other parents.  They are really simple that anyone can apply often using everyday items.

Questions for my nomminees

  1. How long have you been blogging?
  2. Why did you start your blog?
  3. As a child, what did you dream of doing for a living and what do you currently do for a living?
  4. Vampires, werewolves or witches – which dark creature would you prefer to be?
  5. If you could time travel back in time, what advice would you give your teenage self?

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NUI Cosmetics Beauty Review

My husband spoilt me and Christmas and bought this foundation and lipstick from my wish list. I’ve used the foundation every day since and I’m now waiting for payday so I can buy some more.

About the brand

https://instagram.com/p/Bgf6Y-9jAGc/

Nui cosmetics are from Berlin, Germany. They produce natural and organic beauty products that are cruelty-free and vegan-friendly.

My products were purchased from Glow Organic (Brighton, England). This is my go-to online store for organic makeup.

About the foundation

  • Name: Natural liquid foundation
  • Shade: Intense Kanapa
  • Cost: £38

The foundation isn’t the cheapest I’ve bought but it is well worth its price tag.

It is the perfect shade for me and I love how I can build it up where I need it. It goes on easily like a liquid foundation but dries with the longevity of a Matt foundation. It doesn’t sit in creases and looks very natural. It has a sweet scent to it making it a joy to use.

I apply with my fingers or a sponge. I like the little cap (lid) that clicks on to prevent the foundation coming out when not in use.

About the lipstick

  • Name: Natural Lipstick
  • Cost: £23
  • Shade: Aroha

You need to be confident to wear this lipstick every day as it is a daring colour. True red is a tricky colour to find in organic brands but Nui has done it!

It’s quite a nourishing lipstick and feels lovely on your lips, however, this means it doesn’t last long and needs to be reapplied during the day.

Repurchase

The only downside of the foundation is I didn’t know I was about to run out until it did. 😱

As I had already been on a hefty shopping spree this month (probably the biggest in a decade), I had no budget left to repurchase. I had to wait until payday. 😱😱

Surprise:  Luckily, my husband knew it would make me very happy to surprise me with my favourite foundation. Upon seeing me trying to use up samples I had, he ordered it without me knowing. 😍

https://instagram.com/p/BglArNrj60S/

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Seven tips for querying agents

So, you’ve written your masterpiece and created a shortlist of potential agents.  Now, it is time to start querying.

What not to do

In this article I am going to encourage you to create a template cover letter with common content themes, however, do not send this template to agents.  Sending a blanket email will not impress.

What you must do

Take time to make it personal

First, make sure you have time for each agent.  Do not rush your query.  Read their requirements and personalize the template to show them that you choose them for a reason.  This will make them feel more special than if you ignore their guidelines and send them flowers and chocolates.

Query IG.png

Common themes

I’ve been querying one of two agents a week.  This enables me to think about what I am sending them.  I am focused on that agent as an individual rather than as another query.

However, although requirements differ between agencies there are common themes in the content requests.  I have created a ‘cover letter ideas’ document with headings for the different content requests.  This helps me find the paragraphs I need for the agency and then amend to personalize it for them, saving me a lot of time.

Here are the themes:

Letter opening

Okay, no agent has requested this as content in the letter but it is a basic requirement for letter writing.  I just state the reason I am contacting them ‘please represent me’.

Tagline

In the age of social media, more agents are requesting you to pitch your novel in one sentence!  You can use your tagline to promote your book on sites like Twitter or Instagram.

About me

Finding an agent is a bit like dating.  They want to know a bit about you to see if you are someone they want to work with.  They are interested in what makes you-you.

Writing Bio

This is a paragraph or two about my writing experience.  They want to know if you have ever been published, won a literary contest, completed a writing course.

About your novel

To start with they need to know the basic credentials of your book like the word count and genre.

They also want to know things such as why you wrote this novel and what is it about.

Brief pitch (Blurb)

Check what they mean but this as one agent said ‘brief pitch’ and when I read what they wanted it some described a short synopsis (see below).  More agents who requested a brief pitch wanted me to sell them my story so I shared my blurb as I type of teaser to encourage them to want to read the manuscript.

One paragraph synopsis

They want you to sell the story to them and the plot in one paragraph – if you thought writing a synopsis was hard then you are going to enjoy this… Actually, I found this easier than condensing the whole plot to one page because I knew they had the full synopsis to read if they wanted so I just had to make it enticing enough for them to want to know more.

Book marketing

They may request who you think the target market is and what books it would be placed alongside in a bookshop.  They need to know if the book is part of a series or have the potential to be.

Why you?

Some agents wished to know why I had chosen them.  You can’t default this content as will be a unique element of the query for that individual or agency.  Instead, I created some prompts:

  • why did they make my shortlist
  • what authors or titles have they been involved with that is similar to mine

Letter closing

This is a simple ‘look forward to hearing from you’ together with my valediction and contact details.

Check before you send

Before you send your query to make sure it is as perfect as you can make it before you send it:

  • Spell check:  There are no excuses with modern processors that will check your spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • Proofread:  Sometimes the spell checker will miss words that are spelt correctly and make sense but are wrong.  For example, ‘people go to church to worship their dog’.
  • Grammarly:  There are apps to help check that your writing is as at it’s best.  A quick scan online using Grammarly can find mistakes you otherwise could have missed.

Contact method

Many agencies today will request you send them an email or use an online form on their site.  Make sure you follow the instructions for the format of documents correctly.  For example:

  • If they request, all attachments must be .doc files, make sure you ‘save as’ and chose the correct file format.
  • If they ask you to send it within the body of the email then copy and paste the content into an email.
  • If you must paste into the online form or attach the document to their online form, please follow the instructions.

If you don’t follow the instructions, they may not be able to open your documents, it may get blocked by virus protection or their server.  If you cannot view what you have sent, then you’ve wasted your time as well as theirs.

Common attachments

Preparing these common attachments before you start will save you time.

Query manuscript versions

I have a few versions of my manuscript prepared for querying to meet the most common requests.  These are:

  • Full manuscript
  • First three chapters
  • First 10,000 words (to a suitable breaking point)

Query synopsis versions

I have a few versions of my synopsis prepared for querying to meet the most common requests.  These are:

  • Full synopsis
  • One page synopsis
  • 300-word synopsis

 

Keep a spreadsheet

You can get free online spreadsheet software from Google or Window Live and many smartphones even had free spreadsheet apps.

I keep a spreadsheet with the name of the agency and agent I contacted, the date I contacted them and when I expected to hear back – check their sites for details on response times.  When they responded I recorded the date they replied.

I hope you have found these tips useful. I would love to hear how you got on and if you have any tips to help me too.  

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Spring clean, Going green

I didn’t grow up with makeup and, traditionally, I would only wear mascara and tinted lip balm at the weekend. At college, I started experimenting with colours and wearing the palest foundation I could afford, but was still a tad orange for me.

A love of make up

I was twenty and in my second job when I visited a Lancome counter for the first time.  The woman did my make-up and I was amazed at the transformation.  I promptly bought as much as I could and vowed to return. Their foundation was the closest match to pale skin and their skincare felt amazing; plus, they had deals giving away free stuff with purchases or big discounts.

For years, Lancome was my counter of choice and occasionally I would try other brands like Estee Lauder, Bobbi Brown or YSL.

Changing thoughts

I read an article about an ingredient in lipstick that causes cancer. I checked my tubes of Lancome and discovered it was present. I searched for reassurance that in small amounts it would cause no harm – this was the start of me questioning my products.

The next occasion was a girl at work who was very vocal on raising awareness of animal cruelty. She’d share horrific pictures and stories of what the beauty industry and meat industry does to animals. I started paying attention to whether brands I bought were cruelty-free and discovered many leading brands sell in China – they have a law enforcing products must be tested on animals. Sadly, many of my favourite brands were trading in China and I realized they must have allowed this to happen in order to sell there.

The final change was when I discovered my toddler sitting among a cracked pallet of eyeshadow by Pixi Beauty, finger holes in my Bobbi Brown foundation and a red-smeared face covered in Benefit’s Benetint (I suspect he had tried eating it). I was in a blind panic that he could be poisoned by my make up. I cleaned him up and realised it was time to clean up my beauty choices.

Hanging onto the baddies

Changing to clean beauty products wasn’t going to be an overnight transformation. On maternity pay (then returning to work on part-time hours), I didn’t have the funds to overhaul my makeup or skincare in one go. It was a slow gradual process.

To start, I held onto all my products. There was some trial and error in finding what worked for me as many brands are online so ordering them was a gamble. More brands are now offering affordable samples making it more cost effective to experiment. With my successes, my old brands started to get replace and the old products relocated to a box for emergencies – I was still scared to throw them out.

https://instagram.com/p/BfBWXfDhRNs/

https://instagram.com/p/BfDaJPyBayK/

Fresh start

We recently got our bathroom refitted. I had to clear everything out for the workmen to rip out our old suite and put in our new bathroom.

This finally gave me the push to say goodbye to my baddies that we’re gathering dust and out of date. I only put back the products I use that are cruelty-free and most are chemical free too.

Now, I open my bathroom cabinet and smile…

https://instagram.com/p/Bgj2bnrjP5s/

Review: Good Bubble Gruffalo

It’s been a tough three weeks without a bathroom.  Luckily we have been able to stay overnight at my mother-in-law’s and there are people with bigger problems so I don’t want to complain.

My son has been really good about keeping out of the workers’ way and not complaining about the noise, mess or disruption – it hasn’t been easy for him.  He would have loved to have given them a hand but it was too dangerous.

I felt he deserved a treat and when I saw Good Bubble had released a new Gruffalo range, I knew it would be the perfect treat.

https://instagram.com/p/Bf1IVlLBs_o/

He was really happy when he saw his new products sporting the Gruffalo, one of his favourite storybook characters.

The Review

Here is what I thought of the new line and the yummy fruity prickly pear scent.

  • Bubbly Gruffalo Bubble Bath (£3.99):  The bubble bath made a decent amount of bubbles and smelt delicious.  We have had the bubble bath before in Dragon Fruit and CloudBerry.
  • Grubby Gruffalo Hair & body wash (£3.69):  It was easy to get a lather and my little boy was confidently by washing himself. We have had the wash before in Dragon Fruit and CloudBerry.
  • Little Softy Moisturiser (£3.99):  This is new to the brand and an excellent addition.  My little boy loved having his first body moisturiser. At first, he thought it was a hand cream until I encouraged him that he could apply it all over.  This was easier for him to use than their Organic Coconut oil (£7.99).
  • Grizzly Mane Detangler (£3.99):  He doesn’t have long hair that tangles but he does get flyaways so I decided to give this a go to see if it helped tame the problem.  I think it has worked.  It smells really good and can be used on dry hair so we are using it to freshen up between hair washes.

Dragon Fruit was my favourite but now it is the Gruffalo prickly pear.  We will, definitely, be buying this again.

I was only able to get this range direct from their site but I’m hoping Sainsbury, Ocado and Holland & Barratt will get some in stock soon as they sell the rest of the range.

 The Good Bubble brand:

  • Organic (98% naturally derived ingredients)
  • Cruelty free
  • Recyclable packaging
  • No tears
  • Suitable for newborns and sensitive skin
  • Allergen-free
  • No nasties (Free from sulfates (except detangler), silicone, parabens, PEG, phthalates, artificial colour)
  • UK production

Click here to read my review on other Good Bubble products.

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4 Methods For Creating Character Names — A Writer’s Path

During November 2017, I was doing NaNoWriMo and I wrote an article with Tips on naming your character.  I am always looking for more tips and today I am sharing an article by blog A Writer’s Path on four methods for naming characters.

by Ryan Lanz A common question I hear tossed about is how to create character names. Some writers find this simple, and yet others struggle with naming every single one, particularly concerning the main cast. In this post, we’ll talk about tricks and tips for creating character names, and perhaps we’ll bring some ease […]

via 4 Methods For Creating Character Names — A Writer’s Path