Wonder Boi Writes

Olympic Countdown Guest Blog – Ski Jumping

Hello, wonderful friends and blog readers.  We’re getting close now.  Can you feel the Winter Olympics nearly upon us?  We’re in our final week before the games officially open tomorrow!  Let’s take care of some fun business first and announce that Tsha is this week’s winner of either an ebook of Edge of Glory or audiobook of Trails Merge.  Just shoot me an email at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com and let me know which option you’d prefer.  And for this week’s contest, comment below telling me for favorite Olympic moment for another chance to win!

And now without further ado, I’ve got a special treat in store for you!  This week’s blog is an Olympic guest post from my colleague over at BSB, Julianne Rich.  Julianne knows more than anyone I know about the thrilling sport of ski jumping.  She’s also got an amazing book on the subject called Gravity, but that’s enough from me.  I’ll let her tell you more.


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This blog on Women’s Ski Jumping, just like Gravity, is dedicated to every woman who has ever dared to fly free.

jPicture2A dream at Olympic gold in ski jumping. It’s a dream that’s been the exclusive property of male Olympic athletes.

Until now.

For seventeen-year-old Ellie Engebretsen, the 2011 decision to include women’s ski jumping in the Olympics is a game changer. She’d love to bring home the gold for her father, a former Olympic hopeful whose dreams were blown along with his kneeson an ill-timed landing. But can she defy the pull of gravity that draws her to Kate Moreau, her biggest competition and the girl of her dreams?

How can Ellie soar through the air when all she feels like doing is falling hard?

“A spicy novel about two young women daring to fly free in life and love while accurately depicting the thrill of ski jumping!” ~ Sarah Hendrickson, Olympic Ski Jumper and Member of the US Women’s Ski Jumping Team.

As a former competitive free-style skier, I’ve been fascinated with the sport of women’s ski jumping for some time. I’ve watched the videos of these daring athletes launch off a jump and fly the length of a football field at 60 miles per hour. I’ve admired the body control, core strength, and sheer guts it takes to participate in such a sport so when I considered writing a book about empowered women in sports, I naturally turned to ski jumping.

The fight for women ski jumpers to be allowed to compete in the Olympics, as referenced in my book, Gravity, is a very real part of the sport’s history. In 2010, a lawsuit was filed by fifteen female ski jumpers against the IOC on the basis of gender discrimination, and though the suit was defeated, public relations pressure eventually caused the International Olympic Committee to reverse their decision and allow women’s ski jumping as an Olympic sport. For more information about this incredible fight for equality, please read: https://deadspin.com/why-it-took-90-years-for-womens-ski-jumping-to-make-the-1520520342

American ski jumper, Sarah Hendrickson, made history in Sochi in 2014 when she became the first female ski jumper to ever compete in the Olympics. Though the Olympic barrier has been breached, the struggle to find equal footing continues. Currently women ski jumpers are allowed to compete in one event while their male counterparts compete in three. Funding remains a critical issue and athletes rely on endorsement money, crowd-funding, and private donations. This is especially true in the United States, where the sport does not garner the attention it deserves.

Because of the culture rich in equal parts strength and struggle, it was vitally important to me to do my due diligence and capture not only the spirit of the sport, but the spirit of the women who participate in it.

So…I climbed to the top of the ski jump in Hyland, yes – with the intention of attempting a first-person experience; however, the view from atop the K90 jump drove that thought immediately from my mind! Gravity’s book trailer will give you a glimpse into what I saw and why I chose to do the next best thing: write to Sarah Hendrickson!

Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9UM73C382k&feature=youtu.be

Truthfully, I had no expectations I would hear back from a busy Olympian in training. However, Sarah is as amazing a person as she is an athlete and wrote me back, fully answered all my questions, beta-read Gravity for fact-checking, wrote advanced praise for the book, and even video-taped a greeting for my guests at the launch party.

Sarah’s greeting: https://youtu.be/irBIod2WvEo

She also taught me all the technical ins and outs of ski jumping, which greatly enhanced Gravity as seen in this excerpt from chapter four:

Time slows. Stops.

Thinking slows. Stops.

My body takes over. I spread my skis into a V in front of me and lean forward. Far, far forward. Beyond the edge of sanity and yeah, I’m not gonna lie, it’s scary as hell. Standard ski jumping equipment should include a pair of wings. Sure would help with the flying part and they might come in handy in the event a jumper lands at the pearly gates.

I reach out with my arms and hold them parallel to my body. They’re not quite wings, but they give me some stabilization as I fly. I’ve taught my upper body to stay loose in case the wind changes.

And the wind always changes.

I shift a little to my right to correct my course. My eyes stare down the knoll of the hill to the K point, the line that marks the average “par” or achieved distance on the particular jump. In ski jumping, all the difficult math is saved for calculating flight formation angles to achieve maximum aerodynamic lift. The actual scoring part is simple. Land on the K point on a normal hill, which is 90 meters, and score 60 points. Land behind the K point and lose two distance points for every meter. Land ahead of it and gain two distance points for every meter. Distance points are straight-forward. Style points, not so much. Each jumper faces five judges who award up to 20 points for style and they examine everything. How smooth the skis are during the jump, how well the skier is balanced, overall form, and whether the jumper nails a telemark-style landing. The top and bottom scores are thrown out, so 60 is the max a jumper can get for style points. It all sounds easy, but it’s hard as fuck.

I fly with the shifting wind and merge into it. Two seconds. Three. Four. I stop counting because the wind has ceased to be wind and has become my breath. I am no longer Eleanor Engebretsen. Or Ellie. Or even El. I am no longer seventeen, or made of flesh and bone, or ruled by my head or heart. I am me. Nameless and uncontainable and free.

JPicture3.pngOf course, it has to end. Nothing this good lasts forever. Bit by bit, I descend toward the ground and pull my body back in preparation for landing. I spread my arms and bend my knees as I move one ski in front of the other. It has come to this. From inrun to take off to flight time to this moment. The things that can go wrong during a landing are incalculable. Over or under correcting body rotation. An unbalanced distribution of weight. Hell, even a clump of the snow. Any number of factors can turn nirvana into nightmare in no time at all and I’ve lost count of the times I’ve wound up looking like road kill in the outrun.

But not this time.

This time the magic happens. One ski and then another, I touch down with a fluidity that tells me I nailed full points for style.

“Fuck yeah!” I drop my arms by my side and ski toward Jack at the bottom of the hill. I cut deep into the snow as I approach her and send up a sheet of slush and ice. It’s a cocky move, but I’ve earned it.

Published by Bold Strokes Books
ORDER GRAVITY: IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bold Strokes Books | WorldCat
NOTE: All rights reserved by Juliann Rich. May not be reproduced without permission.

JPicture4Ski jumping is, quite honestly, the most amazing sport in the world, in my opinion, and it is sadly under-celebrated in the United States. The members of the U.S. Women’s Ski Jumping team rely on private donations and sponsorship funds their road to the Olympics.

To support the sport of women’s ski jumping, please visit wsjusa.com, a non-profit organization, where you can make a 501c3 tax deductible donation.

 

Juliann Rich is the author of four young adult novels: SEARCHING FOR GRACE, TAKING THE STAND, and GRAVITY. She writes character-driven books about young adults who are bound to discover their true selves and the courage to create an authentic life…if the journey doesn’t break them.

She is the recipient of a Golden Crown Literary Award, the Emerging Writer Award (Saints and Sinner’s Literary Festival). She was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in the Children’s and Young Adult category and has also been nominated for the Stonewall Book Awards, Lambda Literary Awards, Minnesota Book Awards, Rainbow Book Awards, and Foreward Indie Awards. She speaks frequently on writing uncompromisingly while standing at the intersection of art and advocacy and teaches aspiring authors of young adult fiction how to craft the contemporary young adult voice in both narrative and dialogue.

Juliann lives with an adorable but naughty dachshund named Bella in a quaint 105-year old house in Saint Paul, Minnesota, she is lovingly restoring to its original beauty.

To learn more about Juliann, visit her website at http://www.juliannrich.com.

 

 

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February 8, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Olympic Countdown Alpine Skiing

First thing’s first, let’s give away the FREE BOOKS for this week.  Everyone who commented on my last blog about boardercross got their names thrown into the virtual hat and the winner is solargrrl.  Just email me at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com and let me know if you’d rather have the ebook of Edge of Glory or the audio book of Trails Merge.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s move on to this week’s blog and another chance to win more books.

I have to admit, I went back and forth on this week’s topic but ultimately settled on Apline skiing because I gave Corey, one of my characters from Edge of Glory, a lot of love last week and I didn’t want to leave Elise out.

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She might get mad or her feelings hurt, and yeah, I can hear you saying “Rach, those are fictional characters,” and to that I say, “Fictional people are people too, especially the ones that fill my waking hours for weeks on end,” so now it’s time to talk Alpine skiing!

Skiing is one of the quintessential Winter Olympics sports. Skiing has been part of every Winter Olympics since their inception in 1924. It’s one many people have tried at least at a recreational level, myself included.

And while most people get the concept of skiing, boards on each foot, poles in each hand, and a big mountain to slide down, the Winter Olympics showcase a few specific types of races you might not be familiar with.

First up is the Alpine Downhill race.  This race is probably what most of us think of when we thinking of a ski race.  It is the longest race as well as the fastest.  Skiers fly down the course around sweeping turns at speeds surpassing 70 miles an hour. The course is marked by polycarbonate gates or flags, but within them skiers can chose their own lines, and they do their best to find the fastest one, because the fastest person across the line wins.

Next is the Super G, which is very similar to the downhill in that it’s a speed event, where skiers pass through wide-set gates that mark the course.  In fact, Super G races are often set on the same slope as downhill races, but the starting point is lower, and there are more turns.  This makes the course a little slower and a little more technical to run. You’re more likely to see people go out of bounds in Super G than downhill because of this.

The next two races move more fully into the technical area. They are called slaloms.

The Slalom has the shortest course in all of skiing and the quickest turns. Skiers have to weave around color-coded gates, which are more like flexible poles placed very close together, and skiers have to turn incredibly quickly in very little space. While they actually cover a lot less ground and don’t reach nearly the speeds of Downhill, their skis switch direction with vision-blurring transitions. Even after watching this sport quite a bit, I occasionally need to see the slow-mo replay to tell if a skier has actually cleared all the gates.

The Giant Slalom follows the same basic principles but has fewer turns and wider, smoother turns. I find this one to be one of the prettiest events to watch because it combines a lot of the elements of the other races.  In both the Slalom races, each skier makes two runs down two different courses on the same slope. The times are added, and the fastest total time determines the winner.

Lastly is an event called the Super Combined. That’s what it sort of implies, in that it combines the times from one shortened downhill run and a one-run slalom. The fastest total time determines the winner.

So there you have it, the 5 events that both the men and women race in order to make up  Alpine Skiing at the Winter Olympics.

But because I spent so much time researching skiing for Edge of Glory, I don’t want to leave you with just the basics.  I wanted to share with you just a couple things I found fun or impressive along the way.

The first is this article about how Julia Mancuso prepared physically for the winter games.  There are pictures like this.

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You’re welcome.

And lastly I want to leave you with this incredibly fun video from the Canadian ski team, which introduced me to the concept of “skin to win.”  This video right here was the inspiration for one of my favorite scenes in Edge of Glory.  🙂

 

And now it’s your turn. Because skiing is something I actually do for fun, comment below and tell me what you’ve done that is either an Olympic event, or something you think SHOULD be an Olympic event.  I’ll do a drawing for FREE BOOKS and announce the winner with next week’s blog.

January 31, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Olympic Countdown – Boardercross

Last week I introduced you to curling, which is a sport I love to play, and you all offered up some great curling team names.  I drew one from a hat and the winner is Carleen.  Just email me at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com, and I’ll send you your choice of either an Ebook copy of Edge of Glory or an audiobook of Trails Merge.

For this week, I’m moving away from a sport I play in real life to one I got to play with in a book because it’s time for Boardercross!

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In the grand scheme of Olympic sports dating back to ancient times, or even modern winter Olympic sports dating back to 1924, Boardercross is a real Johnny-come-lately.  In fact, it’s so new that my character who is only 30 years old was able to compete at the very first Olympic snowboard cross event in 2006, and the entire history of the sport isn’t much longer than that. The earliest informal races began in the ’80s on the backside of mountains and uneven terrain far from the main resorts. The sport was so counterculture that when Olympic organizers first asked competitors to do an exhibition at the Nagano games, many of the big names initially refused, and the rag-tag governing body denied the International Olympic Committee to even use the name “Boardercross,” which is why it’s listed on the Olympic program as Snowboard Cross despite the fact few of the riders use that term themselves.

So, what’s the point of all this excitement and open rebellion?  Well, in Edge of Glory my skier describes the sport of boardercross as a cross between BMX and a mountainside bar fight. I stand by that as a base explanation, but the full story is a little more complicated.

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In Olympic Snowboard Cross there are multiple heats or preliminary races featuring an early round of qualifying or seeding, followed by knockout or elimination heats where 4 or 6 racers are pitted against each other with the top half of the field moving on.  In each race, boarders or riders shoot out of gates atop a mountain course, then the fly over jumps, through turns, and past various obstacles all at the same time.  As they jockey for position, the riders often come into contact with each other, and while things like punching or deliberate tripping are frowned upon, elbows flying and shoulders bumping at high speeds is part of racing.  The first one across the line at the bottom wins.

At the end of each heat a certain number of riders, usually the top 2 or 3, advance to the next heat.

The subsequent races are generally run back to back with the entire event taking place in a single day.  This year the entire Men’s Snowboard Cross program will take place on February 14, and the entire women’s program on February 15.  It makes for a gruelling day for competitors and an exciting one for spectators.

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And one of the things I love best about this sport, aside from the speed and crush of bodies, is that everybody has a shot every time out. No lead is ever commanding enough for feel secure. I’ve seen big names get tripped up and go down right out of the gate.  I’ve seen people lead the entire way with no one else around, only to wipe out completely on the last jump, and I’ve seen people fall at the start of a race and look completely out of it, only to have every other rider crash later on, giving them a clear path to finish.

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Anything can happen at any point, and then the top riders in that race go right back up and run the same course again, so that someone who looked dominant the first time down might end up with a face full of snow fifteen minutes later.

Don’t take my word for it. Check out this race from 2006.

And while these riders do have a reputation for bucking both the tradition and formalities often associated with the Olympics, don’t let their laid-back natures fool you: They are top flight athletes.  If you want to see more of what goes into getting competition-ready, check out this video of legend Nate Holland’s training workouts. You might just catch a glimpse of where I got some reader-favorite scenes from Edge of Glory.

 

I hope I’ve convinced you to mark February 14 and 15 as important days on your Olympic viewing calendars (You all have Olympic viewing calendars, right?) but in the meantime, let’s give away some free books!

For an entry into this week’s drawing, leave me a comment telling me which Olympic sport you’d most like to compete in if you had all the necessary abilities.  I’ll announce the winner next week.

January 25, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Olympic Countdown – Curling

Hello and welcome back to my Olympic countdown.  Let’s start off by announcing that the winner of last week’s comments drawing is Virginie.  You get to choose either an ebook of Edge of Glory or an audio book of Trails Merge. Just email me at Rachel_Spangler@yahoo.com with your choice.

And now on to this week’s entry on curling!

Those of you who follow me on social media know I love curling and have filled the position of skip of the Lusty Shams at the Buffalo Curling Club.

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What you might not know is how the game is played.

Curling isn’t a sport that many people follow, much less play in most of America, but it always gets a boost in Winter Olympics years as many people cock their heads to the side in confusion as their TV screens fill with images of people in loud trousers shout and sweep big rocks down a sheet of ice.  When I tell people I curl, the most common comment I get is, “That’s awesome. I watched that during the Olympics, but I still don’t really get it.”

So here’s your crash course in curling.

The equipment is simple enough.  You need a sheet of ice with some concentric circles at each end, and 16 smooth rocks or stones with handles. These each weigh between 38-44 pounds or 17 and 20 kilograms.

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You also need curling shoes, or slip ons to go over your regular shoes: one to grip, one to slide.  The block you push off of is called a hack.

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You need a broom for each player.

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The part of the ice with the target is call the house, and the middle of the target is called the button. The line that cuts the house in half from top to bottom is called the tee line.

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On most curling teams, you have four players (a mixed doubles event is being introduced this year, but let’s stick to the basics). The positions are easy enough to follow. They are first, second, vice, and skip. In competitive curling, there are ten ends, which are like rounds or innings.  In each end, every person on the team throws two stones, alternating stones with the other team. Generally, the order stays the same with the first throwing first, the second throwing second (easy, right?), followed by the vice and the skip.  So the order of play for each end will usually look like this,

Team A – First throws
Team B – First throws
Team A – First throws
Team B – First throws

Team A – Second throws
Team B – Second throws
Team A – Second throws
Team B – Second throws

Team A – Vice throws
Team B – Vice throws
Team A – Vice throws
Team B – Vice throws

Team A – Skip throws
Team B – Skip throws
Team A – Skip throws
Team B – Skip throws

None of the rocks or throws have special names except the last stone of an end, which is called the hammer, because you hope to use it to hammer the other team, who is out of shots.

Easy enough to follow.  Now the next layer comes in the sweepers.  When the first is throwing, the second and vice sweep. When the second throws, the first and the vice sweep. When the vice throws, the first and second sweep.  Then the skip and the vice trade places, and the vice acts as the skip while the skip throws and the first and second sweep.

If that got a little confusing, don’t worry. You just need to know that most of the time the first, second, and vice all rotate sweeping for each other, and the skip only comes down to that end of the ice to throw the final two stones.

So what does the skip do the rest of the time?  They call the shots, using their broom to indicate the direction they want the rock to go, and hand signs or voice commands to indicate the type of spin and speed they want the person throwing to use.  They stand behind the house and watch both the line and the speed of the stone and call out commands to the sweepers.  When you hear someone on the ice shouting, “HARD!” or “Up up up!” that person is acting as the skip.

The skip can help sweep their own team’s rock at any point.  They cannot sweep the other team’s rock until after it passes the tee line. Mostly they do a lot of yelling and a little sweeping.

So, why do the sweepers need those commands, or for that matter, why do we need sweepers at all?  Well, in short, science.

You see, curing ice is pebbled with very fine dots of waters that are sprayed on top and then allowed to freeze. This guy is pebbling the ice.  Then the tops of the dots are shaved off.

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See the texture now?

As the stone travels down the ice, it spins where it catches on these tiny bumps, causing it to slow down or move slightly from its starting trajectory.  The friction of the brooms can warm up the ice though, causing a thin layer of water to form and even or lessen the pebbles for a second or two, thus creating a path of least resistance.

Contrary to popular belief, the brooms do not make a rock spin in different directions, but they can speed up or slow down the rate at which a rock spins, which contributes to the path it takes.  If you speed up a rock’s rate of spin it will curve more, if you let the rate of spin slow down, it curves less.

I can tell you from experience that the sweeping is much harder than it looks, and faster, too.  Staying upright while hurrying down the ice with your body weight pressed forward on a moving broom while your feet push and slide offers a tremendous core workout, and the difference it makes is often inches in a game of centimeters.

Okay, so those are the basics of who is doing what and why, but what’s the point?

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Well on the surface it’s simple: You hope to finish the end with as many of your stones as possible as close as possible to the button.  The scoring often gets confusing to first-time observers, because they think points are awarded for proximity to the button or by the color of the ring the rocks land on.  Not true.

When all the stones are thrown, the team that is closest to the button gets a point for every stone they have closer to the button than the other team’s closest rock.

Okay, I get that can sound a little confusing, so here are a few illustrations.

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Here, the green team had a lot more stones in the house than the yellow team does, but the yellow is closest to the button, so they get one point and the green team gets none.

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Above, both teams have two stones in the house, but both the reds are closer than either of the yellows, so red gets two points, yellow gets zero.

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This example is a lot more congested. Care to take a guess?  It’s hard to see for sure, but it looks to me like the yellows have three in the blue to be points one, two, and three, but red has the fourth closest rock, cutting off those other two yellows and making the score for this end yellow 3, red 0.

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Finally in this one, the red just barely looks to edge out the yellow, even though both of them are on the red circle.  This still means red 1, yellow 0.

So, only one team gets any points in any given end, and once those are tallied up, all the stones are cleared and the process starts over, with the team who scored in the previous end throwing first, and the team who didn’t score having the hammer (last rock).

They do this for ten ends, and whoever has the highest cumulative score wins!

There you have it.  Everything you really need to know to start following curling during this year’s Olympics.

There are a couple other rules that may come into play occasionally (stripping guards, hog lines, etc.), as well as tons of strategy for blocking and knocking out stones, but those are things the announcers will explain in detail if/when they arise.

In the meantime, here are a few curling shots to whet your whistle until you get to watch the real deal in Pyeongchang.

And finally, here’s this week’s question for the comment second and a chance to win a free ebook/audiobook: If you were on a curling team, what would you name it?

A few of my personal favorites are Sweeping With The Enemy, Rockin the Sheets, and Dwayne Johnsons (think about it).

Lay your best ideas on me.

January 19, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Let The Olympics Countdown Begin

Okay,  before I get to the main subject of the blog, let me thank all of you who commented on last week’s post.  I did a random drawing, and Lynn Lawler won the free Rachel Spangler ebook of her choice. Congrats, Lynn!

And now, with the new-year tasks checked off, let’s turn our attention to the first big awesomeness of 2018, the Winter Olympics!

Clearly I am kind of a fan. I mean, if my writing an entire book about the lead-up to these games didn’t give that away, I don’t know what does.

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Some might say I am a bit obsessed.  I don’t know about that, but I have been known to make elaborate spreadsheets of view times to make sure I don’t miss a single viewing of my favorite events, which to be honest is most of them.  I may or may not have even set alarms to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to see some races/meets live so as to avoid spoilers. And as to spoilers, I have developed a detailed process for posting about events that provide for adequate spoiler spaces and safety blocks without having to stay quiet for hours until people in other time zones catch up.

If all those things add up to equal an obsession, then I’ll gladly take up that mantle and wear it proudly.

And what does that mean for all of you sitting at home in your varying level of interests and knowledge?

Well for one, you get to share in my excitement, and everything is more fun when you can manufacture some excitement about it.  What’s more, though, you get to share in my knowledge of sports, which will helpfully let you enjoy them a little more without having to do all the intensive researching and spreadsheeting on your own!  Over the next four weeks, I will be blogging about some of my favourite events and, of course, sharing  some of the things I learned while researching Edge of Glory in the hopes of giving you some background in sports you might not be as familiar with, so by the time they grace our TV screens, you will not only be able to follow the action, you’ll have a few talking points to impress your viewing companions.

For starters, Winter Olympics sports are divided into three categories: ice sports, alpine sports, and Nordic events.  Why the Nordics felt the need to call their sports “events,” I do not know (maybe someone will tell me in the comments), but they did, and that give us three overviews to do.

Ice sports are, fittingly enough, played out on ice.  They include.

Bobsled – Two-man, two-woman and four-man
Luge – Men’s singles, women’s singles, mixed doubles and mixed team relay (new) Skeleton-  Men’s and women’s skeleton event
Ice Hockey – Men’s and women’s
Figure Skating – Men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pairs, mixed team event and ice dancing

Speed Skating – (Long track) 12 events – 500 m for men and women, 1,000 m for men and women, 1,500 m for men and women, 3,000 m for women, 5,000 m for men and women, 10,000 m for men, team pursuit for men and women

Short Track Speed Skating (8 Events) –  for men and women 500 m, 1000 m, 1500 m, and also the 5000 m relay for men and 3,000 m relay for women.
Curling – (A personal fave!) – Men’s and women’s, plus a new mixed doubles event

Alpine events are basically the skiing and snowboarding events where you’re pointed downhill at all times. They include:

Alpine Skiing (A Rachel favorite you’ll hear more about) (10 events – 5 disciplines for men and women) downhill, super G, giant slalom, slalom, and super combined
Freestyle Skiing – (five events) aerials, moguls, ski cross, ski half pipe and ski slope style
Snowboarding – (4 events for men and women) parallel giant slalom, slope style, half pipe, and snowboard cross (another Spangler favorite!)

Last are the Nordic events, which include:

Biathlon – (11 Events) men’s 10k sprint, 12.5k pursuit, 15k mass start, 20k individual, and 4×7.5 relay. women’s 10k pursuit, 12.5k mass start, 15k individual, 4×6 relay, 7.5 k sprint, and the mixed relay
Cross-Country Skiing 12 events (6 for men, 6 for women): individual sprint, team sprint, freestyle, pursuit, classical, and relay
Ski Jumping – (4 events) – Men’s individual large hill, men’s individual normal hill, men’s team large hill, women’s individual normal hill
Nordic Combined – Ski jumping plus cross country skiing (3 events, men only) individual large hill /10 km men, individual normal hill /10 km men, and team

So there you have it!  So much to learn about and look forward to.  Also, free books!  Because what better way to foster excitement than free books?! So for each blog I write in the lead of to the Olympics, I’ll ask questions for you to answer in the comments section and then do a drawing to select the winner, who will have their choice of a free audiobook of Trails Merge or ebook of Edge of Glory.

So for this week’s drawing, I’ll ask you to look at the list of Winter Olympics sports above and tell me which ones are your favorites to watch, or which ones you want to know more about!

 

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January 11, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 16 Comments

Happy New Year

I am smidge supersticious.  I usually blame my massive sports fandom. I never say “no hitter” when someone is throwing one. I don’t ever step on a foul line. And if the Cardinals are losing in the 3rd inning of a post-season game, I have to eat crab rangoon (It’s a long story.). However, as the “on this day” feature on my Facebook has spent the last few days sending me photos from New Year’s Days past, I’ve realized my Southern influences might have actually made New Year’s as steeped in superstitions as the baseball playoffs.  In every year of recent memory, the tree has come down and the house cleaned on New Years Eve, so as not to carry any mess from one year to the next.  I move heaven and earth to be with the people who matter most to me. Susie and I do not usually go out unless we take Jackson with us for fear of starting the new year with our family split.  And on New Year’s Day we always eat black-eyed peas (Hopping John) with honeyed cornbread and some kind of greens to symbolize both frugality and prosperity.

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I can’t remember how long we’ve done these things. Facebooks says for at least the last eight years.  Some of those years have been good, some of them have been bad, most of them have been a mix, still the tradition means more in the doing than what it does or doesn’t actually do (which is probably nothing more than putting a wish in my heart).  And yet this year we did none of those things.

There’s no Christmas tree to take down because we didn’t have one. We weren’t home to deep clean the house, also, because we don’t have one.  I mean we’re not homeless, but we’re traveling.  We’re renting a lovely little seaside cottage in England, but as we spent the holidays with family back in America, there was neither a holiday mess in the cottage, nor anyone there to clean it.  You see, we sort of straddled the new year, not fully in any place except 27,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.  When we left America, it was still 2017 for about 4 more hours, and by the time we landed in Ireland and then England, it had already been 2018 for about 7 hours.  There was no countdown, no ball drop, no glass of champagne. At some point I did look over at my wife and whisper, “I guess it’s past midnight wherever we are right now. Happy New Year.”  And we shared the quick, chaste kiss of two women surrounded by strangers with a kid snoring softly across their laps.

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We had to make quick  airline connections, so there was no breakfast.  Lunch was in a train station coffee shop, and dinner was literally the only thing left in the freezer when we made it to our cottage, a frozen pizza.  Even if any of the stores had been open, I doubt I would’ve found the fixing for a Southern-style New Year’s dinner in them, and I know I wouldn’t have had the time or energy to assemble such a feast after being awake for 28 hours.  Any other year I would have legitimately freaked right out at losing nearly every one of my holiday traditions/superstitions. This year I didn’t.

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This year I spent the new year flying east.  I got to 2018 hours earlier than I otherwise would have if I’d stood still.  This year I sped toward the rising sun, and by doing so shortened my time in darkness.  This year I didn’t celebrate a new start. I went out to meet it.  This year I traded superstition for symbolism in action. And it felt good.

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I don’t know if I will end the year in a place I love. I don’t know if I will end the year healthier or skinnier. I don’t know if I will end the year more prosperous (doubt it).  I don’t know if the Cardinals will make the playoffs.

What I do know is that I’m not going to sit around waiting for my dreams to come true.  I can’t control the cosmos or the world at large.  In the theme of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Aaron Burr, “I am the one thing in life I can control,” and I am not going to be a passive observer in 2018. I am going actively seek it out and ask, “What cool things can I do today?”

With that in mind, I’ve made my list of goals (not vague resolutions like “eat less, smile more,” but tangible, measurable goals) as action-oriented as possible.  But I’ve also made peace with the fact that sometimes life has something better in store.  Sometimes you start a year in a small college town with no real changes on the horizon and end it on a plane to the place you’re living on the North Sea in the border lands of England. I’m not just open to that, I will run out and greet it.

In the meantime, here’s some cool stuff I’m looking forward to trying.

Finish level 3 of Rosetta Stone

Have a Full interaction in Spanish

Learn to Sail

Cook 12 new things

Attend 4 book events

Take an online course

Visit 10 new Cities/Towns/Sites

Entertain friends 12 times

Write two novels

Write 25 blogs before December

Read 12 grown up books

Watch 12 documentaries

Do at least one thing that scares me.

12 dates with Susie

12 outings with Jackie

12 family game nights

Walk 1,400 miles

Burn 700,000 calories

Donate to a Food bank 4 times

Donate to 12 Democratic House candidates

Tithe all book and Bywater checks

Visit Spring Training

Have a Day of Yes

Pay off a credit card

Now, comment and tell me what you are hoping to get out there and do this year. There might even been a free ebook in there for one lucky commenter.

January 4, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Happy Holidays

All the holidays!  Whichever ones you celebrate, and the Spangler family celebrates a lot of them, I hope you’ve had the best of times.

I didn’t do my usual song blogs this year, and I know some of you missed them.  I sort of missed them, too, but I didn’t have it in me this year.  However, now that I’ve told a few people that, I worry that I might have given folks the wrong impression.  It’s not that I didn’t celebrate Christmas or that the world was too dark and sad for me to find the joy of the season.  The world is dark and sad and scary, which is why we particularly sought joy this year. We clung to it. We fought for it.  The holidays, like much of our year, were almost an act of defiance for us.  We did all the things, we went to all the places, we reached out to all the people, and we celebrated all the blessings, because that’s what we needed.

As one of my favourite Christmas songs reminds us, “God is not dead, nor does He sleep.”  Christmas is Emmanuel, God with us, even in the darkest times. The voice in the wilderness, the light in the darkness, the joy amid sorrow, we are pressed but not crushed, persecuted not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. And this year, instead of just writing or reflecting, we went out and lived and loved with abandon, partially because that’s what Christmas calls us to, and partially because when the power structure wants nothing more than to break you, queer joy is a revolutionary act.

So with that in mind, here’s the 2017 Spangler year-end review. It showcases some ups and downs, but mostly a whole lot of things to love.

 

December 30, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Tale of Two Winter Romances

So, lately I’ve been banging on about my new winter sports-themed romance, Edge of Glory, and that’s because I’m pretty proud of it. As I mentioned in my last blog, I really love snow.  And I think you all know by now I love sports.  It only makes sense for me to put those things together.  In fact, it makes so much sense that Edge of Glory is not the first time I’ve done so.

Way back toward the start of my career, I wrote a romance called Trails Merge, which I set at a small, family ski resort.  That book was inspired by a vacation (also mentioned in the previous blog) that I took with friends in grad school. And funnily enough, that book had come around again just in time for the release of Edge of Glory, in that Trails Merge is now available as a new release in audiobook format!

Seeing (and selling) the two books/audio books side-by-side as new releases has left me pondering the ways they are the same and different. Trails Merge has a much more home and hearth setting, while Edge of Glory sees the main characters traipsing across the globe. Both books get holiday scenes which move the romance forward in different ways, and both books also use holiday scenes with big family gatherings. And both books offered me some good fun in the research phases, albeit in very different ways.

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For Trails Merge, I took my first formal ski lessons. I’d been skiing on my own for a couple of years but didn’t know any of the formal moves or terms needed to describe the things I’d been doing. The lessons helped my form, but more importantly, they gave me the language I needed to convey that form to my readers. The scene in the book where Campbell gives Parker her first ski lesson, and then a disastrous lesson for Parker’s ex much later in the book, both have dialogue taken exactly from the conversations I wrote off on my taxes.  Not a bad gig, huh?

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The other really fun aspects of researching Trails Merge was that I took a mountain tour in a snow groomer. Snowcats are the huge, tank-like vehicles that spread and shape snow across the slopes. When the guy giving the tour found out I was writing a book, he let me ride up front wth the controls and told me way more information than any lay-person has a right to know about snowmaking and grooming.

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So, when it came time to write Edge of Glory, I already had a pretty solid base in the basics of ski and snowboard terrain, but I was no longer working the realm of mom-and-pop ski resorts, or lessons for novices like myself.  Though I did take a snowboarding lessons with my son in which he and the hill both kicked my ass for 90 minutes, most of what I needed to know so far outstripped my abilities and access that I had to employ a lesson I hadn’t learned 9 years ago when writing Trails Merge, and that is to go ahead and ask important people what they know.

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Seriously, one thing I’ve found over the years is that people generally like to talk about what they’re good at.  Everyone likes being recognized as an expert in something other people value. And generally if you cast a wide enough net and are polite about it, you’ll find someone who has the time and inclination to talk to you about almost anything.

With that in mind, I put out a call for people with top level access to the worlds of competitive skiing and snowboard cross. A Facebook friend pointed me to the contact info for several Olympic snowboard cross racers, and I just started at the top of the alphabet and worked my way down until I heard back from Jacqueline Hernandez. For those of you who don’t follow the sport of boadercross, Jacqueline Hernandez is an actual Olympian who represented Team USA in Sochi.

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I was so geeked that someone like her would actually talk to me that I pulled on her expertise at multiple stages of the project.  We chatted on Facebook about things ranging from training schedules to diets to locations, and even what a day of pre-season training would look like. There’s one scene in Edge of Glory in particular that hadn’t even been imagined until Jacqueline told me about a training exercise called “hiking the start section.”  Her description of this process was so interesting to me, I could suddenly picture my characters doing exactly what she’d described. To say that scene wouldn’t be the same without her isn’t an exaggeration, because I literally didn’t know such a thing existed until she told me. When you read the book, you’ll have to look out for Corey and Tigger stepping into Jacqueline Hernandez’s boots and know your favorite Olympians are doing the same thing right now.

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On the ski side of things, I was tremendously blessed because my friend Heather McEntarfer responded to my Facebook call, not just with contact information, but with an actual human contact.  It turned out that a man who’d grown up in the town I currently live in was a ski journalist. I would later learn that Hank McKee was legendary in the world of downhill ski reporting who had won the FIS Journalist Award, presented by ski racing’s international governing body for career contributions to the sport on a worldwide basis, but from the first Facebook message, I got to know him as a kind, exuberant and generous storyteller.

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Hank didn’t just relay information to me, he jumped in headfirst and pulled me along for the ride.  His understanding of skiing went so far beyond gear and trail maps.  He taught me what makes up a skier’s psyche. He told me stories about obsession and drive that defied the most human instincts to avoid bodily harm.  His insights shaped Elise’s formation at a minute level. And his attention to detail pops up in a million little ways. For instance, once over a big breakfast, he stopped eating and said, “If someone’s going to blow up a story about a skier’s personal life it’ll be the Austrians. Austrians are obsessed with ski gossip.  Who do you think exposed Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn?”  It was just an aside in the book, but but every time I read it, I thought of Hank and knew I got it right, even if no else ever did.

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Hank even went so far as to read a very early draft of the book and gave me some feedback while he was in town to sing with his long-time high school rock band, the Wretched Group.   Sadly that night, while he was rocking out on stage with his friends, I saw Hank for the last time.  He passed away, in true writer fashion, while working at his computer.  Hank never got to see the final draft of Edge of Glory, but I like to think he’d be proud of the role he played in the book it became.

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So as we head into this winter, I’ve got two items on the table for you.  If you’re looking to listen to a Midwestern ski romance set amid a warm home and a big family in audio book format, the new audible version of Trails Merge is there for you with plenty of authentic touches gleaned from my personal on-the-snow experiences.  If you’re looking for something a little more worldly and fast-paced, Edge of Glory is available in print and ebook and filled with insights shared by two amazing experts in sports most of us can only watch in awe.

Or you could just go ahead and buy them both!

December 1, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Snow!

My new book, Edge of Glory, centers around the world of snow sports. In the story I follow a downhill skier and a snowboard x racer as they race toward the Winter Olympics starting all the way back in summer.

I did a lot of research on training regimens, and I’ll write more on that later, but one of the things that really impressed me was that what I considered seasonal sports actually are year round endeavours. I read and talked at length with athletes who were putting in full-time hours in the middle of July, and every one of them was adamant about two things.  One, to be the best, there is no off-season, and two, despite the many summer hours in the gym, every one of them is working for the snow.

This was a mentality I had no trouble relating to. Not the working year round, or the being the best at anything remotely athletic, but the idea of killing time waiting for the snow to fly is infinitely familiar to me. Starting September 1, I check the ten-day forecast daily, first looking for the time where there are no more 80-degree days on the horizon, then 70s, then 60s, and on down until I see those night-time temps staying solidly in the 30s.  Then, one day I finally I wake up to the smell of snow.  Those of us who live in dramatic winter climates can smell snow coming days before it arrives.  It’s crisp and clean, and it rides on a north wind even stronger and farther than rain across the Midwestern plains.  And unlike the pressure drop preceding a hurricane, snow in the air makes everything feel a little lighter and more invigorating.

Or maybe that’s just me.  You see, when I speak of hurricanes, I know what I’m talking about there, too, because I grew up in Florida. I lived in the balm and heat of the sunshine state until I was fifteen.  When you grow up in a place where sweating on Christmas is not unheard of, the idea of snow is downright mystical. I remember being obsessed with it as a kid. I have only one memory of snow as a child (there are pictures of me in a pink snowsuit when I was one year old, but that’s before recollection takes hold).  One year, though, we drove to Illinois so we could spend Christmas with my grandparents and cousins.  We must have been there for almost a week without so much as a flurry, then on the day we loaded the car, winter weather reports started to come in.  I begged my parents to let us stay, but since they’d grown up in the Midwest and understood what a snowstorm would mean for our 20-hour drive home, they made no promises.  In my excitement, though, I climbed into the loft of my grandparents’ house and pressed my nose to the north-facing windows.  I shivered with excitement and dread as the clouds moved slowly across the park and then the field with two horses which I also enjoyed watching.  Finally, the pine trees at the edge of the lot fell under its shadow.  Squinting, I made out minuscule white flakes against their green bows, and I exploded down the stairs with my brother and cousins all jostling to get to the door.

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The amount of snow that actually came down was negligible. By the time we left it was barely sticking to the ground, but for that half an hour we danced and played and tried to catch snowflakes on our tongues, and then we scraped off the little bit that had accumulated on top of the picnic table and made the world’s smallest snowman.  In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t much, but it was enough to hook me.

The next time I saw snow I was 16.  We’d just moved to my father’s hometown in central Illinois. That year it didn’t snow in December. No white Christmas for us. I was gutted. What was the point of living up north if we weren’t going to get snow? Then very late on New Year’s Eve it dropped below freezing.  By the time my friends and I woke up from our sleepover, the flurries had started to fall. A friend drove me home in her little car, and as we tried to crank up the defrost, snow started to come in through the vent.  I had no idea this wasn’t supposed to happen. To me it felt like living in a snow globe. Snow, inside the car? Magic! My brother and I spent much of the day finding new ways to play in the snow. That may be why the trampoline didn’t last long in Illinois.

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My next great snowy adventure came in 2003.  Vermont had just legalized civil unions.  San Francisco had gone rogue and was performing same-sex marriages. George W. Bush and company were mounting a serious backlash. And I had fallen in love. Susan and I were both living and working at Illinois State University, a long way from either coast, but we decided Vermont was our best bet to get in on the possibility of legal status for our relationship. So along with a small group of friends and family, we headed to the mountains. We were there just long enough to get our license and then wait a couple days before tying the knot in a little white clapboard church.  So, what did we decide to do with that day in between? We decided that the day before our wedding was the perfect time to take up skiing.

Yes, you heard that right.  The day before we walked down the aisle, we strapped boards to our feet and tried to ride them down one of the biggest mountains on the east coast. I don’t have any pictures of that ski trip, as we spent most of the day careening out of control.  We were bad. We fell constantly. And in our Carharts and welding jackets and camo hunting clothes, we were clearly the rednecks of the run, but right before we left, Susan and I each had one really pretty ride down a gentle bunny slope.  Again, it wasn’t much, but it was enough.  We went skiing again for our first anniversary.  Then the next year we rented a cabin in the UP of Michigan with friends and had what is still one of the best vacations of my life.

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A year later we moved to Western New York, right in the shadow of Lake Erie. Our town averages 215 inches of snow a year. Susie and I were so excited the first time we heard we were getting lake effect snow that we actually drove to the lake because we wanted ringside seats (We didn’t really understand that concept fully yet.).  And when our boy was born within view of that lake, there was no doubt how he’d be raised.

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Watching Jackson have the winter experiences I dreamed of as a kid has been one of the most purely fun aspects of the last ten years of parenting.

And that brings my love affair with snow to the present.  The towns I lived in, both in Illinois and New York, have already seen their first snowfalls of the season, but I wasn’t there for either of them. Don’t feel sorry for me. I’m having another kind of great adventure as I travel around the UK with my family, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t missing the anticipation of a white winter just a little. My son pointed to a big hill we like to climb and said, “This will be so much fun to sled down when the snow flies.”  His smile fell and his shoulders slumped when I explained that there probably wouldn’t be enough snow for sledding here. There might not be any real measurable snow at all.

The thought had never occurred to him.  A December without snow was as completely foreign to him as the idea of a white Christmas had been to me at that age. Since then he’s mentioned several times that not having snow is sad. I usually redirect the conversation, pointing out all of the other magical experiences we’re enjoying, but I can’t quite disagree with him.

But fear not, this blog does not have a sad ending.  Last week we took an epic three-day road trip through Scotland, and low and behold, there atop Ben Nevis, an old friend greeted us.

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And before any of you Scrooges cut in, I understand that snow is cold, and it can be a lot of work and can be hard to drive in, but none of that outweighs the magic for me.  Seeing that snow last week gave me the first real joy of winter.  And I’m excited to share that with all of you and Corey and Elise.

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November 22, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Edge of Glory Wide Release

Hey Friends,

It started with print books in Ptown, followed by ebooks on the Bywater website, and now Edge of Glory is available everywhere!  If you’re those Kindle fans who love the ease of buying your ebooks directly from the Kindle store, or international Prime members who need to buy from the big warehouses to get shipping that doesn’t cost a kidney, your time is now!

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And for those of you who have already gotten your copies, thank you!  The great reviews are rolling in.  And while I don’t ever go looking for them because of feelings and creativity and art for art’s sake and yada yada yada, my publisher does send some along from time to time and asks me to share them, like these from The Romantic Reader who gives the book “5 stars, hell all the stars. I love this book!”

Or Carleen Spry, who says, “Edge of Glory is, in my very humble opinion, one of the books to read in 2017. In fact, it’s probably one of the best I’ve read in two or three years.”

Or Amos Lassen, who wrote “When that romance comes, it is very special. I can say the same about this book; it is very special.”

I hope that those of you who have read Edge of Glory have had similar responses to the story and characters, because that’s really the goal here. Every time a new books comes out, I sit around waiting and hoping and praying that the story I put so much love and work into will resonate with someone else out there.  I’m not going to lie, I love that moment when I finally hear from a reader saying I achieved that goal. I adore getting that kind of feedback from readers, and so far I’ve gotten some really nice notes about this book, but here’s where I have to address one troubling comment has come up three times in the last two weeks.  It goes something along the lines of, “I’m not a reviewer, but….”

Friends, Romans, Readers, I desperately need you to know that you don’t have to “be a reviewer” to give valued responses to a book.  Authors are happy to simply hear, “I really liked your story!”  If you can add a sentence or two as to why, that’s the cherry on top for all of us, but it’s not even necessary.  That kind of stuff is soul-sustaining and I don’t want any of my readers to ever feel like they can’t comment on my Facebook, blog, or twitter simply because they don’t have the polish of some of our more established genre reviewers.

What’s more, your simple reviews of, “I really enjoyed reading this, 5 stars!” when posted on Amazon or websites like Goodreads sustain much more than our writerly souls. They sustain our careers.  Lots of advanced industry articles have been written on the correlation between reviews and the ways books are promoted on those sites (i.e. ads and bestseller charts and the “if you like this book, you might also enjoy everything Rachel Spangler has ever written” features), but the bottom line is the number of reviews matters.  It matters a lot.  And for better or worse, ten 5-star reviews that simply say, “I like this book” carry more weight than 2 long, elaborate thesis papers about  Virginia Woolfesque prose or the subtle classist work ethic permeating the plot. More positive reviews equals more help to authors.  It really is a simple as that.

So I guess I’ve written this entire blog to say thank you for reading Edge of Glory, and if you enjoyed it, I hope you will say just that on whatever review websites you can find because that sort of thing means a lot to authors, in a lot of different ways.

 

November 14, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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