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Taming your main fiction character.

PI Dana Bowman, main character Beyond books.

She’s done it again. Private Investigator Dana Bowman has jumped out of Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith to run amok in the real world. Is she going too far? Has she taken over?

When your main fiction character takes over your story, what should you do? Scream? Kick her or him back into the manuscript? Go with the flow (or flood)? Or listen to what he or she is saying?

Often you get so deep into writing your short story, novella or novel  that it seems like the story is getting away from you.  You are sitting there writing away in a creative fog or focus (take  your pick) and suddenly  it dawns on you. Hey, just who is writing the story?

First, take a deep breath. A character getting involved in their story  is not always a bad thing. It is a sure sign that your character is alive and you are deeply connected to his life. You know better how he operates because he is telling you this – or so it seems. That can be a good thing. Maybe your story was getting dull with something missing. Then it was as if your character jumped in to save the story? Your character is also telling you who he is and how he acts and speaks..

But what if the character is way off base? Not necessarily adding on to what you envisioned as the latter can be a big help. But what if the character has turned so unrecognizable that he just doesn’t seem to be himself?

Sometimes this character reveal develops your character in ways that makes the plot work better. It is as if you are getting insides from deep down. But….

If your character really seems to have gone off the rails and it is not because he  is drunk, on drugs or hasa psychological condition…then you need to stop and take stock.

Sop writing and sit back. Go over your character descriptions and what you have written in your story so far and remind yourself where you as a writer want to go with this character, with this story and with the two connected.

Ask yourself:

Are your character’s actions and diaogue things he would do and say in character – even when he is angry; even when he is sad? For example, if your character has a habit of swearing when upset, and suddenly is throwing plates,. you .need to step back and think. Was the situation something that would push your character over the edge? And how would he react when pushed over the edge? This latter would tie in with his traits. For example. if big on justice and the law, and somebody in his life has crossed the line – maybe beat up his spouse – would you main character beat up the wife-beater? Is that how hat character would exact justice? Maybe, if you have made this character the type of person who when pushed too far takes the law into his own hands. Or maybe not.

Sometimes you might just need to sit down and have a conversation with your character and ask “Just what were you thinking when you…?

And yes, I do carry on conversations with Dana bowman. But she still leaps out of the Beyond books and does her thing – which consists of mostly dissing me, her author. And she even says she wrote Beyond Faith.

Now tthat’s when you start worrying about your character taking over.

If you want to see Dana Bowman in action, she opens all my Crime Beat Confidential TV shows on thatchannel.com and here is a link. This is the third episode where Dana actually returns later in the show to do some of the interviewing of our guest, a real life private investigator. At least it gets Dana off my back…momentarily.

Now if Dana would just use some of that energy to take care of the crap in my life – you know cleaning the house, doing the dishes.

But she won’t. I didn’t create her that way. She doesn’t  even cook. It’s her fraternal twin PI Bast Overture who cooks.

Maybe i should rethink Dana and have her take cooking lessons in the next Beyond book. Yeah right. the books are murder mysteries so Dana is liable to poison someone with her cooking..

Cheers.

Sharon

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Hogtown Homicides: Setting it in Toronto

Authors are often faced with whether to set their novel in their own backyard so to speak, do a fictionalized place loosely based on their city or town, or create an entirely fictional town or city.

I tend to do a little of both. I have lived most of my life in Toronto, Ontario Canada. In fact I grew up here. So I know a little about some of Toronto’s past. I’m back in Toronto now – for the past 20 years – but I lived just north of Toronto in Aurora, Ontario for 23 years.

Two of my Beyond mystery books have settings in Toronto. Most of the short stories in Beyond the Tripping Point are set in Toronto – from 1965 to present day – not exactly historical, but still Toronto. In the two Beyond novels, Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith, my two main characters, fraternal twins Dana Bowman and Bast Overture set their private investigator agency just north of Toronto – in the fictitious Thurston and Cooks Region – loosely based on Aurora and Newmarket and York Region – so far around the time I lived in Aurora. But Beyond Faith has several scenes with both PIs in Toronto as it was in 1999. And the next book, Beyond Truth (still being researched and written) will have much of it set in Toronto.

What is interesting to me is how and why writers, particularly mystery writers,set their novels in Toronto. (Okay, I am partial to Toronto). And the research they do. Five of us Crime Writers of Canada authors are going to discuss this on a panel April 18. Here are the details and there should be links to their – make that “our” (disclaimer here – yes, I’m on this panel and honoured to be with the other four).

Hogtown Homicides: Setting it in Toronto

Frequently Canadian authors have been told to set their stories in some generic or easily recognizable city in the US, to guarantee sales. Well, this panel has successfully defied those voices and set their works in a very recognizable Toronto. Presented by Sisters in Crime Toronto in conjunction with their friends at Crime Writers of Canada,  Here is the powerhouse panel who loves Toronto.

They will discuss their choices, their research, and the subsequent marketing landscape.

Thursday, April 18, 2019, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Location: Northern District Library, 40 Orchard  View Blvd., Room 200, Toronto

Sisters in Crime members get in free. Non-members $5.00 at the door.

https://www.torontosistersincrime.ca/

Check it all out. And if you live in Toronto or nearby (yes, including York Region), why not come to this presentation and get an earful. We will also have copies of our books to see and sell.

Cheers.

Sharon

 

 

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Don’t forget your research

Beyond book No. 3

You may be writing fiction, but you still need to do some research. Sure, you can make up your story, your characters – and you better be doing the latter – but some things such as a place, a date, a real life event will pop up that you need to check out, even if you are writing science fiction. And if you are writing anything – sci-fi or other – and there are police in it, you will need to do research. Ditto for any other career involved even if you have worked in it.

Then there are stories set in countries other than the one you live in – or oven another part of the country you live in. Peter Robinson, who writes the Inspector (now Superintendent, I believe) Banks mystery series sets his novels in Yorkshire, England. Peter has been living in Canada for many, many years, but he makes regular trips back to Yorkshire.

And if you are writing historical novels – romance or mystery, or any novel set in the past, you need to do some research. My Beyond Blood and Beyond Faith are set in 1998 and 1999 respectively. Computers, the Internet, etc. were quite a bit different then. If you set your story in the late 1990s you can’t have people running around with smart phones. Yes, there was email and Internet then, but on computers.. My twin PIs, Dana Bowman and Bast Overture do have cell phones, but the type that flipped open and closed and no email or text on them, although text was just coming in across the pond in Europe. But not in Toronto, Ontario and north of Toronto.

Even though I didn’t have a cell phone then, a real estate agent/friend of mine did. So I could go back to what I remember about that phone, which I did use a few times. Not enough though, so I did a lot of research on cell phones from the past, what they looked like, their size (fortunately in the late 1990s they weren’t still the big clunkers from four or five years earlier). I was able to do enough research for that on the Internet. But not all research on the Internet is sufficient. Sometimes you have to get off your laptop, off the Internet and off your butt, off your smart phone, and get out there and do other research.

There is the obvious one with police and I’ll go into that in another post. Today, I want to talk about one of my in-your-face type of research – not exactly interviewing someone – which I did a lot of when I was a journalist (and some was via phone and email). No, something else I used to do for research for a story was to get out their and “absorb the scene”.

One of my stories in Beyond the Tripping Point is set in present day Toronto. There is an alley in the story, so I re-visited the alley behind a street of row houses where relatives used to live many years before present day. I walked up the street in front of the houses to see what they looked like today and then I went around the corner and into the alley behind and started walking there. I visualized the scene in the story (Missing in Action) and decided this alley fit the story. So when I wrote that scene this was the alley I was thinking about. Yet I didn’t pinpoint where it was in Toronto in the story.

In the story “Unfinished Business” I have the main character revisiting her childhood home area in Toronto with her 12-year old daughter because the daughter insisted. Something really bad happened to the mother when she was around the daughter’s age and she had only been back once just for a ride-through with a friend and she ducked down in the car so she wouldn’t see the place. When she came with her daughter, I envisioned where I grew up and had her drive in past buildings and on roads there up to the house (but I changed the street names). However, the whole street was in my mind as I wrote it as were most of the changes outside the house like for my house – except the rickety old garage at the back  of the driveway. It had been replaced  just before I moved back to Toronto in 1998, but I left it in my story, because it was crucial to the story. The people in the story and the bad thing that happened to my character didn’t happen in my life. (I had other things that happened instead). And for the record, I have a son, not a daughter. And also for the record, I took many walks along that street and even talked to the current owners before I wrote my story. Unlike my story’s main character, I don’t drive.

And how the latter happened is the “fault” of a couple of cousins visiting from Michigan, well, one of them. Here’s how that went.

My cousins, G and K and I were driving downtown from my place to meet my son for dinner. As we drove past the street where I grew up, big mouth me mentioned this. G turned onto my street, stopped outside the house (big mouth  me again telling him which one). A man in his mid-fifties was hauling a golf set from the trunk of his car. G rolled down the window and shouted out “My cousin used to live here.” So the three of us had to get out and we got into a conversation with the man and his wife. Turns out they (particularly her) are interested in the house’s history and the street’s history too. And the garage came into the conversation. The wife asked me if the original garage was so far back and I said “no.” Some more comparisons of outside were made and I learned some of the history of the property from after I moved. And I saw more inside when a few months later (I had their permission to call to make an appointment for this) I visited the couple inside the house.

Unfinished Business did not take place inside the house, but it did have scenes on the street, in the driveway and the old rickety garage.

So research is not all boring and you can get some physical exercise doing it. Just remember to go beyond the Internet.

Cheers.

Sharon A Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series.

Short story collection (2012)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Public Libraries Help Writers and their Readers

How many times have you been at a table trying to sell your books? Maybe it is a writer’s festival or maybe a church bazaar or some other event. And you get some interest in your book from someone until they look at the price. Then it is “is it available in an e-copy.” Or I don’t have enough cash on me/spent all my money/I’ll be back later when I’m leaving.”

Instead of frowning, yelling, whining or going into extreme book selling mode, why not suggest the person borrow your book from their local library branch? Maybe you don’t think about that because you figure you won’t be paid if someone reads a borrowed copy of your book.

Wrong.

If you as an author have your book(s) signed up with a Public Lending Rights Program (over 30 countries have them), you can receive royalty payments annually. Some library systems base the amount on how many times your books are borrowed or if your book or books are in the library catalogues (tcatalogues are online on most library websites). Canada follows this latter method and the payout annually has to work out to not under $50. But it can go up to $4,000. My Beyond mystery books haven’t reached a $4,000 royalty, but for last year, the amount was more than a 100 per cent increase from 2017.

Canada’s Public Lending Rights Program has a window of time to sign up – usually from sometime in February to May. And then that’s it for another year. Forms are online and are downloadable. This year the timeline ends May 1.

See here for more information on Canada’s program.

So how do you get your books into the library? Most libraries have book submission forms – in print at the branch or online, although sometimes the former are set up for  you to recommend a book by any other author who isn’t you. So get another author you know to recommend your book and you do the same for them.

The best way is to have a librarian get your book in. I have cold-called some librarians and persuaded them to carry my book. Depending on the library I may mention that I have family in their city or town (this has to be true – don’t make up stuff – leave that for your fiction books). Or I may say my books are set in their city or town or a city or town loosely based on their city or town (true for York Region just north of Toronto).

My favourite is actually doing a presentation (with other authors or on my own) or teaching a workshop at a library branch. Now, I have been doing the former for eight years and the latter six years. Particularly if the presentation or workshop is connected to your book – i.e. creating compelling fiction characters and you write fiction. Also, if you are presenting at a library, the librarians usually do order in a few copies of your book ahead of time.

Although one didn’t. So, one of the five of us crime writers reading asked the librarian if copies of our books were available in the library.

No. But they were soon afterwards.

Probably the best-case scenario is the librarian, Janet, at the library branch where I teach one or two workshops a year and my East End Writers’ Group partners with this branch to hold our meetings there. The librarian actually suggested it after we did a presentation at the library and I decided to get the group out of my house to meet and the two places after that where we met briefly went out of business. So, we are in partnership with the library with this and the program gets under the branch programs umbrella. Janet has made sure my three Beyond books are in that branch.

Of course each library system has its own methods for getting in programs and presentations. How I got into some (besides the East End Writers’ Group one) is fodder for another post.

The bottom line is getting your published books into libraries is a win-win-win situation – for your readers, for libraries and for you.

Cheers.

Sharon A, Crawford

Author of the Beyond mystery series

Available for borrowing in the Toronto Public Library system, some in the York Region Library system, etc.

And I am teaching a memoir writing workshop and doing two presentations with other authors, all in Toronto library branches. See my Gigs and Blog Tours Page on this website here to find out when and where.

 

 

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When the muse strikes write?

My Muse?

My muse has been busy this week. Early in the morning, she appears in the last dream  before I wake and she appears with answers, suggestions to the story I’m rewriting.I don’t actually see her or hear her. It is more a short scene showing the story scenario I have been struggling with, and leaving me waking up with an answer of what to write. You see, the more I rewrote the story, the  more I questioned something in the plot. Most of the questioning was under the “does it make sense?” category or the “have I got the police procedure right?’

It is a mystery at a crime scene and there is some police procedure there. But the main character is a civilian who wants answers and is determined to get them. because of who the victim is. So police procedure has to be correct, but it is seen from somebody not really familiar with it. And my character is a fat eccentric senior So the story is not just a mystery, but it has humor, satire.

I did my research and have explicit info from a police sergeant who is involved in investigating homicides. So I’ve been going over what he emailed me to fact check with what I’ve written. And that necessitated some changes and a follow-up email concerning the large binders police now use for interviews of all things. And he caught something else I had in the question wording – where witnesses and suspects are taken for more questioning.

So, like I said before, every time I made a change, another necessary one would pop up.

This story has a submission deadline of a week from now and a maximum word count. So those factor in with writing time and story changes.

So I’ve been lucky with my active Muse. And sitting down at my computer every day and rewriting. And resenting time I have to do other things.

It is only now that I have figured out how my Muse is working. Each day and each evening I mull over what needs to be changed to work in my story and it gets pushed into my unconscious when I get distracted. And I do get distracted a lot – problems coming at me to solve, health issues, other writing and editing stuff, phone calls, computer problems, errands, etc. When I finally get to bed and get some sleep  I have to go through several sleep cycles first and several unremembered dreams to get to the point when my Muse can get through. And she has and I am grateful for that and also for her timing – last dream before I get up.

Now if my Muse would only help me solve all the other annoying problems I have to deal with.

Any day I would much rather do something creative – like write or take photos or in the summer garden then deal with what I call negative problems shoved at me from what I call outside. I can create enough chaos without any help from others.

So, the lesson learned is – when the Muse strikes, WRITE!

How does your Muse work? Do you have a Muse? Do you listen to your Muse?

Cheers.

Sharon A Crawford

riter/Editor/Writing Instructor

Author of the Beyond mystery novel series.

 

 

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New Year new writing energy

Many years ago I learned something important for writers from freelance writer Paul Lima. Yes, he said you need a Marketing Plan for your writing business,but he added something that is core to this –  You need a vision for your writing business in order to figure out your marketing plan.

Very true. I know that from experience as the last couple of years I didn’t have a vision and only a marketing plan for my Beyond books.. For 2017 I was sick the first part of the year and for last year, let’s just say I had more than my share of problems in all areas, stupid problems, with 80 per cent of them caused by other people or organizations.The rest included health and house issues, I won’t go into a long list, just mention the one that gets the cake (in the face, of course) for the most ridiculous.. My CARP (the Canadian Seniors advocate organization that also publishes Zoomer magazine) membership got messed up by CARP. First, I didn’t get any notification to renew so I phoned. Yeah, I got my membership renewed and a new card last February – dated to expire February 2018. What’s wrong with this number? After raising more than a little hell over the phone and getting the CARP membership advocate involved, I got a replacement card dated to expire February 2019. And I have received a renewal notice for this February.

So, when not dealing with this and other problems, I just dived in and did client work, did some writing, did a lot of promo (and organizing such) for my Beyond Faith mystery novel. Sure, I did my usual daily “to do” list…

But something was missing and something unwanted was there.

The unwanted was the somewhat randomness of it all and lack of any defining vision for my writing.

For 2019 I went back to listening to Paul Lima. And this time I shortened my vision and its marketing plan. It is only one page and under my vision I list three things I am focusing on, three things I envision I want to do (and am doing – hey, it’s already January 4). I’m not going to copy the whole marketing plan, just my vision.

Sharon’s Vision:

Threefold:

  • Write more – memoir book finish; continue writing Beyond Truth, and write more personal essays and short stories for publication.
  • Help other writers with their writing, and at the same time earn more money for me.
  • Sell more Beyond books.

Each part of the vision statement covers what I want to do in 2019. The first one is self-explanatory. The second one covers both my editing for writing clients, doing one-on-one teaching writing sessions, and teaching writing workshops. The last part is also self-explanatory. This second one is both for my clients and me. The third one is also self-explanatory.

My next heading is simply; How I will do this.

And I list, which I’m not going to do here. I did put in for book marketing to go to a separate file. But my book marketing plan is much shorter than the very long one from last year. It is more to the point and organized by month. And it is not sealed in granite or whatever is the digital equivalent. So if January gets clogged with too much, some can be moved to another month.

My last heading is:

Professional Development:

Writers always need to learn something about writing and marketing. Like other things in life it is an ongoing process and any writer who thinks they’ve reached their pinnacle because they are publishing their books or they have steady work writing, teaching writing, etc.. think again. We freelancers know (or should know) that freelance writing and the like is precarious and steady writing gigs can go at the drop of a well, the proverbial hat maybe.

As for Paul Lima, he is still freelancing – but scaled down a lot. Paul has MS and has wisely learned to work around that. He has written and self-published two books on MS which are available online. His previous books on writing and marketing are still available online. He blogs about his MS and shares info on that and his writing on a writer/editor listserve.He also posts regularly to Facebook. And he does get out every day for two hours walking his dog. I suspect the dog and his family are a big help and support (emotional and otherwise) for him. He also has a positive attitude – something we writers need to remember. No point in getting in the dumps about another rejection for a story.

I’m going to finish off here with a few links to Paul Lima’s website, which as all the info about the above on him and more. And also a link to his MS blog, and a story another writer wrote about him and two others who had to relearn how to live their writing career because of various chronic illnesses.

Paul Lima’s website here

Paul’s MS blog here

Paul’s business blog here 

His Dec. 30, 2018 posting is titled My Freelance Writing Resolutions for 2019. Writers take note.

Story here

May your 2019 be joyful and creative.

Cheers.

Sharon A,.Crawford

Writer/Editor/Writing Instructor

Author of the Beyond mystery novel series.

 

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Using Humour in Fiction

Mysteries, thrillers and horror fiction can be very grim. Some authors (including me) add a little humour to lighten the load a little. But there are a few things to consider if you want to use humour in your fiction. (Note: I’m using the Canadian spelling of  “humour” because I am Canadian).

First, a big  no-no:

Don’t have your character or characters crack a lot of jokes. This isn’t stand-up comedy or a comedy TV series. There could be one exception to this – if a trait of one of your characters is to tell jokes – bad or otherwise and it fits in with the plot and this character’s interaction with other characters. But use it sparingly or not at all. It is not the best technique.

Some techniques that can work:

Your main character is a klutz. Picture a klutzy private investigator or cop or? This can bring up several scenarios that can lighten your story. It can also provide some problems for your character in their investigation. For example, your PI is snooping outside a house where nobody is home at the moment. Or maybe he or she gets into the house to look around. Instead of the family dog barking at them or charging at them, why not have the kluzy PI trip over a sleeping cat and fall down a few stairs – or how about a whole menagerie of animals – maybe he or she collides with a snake that has gotten loose from its cage? And the PI is terrified of snakes.

Or give your PI or cop, what we call a character tag and use that to create some humour as the character does what he or shee normally do. In my Beyond books, Detective Sergeant Donald Fielding stutters – not with work-related things, but with personal things that make him nervous – such as his attraction to PI Dana Bowman. He also suffers from migraines. In one scene in Beyond Blood, Fielding knocks on the door of the bedroom Dana had to sleep in overnight – not at her place as a murder and kidnapping took place there and her home is a crime scene,so Dana and her fraternal twin PI  Bast Overture are staying at a neighbour’s next door. Here’s a short excerpt from Beyond Blood with the encounter the next morning between Dana and Fielding.

Beyond Book No. 2

The pounding came from the bedroom door.

“M … M … Ms. Bowman,” Fielding said from outside the door.

Couldn’t the man give me a little privacy? I pushed the covers off and realized I was in a strange bed and still wore my party dress. Red for blood. Red. Cut it out, Dana.

“What the hell do you want, Fielding?”

“Are you d … d … decent?”

“What?” I scratched my head and yawned.

“Ms. Bowman. I need to talk to you.”

“So talk.”

“I h … h … have a ch … ch … change of clothes for you.”

“What?” I leaped out of bed, ran to the door and pulled it open.

Fielding leaned against the wall. His face resembled whitewash and red rivers flowed through his eyes. He held a plastic bag, which he slid over my way.

“Your ch … ch … change of clothes. C … Constable Nivens collected them.”

“Thanks.” I grabbed the bag. “You look like hell. No sleep?”

“Just a migraine. I get them all the time. It’ll pass.”

“Migraine. Here, come in and sit down on …” A quick glanced around the room showed an ironing board piled high with clothes standing beside a chest of drawers. A basket of clothing sat in the room’s only chair. “… on the bed.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“No, it isn’t. Migraines are awful. My mother used to get them, but thankfully I don’t. She used to blow in a paper bag, to get rid of the pain, I mean. Maybe there’s one here.” I started rummaging in the dresser drawers.

“Ms. B … B … Bowman. It’s all right.”

“Here we are.” I shook a scarf from a Fashion Shoppe bag and shoved the bag at Fielding. He ignored it. “Put it over your face and blow.”

He stared at me, for once speechless, took a deep breath and sputtered.

“Take the damn bag and blow. And go and sit down. I don’t want to have to deal with a cop passing out in a bedroom.”

A little colour hit his face for a second. He staggered over to the bed, plunked down on the edge, leaned over and blew. I moved towards the doorway, stopped and swung around.

“Look, Fielding, I’m sorry. Guess we’re all a little edgy.” I sat on the bed beside him and touched his forehead. He flinched and pulled away. “Sorry. Do you want a glass of water?”

“W … w … wait. It’s the kid. I m … m … mean your son. I have a daughter.”

“I know. You told me earlier.”

“Well, I want you to know, Ms. Bowman.”

“Dana.”

“D … Dana, that I’ll do my best to get your son back safe and sound.”

“I know that, Fielding.”

“Don.”

“What?”

“M … my name is Don.”

“Okay, Don. Anyway, you have two private detectives in the house to help you out.”

“Now, listen here, Ms. Bowman. You let the police handle this. Your job is to answer your cell phone if it rings, so we know what the kidnappers want. Nothing else.” He pointed his forefinger under my nose. (Copyright Sharon A. Crawford, From Beyond Blood, Blue Denim Press, 2014).

As you can see,  there is enough for the reader to visualize – especially a burly cop blowing into a brown bag.  hey are in close quarters and both characters are uncomfortable. But it is only a moment before the two characters return to “business”. But what else does the encounter tell you about the characters and the story?

In my short story collection Beyond the Tripping Point, some of my stories are noir and satire, one in particular – The Body in the Trunk, which has an unusual take on two friends trying to move a body to… well, that would be giving it away. You have to read it to get it.

And that’s my last suggestion. Read published novels  containing humour in the genre you are writing in. Three authors who do it so well are:

Melodie Campbell with her Goddaughter  series. The Toronto Sun calls her “Canada’s Queen of Comedy”.

Steve Shrott (who also teaches humour writing) with his stand-alone mysteries. One features a dentist who is a part-time PI and another features an actor whose main roles have been dead bodies.

Janet Evanovitch and her  mysteries. Her bail bonds character, Stephanie Plum, is forever getting into scrapes, especially with the two fellows who like her.

See how these authors work their humour to fit their characters and their plots.

Happy reading, especially over the Christmas season.

Have a good holiday.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

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