Monday, May 23, 2011

Build a World with Elana

The always wonderful Elana Johnson is here. Her AMAZING debut novel Possession is coming out June 7th, and you HAVE to pick it up. It's that good!


Elana Johnson’s debut novel, Possession, will be published by Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) on June 7, 2011. Her popular ebook, From the Query to the Call, is also available for free download. School teacher by day, Query Ninja by night, you can find her online at her personal blog or Twitter. She also co-founded the Query Tracker blog and WriteOnCon, and contributes to the League of Extraordinary Writers. Elana is represented by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary.

Here's a link to the Sampler book club website - very cool idea. You should check it out :)

If you haven't been lucky enough to read Possession yet, check out the first 2 chapters, free, on Elana's website. I know you won't be able to stop there, so here's the link to Amazon where you can buy the book!

Elana's here today to talk about world building. I'm in the middle of creating a world of my own so I can't wait to hear what she says. So, here we go...

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Play God: Why It’s As Fun As It Sounds


Why, yes, as writers we get to play pretend! Especially if you’re writing in the fantasy or science fiction genres.

Because you get to decide what your world is like. You get to decide where the mountains go. If there are two suns or three. If cool tech gadgets exist, or if people can read each other’s minds.

You, in essence, get to play God.

And I think as writers, we like that. We’re control freaks, really. Ha! (Sad, but true.)

So today, I’m going to talk a little bit about world building, particularly the world building that went into my debut novel, POSSESSION.

The basics:

1. When? I knew I wanted the world of POSSESSION to be a futuristic world, but I did not assign a year to it.

When building a world, ask yourself if you need to assign a year. Or at least ask, “Is this near-future?” (25 – 50 years) or “Is this far-future?” (50+ years.) POSSESSION is far future, in my head. That’s all I needed to know.

2. Where? I also knew where in the US I wanted to set most of it, and I tried to stick to the geography that exists in that area.

When building a world, you need to have a starting place, especially for dystopian. It stands to reason that some landmarks and/or cities will still be standing in a few hundred years. In fantasy, I think you can do whatever your heart desires!

So ask yourself: “What will still be around in 100 years that can be a geographical clue for my readers?” You don’t have to name territories or countries or states. But in *your* head, you should know where your story is taking place.

POSSESSION starts out in what is now Utah, and yeah. From there, when you read the book, you’ll know where everything is. IF you’re a geography buff.

3. How? I knew I needed a “how” for my world. All dystopian does. Readers want to know how our world turned into the one they’re reading about. So in your head, as the author, you should know too.

I don’t think we need to know on page 1, though. Or even page 50. But I think the author should know, and the MC should probably know, and can reference it at crucial times.

In POSSESSION, the “how” is actually something paranormal. I just can’t help myself; I’ve never been able to write a complete novel without something paranormal. So POSSESSION possess dystopian characteristics, science fiction elements, and paranormal qualities.

Overall, when building a world, ask: “How did this world evolve out of the one I live in?” Of course, for fantasy, you might not need to do this. For urban fantasy, though, you need to know how your made-up world fits into the real world as we know it.

I think those are the three basic things that authors need to ask themselves to start building a world. In addition, you need a set of “rules” for your world. Things that always are. Laws. Standards. It’s good to make a list of these (do you really think I made a list? Ha! I did not. But some people might), and refer to them as you’re writing. (I had to make my list after and check for consistency.)

Have you written a novel set in a new world? What questions did you ask yourself to get started?

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Me again! Thanks so much Elana. I'm really looking forward to playing like a deity now!

104 comments:

  1. I've never writtend this kind of topic, but I think my first question would be: In this changed world, does bacon still exist?

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  2. Great post Elana. I can't imagine you made a list of the laws. But I know you had it all in your head because you sure followed it in your story. Can't wait for your debut!

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  3. I love the world you created for Possession. Even though the way you describe creating it in this post seems methodical, I'm sure it's still a lot of work. Great post.

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  4. and you're so close with sharing it with the world! yay!

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  5. I love reading Sci Fi. I can't wait to read Possesion.

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  6. Great post Elana! Can't wait for your release date...this book is fabulous!!!

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  7. Liza - That's a perfect question for Elana!!! :)

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  8. Natalie - Elana is sure consistent with her world in the book! It's a very real place. :)

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  9. Anita - world building is tough! I'm thinking about writing a story on another planet - there's so much to consider!

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  10. Laura - the world is going to love it! :)

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  11. Teresa - you're going to really enjoy it! Possession draws you right in!

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  12. Renae - I know! It's SO good! :)

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  13. Great advice! I just wrote a story with a brand new world planet and had a blast doing it. I've found that what Elana says about knowing all the whys and hows is very important to have in your mind before you start writing. :)

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  14. It's interesting to see what people set up. You have far off future with paranormal elements. Scott Westerfeld and Julia Karr have a far off world with no paranormal elements. Now I'm reading White Cat by Holly Black, which is set in present time with paranormal elements.

    I like the playing God aspect too.

    Good luck with release day, Elana. So soon!

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  15. Pk - I'm so glad I'm getting to hear all this advice BEFORE I tackle the story roaming around in my head! Thanks :)

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  16. Theresa - there are so many varieties! That certainly makes it a lot of fun!! :)

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  17. I didn't even make the Utah connection, until you just mentioned it, but now it makes sense.

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  18. Great advice Elana! World building can be tough, but you're right, I love how we get to control all the elements :)

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  19. Oh Elana's book is on my list!

    Novel in a new world? Not yet, but I would love to.

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  20. Awesome advice, Elana. Thanks a ton for this. And thanks Jemi for having her guest here. Can't wait for Possession to come out!

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  21. Thanks, Jemi for hosting Elana!

    I love this topic. My new MG WIP is going to be dystopian (if I ever get moving on it) so this is great stuff for me. Awesome! :-)

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  22. Fantastic interview, thank you Elana and Jemi!! I love the tips on world-building and the fundamental question one asks to create a totally believable alternative world! Take care
    x

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  23. Matthew - I've never been to Utah so I missed it :)

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  24. WN - it is fun playing like deities, isn't it? :)

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  25. Talei - I'm thinking of trying one - maybe in the fall - it's fun to think it through :)

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  26. Eric - you're welcome! So glad you dropped by :)

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  27. Shannon - I know! I'm hoping to write an MG sci-fi - this is great stuff! :)

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  28. Old Kitty - thanks! :) It's so much fun to create something that big from scratch!

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  29. Those were excellent insights into world building. I haven't had to do that yet, since everything I've done is realistic fiction, but I have a story in mind where I'll need them, so THANKS!

    Btw, nice to meet your blog, Jemi!

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  30. Great guest post! I'm just starting to plan a dystopian novel now, and these are some great questions. I can't wait for Possession to come out!!!

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  31. Query Ninja by night! This sounds like a fascinating book & I look forward to reading it.

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  32. Shari - nice to meet you too! Thanks for dropping by. :)

    I love Elana's tips - they're going to help me too!

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  33. Susan - you'll love it!

    I used some of this in writing my steampunk, but I'm going to need to do more thinking when I get to that MG sci-fi

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  34. Lisa - Elana really is the query ninja!! :) Her book really helped me fix my query!

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  35. Awesome, awesome post! When, where, and how are so huge in all stories, especially fantasy, paranormal, and dystophia. Actually I just started to write a new story that's apocalyptic. That's a new one for me!

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  36. Nicole - I know - isn't she great? :)

    Apocalyptic sounds like fun! ... well, in a story I mean :)

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  37. This was fantastic!!! Thanks to both of you! I always love reading anything Elana has to say!

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  38. Colene - I agree! Elana's so insightful - she really gets it!

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  39. Thanks for coming by everyone! I can't believe it's almost June 7!

    Special thanks to Jemi for hosting me today!

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  40. Loved that you talked about the internals of world building such as laws and rules. The physical/external for me is the easy part, the internal is trickier. I do enjoy the ultimate power an challenge of creating both.

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  41. Elana - you're so welcome! June 7th is right around the corner!! :)

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  42. Leslie - it is fun to be in charge of creation! I've got a bit of thinking to do on mine before I start to write! :)

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  43. Note to the reader: I realize my mind took the devil's advocate on this subject (pun intended :) ). I'm not a pessimist by nature!

    We do get to play God, but I think writing fantasy/sci-fi is when authors find out how hard it actually is. Sure, we can manipulate everything to our hearts desire, but it has to make sense. We have to place rules, and, if we want reader credibility, we have to stick to those rules. Or give a better reason why a rule has now become obsolete.

    Busting out creativity is the fun part of fantasy/sci-fi, but sometimes all the options can be a overwhelming, too.

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  44. Can't wait to read Possession!

    And great advice. :)

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  45. Emery - it really is the fun part of sci-fi and fantasy - both as a reader and as a writer! I like the 'what ifs' and the 'how abouts' and the 'wouldn't it be cool ifs' ...

    Sticking to the rules is so important - nothing worse than being thrown out of a world by a scene that breaks the rules for convenience's sake!

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  46. Janet - you're going to love it! :)

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  47. Sounds like you had a lot of fun in the process, too--and that always shows up in the book. :)

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  48. Elizabeth - great point! Possession has a ton of voice - and it does sound like Elana had a ton of fun writing it! :)

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  49. Great post, seriously! I love world building. Love, love, love. But as much as I enjoy it, it's NOT super easy for me. Elana sounds like she's got it all figured out though. I can't wait to read POSSESSION!!

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  50. Sara - after reading the book I'd say Elana definitely has it down pat!! :)

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  51. Holly - they're great tips, aren't they? :)

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  52. I have been dying for Elana's release date! Well, her book's, that is. Thanks so much for this wonderful post, Jemi.

    It's always fun to get a peek inside the mind of a writer.

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  53. Thanks Jemi for the link to Elana e-book. I look forward to diving into it and Possession at a later date. My characters world is quite boring I'm afraid, taking place in just good 'ol today, some scenes even in the run-of-the-mill shopping mall. I do admire those, like yourselves, that write future and historical novels in interesting, creative settings.

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  54. Cat - lol :) It really is fun to know how other writers do things! You're really going to enjoy Possession :)

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  55. Lynn - and it takes another kind of creativity to make the normal & everyday exciting!

    Creating new & old worlds is fun! Love the feel of the different time frames :)

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  56. This looks great. I've got to read the first two chapters.

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  57. Buttercup - definitely! It's a great dystopian read! :)

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  58. Charmaine - it's so hard to wait! But Possession will be worth the wait! :)

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  59. All fantastic points. World building is such a blast. Thanks, Elana! Thanks, Jemi. =D

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  60. Great post, Elana! God playing is so much fun,isn't it? I love it!

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  61. I've never written another world. That doesn't mean I don't admire those who do and who can make me totally believe that world.

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  62. RaShelle - world building is a lot of fun! I'm looking forward to giving it a whirl! :)

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  63. Talli - I agree! Can't wait to put what I've learned into action! :)

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  64. Helen - the first 'other world' I fell in love with was Middle Earth - way back in grade 5 or 6. Still love it :)

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  65. Great interview / guest post! I didn't know the first two chapters were free - off to check 'em out now!

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  66. Deniz - thanks! Elana's awesome! :) You'll love the chapters - and it only gets better from there!

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  67. I do love the world building, too, and I think even if we're doing non SF, we get to do that to a certain extent. I mean even real towns are somewhat fictionalized...

    Good stuff, and I can't wait to read Possession~ :o) <3

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  68. Great tips! I haven't had to create a new world, but I will for a project that I have in mind, so this will come in handy.

    For the new MS I'm contemplating, the central question in mi mind right now is: "If x is true, what will have to have happened to make it that way?" It's a complicated beginning point, but it's something to mull over while I work on polishing up the MSs I've already begun.

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  69. I write contemporary, so I do build a world for the characters, but a very real one. I'm amazed at the varying worlds that others come up with. I've also enjoyed dystopian novels and their worlds lately.

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  70. Leigh - great point! I love creating all my worlds: contemporary, steampunk & my new sci-fi I hope to write! :)

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  71. Ishta - great approach! I think if we know our world well before we start to write, it should be easier to write... at least that's my hope!! :)

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  72. Medeia - I love dystopian worlds too. It's always amazing to me when someone creates such a believable place I feel as if I'm there!

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  73. Congrats! to Elana and best wishes for her success with Possession! And I'm writing a book with the setting in our world and parallel universe. Its a lot of fun and set in modern day.

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  74. The novel I'm working on right now is set in a new world--it's Science Fiction. One of the main questions I asked myself at the start was what kind of impression I wanted to give the reader. I wanted the world to come across as being much larger than the one we live in now.

    Great post!

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  75. I really enjoyed this post and the questions it posed. Although I don't build dystopian worlds, I think it's really helpful to ask lots of questions when writing.

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  76. Very interesting to see the where, when, how,
    June 7 is soon! I can't wait to finally read this book!

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  77. Stephen - and you create a very cool world!! I enjoyed Breakthrough :)

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  78. Golden Eagle - that's funny because I've decided my new planet is much smaller with a smaller range of climactic changes! :)

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  79. Cynthia - I agree - I think Elana's tips can apply to any story. No matter what our story worlds need to be very real and detailed. :)

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  80. Kelly - July 7th is sneaking up really quickly! So exciting :)

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  81. Oh, I think Elana is amazing. And I love these tips for world building. I'm amazed at writers who tackle this type of book and totally nail it. And I can't wait to read POSSESSION!

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  82. Julie - I totally agree! She's wonderful - and you're going to love Possession! :)

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  83. Elana is everywhere! :) Congrats to her, and, Jemi, thanks for showing her to us!

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  84. Anita - she is!! :) You're welcome - it's a treat to help her out!

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  85. All the great interviews are right here. Thanks for hosting an amazing author! I can't wait for this book!

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  86. congrats to Elana on her book!

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  87. I'm suddenly craving bacon.

    I heart you both, E and J. :)

    Have a lovely holiday weekend!
    Love,
    Lola

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  88. Terry - you're such a sweetie! Thanks :)

    Elana's book is really terrific - I know you'll love it!

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  89. Lola - awww - thanks! :) You're a doll!

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  90. Hi Jemi! I just discovered your blog and I'm so glad I did. This is such a great post, and the book sounds fabulous. I love discovering new authors! I can't wait to read Possession, Elana!

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

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  91. Julie - thanks! And welcome :)

    Elana is brilliant - and Possession is one of those books that pulls you right in :)

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  92. Great tips on world building! Possession sounds intriguing. I haven't had to build my own world from scratch, but I did have to define rules for the beasties in my urban fantasy WIP.

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  93. Kari - Elana is amazing. I love her tips - and Possession is amazing!

    Definitely need rules for those beasties!! It's fun to take a 'normal' world and add the twist to it as well! :)

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  94. Love Elana and can't wait for her book. :) So happy for her that her moment is almost here!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  95. World building is so time consuming but it's one of my favorite parts of writing. I loved that Elana went through how she did it with her book. Thanks for sharing, ladies! :o)

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  96. Angela - I agree! Elana is fabulous and so is Possession! :)

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  97. Jackee - I love her tips too. It's nice to see how other writers approach the same task ... especially successful ones! :)

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  98. This is an amazing author interview. Thank you, Jemi and Elana!

    Ellie Garratt

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  99. Ellie - thanks & you're very welcome! :)

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  100. I'm really not into Sci fi but having read a snippet on a blog somewhere it is beautiful and I can't wait to read it!!! Go Elana!

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  101. Catherine - Elana's terrific! I loved the book - hope you feel the same! :)

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