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About Cyndi MacMillan
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 I have been a member of Poetry soup since 2011. 


Though my forte is fiction, verse has always appealed to me. There is nothing like a play of words to rattle the ordinary, to tickle away the dust of stagnation. My favourite form is the contemporary sonnet, but I also enjoy free verse. Also, I love the zen experience of haiku, its seizure of a moment, how it can hold a universe in so few syllables. And I admit to a fondness for the Rondeau.




My life is simple, but busy. I’m a writer and stay at home mother. Days are full. 


Currently, I am working on a novel or ... ha ha... should I really say that the novel is working on me? Characters! They have a way of turning a world upside down.


There are some amazing poets on the soup. I am blessed to call many my friends ~~ Cyndi




HOW TO WRITE DIALOGUE: BEATS, TAGS, POINTERS FOR STORYTELLERS


Blog Posted:3/6/2014 10:20:00 PM




As some of you know, I am a published short story writer.

 

Tonight I was asked, what is a beat?

 

So, I decided to write a blog on how dialogue is structured.

 

First, I’ll answer the question. A beat is a piece of narrative inserted within lines of dialogue.

 

Beats can enliven a dull piece of dialogue. They can also provide pertinent information, further character development, change the story’s pace and add to the atmosphere/ tone of your story.

 

Good dialogue should use tag lines carefully. Examples of tags are: he said, she whispered.

 

Each of your characters should have a distinct manner of speech, even if that difference is slight. No, I do not necessarily mean that one character is overly crude and the other highbrow. But, there should be something, albeit subtle, which the reader can pick up on as a clue to the identity of the speaker, even without that speaker being “tagged.”

 

Remember the show Archie Bunker?

 

Now, if you read the script, without a single indicator of who is speaking, chances are you would know EXACTLY who said what. Edith and Archie. Sunshine and thunder cloud. Hot and cold. Optimist and cynic. Think about it.

 

A tag should be used about every five lines of dialogue, just to ensure that the reader is able to keep tabs on all the characters. And said is preferable to other tags such as, she dithered, he badgered, I ranted.

 

Here are just a few helpful hints about dialogue

 

  1. Don’t answer every question. People often answer questions with other questions.

  2. Don’t allow your dialogue to echo your narrative. Choose one to provide the information to the reader.

  3. We often feel one way and yet say something else. Your characters are no different. Do not fear contradiction. Embrace it. What is it that your character wants no one else to know?

  4. Each speaker gets his/her own paragraph/line. Two speakers do not share one paragraph. This confuses readers.

  5. Mimic real speech whenever you can. Use contractions. Would this character use slang? RARELY, if ever, spell phonetically. Zis iz not dee way to vite. Bad, bad, bad.

  6. Do not have your characters constantly addressing each other by name or terms of endearment. Honey, after sweetheart, after Peaches... Now, this can work for overkill, like the War of the Roses... jabs and digs. Otherwise? No.

 

Here is an excerpt from to Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This excerpt is used exclusively for the purposes of study.

 

Now, the use of beats is exaggerated in this scene, but its usage sets a tone, creates admosphere. I do not recommend using the amount of beats demonstrated here. This is set in a different time;  there is a slow drawl here, an unhurried pace. This would not work if a bomb is about to detonate, someone is having a fight with a spouse or is speaking to their doctor about a cancer diagnosis. Each story should use an individualized approach to dialogue techniques. Each story has its own VOICE. If your characters are frantic, stressed, angry, the beats will be quick, reflect the mindset, the mood.

 

Despite all this, I felt the excerpt I chose was a suitable for a closer look at how to structure dialogue.

 

 

I’ve colour coded it. Beats are red. Tags are blue. I have used purple to show when they have addressed each other by name and character VOICE is brown. The other aspects of dialogue I’ve left black.

 

................

 

After supper, Atticus sat down with the paper and called, “Scout, ready to read?”

 

 The Lord sent me more than I could bear, and I went to the front porch.

 

Atticus followed me. “Something wrong, Scout?

 

I told Atticus I didn’t feel very well and didn’t think I’d go to school any more if it was all right with him.

 

Atticus sat down in the swing and crossed his legs. His fingers wandered to his watchpocket; he said that was the only way he could think. He waited in amiable silence, and I sought to reinforce my position: “You never went to school and you do all right, so I’ll just stay home too. You can teach me like Granddaddy taught you ‘nUncle Jack.”

 

“No I can’t,” 1) said Atticus. “I have to make a living. Besides, they’d put me in jail if I kept you at home—dose of magnesia for you tonight and school tomorrow.”

 

“I’m feeling all right, really.”

 

“Thought so. Now what’s the matter?”

 

Bit by bit, I told him the day’s misfortunes. “-and she said you taught me all wrong, so we can’t ever read any more, ever. Please don’t send me back, please sir.

 

Atticus stood up and walked to the end of the porch. When he completed his examination of the wisteria vine he strolled back to me. “First of all,” 2)he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-”

 

 “Sir?”

 

“-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus said I had learned many things today, and Miss Caroline had learned several things herself. She had learned not to hand something to a Cunningham, for one thing, but if Walter and I had put ourselves in her shoes we’d have seen it was an honest mistake on her part. We could not expect her to learn all Maycomb’s ways in one day, and we could not hold her responsible when she knew no better.

 

“I’ll be dogged,” 3)I said. “I didn’t know no better than not to read to her, and she held me responsible—listen Atticus, I don’t have to go to school!” I was bursting with a sudden thought. “Burris Ewell, remember? He just goes to school the first day. The truant lady reckons she’s carried out the law when she gets his name on the roll-”

 

“You can’t do that, Scout,” 4)Atticus said. “Sometimes it’s better to bend the law a little in special cases. In your case, the law remains rigid. So to school you must go.”

....................

 

 

If you found this at all helpful, let me know. If you have questions, fire away. If you want to grouse, lol, feel free. If you have any additional pointers, please share!

 

Hugs

Cyndi


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  1. Date: 3/7/2014 5:47:00 PM
    Debbie, James Joyce is the only author I know of who could write in present tense with an un-equalled ease, he was a master of it, there are very few if any writers who can do it with such aplomb as he. All ( 99.9% ) writers write in past tense, you are getting bogged down, step back from your writing and put yourself in each persons situation, speak as 'they' would then add the tags, conjoin the conversation....

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    Guzzi Avatar Debbie Guzzi Date: 3/8/2014 10:50:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    yes I know if I TRY to figure this stuff out I can't write! how dumb this makes me feel! BUT unless I understand the language of storytelling/fiction when the editors critique then I don't understand what they want me to do.
  1. Date: 3/7/2014 2:22:00 PM
    We're going to paint now :D We baked muffins, earlier. March break! Busy but fun!

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  1. Date: 3/7/2014 1:51:00 PM
    and VOICE I've not heard of yet, isn't all the dialogue someone VOICE?Does person have anything to do with voice? [this is third person past tense correct?] so this is written in Third person

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    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/10/2014 8:31:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    The writer should remain from the first word til you type the end in the characters point of view. You never leave her/his shoes. No narrator. Only character.
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/10/2014 8:29:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    I do not believe the narrator (writer?) should intrude on the story. The story should always come from the character... the story belongs to the person telling the story and that is not the writer, that is a character. Even if in first person.
    Guzzi Avatar Debbie Guzzi Date: 3/8/2014 10:48:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    but but it's the narrators VOICE when the main character is not telling the story for him or herself [you can believe how upset this makes my head! new neural pathways?] & then its the main characters POV right? wrong? [in third person past tense]
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 3:56:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Oops, sorry. YES, this is written is third person LIMITED. Yes, past tense. Some modern writers write in present tense. Hard to maintain for even a short story, "He says to me, she walks up the steps" AWK! It is in the now... can you imagine 50,000 words in the NOW?
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 2:26:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    "Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first-person narrator; a persona. Because voice has so much to do with the reader's experience of a work of literature, it is one of the most important elements of a piece of writing. " Voice is also ESSENTIAL in third person limited.
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 2:03:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Voice has to do with what Point of View you are telling your story, yes. I prefer third person limited. It's as close as first person, and certainly more challenging, but it feels a fit for me. Would you like me to blog about first, second, third person limited, third person omniscient... happy to oblige, hon.
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 1:59:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    If that didn't work for you, I will ... ah... wait. NCIS. How would Abby respond to seeing a man gunned down? What would she say, HOW would she say it? Now, how would GIBBS say it? Few words, right? Abby? She'd blather, stutter. Get mad, get real. These are two voices.
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 1:57:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    You're into star trek, next generation, right. Close your eyes. HEAR, Warf. See him. Know him. Now, do that for the following characters... Troy, Picard, Data. Picture the way EACH would write a story from THEIR perspective. Troy, with sympathy, Picard, with courage, consideration, Data, with curiosity, a directness. And Warf? Like a warrior, yes? That perspective is called VOICE.
  1. Date: 3/7/2014 1:48:00 PM
    Me I'm always full of questions. I thought the BEAT was an action that a character took - I think you are saying the same think? [Atticus sat down and called][I went to the front porch.] I would consider [told] to create a beat, I thought it was only physical action?

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    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 2:21:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Writers never write out a real introduction at a cocktail party. "Ana, this is Matt, George, Cora and..." We write, "Introductions were made. How tedious it would be for the reader, otherwise. Same usually goes for farewells. "Good-bye, Bye-bye."
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 2:19:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Ah, wait, I see what you are saying, when Lee WISELY has dialogue UNDISCLOSED to the reader (us) by saying Scout told Atticus she didn't feel well... yes, I consider that a beat (why I changed font to red) This is done often in ... necessary parts of storytelling where we don't want to bore the reader...
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 2:11:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    I have not seen the exact style of beats used in Mockingbird in current novels. Remember long ago how tags used to say, she griped, she twittered, she puzzled? Beats replaced those types of tags. Beats add to the mood and often do use action.
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 2:09:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/improve-my-writing/amp-up-dialogue-with-emotional-beats
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 2:07:00 PM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    You're right, it is "if-y" A beat can bring to light an action or an emotion. The best beats SHOW and do not TELL. You wouldn't say, he looked nervous. You'd say, he mopped his brow, refused to make eye contact, fidgeted. Perhaps, he cleared his voice, reached for a glass of water but his hand was shaking. SAME AS HAIKU. This should come naturally to you... it will!
  1. Date: 3/7/2014 10:40:00 AM
    Eileen, How awesome that you teach writing! You will make such an impact on your students! My teacher, Melanie Campbell, has over 200 publications, is currently the executive director of the Crime Writers of Canada and her next novel is coming out Sept this year. If interested---http://funnygirlmelodie.blogspot.ca/p/blog-page.html . Oh, I was so blessed to be taught by her. I just know that your students feel the same. You are so positive and inspiring! Hugs, Cyndi

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    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 10:54:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    :D Hello Kindred Spirit! YOU HANG THAT TOWEL BACK ON THE BAR! I have felt that way.. but writing is a need, like drinking water, right? Just keep writing, the rest will follow <3
    Ghali Avatar Eileen Ghali Date: 3/7/2014 10:49:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    CYNDI....I don't know how to thank you for this. I try to instill in my students a passion for writing. Writing is my life and right now I've hit rock bottom! :( I don't understand....I don't understand how a poem can get 500 views...a sonnet...and get great comments and just...not place in a contest. It really hurts! Craig helped me with my sonnets, and I know I know...I'm old school. I like to sound...Shakespearean...but....I feel like throwing in the towel...Maybe just the mood I'm in....Thanks for the encouragement. I really need it right now! I'm doing my thesis on Collaborative Writing as a means to raise motivation to write, but I'm in the "depths of despair" to quote dear Anne of Green Gables...HUGS
  1. Date: 3/7/2014 6:54:00 AM
    Very informative!

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    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 10:49:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Glad you thought so :D
  1. Date: 3/7/2014 4:56:00 AM
    Fascinating. You have me confused on this bit: And said is preferable to other tags such as, she dithered, he badgered, I ranted. I mean, I always encourage my students to use strong words that give an idea as to how the character is feeling. Why would you say walked when you could say strolled, marched, trudged, skipped, pranced, swaggered and so on? Doesn't that apply to SAID as well? Aren't words like shouted, yelled, barked, whispered, breathed....better? Lost me here. Would you explain? I know this is about dialogue and that we don't stick to the same reporting verb all the time (said), so...I'm a bit confused. ;) Oh...I'm so happy that you are a published author. HOW SWEET!

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    Ghali Avatar Eileen Ghali Date: 3/7/2014 10:51:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Yes, read that in the article. This has been so so helpful....I will bring this new info into play....Thanks ever so much, my dear. Hugs
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 10:48:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    See above, I wrote you a note with a link. Melanie was my instructor...years ago. It is so wonderful to learn you teach writing.
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 10:47:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    A hundred years ago, editors had different expectations. Today's editor would see too many -- retorted, crowed, cajoled, rasped as amateur. The trick is to keep the reader in the moment, not to trip them up... hmmm... its about flow. Keep them moving along that dialogue, like a stone skipping over water....
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 10:43:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    said and asked are called "invisible tags." The reader is so familiar with these tags, they basically read OVER them... YES! The occasional use of a 'stronger' tag verb like shouted is fine. But its a mere dash, not a tablespoon, even ;) The trick is to use beats to provide the information.
    Ghali Avatar Eileen Ghali Date: 3/7/2014 8:38:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    OH DEAR...Forgive the typos...I'm very fast on the keyboard, and I'm trigger happy with that submit button...Hit it before I edit...Here are two corrections: That's...coupled with an ADVERB and CONTEXT clues..among other mistakes...SORRY for the notifications now on this silliness. HUGS
    Ghali Avatar Eileen Ghali Date: 3/7/2014 8:25:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED...These books need you to be in a "good" place before you give it a read because it is an emotional drain. I am also quite anxious to read Sandcastle Girls...the latest out on the Armenian Genocide...the story of a survivor. When I have emotions to spare...I will tackle then and check for you all the tags you mentioned! Hugs!
    Ghali Avatar Eileen Ghali Date: 3/7/2014 8:23:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    So, the "barked" got you, eh? ;) I read that somewhere...sometime about a parent giving out orders like an army general...Can't put my finger on it now. Points well taken. I will have to think about it some more. YOU are a published author, so...you'd know. I think the rule is...don't go for overkill. I read that "said" slips in well and gives the read the opportunity to come to the realization regarding the feelings based on other contest clues, so...I agree. Just....NOT ALWAYS! ;) BTW...my favorite author..Khalid Husseini. Read the Kite Runner...A Thousand Splendid Suns...Dying to get the latest one! Hugs
    Ghali Avatar Eileen Ghali Date: 3/7/2014 8:19:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Hi Cyndi! Thanks for all that info. I teach "College Writing Skills with Readings" by John Langan. He is an expert in the field. Read up again about narrative essays and the use of dialogue. Did find some...He yelled...she shouted...in there, but you're right....most of it is "said"...it could be coupled up with an advert....he said shyly...sheepishly...etc. Hmmmm...something to think about. I looked up something else on this as well. I do think there are times when a stronger word would work better. Seriously...when romance is flowing....what could beat...he whispered...he intimated...
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 6:56:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    http://www.scribophile.com/academy/he-said-she-said-dialog-tags-and-using-them-effectively Here you go, Eileen. This gets to the point fast. Another way to look at this, go above, see the blue? Now, change them to 1) lamented Atticus, 2) He drawled, 3) I whined, 4) Atticus reasoned... were they necessary? Or do we already know HOW it was said by WHAT was said... ah...yes?
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 6:35:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    ... hmmm... brb (lol I hope. My girl is asleep. I may need to stop in 5...4...3... lol)
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 6:34:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    The short story writer or novelist SHOULD (I almost want to say must, lol) use strong verbs, PRECISE verbs throughout their story EXCEPT in dialogue. The dialogue should be written in such a way that the reader KNOWS that the speaker is angry, is excited, is lonely, is frightened. The dialogue SHOWS the reader. The tag TELLS the reader
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 6:31:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    HI! Who is you favourite author? What novels written in the past twenty years are your favourite? If you have a single one on a book shelf, open it up, open it up TODAY. Now, skim the passages. Only look at the tags. How many HE SAIDS? How many SHE BARKED? I know, its confusing...
  1. Date: 3/7/2014 4:04:00 AM
    Cyndi,I admire your ability in being able to publish short stories.Tnks for d helpful info above,cause it explains the way step by step.Did you do take courses previous to write stories,or does it come to you naturally?I saw short stories posted by Caleb and Chan which I really liked, as well but I don't see a lot of such stories on the soup ,and I really wish to see more,to learn more.Everytime I read such stories I wonder if one has to take many courses or is it just another extra flavor to the talent which comes naturally..because I am able to sit down and study poetry forms,but to sit down and write a story,I never had time to do that,nor found a way how to start. You're so talented ,keep posting such blogs pls.

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    Chircop Avatar Charmaine Chircop Date: 3/7/2014 10:36:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Yes a course with many years of writing definitely helps dear : )
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 6:39:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    (cont) the scene might be anywhere in the story. The beginning, middle, end... but the writer takes that scene and suddenly sees MORE>
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 3/7/2014 6:38:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Thanks, Suncatcher! Hey, I took a college course years ago and it taught me a lot. Ten years of writing taught me much more. Writing is a growth process. Sure, there are some who write their first novel at twenty and it SHINES. But, I think, that is rare. All stories start with the writers imagination. A scene. A flash.

My Past Blog Posts

 
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My Poems

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7/17/2014CRADLEDTrioletbaby,love,
6/9/2014THE RETURNSonnetdepression,giving,life,lo
6/7/2014TORRENTSonnetcelebration,life,women,
4/21/2014LA MARQUISEFree versepsychological,
4/8/2014BUKOWSKI CONTESTFree versemoving on,power,teenage,
4/4/2014GINGHAM AND LACE, A BLITZ POEMVersedaughter,love,
4/4/2014NUDE, THIRTY DOLLARS, A BLITZVerseart,imagination,lost love
3/24/201450 GODSFree versegod,peace,philosophy,
3/15/2014WINTER IN PORTLANDFree versedepression,winter,
3/11/2014FREEDOM BLUESTail-rhymefreedom,
2/28/2014WELCOME TO THE BLUENOSEAcrosticfish,history,journey,sea,
2/25/2014PITY THE PIRANHAFree verseintrospection,people,
2/15/2014HAPPY FAMILY DAY, LINDA MARIE, EASTER WALK, 7th REPOSTRhymefamily,
2/15/2014HAPPY FAMILY DAY 6- DEDICATED TO LINDA MARIE, REPOSTRondeaufaith,
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2/15/2014HAPPY FAMILY DAY 4- A REPOST DEDICATED TO LINDA MARIERhymefaith,
2/15/2014HAPPY FAMILY DAY 3- EASTER LILY, A REPOST FOR LINDA MARIEVerseeaster,
2/15/2014HAPPY FAMILY DAY 2-- A REPOST AND TRIBUTE TO LINDA MARIESestinaheaven,
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2/11/2014ORION: A PERSPECTIVE for third to tenthSonnetmythology,star,
2/10/2014TARTANS, A SONNET FOR FRANCINESonnetfriend,patriotic,places,p
2/9/2014TESTIMONIALS, A SONNET FOR BRIANSonnetfaith,friend,nature,
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FROSTY NIGHT STROLLCoupletinspirational,seasons,
Our ThanksgivingLight Poetryholiday,
Tomorrow's GraceEthereepeace,
A New Star Shines Above HawaiiRhymededication,music,
Jesus, Our SaviorShapereligion,life,
Monarch of SummerHaibunanimals,devotion,inspirat
UntouchedRhymeforgiveness,me,me,
Midnight PearlsThan-Baukintrospection,love,
Beaucoup BloomsTerza Rimanature,spring,spring,
On Heaven's DoorwayNarrativeinspirational,life,care,c
WALKING ON FAITHVersefaith,for children,
BeachworldFree verseplaces,sea,sun,
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Fav Poets

PoetCountry 
Debbie Guzzi United States Flag United States Read
Caryl Muzzey United States Flag United States Read
Andrea Dietrich United States Flag United States Read
Joe Flach United States Flag United States Read
nette onclaud Philippines Flag Philippines Read
Drake Eszes United States Flag United States Read
Mystic Rose Canada Flag Canada Read
mourning mist France Flag France Read
elizabeth wesley Canada Flag Canada Read
Rhonda Johnson-Saunders United States Flag United States Read
Ruben O. Argentina Flag Argentina Read
Carrie Richards United States Flag United States Read
kathryn collins United States Flag United States Read
NOVICE WRITER United States Flag United States Read
Catie Lindsey United States Flag United States Read
craig cornish United States Flag United States Read
David Williams United Kingdom Flag United Kingdom Read
Charmaine Chircop Malta Flag Malta Read
Francine Roberts Canada Flag Canada Read
Eileen Ghali Lebanon Flag Lebanon Read
Poet Destroyer A United States Flag United States Read
Faye Gibson United States Flag United States Read