To Prologue or Not to Prologue

Whenever I’ve asked a writing instructor or workshop facilitator about prologues, I’ve encountered a variety of negative facial expressions—everything from a wince to a frown to a quick shake of the head. And the following responses:

Agents hate prologues.

Readers will skip to the first chapter.

Prologues = Information Dumps.

One instructor offered a ray of hope: Use only if the prologue adds an interesting and integral layer to the narrative.

Interesting and Integral…Definitely a challenge and one I decided to tackle in Too Many Women in the Room, Book 2 of the Gilda Greco Mystery Series.

But first, I needed to get more information about the Uses and Misuses of Prologues. Here’s what I discovered:

Use a Prologue to…

• Provide information that is crucial to understanding the rest of the story. In Too Many Women in the Room, I needed to introduce the victim’s voice. Having written the rest of the novel in the first-person POV, I wanted the reader to be privy to the thoughts and feelings of the victim in his final hour.

• Provide clues. Red herrings are an important component of cozy mysteries. In Too Many Women in the Room, the initial crime scene contains vital details that form the basis for these red herrings.

• Hook the reader. If the actual crime doesn’t occur for several chapters, it is a good idea to whet the reader’s appetite with a prologue. But—and a big but—the interim chapters also need hooks to keep the reader engaged.

Don’t Use a Prologue to…

• Introduce a voice or tone that is not as engaging as the rest of the novel.

• Dispose of the entire back story. Much better to incorporate bits and pieces throughout the novel.

• Introduce an overly-dramatic voice and then switch to a much quieter voice.

From Too Many Women in the Room…

He couldn’t believe he was following his wife’s advice. After twelve years of paying lip service to deep yoga breaths, mindfulness, and all the other New Age crap she espoused, he had finally found a use for it. His midnight run usually sorted out all the stress, but tonight was different. He still couldn’t shake the venom that had been directed his way.

To make matters worse, it had come from eight women, eight very different and very annoying women. He had bedded four, but right now he couldn’t imagine having sex with any of them. As for the untouched four, well, only one interested him, and it had nothing to do with her feminine wiles and everything to do with her healthy bank account.

He would have to take something to get through the night, something a lot stronger than his wife’s herbal teas. The remnants of an old Percocet prescription came to mind. Two capsules might do the trick. The thought of a panacea, albeit a chemical one, calmed his racing thoughts.

A good night’s sleep would make a world of difference. And tomorrow, he would sort it out.

The light patter of feet distracted him. Definitely a woman’s gait. Her breath was even, neither shallow nor panting. Younger, maybe in her thirties. His pulse quickened, and a smile spread over his features. A welcome distraction. Just what he needed to erase the built-up stress. To hell with deep breathing, affirmations, and Percocet.

Any other thoughts on prologues?

 

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

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On Planting Red Herrings

When I shared an early draft of A Season for Killing Blondes, a beta reader complimented me on my use of red herrings and suggested the title could also be considered a red herring.

Puzzled, I asked for clarification.

She explained, “A red herring is a literary device that leads readers toward a false conclusion. Glancing at the title, I expected to read a thriller about a serial killer who had designated a specific time period for the Rampage.” She winked. “That’s definitely not the case here.”

A bit worried, I wondered if I was misleading my readers. Would they expect a thriller and be disappointed when my novel turned out to be a cozy?

She assured me that the title was well-suited to a cozy mystery that featured a brunette lottery winner as the primary suspect and four dead blondes killed during a two-week period. And she doubted that anyone would be disappointed at the end.

After our conversation, I decided to do more research into red herrings.

Several theories exist regarding the origin of the expression. Some believe that it refers to the use of a kipper (strong-smelling smoked fish) to train hounds to follow a scent. Another theory points to escaping convicts who used red herrings to throw off hounds in pursuit.

Many of the plots in Agatha Christie’s novels contain red herrings. In And Then There Were None, we assume a character who goes missing is the killer. Later, when his body is washed up onshore, we realize that his absence was a red herring that misled the other characters and the readers.

In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown expertly uses the character of Bishop Aringarosa as a red herring throughout the novel. While reading, we can easily imagine him as the mastermind of the church conspiracy and are surprised when the real culprit is revealed. Intrigued by the bishop’s unusual surname, I probed further and learned that “Aringarosa” translates into English as “red herring.”

Another famous red herring example appears in The Final Problem by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While walking through the Swiss mountains with Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson receives a message that an Englishwoman at their hotel is in urgent need of health care. He rushes back to the hotel and discovers there is no Englishwoman. The message was a red herring sent by the villain Professor James Moriarty as a ruse to isolate Sherlock Holmes at the edge of a cliff.

To keep my readers guessing while reading A Season for Killing Blondes, I introduced a gaggle of suspects, among them a yoga teacher with anger management issues, a lecherous photographer, two “50something” mean girls, and fourteen ex-boyfriends.

From the reviews, I gathered that I had succeeded in maintaining the readers’ interest until the final chapters. My favorite comes from The Romance Reviews: “A well-written, character-driven murder mystery that genuinely had me scratching my head until the very end wondering who dun’ it!?”

Do you have a favorite red herring to share?

 

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

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A perfect fit for Baci Perugina!

When a book blogger asked me to compare the Gilda Greco Mystery Series to chocolate, I had no problems coming up with the perfect answer: Baci Perguina, the most famous chocolate brand in Italy and popular with Italians worldwide.

Perugina’s signature recipe includes whipped milk chocolate, gianduia filling, and chopped hazelnuts all in bittersweet chocolate. Each bacio (kiss) comes individually wrapped in silver and blue packaging and hugged by a poetic love note.

The three books in the series—A Season for Killing Blondes, Too Many Women in the Room, A Different Kind of Reunion—contain romantic elements, humor, and bittersweet moments. A perfect fit for Baci Perugina!

While researching the history of this famous chocolate, I discovered an intriguing back-story.

In 1922, a young chocolatier named Luisa Spagnoli fell in love with Giovanni Buitoni, one of the founders of the Perugina Chocolate Company. He felt the same way but couldn’t pursue the relationship. Luisa’s husband was the other founder!

Luisa decided to create a special bonbon to honor her beloved. She came up with a rounded shape, an entire hazelnut in the center, covered by a dark chocolate exterior. She named it a cazzotto (punch) but Giovanni changed the name to bacio (kiss).

Each chocolate was wrapped in a billet-doux—a love note—that Luisa would send to Giovanni.

That simple gesture between the star-crossed lovers spread throughout Italy (and the world), continuing for decades afterward. In the 1960s, English and French translations were added to the original text in Italian. Today, more than 390 inspiring messages can be read in six languages: Italian, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Chinese.

Here are some examples:

In dreams as in love all is possible. (J. Arany)

I loved you at first sight. And you smile because you know it. (A. Boto)

Love is like luck: it doesn’t like to be chased. (T. Gautier)

Loves can live on kisses and water. (English proverb)

Till I loved I did not live enough. (Emily Dickinson)

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind. (William Shakespeare)

readers…What is your favorite chocolate?

 

About the Gilda Greco Mystery Series

A cross between Miss Marple, Jessica Fletcher, and Cher (Moonstruck), protagonist Gilda Greco brings a unique perspective to the amateur female sleuth.

The teacher-turned-lottery winner returns to her hometown, only to find herself embroiled in a series of murder investigations. Before you start imaging thrillers with high stakes and police chases, pause and take a yoga breath. The three novels in the series—A Season for Killing Blondes, Too Many Women in the Room,  A Different Kind of Reunion—are cozy mysteries, written in the Agatha Christie tradition. All the crimes take place “off stage” with very few graphic details provided.

While the pace may be more relaxed than that of thrillers and police procedurals, there are no steaming cups of herbal teas, overstuffed chairs, or purring cats in these contemporary cozies. Prepare yourself for interfering relatives who don’t always respect boundaries, adult mean girls, deserving and undeserving men, multiple suspects, and lots of Italian food.

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

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In Praise of Affirmations

During my cancer journey, I read Louise Hay’s book, You Can Heal Your Life, and developed an interest in affirmations.

What is an affirmation?

An affirmation states an outcome or truth you wish to impress upon your mind. While the affirmation doesn’t actually make things happen, it can raise your vibration so that you are more receptive to the desired outcome.

At first wary, I slowly warmed up to the topic and adopted several of Louise’s suggestions:

Every cell of my body radiates health.

I relax and let my body heal itself.

I lovingly do everything I can to assist my body in maintaining physical health.

I also liked using the following mantra-like affirmation from French psychologist Émile Coué de la Châtaigneraie:

Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.

Having experienced success with these health-based affirmations, I decided to use this technique to help achieve my writing goals. And I wanted to create my own personal affirmations rather than piggy-backing on someone else’s success.

Here are the affirmations I’ve used during the past eleven years of my writing journey:

My words flow easily.

Each day, I write with confidence and enthusiasm.

I submit a manuscript that is well received by a publishing house.

Joyful and creative, I delight in inspiring and motivating others with my written work.

Tips for Writing and Using Affirmations

1. Use the first person and the present tense.

2. Keep the affirmations brief and limited. Focus on one or two until you’ve incorporated them into your psyche.

3. Don’t sabotage yourself with an unrealistic goal. For example, “My book achieves best-seller status” is too much of a jump for an unpublished writer who is struggling with the first draft of her book.

4. Practice your affirmations each day. You can say them first thing in the morning, while looking in the mirror, or while exercising.

5. Write down your affirmations. You can stick them on your mirror or bulletin board, post them on your computer, or carry them in your purse or wallet.

Any affirmations out there? Please share.

 

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

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Listen to Your Inner Critic

By Joanne Guidoccio

I realize this is contrary to all the advice that’s out there. But there is something to be gained by analyzing the selected thoughts of our inner critic and taking action.

How can you distinguish those selected thoughts?

Very simply, take note of all sentences that start with “Someone should…”

Here are some examples:

“Someone should write a letter to the editor about that issue. It’s bugging me.”

“Someone should organize an arts festival that showcases the talents of artists, artisans, musicians, and writers in our county.”

“Someone should put her name forward for an executive position on that board. We need new blood.”

“Someone should design and create clothes that fit and flatter women over fifty.”

“Someone should offer decorating services for seniors, who are moving into assisted living, retirement and nursing homes, or downsizing to a condo.”

“Someone should write a cookbook filled with nutritious, easy-to-prepare recipes for singles and couples on budgets.”

“Someone should run for mayor.”

Once you have identified your favorite “Someone should,” it’s time to…

Take action!

Entering the political arena, assuming an executive role in a non-profit organization, organizing an arts festival, writing a novel…these are all goals that can be accomplished but probably not within the immediate future.

Instead, set move-the-needle steps for the season in which you are in. These small steps will lead to larger ones, and subsequent steps will always be within your grasp

You could start by attending an information meeting, offering to help with an established arts festival, signing up for an online or offline course, joining a local writing group, or listening to a webinar. Don’t worry if certain steps don’t work out. Keep moving forward and course-correct along the way.

Good luck!

 

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

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How to Clearly See…

In A Different Kind of Reunion, Private Investigator Jim Nelson doesn’t mince words when he learns about the psychic’s involvement in the murder investigation:

“Let’s face some facts here. Most psychics need to make a living. I don’t doubt this lady has some intuitive ability—as many women do—but I don’t think it’s enough to catch a murderer.”

Jim is in good company.

According to a recent survey by YouGov.com, 24% of respondents believe there are actually individuals who possess the ability to see the future. There is a gender split here as well; 28% of women think this power exists, while only 19% of men think the same.

While I’m of two minds here, I do believe it is possible for each of us to have an intuitive awakening. In fact, some of us already possess signs of clairvoyance.

Not sure? Take this quick survey:

  1. Do mental images randomly flash before your eyes?
  2. Can you easily visualize people and places?
  3. Do you frequently have vivid dreams?
  4. Can you quickly complete mazes, puzzles, and other visual-spatial tasks?
  5. Can you see auras (glowing lights) around the people in your life?

Regardless of your score, you can access your inner compass and develop the skill to “clearly see” what is going on in your life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Meditate for a few minutes each day. When you get still and clear your mind, you allow the right (creative) brain to take over and the left (logical) brain to take a back seat.
  • Take note of goose bumps, shivers down your spine, and racing hearts. Your body is letting you know when things are right or off. The key is to trust those feelings and act upon them.
  • Be on the lookout for any God/Goddess nudges that suddenly appear in your life. These could take the form of notices on bulletin boards, titles of books that resonate, or opportunities that present themselves.
  • Release negative feelings. If you are angry or depressed, you cannot make sound decisions.
  • Pay attention to how you feel after talking and meeting with the people in your life. Keep those who empower you and take distance from those who drain you. If you cannot walk away from the latter group, limit your involvement with them.
  • Dream with purpose. Before you fall asleep, focus on any unresolved issues or problems. Imagine possible solutions as you fall asleep. Then, let your brain do the rest. Keep a journal on your nightstand and record those dreams as soon as you awaken.

Any other suggestions to share?

 

 

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

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Ending on the Right Note

By Joanne Guidoccio

Last summer,  I read several books with unsatisfying endings. In one case, I wondered if the novel had been worth my time and attention. The author had started with a compelling opening, the characters were well-developed, and each chapter ended on a suspenseful note.

Where did she go wrong?

Two-thirds of the way through the book, she introduced a character who had no connection to any of the other characters. In fact, I would suggest she literally pulled him out of thin air so she could pin the murder on him.

Afterward, I started to wonder about the conclusions to my own books. Had I made an impact on the reader and encouraged her to buy the next book in the series? Or had I disappointed her with a contrived or unsatisfactory ending?

I reread my editor’s comments and checked with several beta readers who reassured me that I had ended on the right note. I also reread notes from workshops and seminars. Here are five tips to consider when writing that final chapter:

1. Decide on an ending that is appropriate for your genre. If you are writing a thriller or murder mystery, a strong build-up with plausible suspects and fast-paced action should lead to the resolution of major plot points. Romance readers expect an HEA (Happily ever after) or HFN (Happily for now) ending. If you are not comfortable with that expectation, write the novel as women’s fiction. With fantasy and science fiction, endings that leave room for the imagination can be very satisfying. Literary fiction tends to have endings featuring all degrees of resolution.

2. Refrain from moralizing or delivering a hard-hitting lesson to make a point or teach a lesson. Instead, let your characters reveal what they have learned through their actions and situations.

3. Avoid improbable endings. Some authors get tangled up in plot lines and introduce a fantastical or outlandish event such as the sudden appearance of a ghost with homicidal tendencies or a dream sequence that negates the entire storyline. These endings work only if groundwork has appropriately been established throughout the book. For example, missing items and unexplained events could justify the introduction of a ghost or other supernatural being.

4. Structure books in series such that your reader will want to continue reading. Decide which subplots you intend to wrap up and which you will leave dangling to create anticipation for the next book in the series. You may also wish to introduce a complication (appearance of an old flame, job offer or firing, marriage proposal) that needs to be further developed.

5. Pay particular attention to the final sentence, image, or line of dialogue. A vague closing line can cast a shadow over the entire novel while a powerful one will linger in memory.

Here are my favorite closing lines:

“After all, tomorrow is another day.” Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

“He loved Big Brother.” 1984 by George Orwell

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“We sat there for a long time, till the crowd around us thinned, till the sun shifted and the light changed. Till we felt our eyes could meet again, without the tears.” Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

“Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long at seas as Mr. Patel, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.” Life of Pi by Yann Martel

What is your most memorable closing line?

 

 

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

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De-Stress With Humor

By Joanne Guidoccio

According to one study, adults laugh—on average—seventeen times a day. Pre-school children, on the other hand, can laugh up to 300 times a day.

That discrepancy becomes even more pronounced at this time of the year. With only one week to go before Christmas, many of us are scrambling to buy gifts, finish decorating, plan and prepare that special meal, and a host of other activities on a never-ending To-Do list.

I find small doses of humor effective during these busy times. Here are seven of my favorite jokes. Feel free to share them at the dinner table or water cooler.

A little boy opened the big family Bible. He was fascinated as he fingered through the old pages. Suddenly, something fell out of the Bible. He picked up the object and looked at it. What he saw was an old leaf that had been pressed in between the pages. He called out: “Mama, look what I found.”

“What have you got there, dear?”

With astonishment in his voice, the boy answered, “I think it’s Adam’s underwear!”A cat died and went to heaven. St. Peter welcomed the cat. “Is there anything I can do to make your stay here better?”

The cat replied, “I’ve been sleeping on a cold floor and I’d love a warm pillow to sleep on.” St. Peter gave a pillow to the cat, and the cat headed off to bed.

Later, some mice came to St. Peter. They wanted roller skates to get around faster, so St. Peter gave them their skates and the mice went off.

The next day, St. Peter checked in on the cat. “How was everything last night?”

The cat replied, “That pillow you have me is really nice, but what I like the most about heaven is the Meals on Wheels.”

A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude, obnoxious, and laced with profanity.

John tried and tried to change the bird’s attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music, and doing anything else he could think of to clean up the bird’s vocabulary.

Finally John had had enough. In exasperation one day, he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. He shook his fist at the parrot, but the parrot just got angrier and even ruder.

In desperation, John threw up his hands, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute.

Fearing he’d hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the freezer door. The parrot calmly stepped out onto John’s outstretched arm and said: “I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I am sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behaviour.”

John was stunned at the change in the bird’s attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behaviour, the bird continued: “May I ask what the chicken did?”

A young couple met with their pastor to set a date for their wedding. When the pastor asked whether they preferred a contemporary or a traditional service, they opted for the contemporary.

On the big day, a major storm forced the groom to take an alternate route to the church. The streets were flooded, so he rolled up his pant legs to keep his trousers dry. When he finally reached the church, his best man rushed him into the sanctuary and up to the altar, just as the ceremony was starting.

“Pull down your pants,” the pastor whispered.

“Uh, Reverend, I’ve changed my mind,” the groom responded. “I think I would prefer the traditional service.”

A man is scrambling eggs when his wife walks into the kitchen.

“Careful,” she cries. “Careful! You’re cooking too many at once. Too many! Scramble them! Now! We need more butter. They’re going to stick! Careful! Now scramble them again! Hurry up! Are you crazy? Don’t forget to salt them. You know you always forget to salt them. Use the salt! The salt!”

The man turns and asks, “What’s wrong with you?”

His wife calmly replies, “I wanted to show you what it feels like when I’m driving and you’re in the passenger seat.”

A couple walked into a dentist’s office. The man said, “Doc, I’m in one heck of a hurry. I have my buddies sitting out in my car waiting for us to play golf, so forget about the anesthetic. I don’t have time for the gums to get numb. Just pull the tooth, and be done with it! We have a 10 a.m. tee time at the best course in town and it’s already 9:30. I don’t have time for the anesthetic to work.”

The dentist wondered about this brave man who wanted to have his tooth pulled without anytime to kill the pain. He asked, “Which tooth is it?”

The man turned to his wife. “Open your mouth and show him.”

A Buddhist monk strolled into a Zen pizza parlor and said, “Make me one with everything on it.”

The owner obliged. When he turned over the pizza with all the trimmings, the monk gave him a twenty-dollar bill which the owner stuck in the cash register.

“Where’s my change?” the monk asked.

The owner replied, “Change must come from within.”

Happy Holidays and all the best in 2019!

 

 

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

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Dealing with Writer’s Block

After spending over three decades dreaming about the novels I would write during my retirement years, I was totally unprepared for the tyranny of the blank page. Thankfully, that first bout of writer’s block didn’t last too long. Inspiration came a month later at a creative writing workshop.

Several other bouts followed, some longer than others. Workshops and seminars definitely helped and so did the following strategies:

1. Change it up. Use pen and paper instead of a computer. If you’ve always written in the morning, switch to evening writing. Find a new writing café or create a new workplace in your home.

2. Improve your writing circumstances. Change the lighting, keep a coffee or tea pot nearby, declutter your desk, or hang up an inspirational poster.

3. Write something that comes easily–a letter, a recipe, a poem–and then return to your original project.

4. Move your body. Dance, run, practice yoga or Tai Chi, revisit a sport or fitness activity. Get your body into flow and your mind will follow.

5. Take up a new creative pursuit: painting, scrapbooking, decoupage, woodworking, quilting, weaving…If you’re stuck, buy an adult coloring book stock up on colored pencils, and start coloring.

6. Journal or free-write for 15 to 20 minutes each morning. You can write about random subjects or personal issues. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation.

7. Sign up for a Continuing Education course that is out of your comfort zone. You could learn a new language, practice karate,  or take a Japanese cooking class.

8. Make a list of all possible directions in which your manuscript could go. Don’t exclude any ideas, even silly or unworkable ones. Try out one or more of these directions until something clicks.

9. Set a reasonable deadline and offer yourself a substantial reward for finishing the manuscript. Share with a friend who will keep you accountable. 

10. Participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). During the month of November, writers worldwide commit to writing 50K words in one month. I participated for the first time in 2016 and wrote 51K of a cozy mystery,  A Different Kind of Reunion (released by the The Wild Rose Press in April 2018). In 2017, I wrote 55K of a stand-alone novel. I connected with a local group and met regularly throughout the month. It was a great experience!

Any other tips to share?

 

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio…

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Your Life in Six Words

By Joanne Guidoccio

Whenever I attend workshops, I take note of any icebreakers. While some participants may groan, I find these short, introductory exercises very effective in creating community and stimulating creativity.

One of my favorites is the “Six-Word Memoir,” a spinoff of the challenge once given to Ernest Hemingway: Write a story using only six words.

His reply was quick and succinct: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In November 2006, Larry Smith, founder of SMITH Magazine, asked his fans to describe their lives in exactly six words. Intended to be a one-month contest, the project took on a life of its own. Since that time, Smith has received millions of responses, from the hilarious to the bittersweet to the inspirational. You can find out more here.

At the workshop where I was first introduced to this project, the facilitator shared the following examples:

“Married by Elvis, divorced by Friday.”

“I still make coffee for two.”

“Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends.”

And these from celebrities:

“Seeking the fullest expression of self.”  Oprah Winfrey

“Healed with steel, then got real.”   Dr. Mehmet Oz

“Me see world! Me write stories!”  Elizabeth Gilbert

“The miserable story leads to royalties.”  Frank McCourt

“Fear not, live in the now.”  Goldie Hawn

“Secret of life: family, friends, bacon.”  Katie Couric

“Divorce your story, marry the truth.”  Tony Robbins

 

Here’s my six-word memoir:

“Enjoying the process of reinventing myself.”

 

Any other six-word memoirs out there?

 

Where to find Joanne Guidoccio

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