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Happy Release Day — So Long As We're Together on Audible!


I'm thrilled to share with you the exciting release of SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER on Audible, narrated by the brilliant Carolyn A. Lee. You will love this FIVE STAR stunning voice performance and the narration's tender and mysterious, thrilling twists. As a writer, it is an extraordinary gift to hear your imagination brought to life this way, to hear the characters that once "only you could hear" take their place in the room and sweep listeners into their story. As a reader, I often listen to books while walking, driving, doing tasks, or to fill the hours traveling. Listening to books, I've discovered, is a fresh and often multilayered experience of the written word. A gifted voice actor like Carolyn A. Lee brings new meaning and nuance to every character and each splendid word and edge-of-your-seat pause. Time flies by!


Perhaps SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER on AUDIBLE is the perfect choice for you!


Thank you for your love and support, Glenda



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End of A Year, A Decade, A Few Other Things Too


January 2020. Welcome to the new year! It really is hard to believe it's not only a new year and a new decade, but a significant one that has people making comparisons to the roaring Twenties a century ago and looking ahead to the future of 2030 and speculation we will have flying cars like the cartoon Jetsons. (There are prototypes on order!) I find that every year as I review the year just past, and look forward to the year to come, I am motivated with fresh ideas about how to better spend my time on this earth. I am always grateful for the blessings of family, health, and community. But this year, I want to extend a special blessing out into the world. It feels like this decade is beginning in a fragile and challenging way. I hold in my heart a wish for the best 2020 possible for all of us. 


As you are probably aware, I gathered responses to an online poll recently on how readers like to hear from their favorite authors. I surveyed reader choices between reading an update posted on the author's website, receiving author newsletters, author blogs, or do readers prefer to just hear from authors on social media. You might be surprised to learn that the whopping favorite was "Please, just social media," with the largest following posting for blogs next, and newsletters after that, with the common proviso by one respondent that, "I think I always want to read the newsletter or the blog, but then I never actually do. I don't have the time." 


This poll led me to think about streamlining the information I post on this website, and to rethink how I spend my time here and reach outward to you. Especially as it pertains to better managing my writing time and your reads and interest. After some noodling, I've come to the difficult decision to wrap up Quintessence, my blog, after yes, more than ten years on this website. Blogs delving into poetry, art, travel, and the craft of writing. Truthfully, I've enjoyed each and every comment and discussion I've had with all of you during these years. But I do believe that everyone is increasingly short of time nowadays and making every effort to streamline their information pipelines, to prioritize what they read and what they do in their day. I endeavor to be a positive part of that effort in your life, and so in the future will post information primarily via my website. You can dip into the news here whenever you choose for details on events, book commentary, and new books. I will continue to reach out and engage through social media on the topics of the day, not just books, and where many of you are already near and dear friends. 


Let's celebrate this new way of doing things! Moving forward into 2020, practicing both what we love and honor as an important priority in our lives. I will say a final goodbye to Quintessence in the next few months but will leave the archives available here until May 2020 for you to enjoy and peruse your favorite postings a final time or two. I've loved the blog connection with you so very much, and hope we continue our friendship forward through book clubs, book events, and yes, social media. As a reminder, I'm on Twitter (@GlendaBurgess), Facebook (@GlendaBurgessBooks) and Instagram (@gbbooks).  
Take care, friends!

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Some Things


Going into the Quintessence archives, I wanted to repost this essay from three years ago. It feels timeless to me, and appropriate to the season and events of history, both personal and within the world. As we gather at Thanksgiving tables, let us celebrate and cherish what matters here, in our hearts. I send all of you my very warmest blessings and love.



Some things
you know all your life. They are simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter, and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.


—from "The Simple Truth," Philip Levine


The beauty of love is that it is capable of great patience and tremendous tenacity; it stretches, it attaches, it slowly builds like bone in the body. It has been a journey for me, this life. And in the becoming there is both loss and miracle. The ending of stories and the beginning of new forms of connection and partnership. We are always making family, even within family. Evolving into new ways of being, grafting new shapes onto the lives we lead. It is the simple truth that life is a cycle of ever-becoming. And while neither easy, nor perfect in process, this becoming is beautiful in its grace and sufficiency. All life carries within it the seed of joy. Presence grounded in the earth, the heavens, and the mystery of evolving purpose.


The human heart is a warrior and a monk. And it speaks its simple truth. Belong.



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by Jack Gilbert


We are not one with this world. We are not

the complexity our body is, nor the summer air

idling in the big maple without purpose.

We are a shape the wind makes in these leaves

as it passes through. We are not the wood

any more than the fire, but the heat which is a marriage

between the two. We are certainly not the lake

nor the fish in it, but the something that is

pleased by them. We are the stillness when

a mighty Mediterranean noon subtracts even the voices

of insects by the broken farmhouse. We are evident

when the orchestra plays, and yet are not part

of the strings or brass. Like the song that exists

only in the singing, and is not the singer.

God does not live among the church bells,

but is briefly resident there. We are occasional

like that. A lifetime of easy happiness mixed

with pain and loss, trying always to name and hold

on to the enterprise underway in our chest.

Reality is not what we marry as a feeling. It is what

walks up the dirt path, through the excessive heat

and giant sky, the sea stretching away.

He continues past the nunnery to the old villa

where he will sit on the terrace with her, their sides

touching. In the quiet that is the music of that place,

which is the difference between silence and windlessness.


This poem by Jack Gilbert is one I keep rolling over in my heart and mouth. Tasting the wisdom, the hard and gentle edges of the words. My mind skims the awareness between thoughts, grasping at meaning like a thread of golden light. This particular poem seems to fit the light gray rain today, the still skies. Autumn, perhaps the most melancholy of seasons. When the fabric between life and death feels thinnest, when what is yields to what will pass. I love the imagery Gilbert uses to describe a kind of living pulse, that essence of being that is temporal and shapeshifting and both in and not of the world lived in. As we walk under the old trees, let us look up at the changing leaves in their many colors, bear witness to how the leaves cling and fall. Look up into the vast open sky and feel the way in which we are none of this and yet nothing more. That we are as the wind walking and breathing and dreaming. We are the music in the piano, the bells in the chambers of the heart. Occasional like that.



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1.    Feel the wonder of your unique birthday.
2.    Enjoy my surprise when I see you on a shelf someday and there you are all bright and complete like you were always a book and not just an idea.
3.    Enjoy being carried out of a bookstore, jostling in a bag with new book friends and fresh bookmarks.
4.    Get to know the other books on the shelf at the bookstore and library. Who sits beside you? What have they got to say?
5.    Take a breath when that stack of library books you're in gets squeezed tight as you get carried home. That's love.
6.    Develop a hobby to pass the time in the To Be Read pile.
7.    Dream about yourself in film and on the television. Any fantasy picks for your actor portrayals?
8.    Be happy you've got reviews and don't be bothered by your critics.
9.    Love the moment someone drops you in the bath, falls asleep with you open on their lap, or closes the last page with a contented, if regretful sigh. You're living your best life.
10.  Be okay when you're left on the subway or the train or a bus. Accidents happen. It's exciting when someone new picks you up and takes you home.
11.  Have fun at the book clubs. It's all about *you* and there's nothing more fun than readers with wine.
12.  Get used to hearing yourself read out loud. [Sorry in advance for the stumbles and missed pronunciations.]
13.  Get in your sassy groove—you'll love ink signatures styled across your title page and someone saying, "Thank you!" as they take you home.
14.  Don't get too vain as your cover is endlessly admired. Your pages will get dog-eared.
15.  Try not to mind the coffee cup and tea mug stains. It means you're real, my tattered book friend.
16.  You will not stay lost under the sofa forever. There are brooms and dogs.
17.  Smile at the strangers from the book kiosk at the airport. You might be heading off to Dallas, or New York, or San Diego!
18.  Keep a positive attitude when you're traded in for someone else to buy. Nothing lasts forever. Get to know your new reader and used bookshop friends.
19.  Enjoy a library "hold." Pretend you're floating in space.
20.  Even a book as modest as you will kinda love the social media likes and retweets and faves. It's okay to enjoy the love.
21.  Be proud you put yourself together. Go out and meet the world. Have your say.
22.  Get used to a mess of margin notes, unusual bookmarks (napkins, paperclips, pencils) and the neon look of highlighted paragraphs and underlined sentences. It's all good.
23.  Fall in love with the voice of your audiobook reader—meet your alter ego!
24.  Be proud of your author. She's your biggest fan.
25.  Don't apologize for the hundreds of pages of drafts that got you into such fine shape. And try not to be bothered by that killer typo we all know is in there, lurking, waiting for someone to find.
26.  Refrain from rewriting yourself in your head every time you glance at a random page. No point.
27.  Take the review with a grain of salt and a tolerance for debate. Never read the comments.
28.  You'll look gorgeous in a holiday bow and wrapping. Preen a little.
29.  Treasure the contentment of simply keeping someone company.
30.  Celebrate your uniqueness! You're forever the story you are and a fabulous one-of-a-kind. Don't be bothered by comparisons or those shouty bestsellers.
31.  This book birthday celebration is all about you. Take it in. Smile, a lot.
32.  How about that whoosh! after a Buy Button purchase. That rocketing mail truck delivery. Who says books can't have fun.
33.  Admire your brand new face. Believe me when I say the creases and stains to come are beautiful too. Oh, a word of advice—try not to bend your spine the wrong way. It hurts.
34.  It's nice to be ordered, it means someone wants you. But if you get picked up and set down, don't cry. Readers and books are a match made in heaven. Your person is coming.
35.  Let them reread you—often and fondly. Nothing better than old friends.



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I Don't Know What It Is


In a little over a month, SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, my fourth book and third novel, will be published. I am excited for the novel's release as this story feels exceptional and special. It has been several years for me between books, yet always the work of writing remains cyclic—the process of a project culminates in either a celebration of publication or a failed manuscript's wake and burial, then resumes quietly where it began, back at the beginning. Any number of years can accumulate like potholes, lean-tos, or wildflower fields between these beginnings and endings. In the experience accumulated in the years from my first published book, nearly twenty years ago, to SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER this September, I have learned that for me, the day of publication is a minor movement in the overall symphony.

Publication marks the moment we let our story out into the world. Publication represents the culmination of the draft and edit steps that have come before, plus the expertise and faith of industry professionals who believe that what you have to say has value and commercial worth. A book, a play, a poem: Writing shaped from a private inner artistic struggle to become an object of a stranger's consideration and pleasure. The greatest sense of accomplishment for me, however, lies not in publication but in completion of the final manuscript. The creative journey from its original idea through endless drafts to that last period. That final paragraph and final sentence. The knowledge that the work is done and as good as I can make it.
What lies ahead after publication? The measure of a creative work's success. Success is not the work. Success for an artist or writer is generally defined as the critical and/or sales impact of one's work in the world: a transactional value in the commercial markets of public domain. Michael Cunningham addressed the subject of success by saying, "I don't talk about success. I don't know what it is. Wait until I'm dead."
What happens to art in the market may be a matter of positive or negative timing, of circumstance, serendipity, or chance. A book may garner critical applause and tank in sales, another may leave not so much as a ripple in the critical world and yet gain great traction in sales and audience appeal. Sometimes the two things go hand in hand. But the author in truth has no control over these things and releasing the work into the world is therefore foremost a prayer that the book will find a path of good will. It is also a personal surrender of expectation. The work the author wrote, the painting the artist painted, is never the book or painting the public sees and receives. Every artist's private vision is translated by the understanding of others. Only the reader or the viewer knows what the work means to them.
Authors are expected by the publishing industry to play a role in the marketing and sales of their work. To hand-sell their published work at the expense of creating new work, more so if the publisher is a small press and resources are scarce. When we ask a writer or artist to promote their work, we ask them to market their private point of view, to hawk their inner creative, knowing the market is, finally, largely indifferent to these things. To that end, most writers self-promote with deep discomfort, and, rather badly. Our turf is the library group, the book club, the book panel. Despite notable exceptions, writers are not generally natural celebrities in the way, say, film stars are—willing promoters of the cult of the persona. For most writers and artists, the inner creative is fragile and unpredictable, and dies in harsh light. This vulnerability can destroy the walls between the process and the finished work, walls that protect the genesis of creativity from overt commercial motivation or critical concern. Pablo Picasso put it this way, "Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others."
The book publication date is a moment of great pride. It is the finish of an endurance race. When a book goes out into the world, my hope is always that others will appreciate what I created, resonate to its meter and melody. Pleasing a reader is forever the purest joy. That comment in the book signing line when a stranger confesses how moved they are by what you've written, and shares with you, like a friend, all the reasons why? That is the truest feeling of success.
As to that other success, I'm hopeful but I've learned to be wise. Who knows. Ed Ruscha perhaps said it best, "That's me, the twenty-five-year overnight sensation."



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The Stories We Tell Ourselves


In conversation recently with Marjan Kamali, whose remarkable new novel, THE STATIONERY SHOP was published just this month to great acclaim, Marjan mentioned that part of what she loved about my new novel, SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, were the distinctions between the truth and the stories the characters tell themselves.
Marjan's observation hits the nail on the head: We are our stories and we also are not. All of the characters in my novel are spinning stories out of their pasts. Some because the truth may be what has broken them, or remains impossible to bear; for others, because of the absence of a pathway to healing in the truth. The story is preferable to a more foreboding or nuanced reality.
We tell ourselves stories all the time, naturally and without thought. We deliberately construct more livable fictions for ourselves. We edit the memories of our experiences, build happier fantasies for the future. We create myths around things either too difficult, too improbable, or too tragic to live with. Our stories help us survive a dangerous or challenging present, or merely mute the pain and broken places in our lives in a more bearable way. Our myths unconsciously make us larger than life, so that like our heroes, we might rise to whatever monsters or Herculean challenges lie ahead. Stories are powerful ways of shifting borders and identities, and in truth, we may get into trouble when we lose sight of what is real.
What interested me in telling the story of the musical Stone family in SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER was the complicated nature of each character's relationship with the truth. For the Stone women, the remaking of the personal had become a way to cope with the unthinkable. Their chosen narratives born of wishful thinking or sheer ambition; a way to dodge an unbearable truth. What omissions, what lies, I wondered, had they felt must be told to protect one another? To move forward. And the origins of their stories—what dark elements of family lore or brute practicality play forward through the generations. Were there impulses of unacknowledged guilt or primitive self-protection? Even genuine ignorance?
For the reader threading apart the Stone family tales of omission, truth, and lies, the implications of secrecy—when truth is backed up against survival—raises profound questions. What stories born of misguided intention have nonetheless become a thing of beauty across the grain of old scars—a kind of patina over the past—and what untruths must yet be unraveled for each of these characters to heal and find happiness.
I hope as you read SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER you will ponder if perhaps all of our stories are a kind of music of the heart. A melody we weave, singly and together.



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How Close is Close, Character Twin Dynamics

 Marley and Andi Stone, the singer-songwriter country duo of my novel, SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, are fraternal twins, as well as Geminis, born in June. Twinned twice, as it were. Why did I choose characters who were twins? To deepen the elements of connection and natural sibling competition. I wanted the main characters of my novel to be sisters, close in age, and bonded by both an unconventional childhood and their conjoined careers as family musicians.
Twin statistics are interesting. There are two-thirds more fraternal twins than identical, and in total, twins account for about 23% of births per thousand in the world. And while "identical" is a given for identical twins biologically-speaking, the range of "perceived likeness" is considerable for both groups. Fraternal twins can be quite similar, or as different as normal siblings might be. And identical twins can prove the fact, or it's contrary, for any "nature versus nurture" argument. What interested me about the dynamics between twins, not being one myself but growing up knowing several, was the complex subtlety of always being both close and too close. The tension between the dependency and comfort in having someone in your life who knows you almost as well as you know yourself, and the potential pyschic claustrophobia—the challenge to establish your own independence and uniqueness when there is literally double of everything "you" in your family life. Twins are often quite close as children, and then push apart in late-adolescence and in their twenties, sick of being "the twins" and seeking an independent identity. Most then return to the twin bond as life leads back toward supporting one another in their own special way. Twins often feel they are their own sibling bedrock within fluctuating family dynamics.
As Geminis, assuming you don't mind my throwing some astrology into the country music mix, the girls stepped out in full character: expressive, lively, adaptable, humorous, clever, sociable, curious, whimsical, independent, brainy, and charming. But also scattered, moody, shallow, inquisitive, opportunistic, selfish, fragile, inconsistent, and changeable. Marley is my songwriter, and Andi, my singer: two girls who feel as Keith Richards put it, "Music is a language that doesn't speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it's in the bones, it's in the bones." 
And actually, there is some truth to that as it pertains to twins in the music industry. A quick search yields some fascinating examples: Lorretta Lynn's two youngest daughters, the twins Peggy and Patsy Lynn performing as The Lynn Sisters; the Hager Brothers, twins Jim and Jon of Hee Haw fame, Robin and Maurice Gibbs of the Bee Gees; and the Russian Eurovision stars Anastasiya and Maria Andreyevna, to name just a handful. Twins seem to gravitate into musical careers from early childhood over other arts like dance, acting, and writing, or pursuits like politics, modeling, or television. Family bands are not unusual, but is there something in the fluidity between songwriting and vocal and instrument performance that particularly allows twins to express their common gifts and yet create distinct identities within their shared art? I envisioned the Stone sisters' band, The Andi Stone Tour, as a vehicle for setting these characters loose in a setting that would expose talents as well as artistic conflicts.
Oftentimes the myths and romance of twinning overshadow the realities. The allusion to "twin radar" for example—one sibling knowing without communicating what the other is thinking or needs; the "two halves make a whole" suggested codependence; even the belief that twin life is sprinkled with "extras" in whatever way one can think of—from the ability to pull pranks to an organ donor match. But what research and experiences with my twin friends taught me is that twins often struggle as they come-of-age—when they are less likely to be alike and more inclined to develop differences, naturally or deliberately. This natural need for self-assertion became the subtle narrative framework for my fictional singer-songwriter duo: Andi and Marley were growing up in the context of professional country music, bound by the constraints of continuously working together; and later as adults, by the complicating reality of one sister becoming more powerful, visible, and wealthy in their shared music life. How this imbalance affected Marley and Andi's personal lives would underscore how the sisters grapple with a sudden and devastating family tragedy.
It is my hope that when you read SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, you will believe that not only do Marley and Andi know the music is "in their bones," but they are—for forever and always—the Stone sisters.



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Family Dynamics, The Dark and The Light

David Salle, Playing, Dreaming, 2015  [oil, acrylic, crayon, and archival digital print on linen]


Tolstoy wrote in his novel Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." When we think of family dynamics and the poignant mix of affection and dysfunction present in lifelong relationship, we understand why novelists, poets, playwrights, and creatives in general mine the undercurrents of human unhappiness that sometimes transform into resilient joy. This was the case when I began my novel SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER. I knew the themes of the novel would be survival, forgiveness, redemption, secrecy, and the ties that bind. But I wasn't yet certain if the secrets of the Stone family would crumble or shore up the foundation of the love they felt for one another and their shared life in music.
I was wrestling with dynamics of light and dark. As the painter David Salle wrote, "The subject exists inside of its shadows. That's part of the way we see the subject. It's not about dragging something out into the light, some glaring gaze. It's about something being developed or caressed by shadows, or revealed within shadows, or just falling onto shadow." Standing before Salle's painting Playing, Dreaming, 2015 on exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Boston a few years back, I understood family dynamics are similarly marked by positive and negative space interactions. My novel could not solely circumscribe complex characters and their long-held secrets but must explore the effect of one upon the other—changes in fortune and changes within, and their subtleties.
We have the shadow and we have the light.
When plot is taken down a notch, and the narrative becomes voice-driven and language-heavy, the literal and the figurative meet. What is harsh, ugly, or mysterious in the human experience may be illuminated by language. I thought about the power of secrets to drive narrative—the most common of plot points—and about the finer point I wanted to make about human happiness. I made a decision to place the Stone family secrets in the wings, slightly off-stage in the narrative. Yes, we know there is something there, but our priority is getting to know the Stone family­—Marley, Andi, and their mother Donna—rather than reading ahead to tease out plot points. We root for our heroines as they seek their way out of the shadows. And when we finally understand what the family has been dealing with, the revelation is the more profound for our connection to the characters and theirs to one another.
The way families connect, as the work of both Tolstoy and Salle observe, that is, despite and through difficulty, underscores a profound human truth. We are each our own unique mix of light and dark. And how we harmonize those aspects (or don't) render what is always a nuanced happiness. Writing family dynamics, the dark elements are where we find a mark in history, a leavening, a moral, the proverbial fork in the road. The Stone women exist, fully and richly, inside their secrets. And we love our characters all the more for what is revealed within those shadows. 



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Choosing Voice or When Voice Chooses You

From the Start
Who did I think was listening
when I wrote down the words
in pencil at the beginning
words for singing
to music I did not know
and people I did not know
would read them and stand to sing them
already knowing them
while they sing they have no names
W. S. Merwin
How does any story tell its tale? Does the narrative speak in a voice that is distant and measured, addressing a full universe of characters and events as though we are that curious fly on the narrative wall? Or does the story speak in the diarist's voice, in a direct first person voice free with its secrets, private thoughts, and sometimes blissful lack of awareness? 
Point of view is the way we tell a story. The choice of a first person, second person, or third person narrative shapes the underlying structure and craft. When we talk about character voice, we shift to the perspective of character thoughts, feelings, and actions. In other words, attitude. In my experience, landing on the right point of view for a narrative often follows a sense of voice. Voice may be known to a writer from the first word she hears in her head­—before she's even put pen to paper. Voice may grab the plot outline or the rough beginning and shake new perspective into it, entirely flip the planned point of view. A writer may not see the right voice coming, but always knows when it's arrived.


The immediacy and intimacy that accompany a first person point of view closely connect a reader to the narrator. It may then become deceptively easy for a reader to confuse character with author. To entangle fictional first person narrative with the reading of autobiography or memoir—a confusion that illustrates both the power of a first person "I" point of view and its chief drawback. The narrative is story, not confession, and it is the writer's work to make that distinction. I recall a comment made by an editor who declared that he "never read first person if he could help it." I was puzzled by his vehemence. Was it a particular dislike of close voice, or action filtered through the perspective of a primary character? A reader would miss out on centuries of marvelous literary characters as a result of such an edict.
Second person point of view, with its curious, distant use of "you" to refer both to a self and subjective other, can at times feel standoffish to a reader who craves the straight heart of the story without the effort of figuring out who the "you" is in each instance. You as in me, or you as in all of us? The language can be intimate or distancing, depending on how the writer intends it.
Finally, there is third person point of view—distant and close, as well as the omniscient third—often thought of as the wide "stage direction" point of view. The writer unveils the story from the viewpoint of many characters, and the narrative may be perceived by readers as more objective, layered, or multifaceted, the way a film is. 
I began SO LONG AS WE'RE TOGETHER, my novel of twin sisters growing up on the road and finding their way into country music, with an omniscient (third person) perspective. I saw the sisters, Andi and Marley Stone, and their mother, Donna, in a universe of their own. I shook the narrative and watched how pieces swirled apart and bumped back together. I didn't yet sense the core of these characters, however. It wasn't until Marley jumped out—and for the "quiet sister" took a rather unruly attitude—that I understood this novel belonged to her. The moment I yielded to this first person point of view, the novel unspooled itself without a hitch. The twin with a voice of her own had something to say. Marley Stone had found her footing in the narrative and took the story places I never anticipated. 
All points of view available to the writer are valid and interesting ways for characters to tell us their stories. None are bad. All require craft and skill. In the end, I believe the characters eventually gravitate to the right voice and we are wise writers and happy readers to let them. 

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