Writing

Crescendo — Cover Reveal!

It’s finally here! Crescendo, the spell-binding sequel to Forte, will launch December 1, 2017 — less than two weeks away! It’s been a whirlwind of a year. Lots of hours and lots of love poured into this project. I’m so proud to work with Xchyler Publishing once again to get this out into the world. And today, I’m thrilled to share the final cover design.

Crescendo YA fantasy to release Dec 1, 2017

Crescendo, Book 2 of the Forte series

What’s it about? 

Samantha McGovern sacrificed her magic to save her home town. Finally, after more than two years, stirrings within her whisper of a reawakening. However, nothing can offset the misery of parting with her boyfriend. How can she keep Jason when he’s moved on to college life, but she’s still trapped in high school for another year?

In Boston, Sami’s new friends help her rediscover her power, and, reunited with an old crush, he now seems into her. Sami struggles to ignore the intoxicating charms of Miles Eichen, but with Jason’s increasing distance, it feels like a losing battle.

When her strange visions begin to come true, Sami discovers a new purpose to her magic—magic stronger than she could ever imagine. Millions of lives are in danger, and only she has the power to foil a great evil. However, it will take a different kind of magic to repair the rift between her and Jason.

Crescendo YA fantasy to release Dec 1

Full spread Crescendo cover!

Insomnia

It hits me off and on. At least once a week. This morning, I awoke at 3 AM, thought about going back to sleep for about one minute, then bounded out of bed with a surge of adrenaline. Why? Because I’m approaching the finish line to launch my upcoming release CRESCENDO, the sequel to Forte. Up and at ’em to work on content edits to send to Xchyler Publishing by 6 AM. I rock.

But not every 3 AM bout of insomnia is that happy or productive. Most times, my mind plays cruel tricks on me and I’m sick with worry about anything and everything. Sometimes, I go completely Macbeth and feel like I’m losing my mind altogether. It happened this past summer and I wrote the following passage in my journal — bleary and exhausted, messy and scribbling in all directions. It’s raw and unedited and, hopefully, strikes a chord.


Can’t sleep
Worrying about cars and dogs
Regret tugs — losing my patience
I want to be happy
It should be easy
Why am I so anxious?
Lots to do, wasted Sunday
Summer’s too short. Why was I so eager to fill it?
Hopes smack against fears
Spider crawling down the wall
Haven’t written in awhile
Does this count?
Is it enough to be a mom?
and wife
Hope for yes tempered by guilt
Worry fears losing what we have
Do I love too much?
Why can’t I be kinder? Why do I get so irritated? Why is smiling hard?
Are we missing something?
Is it slipping away?
Am I trying hard enough?
Am I succeeding?
Where did my babies go?
Are the memories safe? Are the moments captured?
Big, fat black ants
too much stuff — for what?
Time slipping too fast
Too busy, not busy enough
my loves keep them safe please
vacuum broke again.
My hair gets everywhere.
My stomach sticks out.
I get angry easily.
I don’t know why he loves me so much.
I’m alive.
Every moment is precious. Why waste it with worry?
Can’t sleep.
Stopped trying.
Tomorrow is here.
I’m not ready.

#Janowrimo Report

It’s time to officially report on my first ever JaNoWriMo challenge! My goal was to write 1000 words (approx 2-3 pgs in Word) every day for month of January. So, how’d I do?

Break it down: On December 31, I had 19k words for my WIP (Forte‘s sequel). It was good to have this head start. The story was already progressing and it didn’t feel like I had to create something from nothing. My average daily log turned out to be 1200 words — a good length for a solid scene or even a chapter. Lowest day = 600s. Highest was over 1800. I wrote *every day* except one toward the end, and even on that day I was plotting out my next scene in my mind. I logged my progress on Twitter, which helped me stay honest and focused. And being able to post my daily success felt like a small reward.

Although I’d recruited some writer friends to join me in JaNoWriMo, I didn’t hear from many throughout the month. With one exception: fellow Xchyler Publishing author R.A. Smith of the Grenshall Manor Chronicles. Russell and I connected via Twitter almost daily, and I believe we inspired each other to keep writing every January day. Thank you, Russell!

So, now it’s February. And my WIP is at . . . drum roll please . . . 53922! Already a legit length for a YA novel, I have at least two or three more chapters to pen before it’s done. It’s so close, I’ve been trying to keep up my daily writing routine until the draft is complete.

There’s one problem with that routine: I’m kind of boring when I’m writing.

Seriously. The days are cold and I’m hibernating with my computer. Even if the writing part only takes an hour or two, the rest of my day is consumed by thinking about it. Momentum is so important, which requires consistency and focus. It’s like an obsession. On a rare lunch out with my bestie, when she wanted to catch up, I had little to offer.

“I’m, like, hyper-focused on my writing. That’s all. I’m doing the mom thing and I’m writing.”

“So, tell me about your writing!”

“No! I’m too superstitious. I have to get the draft done first.”

You can imagine how riveting the rest of our lunch conversation was. My poor husband. I’m sure he’s eager to have me back.

But here’s the thing — the story I’m working on? It’s exciting! But I’m the only one who’s experiencing it. I can’t wait to get the draft out to my beta readers so I can finally talk about it!

Want to know what it’s about? Here’s a draft blurb of Forte’s sequel:

It’s been two years since Sami neutralized toxic Aquamarine on Skene Mountain, the scar on the hill now a stark reminder of what she’d destroyed. Hoping to make amends, she vows to use her magic to rebuild earthly devastation — to heal the world with her music. Problem is, her magic is lost. Her boyfriend Jason is lost too, as he’s left for college. When Sami attends a summer music program in hopes of finding her magic, she finds her childhood crush Miles is also in the program. Caught in a love triangle, Sami begins to have visions of tragic natural disasters close to home. When these visions turn into reality, it seems the superstorms are not random but caused by someone with specific powers — and an evil agenda. It’s up to Sami to figure out how to use her new magic to halt the next superstorm before everyone she loves is destroyed.

writing journal

My brainstorming journal. (Gift from Mom) My loyal writing companion. Its pages would make no sense to anyone but me.

Reclaiming Twitter

Twitter is getting a bad rap. Every news station is splashing Donald Trump’s latest tweets and using it as fodder for news. No one would be surprised to hear that Trump’s tweeting is not exemplary in any way shape or form. He’s not doing himself any favors by creating all this social media noise. Even his wife has said she’s tried to talk him out of tweeting late at night but . . . (fill in the blank on that.)

Twitter does not have to be a channel for wannabe politicians to bully others or spew their offensive propaganda. It can be useful. I’d like to help rebrand it a little. Here are the ways I’ve been able to make it work for me:

1.Find your lane.
For me, it’s writing and publishing. I joined Twitter in March 2013 in preparation for launching my debut novel. It was part of my book launch plan, along with establishing platforms on all social media. I’m sure to some extent I hoped joining Twitter would ultimately result in book sales, but what’s it done for my writing career has brought unexpected benefits.

I don’t follow celebrities. I follow authors, publishers, agents — big and small. It’s provided a community of support and encouragement, but also it’s offered valuable information. I find more articles on writing, the writing process, writing tips than I do through Facebook. I’ve also found really cool contests that exist only on Twitter, like #PitMad or #Pitmas and I really can’t say enough about the awesome and revolutionary #MSWL (Manuscript Wishlist) Their Twitter feed and also their website has redefined the query process.

Other fave writer’s hashtags: #amwriting #writerslife #writingtips

And my most recent faves: #WIPjoy (celebrating our works in progress throughout the month of January) and of course #janowrimo (January Novel Writing Month)

2.Craigslist on crack.
Through Twitter, I’ve found more than one editor to help bring my book(s) to the next level. Recently, Twitter helped me find a great query reviewer — Christy Morgan — who has opened my eyes to what my query was missing. (Guys! find her @xtymorganbooks or her go to her website)

Another awesome content editor I’ve hired TWICE for two different books is the very talented @cassdunn Cassandra Dunn. 

3.Accountability.
Writing a novel is a huge task. It can feel overwhelming. For most of the process, you’re completely alone — living with the story in your head and on your computer. It may be *years* before it gets to beta readers and you can finally talk about it with someone. That’s why we need to set ourselves up with small rewards along the way.

I’ve heard author Jonathan Mayberry‘s keynote speech at more than one writing conference, and one takeaway for me was how he held himself accountable. He would reward himself after reaching his daily word-count goal. Early on, he’d put some money in a jar and when his first draft was done, he’d take his wife out to a nice dinner. Now that he’s a huge success, he moves money into a special account and when the draft is done, his wife gets a nice vacation. (Something to aspire to, gang!)

I’m not putting money in a jar or moving money, but I am using Twitter to keep myself honest. It doesn’t really matter that not many people will see my tweet. The fact that I put it out there to the world, makes it matter somehow. I’ve recorded it, documented it. It makes it official. I’m happy to report that my tweets do seem to be gaining some traction. Other writers are liking. It doesn’t hurt that my publisher is my most avid retweeter. Shout out to Xchyler Publishing.

Which reminds me . . . sometimes the best connections you find on Twitter are those you already have. Just another way to keep in touch, perhaps.

Let’s reclaim Twitter and make it work for us in a positive way.

 

Week one – done!

With one week of #JaNoWriMo under my belt, I’m happy with my progress thus far. I started at around 19k words on my WIP and I now check in at 26,430. Hooray! My story is getting so exciting, I’m having a hard time thinking about anything else.

So, here’s where I’m supposed to tell you how hard it’s been to fit in my writing. As we all can relate, our lives are busy here in the Spero household. I’m a mom of three boys who each have different after school activities. While they’re at school, I do all the shopping, cooking, cleaning . . . and teach yoga three times a week. You may wonder how I could fit in all this writing. (It takes about two good hours to crank out 1000 quality words — and “quality” is all relative).

Aside from having the most supportive husband in the world, it’s almost like I have to do it. It’s not a chore and it’s not a luxury. It just is. And what a gift January has been! Every morning, I feel a jolt of adrenaline knowing I will write 1000 words that day. If I don’t get to it until the afternoon, fine. But knowing that I will give myself that pocket of time dedicated to something that feeds my soul — fuels me through whatever else is going on. And after the writing is done, after the scene is down on paper, it’s like my endorphins are on high. I can breathe more deeply. I smile more easily. I’m more patient with my family. Dare I say, it’s  better than yoga.

So, yeah. I think JaNoWriMo has been a success so far.

BTW: After tweeting my first successful day of JaNoWriMo, I clicked on the hashtag to find . . . #janowrimo is a thing!

Apparently, I did not invent the January replacement of November’s NaNoWriMo. Apparently, lots of other writers think January works better for writing productivity, too. There’s already a community out there! So, yay! Also #WIPjoy celebrates our works in progress all through January. Double yay! Here’s a nice breakdown.

Yes! #WIPjoy #janowrimo #writerslife #amwriting

Oh, and I also broke the 1000-follower benchmark on Twitter this week, so I’m on my way to rule all of social media. Ha!

Here’s to January, folks! It may just be my favorite month of the year.

JaNoWriMo — GO!

Okay, folks! Time to declare our New Year’s Resolutions for 2017. Statistically, most resolutions don’t last beyond January, so mine perfectly applies. I’m not giving up sweets or wine. I’m not promising to workout more. I’m going to write.

Perhaps you’ve seen my post about why I won’t ever do NaNoWriMo since the month of November is jam-packed with holiday festivities and preparations. In that post, I suggested January as a better month to focus on a daily writing routine. JaNoWriMo: January Novel Writing Month. I’m starting 2017 with a pledge to do something I love to do most in the world, every day: write.

I plan to work on my first draft of the sequel to ForteWith 15k words under my belt, Sami is back! She uses her music magic for a much different — altruistic — purpose…only to run up against the most surprising adversary. Throw in a love triangle and a new, urban setting, and you have the makings of a future page-turner. I’m so excited to get my first draft done. If you don’t have a WIP, start brainstorming today for your JaNoWriMo project!

JaNoWriMo will work somewhat differently than NaNoWriMo. There isn’t a website for it. There’s no submission form to log your word count. There won’t be badges to celebrate accomplishments. I’m not starting a national, non-profit community. I’m starting small (with, um, me). But I’d love company! Here are the rules:

  1. Comment below if you’d like to participate, declaring your personal daily word-count goal. For Nano, the idea is to complete a 50K-word novel. For Jano, let’s be realistic but also push ourselves a bit. My daily word count goal will be 1000 words.
  2. After you complete your writing goal for the day, tweet about your accomplishment with the hashtag #JaNoWriMo (and use my handle @jdspero). You will receive e-kudos for your hard work. Not on Twitter? Email me!
  3. In February 1, 2017, one “winning” participant will be chosen to guest star on my blog to share a synopsis and a teaser of their project.

At the end of every week, I’ll post some handy writing tips or a funny story about how I managed to squeak out my quota of words while juggling the schedules of three busy little boys. My job will be to offer inspiration, humor, and wine (ahem…or whine).

That’s it. Easy peasy!

Let’s do this. Who’s with me!

We were the team

“As a grown woman, did you find it hard to convey the psyche of high school girls?” – at today’s book club via FaceTime.

I choked up giving my answer.

In Forte, Sami is included in the “in crowd” when she magically becomes a stellar athlete and makes the volleyball team.

FORTE IN CROWD, cast list

Carolyn once thought to be a romantic rival for Sami’s crush, she’s honest and caring.

Maddie the Uber popular chick, clearly the leader — setting trends and standards for the group’s collective behavior.

Thalia her biggest fan, her spaniel, the follower. Plain vanilla.

Shaunie the pretty, helpful one — gently showing Sami the ropes. Her mom runs the carpool.

Jess the bully — ruthless in her pursuit of getting Sami to push the boundaries.

Sami the newbie — tries to distinguish right from wrong when neither path is clear. Doesn’t know who to trust. Even herself, at times.


I recently moved back to my hometown after over twenty years of being away. Suddenly, I’m running into high school acquaintances at school pickup and grocery checkout, farmer’s market and ice cream queues. Seeing these people I grew up with but still don’t know very well is a strange phenomenon. And makes me consider who I might be to them.

High school is no walk in the park for anyone. Even those who are lucky enough to be in the “in crowd” (that would be me), were entangled in confusing high school politics.

For example (true story): a “good” friend ridiculed me in the cafeteria to such an extent, I hid in the nurse’s office crying my eyes out for the entire next period. That’s just one example.  And I was one of the lucky ones.

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Can you find me? Hint: my hands are in the air.

My bestie since kindergarten and I were talking about all this recently. I took in a deep breath and told her: “We were the team.”

She knew what I meant. She read the book. “No, we weren’t.”

“Yes, I think we were.” But what I should’ve said was: “Well, I think I was.”

Each of my team characters is a part of me as a young girl. As well-liked as I may have been, I know I didn’t always make it easy for some. Perhaps, albeit subtlety, I left others out. At the time, I thought I was nice to everyone. I know with everything in me that I didn’t mean to be mean — ever. But I would put money on the fact that I made some people feel bad, just by being who I was.

Not easy to admit.

This post will piss some people off, maybe. Some will vehemently disagree. “We loved high school!”

Let me be clear: I like who I am. I’m proud of the person I am. It will shock those who know me to learn I was actually really shy as a young girl. My childhood was a blessing in countless ways, and has shaped who I am today. We are all, as grown individuals, a collection of our experiences. We can’t choose to keep only the good ones.

When the time comes, I only hope I can help my sons navigate high school in a healthy way. As I say to them in my acknowledgments: Let (Forte) give you insight into the complex behaviors of teenage girls. Remember to be kind to them in high school.

*Update: March 25, 2016*

Writing this post unleashed some tough memories that have been keeping me up the past few nights. This morning, my husband challenged my idea that we are a collection of our experiences. He believes that experiences are finite and don’t define who we are. We talked about the Looking Glass Self — the social psychological concept that claims we define ourselves as others see us.

“How much pressure would we put on ourselves if that were true?” he said.

Some of us hold onto our negative pasts so tightly, it holds us back from moving forward. The consequences are detrimental. Clinging to the past won’t allow us to  achieve our full potential, or follow our dreams, or simply believe in ourselves.

I have always been the person I am today. The person I’m proud of. I refuse to be crippled by hurtful memories or how I might think others perceive me — now or back then. I’ve always had it in me to be the wife, mother, daughter, sister that I am today.

The next time I run into someone from high school, instead of getting sucked into a time warp back to 1991, I will show that person who I am today. Maybe we’ll become friends. Maybe not. But I will be true to myself.

Firstborn love

Twice today, I got smiling news from an acquaintance: “I just finished your book!”

Grinning back, I replied, “Which one?”

I know, I know. I am beyond blessed to have to ask that question — which one? — and there was a long, hard, rejection-laden time when I thought I’d never have any book published. No less two.

Catcher’s Keeper.”

Really? Joy ebbed from every pore. Catcher’s Keeper, my firstborn book, still bringing smiles to readers. Through a brief Q&A over our yoga mats, I was transported back to that story. My story. And I was reminded how much I love it.

Since my second release — Forte — in July, my firstborn has been neglected. Gone are the blog tours, the speaking engagements, the interviews… I’ve been busy promoting my newbie. Isn’t that the way it works?

But my passion for my firstborn book hasn’t changed.

We mothers can relate, can’t we?

My first son was almost two when he became a brother. Busy with a new baby, nursing every few hours, swaddling, rocking, burping, changing, pacifying… I had little time to play with my number one. My husband picked up lots of parenting tasks I’d been proud to list as my “Mom” job description. They played games and went out to fun places while I tended to the new baby. I mean, he was brand new! He NEEDED me! And goldarnit if I didn’t love him *just as much* as my firstborn. For the first few weeks and beyond, my husband and I had to “divide and conquer” as they say. But letting go was not an option. I missed my big guy. Our firstborn made us a family. He made me a mother. My life forever changed when he came into the world. He showed me a love I didn’t know I was capable of feeling. After number two was born, after number three was born, and now as he matures into an active young man with a life of his own — a physical distance may grow between us, but my love for him remains steadfast.

A mother’s love for her babies never wanes. It can’t be split or divided. It’s exponential.

Even if our energies are redirected, that bond is always there.

A few weeks ago on a school visit, my host escorted me to a classroom and said, “We ordered 30 copies of your book. So, every class will have a chance to read Catcher’s Keeper.”

“Oh, great!” I replied, hiding my surprise. I’d planned a presentation for Forte that day. Cue the proverbial tap dance in front of the classroom to talk about my firstborn book. Good thing my passion for Catcher’s Keeper is as strong as it was upon publication.

What a gift it was to talk about it again. How I’d missed it!

I’d been so passionate about the concept of Catcher’s Keeper — What if Holden Caulfield were around when John Lennon was shot? — I couldn’t get a good night’s sleep until I had the first draft down. I was obsessed. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story. I couldn’t believe no one had written it yet. I thought agents and publishers would be knocking down my door for a piece of the action. (That last part didn’t happen, BTW). And then, when Forte was in its final stages prior to publishing, that story was all-consuming. I lived and breathed the words. When it was finally out there, I wanted to promote it as well as I could. It deserved that. All books deserve readers. And goldarnit if I didn’t love Forte *just as much* as I loved my firstborn book.

Well, almost.

Catcher’s Keeper will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s what made me an author. It changed my life.

But don’t get me wrong, when it comes to matters of the heart, my family — my boys — have a monopoly on my love.

Kingdom City author on writing

Recently, we saw the exciting cover reveal of KINGDOM CITY: REVOLT — the gripping sequel to the dystopian thriller KINGDOM CITY: RESURRECTION. Don’t you love getting lost in a good series? Don’t you wonder how authors keep us wanting more — book after book? Today we talk with author Ben Ireland and celebrate the release of the second in his series. Be sure to enter the awesome giveaway, too!

First, about REVOLT . . .

KCRevolt_Webkit_Blurb

If you missed the first in the sequel, check it out: KINGDOM CITY: RESURRECTION.

KCRevolt_Webkit_Available

Now, let’s hear from Ben about his writing process:

What is your preferred writing genre?

I lean towards fantasy, especially urban fantasy. I get a rush when someone isn’t only smart enough to solve their problems, but they can also solve them with fire. Lots and lots of magically invoked fire.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve always loved creating. Probably the worst thing that happened to me is when I took a creative writing class in college. The professor told me that my story was the best thing he’d read “in a long time.” I’ve been spiraling since then. That story ended up being a scene of Kissed a Snake, in Xchyler’s A Dash of Madness short story anthology.

Where do you actually write? Do you write on a schedule?

We recently moved and I managed to get an office in the new house. It’s actually a storage closet. But it has a map of Kingdom City on the wall and Slifer the Sky Dragon above my desk, so that’s all I need.

I don’t have a specific time to write. I’m still on the ‘wait until the kids fall to sleep and write until I fall to sleep’ schedule.

What is your writing drive? What keeps you going when writing gets difficult?

My brain is full of story ideas and it hurts when I don’t let them out. Writing isn’t a choice, it’s a compulsion.

What is your advice to writers?

Figure out who to listen to and who to ignore. If you don’t have people in your life who challenge your creative work, then you’re handicapping yourself. Peter Jackson and George Lucas stopped listening to people that challenged them, and the result is the Hobbit movies and Star Wars episode 1-3. No matter how successful you get, listen to your trusted critics.

What’s up next for you?

Kingdom City part3. Working title is Retribution. The original working title was Redemption, but that sounded way too optimistic for Kingdom City.  

KCRevolt_Webkit_Author

Bookminder author on writing

Today we’re talking about writing with author M.K. Wiseman — whose novel BOOKMINDER is fresh off the press. So many readers want to know about the writing process, which is different for every author. I love hearing from authors who not only build a captivating story but also include elements of magic and fantasy. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway — 3 $20 B&N gift cards! Before we get to the Q&A, here’s a bit about the book:

Bookminder_Webkit_Book

Let’s hear from the author about her writing process.

How did you come up with the concept of your story?

In 2004 I had a very vivid dream that, afterward, wouldn’t leave me alone. Said dream basically detailed out one scene from the story, something so different and captivating for me that it stuck. Now, it must be noted that I was not writing at that time, nor did I intend to write in any professional capacity. But as this one nugget of an idea would not let me be, I started to form a story around it – Why were these people doing what they were doing? Who were they?

I think that working in the Preservation Dept of the campus library system had bled into my subconscious and that is where the magick system that rules The Bookminder developed.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

That was a sort of slow shift for me. I mean, I started writing pieces of significant length in 2004 but really did so without any specific “I want to be a writer” aim. I was just compelled to try it out, I suppose. At that time, what I really wanted to be (and still do!) was/is an animator. But both are storytellers so it’s not that big a leap. I think I finally knew what I wanted when it came clear to me that my work is actually publishable. Then I found that I had a burning desire to keep going with it, wanting to add to libraries rather than just “worship” them as a reader.

Given unlimited resources, what would be your ideal writing environment?

Before you read this answer, remember this question cites unlimited resources. . . My answer presumes unlimited patience from my family, as well. That said, there are a handful of places that I’ve been that would be really interesting places to write and it’d be lovely to have access to each as the impulse takes me. Ideally, I’d like to take a bit of time and write from Santa Fe, NM, up where even the heady smell of books pales in comparison to the piñon-sweet air. I’d like some time in Boston by the gas light district. I’d like to try to write an entire novel while sailing from Point A to Point B . . . I think keeping things fresh and adventurous is my ideal.

Where do you actually write? Do you write on a schedule?

I actually spend a lot of my writing time in a big, orange, overstuffed armchair. Or, if I need a little more ‘action’ around me, I head off to a coffee shop to immerse myself in a slice of Life. As for any sort of schedule, I don’t have set hours or word counts or anything—that tends to mess with my muse’s office hours. Sometimes there are publishing deadlines to keep but that’s as tangibly schedule-y as I get.

What is your writing drive? The power that keeps you going when your writing gets difficult?

Deadlines. 🙂 More seriously, though, early on I feared that I’d only ever have One Good Idea. I now have a pile of “Work in Progress” manuscripts sitting on my hard drive and they cover a host of different genres and intended audiences. It is now almost impossible for me to hit a wall because of the breadth of those projects. So if I bump up against something in a project that seems unsolvable, I take a step back and work on something else until I lose my frustration at the first roadblock. I do admit that it takes some discipline to keep from bouncing aimlessly between projects. So my power is persistence, even if it involves a writing detour.

How does writing impact other parts of your life?

I tend to get a little lost in my worlds. My work follows me home because it lives there. That’s been a bit of an adjustment, defining borders of when and when not my brain can go to work. If I allowed it, I’d probably just work continuously without sleeping, eating, and whatnot, just because I have the ideas. I have awoken in the middle of the night and hastily hid myself in another room to type out a quick story outline before it flees into that sleepy realm of forgotten ideas.

Bookminder_Webkit_Author