A Cafe Chat with Assistant Editor Nicole Fiorica, by Laura Parnum


Today I’ve invited Nicole Fiorica to chat with me at the EasternPennPoints Café. Nicole is an assistant editor at Margaret K. McElderry Books, a division of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. She’ll also be joining us at our Fall Philly event on November 2, where she’ll be delivering our opening keynote address.

Laura: Hi, Nicole. Welcome to the EasternPennPoints Café. Before we start chatting, can I offer you something to eat or drink?

Nicole: Just coffee and a donut for me!

Laura: Coming right up! So, tell us about McElderry Books. What kind of books do you publish?

Nicole: McElderry publishes a pretty wide range of books, from teen all the way down to picture books, and across genres. The unifying factor is that we tend to look for books with a literary sensibility as well as commercial appeal. I would say we’re most known for publishing teen and middle grade fantasy, but we also publish teen thrillers, voice-driven contemporary, historical middle grade, nonfiction, and a small but growing list of graphic novels. Essentially, we have the freedom to publish the stories we’re really passionate about, and that’s always super exciting.

Laura: And what path did you take to land in your current position as assistant editor?

bookstoreNicole: Even though I studied communications and psychology at school, I always knew I wanted to get into books somehow, and without being sure where to start, I got a job as a bookseller my local Books-A-Million store. I think this is the best thing I could have done; it’s incredibly useful to know your way around a bookstore and to understand how books get into the hands of readers! From there, I landed a publicity internship with Crown Publishing, and after that was an editorial intern with St. Martin’s Press, where I learned so much about evaluating submissions and crafting edit notes and countless other things I probably take for granted now. At this point, I was sure I wanted to be an editor and was very lucky to get my job at S&S. I started as an editorial assistant, which is where most junior editors begin, assisting both of the acquiring editors for the imprint. For all of their titles, I also provided edit notes, wrote flaps, prepared for sales meetings—the whole nine yards. As an assistant editor, I still do all of those things, but in addition to editing the books on my own list.

Laura: Tell us about an upcoming project that you’re excited about.

Nicole: I’ve had such a tremendous blast working on a YA thriller called I KILLED ZOE SPANOS by Kit Frick. When Anna arrives in the Hamptons for a nanny position, she discovers she looks a lot like a missing girl named Zoe. And when Zoe’s body is found, Anna confesses to her murder—but a teen podcast reporter isn’t buying her story and is determined to uncover the truth. This is a twisted, atmospheric page turner that will be out June 2020, right in time to take on your next beach trip.

Laura: Oooh, that sounds intriguing! I’ll be sure to check it out.

Here’s a fun one: If you had the magical ability to jump into any book in time and watch the story unfold from the inside, what book would you choose?

Strange the Dreamer imageNicole: Normally this would be a difficult question for me to answer, but I’m feeling pretty confident: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. I’m somewhat obsessed with this book—not just with the story itself, about a librarian apprentice searching for a lost city—but also with the way the story was crafted. The world and the real conflict unfold so methodically, as the story spans a continent and alternating points of view introduced at carefully chosen moments. It probably wouldn’t be the happiest world to watch unfold in real time, but it’s such a stunning story that comes together with such vivid imagination . . . I can’t say more without spoiling, but I would want to see it all for myself.

Laura: Okay, get ready. As fast as you can, what is your favorite

Color: Periwinkle

reading outside imageMovie: The Martian.

Emoji: The shrugging girl. That’s me 90% of the time.

Outdoor activity: Haha what uh . . . reading outside?

Podcast: Binge Mode

Laura: Whew! Thanks. And finally, tell us a little about what you’ll be speaking about at Fall Philly.

Nicole: I’ll be speaking about one of my favorite topics: characters! And, specifically, how to write characters that readers will care about. I’ll be getting into some of the nitty gritty of how to create a character that’s empathetic to readers (even if they aren’t necessarily sympathetic), and how those key character elements unfold over the course of the story’s plot to create a lasting impact on the audience. I will get very emotional about fictional people and events. It’ll be fun!

Laura: I can’t wait! Thanks so much for chatting with us at the EasternPennPoints Café. We’re looking forward to seeing you in Philly in November.

Nicole: Great talking with you as well! I can’t wait to see you (and everyone) there!

For more information about our Fall Philly event and to register, click here

THIS ONENicole Fiorica is an assistant editor at Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. She works on everything from picture books through young adult, in a wide range of genres including both fiction and nonfiction. Prior to joining S&S, she graduated from Fordham University with a degree in Communications and Media. She has had internships with St. Martin’s Press, W.W. Norton & Co, and the Crown Publishing Group. When she doesn’t have her nose in a book, Nicole enjoys pottery and watches too much reality TV.


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A New Monthly Feature: Member News


Member News Column Coming to the Blog

We want to share your news with the world! Beginning at the end of October, we’ll feature a monthly “Member News” column on our EasternPennPoints blog. Send us your children’s book related news: book deals, awards, author or illustrator events (signings, launch parties, appearances), etc.

News sent by the 20th of each month will appear in that month’s Member News column on the last day of the month.

Please e-mail your news to Laura Parnum at epa-ara@scbwi.org with the subject line “Member News” so we can help spread your good news!

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A Cafe Chat with Dawn Michelle Hardy, The Literary Lobbyist, by Lindsay Bandy

Cafe Chat Cup

IDA Design

Fall Philly is exactly one month away, and I’m very excited to introduce you to Dawn Michelle Hardy, CEO of Dream Relations PR. We’re doing lots of new things this time around, including a pre-event Twitter Live Chat with Dawn @DAWNMICHELLEPR on Thursday, October 10 at 7 p.m., using the hashtag #FallPhilly! Dawn stopped by the Cafe to chat with me, but she’s excited to answer YOUR questions online October 10 and, of course, on November 2 at Fall Philly. She’ll be doing a keynote on platform building, participating in our diversity panel, and offering critiques throughout the day.

Register to reserve your spot with Dawn today!

Dawn Michelle Hardy_stepstightcrop.jpg


Lindsay: Hi there, Dawn, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! We’re so excited to have you at this year’s Fall Philly on November 2. Many of our published members will be in attendance at this year’s event, participating in the regional book fair. As the CEO of a literary PR company, what is one piece of advice you always give your published clients?

Dawn: I’ve been in publishing for 17-years and have been running Dream Relations PR & Literary Consulting for 15 years. The #1 piece of advice I give all authors, whether they are self-published or seeking a traditional deal, identify and connect with your primary target reader. If you are writing a novel connect with the reader who will most certainly identify with characters, the setting or even the obstacles in your story. Focus on a specific demographic. You don’t have to promote your book to everyone, just the right ones.

Lindsay: For authors who are just starting out on the road to publication, what is one helpful step they can take to get a platform going?

image-from-rawpixel-id-427364-jpegDawn: I’m a big fan of authors using social media. It’s cost effective and running 24/7. You can share a message and engage an audience using video, photos, and copy at no cost.

I’ve watched authors build their brand by sharing personal preferences for their reading or writing experiences. Writers share places they enjoy reading or writing, beverages they sip while reading, pictures of pets with the books, inspirational quotes for novice writers and more.

image-from-rawpixel-id-384334-jpegInstagram has been a fun place for authors over the last few years. Check out the #bookstagram hashtag and you can connect with authors and readers directly. You can find me @TheLiteraryLobbyist. I see social media as a must because it allows you to be proactive in connecting with like-minded individuals. You follow and engage them and vice versa. On Instagram most users have an email tab or direct message option in which you can request and gather their contact information including phone numbers. You can use those email addresses to build a reader database. Email marketing list are priceless and the author that comes to the table with a significant list will have a strong point for negotiation with a publisher.  You don’t have to spend a dime or even change out of your pajamas to accomplish this. 😊

Lindsay: I know that promoting diverse literature is close to your heart, and I’m really looking forward to hearing your perspective during our panel discussion on writing sensitively, inclusively, and accurately. What’s one misconception you’d love to address on the panel?

image-from-rawpixel-id-413224-jpegDawn: Black women and their reading choices. Black women are the #1 book buying audience in the country, outpacing everyone in starting small businesses and pursuing college degrees at large rates. However, when it comes to being offered a book deal for contemporary women’s fiction, they experience endless rejection from publishers. All publishing professionals will agree that positioning a book properly is a major factor in the book’s success. Publishers appear to be challenged in positioning books written by WOC or they want more narrative on the understood ‘black experience’. Every book written by a person of color does not need to address civil rights, race in America or slavery. Sometimes a girl with ambitious career goals, rocky romances and crazy family are enough to keep us turning the pages. In 2014 The Atlantic published an article that shared this truth, the most likely person to read a book — in any format — is a black woman who’s been to college.

So, why can’t she get a book deal?

Lindsay: Wow. Great stats – and even better question. We’re looking forward to hearing more – and reading more from women of color!

In addition to participating on the panel and giving our closing keynote, you’re offering critiques throughout the day. With your experience as a literary agent and publicist, you have a unique perspective when looking at manuscripts at various stages. What special insights can you offer participants who sign up for a critique with you?

Dawn: Take the critique experience as an opportunity to learn and make a professional connection. I call it speed mentoring. Please do not be nervous. The odds of you getting an offer for representation during our conversation is slim, but you can learn.

I like when writers can tell me who the current top names are in the genre they are writing. Tell me who your primary reader is. Every book is not for everyone. Take this time to run a promotional idea past me. What ideas do you have to promote the book?  Never take any critique as a personal assault on your person. I am giving advice to help you fulfill your aspirations of being a bestselling author, look for the lesson. Smile and keep in touch on social.

Alrighty, Dawn,  prepare for our special feature – Flash Favorites! Ready, set, tell us your favorite….

where the wild things areBook as a child Where the Wild Things Are

Place to read My deck at home

Vacation spot I love beaches! Whether in South Africa or Martha’s Vineyard.

Type of shoe Wedges

black pantherSocial media platform Instagram 😊

Song on your playlist right now Chainsmoking by Jacob Banks

Movie Black Panther, with all those beautiful melanated people.



Thank you so much for joining us today, Dawn! Can’t wait to see you in November and chat with you on Twitter on October 10 at 7 p.m. 



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Announcing New Roles for the Eastern PA SCBWI Regional Team

Some changes are coming to our Eastern PA SCBWI regional team. But don’t worry, no one is going away for good. We’re just shifting our roles. This is good news because it means we’ve got some exciting plans and initiatives in the works, which you’ll hear more about soon.

2016 headshotAlison Green Myers – Alison, who has served on the regional team for five years, will be stepping down as Co-Regional Advisor. Alison will continue on as the Chair of the Pocono Retreat as well as the Chair of the PAL Committee. Alison says, “I’m glad that these responsibilities will keep me connected to the regional team and able to contribute to the member group that we’ve built.”


Rona Shirdan – Rona will be making the leap from Assistant Regional Advisor to Co-Regional Advisor, where she and current Co-Regional Advisor Lindsay Bandy will head up our chapter’s events and activities. Rona has been busy planning some new initiatives for our region, which we hope to unveil soon.

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Laura Parnum – Blogmaster Laura Parnum will be expanding her duties as she fills the Assistant Regional Advisor role. Laura will continue running the blog while assisting the Regional Advisors with communications and area events. Laura is looking forward to getting to know more members, either in person or through online communication.

VirginiaManningPhotoVirginia Law Manning – After two years as Illustrator Coordinator, Virginia will be transitioning into a new role—EPA Field Trip Coordinator. Virginia is excited to plan more events for SCBWI members and nonmembers and hopes to have the opportunity to meet you in person at one of our upcoming events. She can be reached at scbwiepaFieldTripCoordinator@gmail.com. Be sure to check out these events already in the works.

Berrie's profile pic

Berrie Torgan-Randall – We are very excited to announce that Berrie Torgan-Randall will be joining the team as Illustrator Coordinator. Berrie has been passionate about children’s literature since she was a little girl, and has fed her desire by becoming a children’s librarian and by pursuing a career as an illustrator and writer of children’s books. She is looking forward to making connections with professionals while organizing events for illustrators who are on a similar journey of creating beautiful and meaningful picture books.

Co-Regional Advisor Lindsay Bandy and our Critique Group Coordinator and Meet & Greet Coordinator, Heather Stigall, will continue in their current roles. The transitions will go into effect October 1, 2019. Please reach out to us by e-mail at epa@scbwi.org with any questions or to find out how you can get involved.

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A Cafe Chat with Literary Agent Kat Enright, by Laura Parnum


I am excited to welcome Kat Enright, an associate agent with the Seymour Agency, to the EasternPennPoints Café today. Kat represents middle grade and young adult fiction (as well as books for adults). They will be joining us at our Fall Philly event on November 2 where they will be leading one of the breakout sessions and offering critiques.

Laura: Welcome to the Café, Kat. We’re excited that you could join us. What can we get you to drink and snack on?

chocolate-brownies-668624__480Kat: I know this is so basic, but I can’t go wrong with an iced coffee. It’s my go-to. Oh, and a brownie!

Laura: Mmmm, I think I’ll have one of those brownies too. First off, tell us about the path that brought you to where you are now as a literary agent.

Kat: I think I always knew that I wanted to work in books, even if I didn’t know how. I moved to the NYC area and got a job with an independent publishing house, working in their Sales and Marketing department, but it wasn’t long until I moved over to Children’s Editorial. It was a great position, as I got to work along the entire spectrum of Children’s Lit. But unfortunately, in the Spring of 2018 the company underwent restructuring, and many positions were eliminated, including mine.

But that’s not the end of my story! It wasn’t long before Nicole Resciniti, president of the Seymour Agency, reached out. We had worked together many times in my time in editorial, and she thought that I would be a great fit for her team. And as agenting was something I had my eye on for a while, I agreed!

Now I’m here, and I couldn’t be happier.

Laura: I’m glad to hear it. Can you tell us what you’re looking for in a client?

Kat: As an agent who is very editorial, I look for clients who are willing to do the work. When I send a book out to editors, I want it to be in the best shape it can be—and I will take the time to work with you to get it there. I look for clients who are not afraid to be challenged—every revision, every new project, is a chance to grow, and I want to help my clients achieve everything they can.

That said, I’m not some strict taskmaster. I encourage my clients to take the time they need to do deep, thoughtful revisions, and I’m always available to answer questions and brainstorm. Any good author/agent relationship is a partnership, and I want to find clients who are looking for that as well.

Laura: What were some of your favorite middle grade and young adult books when you were growing up, and what are some recent favorites?

Kat: Oh, so this is going to be so obvious, but I grew up with Harry Potter—I was just the right age when the books came out, and I was one of the lucky generation that got to grow up with Harry and the crew. I probably wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for those books.

House of Salt and SorrowA book I recently finished that I absolutely loved was HOUSE OF SALT AND SORROWS. It’s got such a great atmosphere to it, and I really love that rich sense of gothic horror as we went through the mystery—it’s a gem, and I cannot wait to see more from the author.

Laura: That sounds right up my alley. I’ll have to check it out! So, if you could jump inside the head of the main character of any book, who would you choose and why?

Kat: Kaz Brekker! His head would be a twisting minefield of snakes, and I would be so fascinated to really get in there and figure out how he ticks. Also, if some of his heist-ing skills rubbed off on me, that would just be a bonus.

Laura: Can you give us a sneak peek at what you’ll be presenting at Fall Philly?

Kat: Yes, I can! I’ll be talking about worldbuilding and the choices we make around it, specifically around the different -isms and –phobias. I firmly believe that SFF can be a powerful lens to explore racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., etc., but when we go into worldbuilding without a lot of active thought or intentionality, we can actually uphold the very systems we are attempting to explore and dismantle.

So, you know, something light and fluffy.

Laura: I can’t wait to hear what you have to say! Okay, it’s time for our lightning round. What is your favorite

JuneNN2Dessert: Turon
Season: Fall
Place to read: Literally anywhere I have 5 minutes to spare
Hobby: Cooking
Video game: Right now? Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Animal: Cats

Laura: Thanks so much for chatting with me. We’re looking forward to seeing you at Fall Philly!

Kat: Thank you so much for having me! I can’t wait.

For more information about our Fall Philly event and to register, click here. You can sign up for an optional critique with Kat or one of our other fantastic faculty members.


Profile PicKat Enright (they/them) is an Associate Agent at the Seymour Agency who represents both fiction and nonfiction. As someone who lives on the corner of many intersections, they are most especially interested in elevating voices of marginalized authors. For more information, please check out their MSWL on katenright.com, and they can be found on Twitter and Instagram (both, @katenright).

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Dedication, by Anthony D. Fredericks

Write Angles LogoA Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks


Tubby, our cat of eighteen years, passed away on August 22, 2019.

Tubby was my constant writing companion. Each morning at 5:30, he’d wait for me by the bedroom door. As soon as it opened, he led me into the kitchen and parked himself beside the pantry door. He had to be fed before I could turn on the coffee machine. While he was munching away, I would prepare a scrambled egg or a bowl of yogurt. When Tubby finished his morning meal, he waited patiently until I grabbed my coffee cup. He would then guide me past the living room and upstairs to my office where he’d wait by my chair. When I settled in, I would stroke him several times. As I began reviewing a manuscript or tending to other writing duties, he would crawl to a special space under the computer table (and just in front of my feet). In short order, he would curl up and begin a snooze that lasted throughout the morning.

I would talk to him about synonyms and run-on sentences, shout at him when a book project was accepted, ask him for advice about the direction of a manuscript, or complain to him about a rejection. He took it all in stride with his usual air of feline indifference and soft snores. He instinctively knew what his job was, and he accepted his responsibilities without complaint or protest.

He was truly dedicated!

training-3185170__480In writing workshops and presentations I am often asked about the “secrets” to writing success. I always mention dedication as one of the most important elements of any writer’s philosophy. Indeed, if we are not dedicated to our craft—to informing, educating, illuminating, entertaining, energizing, or inspiring our readers—then we are shortchanging them. Young readers of any age demand literature that is both powerful and professional. And, there is certainly nothing more professional than putting your whole heart and entire soul into a piece of writing—one that completely captures the imagination and interest of a reader. Anything less is an affront to why we write and what kids need to have in their hands.

Dedication is much more than a commitment to write a book. It also involves the time—day after day, month after month, and year after year—sitting in front of a keyboard generating ideas, crafting words, producing sentences, drawing characters, inventing dialogue, and revising plot lines dozens of times . . . hundreds of times . . . and then doing it all over again with equal measures of enthusiasm and energy.

writing-828911__480Dedication should be a passion! Like a job, it’s something that must be done systematically, religiously, and completely. Dedicated writing is not a hobby. It is an obligation to yourself and your craft. It is an embrace of persistence, work, and duty. It is not something we do occasionally, but rather regularly. It’s like brushing your teeth; it has to be done every day, or it is incomplete and insufficient.

I’m currently editing and revising a picture book manuscript geared for youngsters in kindergarten and first grade. It’s about some of the amazing shapes they can see along a forest trail or beside a quiet pond. Right now, there is a total of 194 words in the manuscript. But, I’ve spent almost six months inserting, deleting, modifying, changing, altering, amending, reworking, and improving those 194 words. The manuscript is now in its 24th draft and is likely to go through another half-dozen drafts before I send it out. Each word must be the precise word, each sentence must convey an exact mood, and each thought must be carefully crafted to inspire young readers to joyously investigate their own environments. I’m committed to this process simply because I know readers will demand nothing less.

boy-2604853__480Dedication . . . constant attention . . . may be one of the most important literary attributes we share with readers. It will surface in our characters, shine with their dialogue, and fascinate with the details. It’s writing our best so our readers can embrace the journey.

Day after day, my cat Tubby shared his dedication.

I miss him terribly.


Writing Children's books cover

Tony is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books, including the 2018 CBC/NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book Tall Tall Tree (https://amzn.to/2JCeMJZ). He is also the author of the ebook Writing Children’s Books: 701 Creative Prompts for Stories Kids Will Love (https://amzn.to/2FMITxt). [“. . . one of the best guides that I have found with prompts for creative children’s book ideas.” —Amazon 5-star review.]

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A Cafe Chat with Award-Winning Author Donna Gephart, by Susan North

Eastern PA SCBWI is gearing up for this year’s Fall Philly event on November 2. We are planning a packed day, including keynotes, breakout sessions, lunch, and optional critique add-ons with our phenomenal faculty members. In preparation for the event, we will be featuring faculty interviews on our blog in the coming weeks. For more information about the event and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/fall-philly-2019/. We hope to see you there!


Today at the EasternPennPoints Café, one of our contributing members, Susan North, had a chance to speak with award-winning middle grade author Donna Gephart who will be joining our faculty at the Fall Philly event on November 2. Let’s hear what they had to say!

Susan: Hi, Donna. I have been given the honor of interviewing you for the EasternPennPoints blog and am so excited to have you join me at our virtual café. Before we get started, may I offer you something to drink?

Donna: Hi, Susan! I’d love a cup of hot tea. Thanks. ☕️

In Your ShoesSusan: You cover a diverse range of topics in the books you’ve written. Where do you get your inspiration?

Donna: I follow my curiosity and choose topics I want to learn more about, such as life in a funeral home in In Your Shoes, what it’s like to appear on Kids’ Week on Jeopardy! in Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen, and how it might feel to have an incarcerated parent in The Paris Project. I explore themes I’m trying to understand, like grief, family relationships, societal pressure, mental health, gender identity, financial insecurity, etc.

Susan: You describe your middle school years as being awkward and uncomfortable and yet you write middle grade novels that are full of humor as well as heart. How do you explain this?

Donna: I want to give young readers a place to go where they feel less alone in their awkwardness, and I do that by writing with emotional honesty about those challenging times in life. Humor makes those hard things easier to digest.

Susan: Your success has no doubt been the result of hard work. What advice do you have for a writer juggling work, home life, and writing?

Olivia BeanDonna: It’s hard. I always wished someone could tell me the secret to managing it all. Surprise. There’s no secret. Creating novels requires intense focus and more time than you think it will. There’s no shortcut; you have to invest the time. Even the novel I wrote most quickly—Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen in 29 days as a NaNoWriMo novel—required months and months of intense revision work.

Susan: What middle grade books were your favorites growing up?

Donna: I loved Mr. Popper’s Penguins and The Hundred Dresses. Later, I fell in love with A Bridge to Terabithia and, later still, A Crooked Kind of Perfect and Granny Torelli Makes Soup. Whenever I go to a bookstore or library, I’m drawn to middle grade novels. They resonate deeply with me.

Susan: Can you give us a hint about an upcoming project?

Paris ProjectDonna: The Paris Project comes out in October. I love this book. It’s about a girl who deals with financial insecurity, an incarcerated parent, strong family bonds, and a friend with an important secret and learns to bloom where she’s planted, even if that’s in the scorching, uncultured town of Sassafras, Florida. I’m working on the book after that and falling in love with Abby Braverman, who will have to drag her introverted self through tough things to learn exactly what she’s made from.

Susan: Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I look forward to hearing you speak about Tickling Your Reader’s Funny Bone at our upcoming Fall Philly Event. The faculty panel discussion you’ll be participating in is sure to be thought provoking.

Donna: I have a lot of fun talking about writing humor. Can’t wait to meet everyone at the event! Thanks so much.

Susan: See you then!

donna-gephart-author-photo-1_1_orig.jpgDonna Gephart’s award-winning middle grade novels include Lily and Dunkin, In Your Shoes, Death by Toilet PaperHow to Survive Middle School, and her latest, The Paris Project. Her first novel, As If Being 12¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running for President, won the prestigious Sid Fleischman Award for humor. She’s a former creative writing teacher and a popular speaker at schools, book festivals, and conferences. After 21 years in South Florida, Donna has returned to the Philadelphia area with her family and is enjoying soft pretzels, WaWa hoagies, and vegan cheesesteaks. You can visit her website at www.donnagephart.com to find out more.

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