Amid the Arctic flatness of the Minnesota prairie on a bleak December afternoon, author Amanda Hocking's new brick house seems a snug nest of Midwestern warmth.
About 100 miles south of Minneapolis, Austin is most famous as the birthplace of Spam, the canned meat product.

Hocking's mother herds a gaggle of pint-sized, present-laden relatives out the door. Hocking's roommate, Eric Goldman, cleans up, stuffing crumpled wrapping paper into a garbage can. The canine lord of the manor, a regal miniature schnauzer named Elroy, dominates the foyer, resplendent in a Christmas get-up.

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