12.31.2010

Book Review Break

It's Christmas break for us teachers, and this week, we're reading and/or reviewing. Recently erica read:

 Beautiful Creatures 

This was the top teen pick on Amazon last year, so I saw its cover all over the place during 2010. I like to read paranormal even if I don't write (much of) it. Plus, it was written by two authors and since we've been co-blogging, christy and I have talked a bit about co-authoring (nope, nothing in the works other than curiosity).

So I've looked at it in the bookstore a few times. Read some reviews. Wasn't totally sold and didn't know exactly what it was about (I LOVE spoiler reviews and LOVE reading the last chapter first, but am also trying to convince myself not to do that. Hello New Year's resolution #124).

I have to admit, I read this book in two or three days. That's the good part of this review. If you love, love, love this book, you might want to skip to the end of this. Sorry.

The read-through went quickly because I was out-of-town for a couple days and it was the only book I brought, plus I got it while my laptop wasn't working, so my Kindle purchases and own ms's were on lock-down. Also, this book didn't give me a lot to think about, so it went by quickly.

In my opinion, Beautiful Creatures was about 300 pages too long. I never fell completely in love with the characters and spent the first 75% of the story wondering what in the world these people were and why.

So, that's cryptic, huh? Here's some specifics: it opened with a dream, it uses about six (sorry, I don't want to look it up, but it was long) pages to describe the boring ride to school and then says he lives in a tiny town where nothing is more than 8 blocks apart (including his house and the school), and I really, really felt like I was reading an account by a person who was outside-looking-in instead of a heartfelt first-person narrative.

Some of it is clever, sure. A lot of different paranormals all living in one family. A small town with lots of eccentrics and a group of mean girls that would make Lindsey Lohan move away. No real sense that this was written by two separate authors. Alas, however, not enough to make me pick up the next one. Which says a lot, because I'm usually a sucker for a series. 

There. I did it. Although I feel a little bad, I did a book review of a book I didn't love - or honestly, really even like that much. Did you read and love it? If you did, please comment - I would love to hear more about what worked for you (since it seems to have worked for a lot of people. read the reviews here on Amazon).

(christy got the hunger games trilogy for christmas and is busy reading her way through it!  yay!)

12.30.2010

Need a helping hand? and by hand we mean link(s)

we don't normally just give you a list of links, so, with this post, consider us being:
a) incredibly lazy
b) incredibly helpful or
c) incredibly considerate (since we're not babbling your eyes out like normal)! 



DEADLINES SCHMEADLINES...
http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2010/12/deadlines-are-meant-to-be-broken.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

DO YOU HAVE A CRIT GROUP/PARTNER...?
http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/how-to-start-a-writing-critique-group_b19907?c=rss&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?  AGENT QUERY BREAKDOWNS...
http://www.weronikajanczuk.com/2010/12/its-good-day-for-2010-2011-post.html

OOOOH! WE COULD HAVE USED A FEW OF THESE A WEEK OR TWO AGO FOR OUR POSTS...

ON WRITING YOUR BEGINNING...
http://kidlit.com/2009/12/07/fix-your-beginning/

THAT V WORD AGAIN...
http://scotteagan.blogspot.com/2010/12/writers-laryngitis-getting-your-voice.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

hart johnson's post:  raise your voice @ burrowers, books & balderdash http://burrowers.blogspot.com/2010/12/raise-your-voice.html

IF YOUR PHONE RINGS AND AN AGENT IS ON THE LINE...
http://literaticat.blogspot.com/2010/12/i-got-call-um-now-what.html
 
WRITING THAT QUERY...
http://navigatingtheslushpile.blogspot.com/2010/12/queries-credentials.html?_
 
CLICK THIS LINK FOR LOTS MORE LINKS...
http://blog.writersdigest.com/norules/2010/12/22/MyBestPostsFrom2010.aspx
 
(THE LAST TWO LINKS WERE RECOMMENDED BY HEATHER.  VISIT HER @ HEATHER'S ODYSSEY.  click on her link. SHE'S INCREDIBLY WISE AND HELPFUL!)

the rest may or may not have been found on twitter.  or there's a chance erica emailed them to me.  lately i've been storing up links on my favorites bar.  so i decided to share them with you, making my mess of faves worthwhile.
 
come back tomorrow for a book review by erica!

12.29.2010

Writing Wednesday - characterization

Characterization: the creation and convincing representation of fictitious characters. (dictionary.com's definition) Characterization: making the voices in my head come alive on the page. (erica's definition)
I've got a few different WIPs going on (don't we all?) and the main characters are TOTALLY different. So, how do I go from being a well-behaved-just-falling-in-love-for-the-first-time-17-year-old girl to a 12-year-old-ghost-hunting boy? Or the ghost-hunter to the baseball-player? Or the baseball-player to the teen mom?

I'm not talking voice here (well, not completely) - all the characters have different voices as does the narration in all of our books. I mean who our characters are. What they did before the book started and what they might do after it's over.

Here are some tips for creating good characters (note: these are not things that should end up in your book. they're yours to keep to yourself forever and ever. or, when you get rich and famous, you can release them as a prequel. and thank me on the acknowledgements page, of course):

Write a quick biography. What was his defining moment (for one of my characters, it was the day he dropped the baseball in a big game)? What's one thing he wished he could do over (for another, it's following the old man into the apartment building)? What's his biggest dream (getting a book published - oh, wait. . .)? Who was his first kiss/date/lover?

For adult characters, write a resume. Where did he go to high school and was he the "most studious" or "class clown" or "most likely to go to prison"? Did he go to college? Community or ivy league? What was his first job and did he like it?

Write a journal entry, or several. It could connect to one of the above events. What did your character write in her diary on the day her dad died? On the day they graduated? When she found out she was pregnant? When she lit the fireworks to announce her book deal (I'm getting off track here, but hey, maybe one of you could use that as a book idea and then I've at least accomplished something)?

Give them one trait that's different from the other characters. Maybe it's a catch phrase. Or a facial tick. The tendency to get lost a lot. Why does he do that and when did it start?

Don't forget your secondary characters. Books I've read spend a lot of time on the main character (and rightly so), but barely mention what motivates his friends and family (which I find a bit annoying). Even in first-person narration, we should have some idea. Why is your character friends with this person/set of people? What's their best characteristic? Their worst/most annoying? Why is the mean girl mean? Why did his ex dump him?

How about you? How do you come up with your characters and what do you know about them before you start writing?

12.28.2010

It's time to thank Colene and Michael for the awards they gave us!

(um, apparently there's a glitch with blogger today because our saved drafts seem to be appearing as post titles in your sidebars-if you've got us there.  so you may have come here under false pretenses.  if the post you expected to see is NOT here currently, come back for it in a day or two when it is scheduled to appear...  if you have no idea what i'm talking about (since i barely do myself) then just ignore me and read on.)

Now that we're back to our regularly scheduled programming (whew), it's time for a TWOFER TUESDAY post and just your luck we've been given TWO awards to share.

Well, we've actually been given the same award TWO times by TWO amazing bloggers,writers and virtual friends!

These TWO are bloggers whose posts you don't want to miss out on and whose blogs are worthy of a follow!  So, please click on these links to pop over to their blogs:  Michael @ In Time and Colene @ The Journey


The Award(s):


Without passing out repeat awards to all the people we've ever awarded in the past (who we still feel are completely worthy), there are just a couple of bloggers we're passing this award on to.  This award, as far as we can tell, represents being True Blue, authentic, and speaking the truth.

The reasons behind our picks for this award vary.

Mike Wood @ Blog of Wood for this post about his leg lamp.  See it here.

Amparo Ortiz @ No Rest for the Lazy for this post on how writing can be discussed via taylor lautner's body (which may or may not totally fit our january theme...TBA).  Find her post here.

Jodi Henry @ Turning the Page: A Literary Ramble for hosting a queryfest which, IMO, was a super fab way to get feedback on one of the most difficult parts of a novel to write.

Brenda Drake because she had my favorite blog design for the holidays!


We'd also like to thank Abby Mindard@ Above Water and Jeffrey Beesler's World of the Scribe for their recent shout outs to us on their blogs.  Please pay them each a visit and a follow if you arent' already.  They're superb!

Last, I'd like to stop for a moment and state how very blessed and happy I am to be a wife and mother who is also fortunate to teach, write and blog.  I "complain" a lot on here about not having the time I'd like to write.  I truly don't mean to come across as a whiner or to complain about my life.  Nobody has called me out on this or anything and that's not why I'm saying this at all.  As far as I can see everyone understands what I'm going through and has similar lack-of-time-to-write struggles in their life.  But, I did want to state, for the record, that being a wife and mother are the most important roles in my life and I absolutely love who I am and all that God has blessed me with.  Yes, I wish I were better able to "juggle" the daily activities I try to squeeze in, but that will come.  Mostly, I realize, I'm just not the best at time management.  I point fingers at everyone else in my life, but it truly comes down to the fact that when I do take minutes or an hour to sit at my laptop what am I truly doing with that time? 

Here's the breakdown:
10 minutes of checking emails
20 minutes of blogging, replying, posting, hopping
5-20 more minutes of emailing/blogging
5 minutes of rereading a scheduled blog post
5 minutes of looking for an image on google for a blogpost or looking for a link to post
10-20 minutes of rereading chapters 1 and 2 and 3 of WIP and striking overwriting
5 minutes of checking email/blog
5 minutes of rereading my "outline" for the upcoming chapters
5 minutes of actually writing the chapter I'm actually on.

Time's up.

Time management and using time productively will be discussed this upcoming year as I make improvements!


Have a great day everyone!!

12.27.2010

NUMBER ONE...and done! (monday mealtime madness recipe included)

We made it through an entire list of the 25 best/worst things about being aspiring authors!  The countdown took forever (at least I (christy) thought so), but here we are.  And, in being here, it also means the holiday season is drawing to a close. I've celebrated for six days and six nights and now my Christmas festivites have ended.  I haven't been around your blogs much at all this past week so I've missed you all!  I look forward to catching up with you once again in the new year.  Thanks for hanging with us through this countdown!  We'll be returning to normal next week...well, we may have a teeny theme planned, but we'll keep it to Theme Thursdays. (phew!)

And without further ado...#1, the final best/worst thing about being an aspiring author:  making a choice-being selfish vs puttingmyownwantsontheshelfsoIcandoeverythingforeverybodyelsetheverysecondtheyaskforit.

There are those in my life who see writing as a selfish act (and sometimes I believe them).  So I try to squeeze time in when everyone else will be the least affected.  My ideal writing hours slide by without me on my laptop because I'm occupied with children or cleaning or shopping or teaching or feel free to insert another daily task here.  I haven't stopped completely.  Obviously.  I'm still here blogging about it.  And I'm inching forward on my WIP.  Deadline looming.  (But I no longer write when I feel it would be my prime storytelling hours.)

So, I've chosen to be selfish (and spend time on my laptop).  And yet, not. I'm compromising, but without having found the happy medium.  Yet.

A week or so ago I was selfish in the kitchen, too. 

(erica and I started doing monday mealtime madness as soon as we started blogging together.  Mostly because we're moms and as moms we have to cook for our families several times each day.  The trouble in my household is most of my cooking efforts go uneaten.  It's a daily struggle.  We thought it'd be worth it to spend one day per week sharing recipes for other parents who write and blog (or you know, just about anyone who spends time cooking).) 

Soo...how was I selfish?  There are days when I get tired of cooking for everyone else.  I try very hard to please the entire family with what I make for meals.  And 95% of the time it's uneaten anyways. Here's one common scenario:  My husband comes home late.  (Way past the dinner hour.) One child didn't nap and falls asleep in his dinner chair.  The other looks at his plate and says "Yucky."  I pick at my food before spooning it into tupperware and hauling the kids off for bathtime. 

So, it's kind of like why bother?

Nobody in my family likes my favorite casserole.  The week before Christmas week I made it anyways.  I loved it.  Three nights in a row.  I was the only one and I didn't even care.  I don't even remember what anyone else ate.  (Peanut butter sandwiches probably.  And carrot sticks.)

Perhaps YOU'D like it since I do.  Maybe your spouse and kids would, too.  If you'd like to try it, here's the recipe for my SELFISH CASSEROLE:

INGREDIENTS:

1lb ground hamburger
3-4 servings of green beans
4-6 med/large potatoes (peeled)
1 can tomato soup
1 egg
salt/pepper to taste
1/4-1/2 cup milk
(1-2 pats of butter-optional)
4 generous handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese

DIRECTIONS:

Brown one pound of ground sirloin (any ground hamburger will do).
Add in one can of tomato soup.
Cook 3-4 servings of green beans.  When soft, add them to the hamburger.
Peel 4-6 medium/large baking (or red) potatoes and boil them for about 20 minutes (or until soft).  Drain.  Mash.  Add one egg, a 1/4-1/2 cup of milk, some salt and pepper to taste.
Spoon mashed potatoes into the bottom of a casserole dish.
Spoon hamburger/tomato soup/green bean mixture on top of the potatoes.
Cover with a layer of shredded cheddar cheese.
Cover dish.
Bake in oven for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
Let cool before serving.

Enjoy!  I do!



12.25.2010

(#2) A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM ERICA AND CHRISTY! 
HAVE SAFE, JOYOUS AND BLESSED HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS!



12.24.2010

#3

#3 in our countdown of the best/worst things about being an aspiring author is unique to me (erica). Feel free to laugh and point fingers and whisper about me behind my back. Er, I mean leave comments that the whole world could see if they want to. I'm a big girl. I can take it.

BEST - The feeling I get when I think about announcing my (imaginary) book deal. Let's face it, the general public has NO IDEA what it takes to get published, especially by a big house. Agents are for Hollywood stars and athletes, right? The fact that an author (other than Meyers and Rowling and Brown, that is) has use for an agent would be astonishing to most people I know. The work it takes to get one would floor them. But a real, live book with my name on it to show them? That would turn some heads.

What my announcement might look like

WORST: People who know me in real life don't know I write. Well, my husband and kids do, but they don't really get it and never talk to me about it. Not one single person who has ever seen me knows about this blog. So there, you know my big secret. I'm a huge coward.


I can't really say for sure why I don't talk about it. Am I ashamed? No. Have I ever failed at something I really wanted to do? Sure. Will people like/love me less if they knew? I seriously doubt it.

My ABNA and blog friends are super supportive and I love each and every one of you. But part of me wants someone to give me a real, live hug and say "you can do this" well before I break out the fireworks. So in 2011 I will come out of the closet. No longer am I a "Don't ask, don't tell" follower. I haven't quite attained author status. However, I am going to be proud to say

I'm a writer.

12.23.2010

#4

Yesterday's post by christy made me think more about these words: BIG HOOK HIGH CONCEPT.

Therefore, #4 on our countdown of best/worst things about being an aspring author is wtccibhhc?? (what the christmas cookies is big hook/high concept?) Just kidding - it's clicking on blog links that totally give you self-doubt no matter how helpful they really are (worst) vs. clicking on those that validate you and your work (best). 

I finished my girl-meets-boy last January. I edited it. People critiqued it. I edited it. I added parts, subtracted parts, increased word counts, decreased adjectives/adverbs (don't get me started on "had" and "that" subtractions - oh, and "just" and "really"). I've been told that great writing trumps all. Right? RIGHT??!!

Then it occurs to me - is this big hook/high concept? I think Kiersten White caused the panic attack. I had an idea. Some of it even made it into my book. My voice, my writing, and my characters have all evolved into something I think is great. Yes, I have a hook. Really, I do. But a recent trip to Borders had me doubting it all (are you kidding me? 8 wall-sized shelves for fantasy/paranormal and one measley waist-high unit for contemporary, which, btw, was filled with huge, bestselling names because there wasn't any room for debut authors who weren't blurbed by, ironically, fantasy/paranormal authors!!!!!!!!! [that might be an exaggeration. but not by much.])

is this big enough to catch a publishing contract?

Then I read this YA Highway post and calmed down a bit.

I wrote a book about a girl who meets a boy. Is that enough? (umm, no, don't answer that. but if you want to know more, see my query post here) (and I've edited again since then. It's now 65,000 words. The 3,000 additions are all PURE AWESOME, believe me).

What about you? Is your genre big hook/high concept? Have you sat back and worried about this stupid important point?


12.22.2010

#5 is a no-brainer

5th item in our best/worst about being an aspiring author


how to begin your manuscript is the question.


so.  what's the answer?????


where the action is, of course!


this may seem like a huge no-brainer. but, unfortunately it's one of those things that for (some) is easier said/thought/dreamed than done.

action vs NOT

if you're like me (scary thought, i know) you've struggled with the H word worse than that V word (voice, for those of you who missed a recent post on that topic)...the HOOK.  *shudders*


take it from me, once you've finished your precious novel and you send it out to someone to read for the very first time you, deep down, expect them to sigh with the wondrement of it all and exclaim all its glories that you know to be true.


so when you post it on a forum (which, i know a recent "poll" showed none of you really do) or send chapter one, or your first 5 pages or even only your first 250 words to be critiqued it's a HUGE side-kick in the gut when the response is nothing more than completely negative.


maybe that never happened to you.


ahem, me neither.


except, here's my first (original) 232:


                I awoke as I did every morning for the past 15 ½ years and wished I could linger under the warm sheets for hours longer than I was able. Instead, I flung my legs quickly over the side of the twin bed into the cool air, like, as with a band-aid, getting it over with quickly would make it better. I wished my dad would let us turn the heater up once the autumn air cooled our house overnight. I stumbled, chilled, to my bathroom and into a warm shower where I could wake up and really think about the day ahead. It was in the shower that, not the planned events of the upcoming day, but the memory of the dream from the night before washed over me.
                I recognized the boy in my dream from French class, although I had never thought much of him before. In the dream he had done little, yet meant so much to me. The details of our conversation and sequential actions in the dream eluded me, yet the feelings we shared seemed real and remained with me. Fully alert from the pelting water, I knew the dream should mean nothing, but from the moment it worked its way to my conscious mind, I could not shake the real emotions of romantic feelings it had awoken in me for this never before thought of boy.


and here's my revised version.

I clutched the journal and pressed it to my chest. I twisted it side to side as my feet pounded the cool, frosty earth. Leaves swished and scattered as I raced through them. It was too late to worry about being quiet. My breaths came in labored gasps. I veered off the path and dodged trees, hoping to hide in what little coverage the fall forest left for me. With each step I neared the edge of the trees.



Why, why had I come here this morning? Such an idiot! A little spidey-sense or women’s intuition would come in handy so I’d know when to expect this, this thing!


Only, I’d had no warning.


Cloudy blue light had shined across the faded leaves, and when I looked up, the shimmering, whispering form had appeared out of nowhere.


Finally, I emerged, tears perched on the brims of my eyes. I darted left and sprinted to the boulevard that paved the road into Haven Park. I found it hard to believe whoever or whatever started chasing me would follow me out into the open, but I didn’t take any chances by slowing my pace.


A quarter of a mile to go.


Its hisses still sent a frigid dripping sensation down my spine. I couldn’t tell if the sounds were real or just replaying from memory.


yeah, not even recognizable.  but the premise of the story is the same.  promise. (see my query back a few posts)


so...what's different?  it's the action. (oh, and the removal of all novice mistakes that i am ashamed to have shared with you all.  (yes, i really started with her waking from a dream.  yes, then she showered, ate breakfast, did her hair, went to first hour, chatted with her best friend, and even looked in a mirror so i could describe her looks. oh, i know. ugh.)  it's still not perfect, but my reviews by critiquers have been much more favorable for this version than for the former one.

if you're struggling with your beginning (and HOOK) here are some links that might help you like they helped me.
  • nathan bransford's guest blogger valerie kemp discussed the all important first chapter here.
  • pub rants:  starting a novel in the wrong place.  go here.
  • storyfix.com:  hook vs first plot point. go here.

12.21.2010

#6 sharing detail vs. information dumping

6th best vs worst thing about being an aspiring writer: 
sharing character description/history vs information dumping




best
using our exceptional creativity and imagination to come up with full, real-to-life characters, incredible, believable histories and family trees for these characters, building an entire world and community for them to live in with family and neighbors and friends and teachers, knowing their every flaw, dream, preference, taste, etc.


and


worst
not being able to include all of that amazingness in the actual novel
because
           it's
            backstory
                   and/or
                      information dumping





how can you keep from dumping information on your reader?
  • show don't tell (use dialogue, less is usually more-meaning fewer words=better writing, say what you really mean to say-don't write around it trying to be all writerly and impressive)
  • only "share" information that moves the plot along or is vital to the reader's knowledge and understanding of the story
  • visit links that have great advice on this particular downfall (almost) all writers face:
    • visit julie musil's blog (our newest follower!) she recently posted on how to avoid information dumps. go here
    • Inkspot (authors of crime novels) have a short post on avoiding information dumping here
    • nathan bransford has a few posts that apply.  go here and here and here
i bet you all have super advice to share with me, too. don't you?  leave your own suggestions below!

oh, and before you leave, below is an example of my own information dump.  then, after running it by erica and receiving writerly advice, i revised.

paragraph(s) of dumping:

               Jordyn walked in and I got stuck in the doorway. Not physically, but a mental inhibitor goes off and freezes my body on occasion, usually when I’m faced with having to walk into a room full of people.

            When I was three, my parents and I had gone to a church picnic in the parking lot of our church. The lot had been transformed with large white tents, red and blue inflatables, and hundreds of people. I’d had a red balloon in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other. Licking the ice cream fast enough to keep it from dripping onto my bare toes took so much effort that I didn’t notice the ribbon of the balloon slipping out of my fist. The last bit of ribbon slipping from my hand tickled my palm. I chased it until it had flown higher than the branches of the tree I looked up into. My mom found me, huddled up next to its trunk, sticky rivers of ice cream flowing to my armpits and ants covering my legs. I remembered it all. Adults were very tall back then and I’d stood in the forest of them, trying to find my mom’s yellow tank top. The memory remained as bleak for my parents as for me, and we credit that day as the day I became an introvert.
         Other students brushed past me and grumbled so I took one step in and stood off to the side. Many desks were empty. I breathed in through my nose and followed the lines of the floor with my eyes. I slumped into my wooden chair. Pulling my hair out of its band so it could fall over my face tempted me.
           Again, I need to get a grip.
           In all fairness, the brown haired girl and two blonde boys in the corner looked my way and snickered. I had every reason to feel self-conscious.


revised version:

                  Jordyn walked in and I got stuck in the doorway. Not physically, but a mental inhibitor goes off and freezes my body on occasion, usually when I’m faced with having to walk into a room full of people.

                 She stopped and turned around. “Coming?”
                “Uh-huh.” Only I didn’t actually move.
                “Having a crowd moment?” She’d come up next to me and whispered.
                “Uh-huh.” I whispered back.
                 Other students brushed past me and grumbled so I took one step in and stood off to the side.
                “Dawn. Look around. Half the desks are empty. Come on.” She walked in, leaving me alone.
                True, many desks sat empty. She had a valid point. I breathed in through my nose and followed the lines of the floor with my eyes. I slumped into my wooden chair. I felt tempted to pull my hair out of its band so it could fall over my face.
                 I need to get a grip.
                 In all fairness, the brown haired girl and two blonde boys in the corner looked my way and snickered. I had every reason to feel self-conscious.


notes:  even without reading it you can see the information dump was a huge block of text (otherwise known as a paragraph) but may seem daunting to a YA reader.  the revised version read much more quickly, yet got the point across.  the reason behind her fear of crowds (the incident in the church parking lot) will be better told when her future boyfriend gets to know her a little bit better (again, through dialogue).

12.20.2010

#7 (plus a recipe)

Many bloggers are taking Christmas break off - congratulations to them and we hope they find the rest, recuperation, and (w)riting time they need. But, here at erica and christy, the show must go on (or we'll never finish this countdown). Thanks for stopping by!

#7 on our list of best/worst things about being an aspring writer - eating chocolate (or whatever your vice is) while writing vs. trying to remain taller than you are wide.

we figure this is self-explanatory

As you know, erica lost her muse this weekend. But she did make some great cookies. Basically what happened is, she took her kids to program practice Saturday where she was informed (well, reminded, but it had gone completely out of her mind, so it seemed like informed at the time) that she was partly responsible for the church coffee hour the next day. If you don't know it, erica lives in a really, really small town. The kind of town where you actually need to call a neighbor for a cup of sugar on the weekend or you won't find one.

So she quickly compiled the ingredients available to her in her own kitchen. This was not her finest hour.

However, some basic ingredients and an internet connection (along with her friend "Google"), erica made no-bake cookies with her kids. This is especially good because, well, erica doesn't bake. AND because these are pretty filling and just-sweet-enough that you only want one at a time. Not to mention they're drop cookies, so make them as small as you want. Yum, yum.

2 cups white sugar
1/3 cup baking cocoa
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2/3 cup peanut butter
3 cups oatmeal (the quick-cook kind)
1 tsp. vanilla (although I forgot this and it still worked out)

Put the sugar, cocoa, and butter in a saucepan over medium heat until it boils. Once boiling, add peanut butter and oatmeal, stir, and boil one more minute. Remove from heat. Drop onto wax paper and let cool. Easy-peasy.

What's your go-to food while writing?

12.19.2010

#8

#8 on our list of the best/worst things about being an aspiring author: Feeling the muse vs. can't think of anything to write subtitled: I'm only posting this on a Sunday so we stay somewhat on track - has anyone else noticed we aren't going to get to #1 on Christmas? math majors we were not.

The muse. You know what I mean. That elusive creature that decides to haunt you in the car, the shower/bathtub, the jogging route, the line at the grocery store - wherever she darn well pleases. We love these moments, don't we? When we know what we're about to write. How it will end. How to get it there. Oh, muse, how I love thee.
Other times, not so much. Like this weekend. I set aside a few hours to write and, um, I've got nothing. It doesn't help that I don't have my Christmas tree up yet, we had a 3-hour program practice for Sunday School this morning, the church program is tomorrow (today, for you all) and the Sunday School teachers (including me) are hosting coffee hour afterwards - which reminds me I need to bake tonight.

The laundry, the dishes, and the dust bunnies are starting to stare at me with funny looks in their eyes. My Facebook friends are luring me into their lives with their funny status updates. Other bloggers are posting really interesting things for me to read. My pile of library books is almost due and I'd hate to take them back without cracking their dear little spines. I haven't emailed christy for over an hour and she might be worried about me. One son wants to play Scrabble and the other one wants to play Candyland.

My muse is scared of all of these things and has gone into hiding.
come out, come out, wherever you are!

I know you guys are busy, too. Any tips for getting my polar bear muse to come back to me when I actually have a few minutes to spare??

12.18.2010

#9 (a blogfest link) and resolutions

For Christy's Query Letter Blogfest Entry, please click here (or scroll down four posts). Thanks!




I (christy) had every intention of coming up with a twisted Christmas fairy tale for this blogfest, but my blogging ball is the one I dropped while juggling tasks this week.  However, please visit Romancing the Blog to click on all the links of bloggers who participated and wrote zany tales twisting holiday stories and fairy tales.  The button above is clickable, for your linking convenience.


So there are nine days left in this countdown.  And until Christmas.  That means there are 14 days left IN THIS YEAR!  yes, you're welcome. i'm sure you all had that figured out before i told you.  sometimes my thoughts come out my fingers.  can't be helped.  Craziness.  (the # of days left, not me)

#9 setting goals vs tuh not to (one of my favorite lines from cars..channelling mater)

With the new year just ahead, how many of you are ready and raring to get started on a little new year's resolution?  Yeah?  What is it?

No?  Suit yourself.

For those of you who answered yes: 

Does it involve writing?

Exercising?

Spending more time with a loved one?

My answers are yes, yes, and yes.

Obviously I set writing goals.  You may have noticed them on the sidebar.  A while back we hosted a little competition.  (Now that I think of it I hope you DIDN'T notice.  Because, well, just because erica and christy SET writing goals, uh, doesn't mean we necessarily KEEP them.  We never finished our own half-marathon of words competition.)  However, with ABNA coming up, I'd better set a daily writing goal and keep it.  Pretty much I need to have my own little version of NANO in December.  I've seen other bloggers with this plan, too. NADECEMNO and NAJANO.  I won't even ask you to cheer me on.  It doesn't help.  Thanks anyway, though! (this is erica - um, christy, december is almost over. just sayin')

The number of montly miles I log running are also posted on the sidebar.  I'll keep them there.  I'll continue to have goals (adding a spin class weekly).  Better to try than to not to, IMO.  That said.  Not only have I not been meeting my daily/weekly/monthly running goals, but when I DO run, I haven't even been taking the time to add them to the sidebar.  So then I'm on the treadmill, music in ears, thinking, "okay, I added the three miles from last thursday, but hmm, did i run 2 miles on wednesday?  or was it three on thursday?  it must have been tuesday because the kids spent the morning at my parents.  so, i'll need to add those two plus the 3 i'm totally going to run right now."  and then i'll get off after two.  and forget to add the four miles to the total, of course. 

Oops.  What happened to my capital letters?  I've been trying to blog properly.  I'm now afraid laziness on my posts will lead to laziness in my manuscript.  Capitals belong at the beginning of sentences.  Don't I help my students edit for these things?

soooooo very off topic.

focus: Date night.  Since we had our first son, now four-soon-to-be-five *gasp*, we don't hang out regularly.  We don't get out regularly either, alone or together, except for work.  Date night monthly would be a super resolution to keep.  Now we just need to find a babysitter.

So there you have it.  christy's resolutions for the new year.  how do you feel about setting goals?  are they short-term or long-term goals?  how successful are you at keeping them?

(i suppose adding capital letters at the beginning of sentences is another goal i should strive for...) (erica says - what? i just learned to use lowercase...)

A little Charlie Brown Christmas for you!


Check out Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of 2010 right here.

12.17.2010

#10

For Christy's Query Letter Blogfest Entry, please click here (or scroll down three posts). Thanks!


It's time for #10 on our list of best/worst things about being an aspiring author: posting work on writing forums

I (erica) have posted a little about my critique experiences before. I was a part of a wonderful critique group made up of friends I made at ABNA (with published, about-to-be-published, and aspiring authors). I had a beta reader (waves to JC). I email things to friends (shout out to christy). I post snippets on this blog. I enter blog hops where I have to write something interesting and compelling and up for review (er, well, sometimes I let my son do that one!). (note: this has nothing to do with the query blogfest christy is in this week. that's a very helpful way of critiquing work and I am totally in support of it. in fact, please follow the link above and comment on hers. it's pretty great.)

But what about critique forums? You know, blogs and sites that ask authors to post first pages (or queries or synopses or first five pages or. . .)? I've had mixed feelings about this for awhile. They are not all bad - any critique can help you mature as an author. But they can be very limited - sometimes you happen upon a blog/forum where people know each other and pat each others backs while giving newbies a run for their money (sometimes deservedly, sometimes not) (yuck, I so do not care if I sit at the cool kids' table anymore). Sometimes the people critiquing and posting are in completely different genres and unfamiliar with what works. Quite often, people make conflicting comments and leave an author scratching their head and wondering what exactly was wrong/right with it. Sometimes - and please tell me in the comments if this happened to you on a public forum - you can find the perfect match. *ahhh*

I have participated in a few public forums. As you guys know, christy and I both participated in writeoncon this past summer and posted work for review (and found each other, of course). I got a few responses that were very helpful - but in a sense, that was an unusual forums arrangement. Its participants were actively looking to get feedback in preparation for the conference and possible agent/editor recognition - and the best way to get feedback is to give it (and woc was all kidlit - organized forums in YA, MG, and PB). This is a good thing.

Another forum (not to be named, sorry) gave me a sour taste in my mouth - I got comments like "If I read another first-person book, I'm gonna' puke" and "I'd be happy to review your first page if you look at mine first." NOT HELPFUL. And, yes, the infamous "realistic contemporary is so boring, I refuse to read any more of yours" critique I got last summer. grr.

Do you participate in any critique forums (or have you)? Do you love them? Do you hate them? Do you ignore them? Or are you one of those that reads and never participates, laughing at the fact that your book is going to be so much better than all the drivel the other authors put out there (come on, you know there's people like that out there. none of our followers, of course. but, you know, "lurkers")?

And in the interest of public disclosure - in case you missed it the other times I posted it (hey, it's my 15 minutes of fame) - here's the link to my Nathan Bransford first-page critique last July (disclaimer - this isn't my first page anymore, well, not exactly). Not that an agent critique is equal to peer-critiques - they're a whole new animal. However, there are some interesting comments from other aspiring authors if you feel like taking the time to look at them (and yes, you might recognize a few of them - my friends are really wonderful). Okay, two links - first this one and then here.

12.16.2010

#11

For Christy's Query Letter Blogfest Entry, please click here (or scroll down two posts). Thanks!

ooh we are getting down there (on our countdown)!  so that means we're also getting closer to christmas and a brand new year.  (which is why i've been a little absent on your blogs and on some comments lately.  sorry!  i still have mountains of presents to buy.  i just finally ORDERED my christmas cards (yes, ordered, NOT sent out.  that'll hopefully happen over the weekend).  and there's been christmas concerts and cookie baking and decorating and shopping.  well, i'm sure many of you are doing lots of the same things.  you understand.

the 11th on our countdown of best/worst things about being an aspiring writer is not a comparison.  there is simply a best and then there is a worst.

BEST:

YOU ALL.  since writeoncon i've met some wonderful, amazing people.  i didn't even know so many people aspired to be published authors.  now i recognize people's names and writing pieces as i peruse the blogs.  i've met some really nice people and helpful critiquers through "the voice". and rach's crusade. very importantly i've met and befriended my blog partner, erica, who also helps me tons with my writing.  through her i met michael who also helps me out with my wip.  erica has opened lots of other doors for me and kind of holds my hand while sharing all the things she's learned along the way. :0)  plus, we spend most of our free time emailing each other and have even hung out on a saturday night together.  (virtually, anyway!)  thanks for being a great friend, erica!!!

and, i've met so many people who visit us here at our blog.  i really can't convey how much your comments mean to me.  and how insightful, witty, comical, inspiring, and informative your blog posts are over at your places.

thank you very much.  i sincerely thought about each of you the other day while i was driving home.  i listed names in my head and thought about how lucky i was to have gotten involved in this amazing online world.  we have such an amazing support group here.  my husband doesn't understand why we all blog so much.  he tells me that once a week or even once a month would be sufficient.  and that no other group of people (those working in IT, teachers, other business venues) blog as much, if at all.  i thought about it and decided that those people all have coworkers they see every day.  teachers, for example, chat, vent, bounce ideas off one another in the halls and the teacher's lounge daily (maybe even hourly).  we (aspiring authors) don't have that in-person advantage.  THIS, the online blogosphere and twitterville is our lounge, our happy hour with one another. our cubicle and conference room. i don't know about you, but i need a near-daily dose.  who else would i vent to or run to with a new idea, or ask all my writing questions?

 i would love to list each and every person's name who stands out in my mind, but i would feel horrible if i missed any one of you.  please know that if i've ever visited your blog or you've visited us.  or you've been on the boards at the voice or have emailed me.  i thought of you.  i'm grateful for you

WORST:

on a completely different note.  voice.  THAT word.  that very, non-specific word.  when someone tells me to add voice.  or to create my own voice.  or to find my voice.  or to differentiate my voice from someone else's. what on earth are they talking about?  we use the same word for many different things!  character's personality, author's writing style, the tone of the book.

 i've been fortunate to find these helpful sites (below).  i'm sure there are many, many more. and if you have any at your fingertips, feel free to leave their links in our comments.  we'll create a list of VOICE links under our tips tab.  easy go to place for helpful writing information.  (new year's resolution:  add more helpful tabs and organize the mess of favorite sites i have saved on my computer.)

this link is from nathan bransford and it delineates the different elements of voice.  i so appreciated the clarification.  (how to craft a great voice)

this link also separates the various forms of voice.  woo hoo! (nicola morgan @ help! i need a publisher.  helping you find your voice)

this link has some great voice exercises you can try to get "into character" or into the right mood to write your book.  (shannon whitney helping you find your character's voice)

anyways, i think being told to improve your voice is one of the vaguest forms of feedback there is.  especially when it comes from an agent rejecting your manuscript based on a voiceless query.  it's been one of the hardest aspects of my writing to grasp.  so, for me, it's one of the worst things about being an aspiring author because it was the hardest thing to wrap my revising mind around. 

however, if i may contradict myself, it's one of the best things, too. because voice is so much fun to learn and add and change and, well, voice is the spunk of writing.  and that just makes it the party, too.

it's late. i ramble when i'm not blogxausted and pre-holidayxausted.  so forgive me if this post made no sense.  i totally planned on it being like five sentences. you may have stopped reading after only that many.  i'm stopping now.  leave a comment if you're not dozing on your keyboard.

happy holidays and thanks.
christy

12.15.2010

#12

For Christy's Query Letter Blogfest Entry, please click here (or scroll down a post). Thanks!

#12 on our list of best/worst things about being an aspiring writer - whether to write in first person or third (and which third) (we won't mention second because that's just silly)

I (erica) started writing in third person because it's what I read the most of. It can help you connect with all your characters. It allows you to switch scenes - even know what everyone in the book knows (thinking Stephen King here). It's what "all the great authors do." (the quotation marks are there because this is what I thought, not because someone actually told me that) (but yeah, I do like Stephen King)

But I couldn't get into it exactly like I had hoped. It felt like I was reading it, not writing it. So I switched to 1st and felt so much better - I interjected thought and feeling and voice and so many things I didn't have enough of before during the switch. For me, it felt like it was because of the change of pov. It might be because I was getting more experience, I guess time will tell. Maybe I'll get all scholarly and literary and go back to third.

What about you, what's your writing perspective? First? Third limited? Third (gulp) omniscient?

There's no right or wrong way - it all depends on you, your character, and your story. For more info on pov, link here and here and to the author interviews on this blog.

12.13.2010

#13 and a Query Blogfest Entry

#13 on our countdown of best/worst things about being an aspiring writer...decisions, decisions. 


do you write your query before you really get into your manuscript OR do you wait until your manuscript is completed to tackle the dreaded task?


for the query posted below, i started it after.  this posed many problems for me.  i knew waaaay too many details about my story.  it was very, very difficult to pare it down.  for my current WIP, i wrote it first.  now as i write i can add in as many details (subplot, characters, issues, etc) as i want without confusing the main plot points and characters.  all set.  well, probably not, but i'll worry about that when the final 40% is completed.

 And now, only one day late, here is my blogfest entry for Jodi Henry's Query Letter Blogfest.


Dear Agent,


Fifteen year old Dawn Buchanen has nowhere left to hide. She’s charged with arson, blamed for spreading an influenza strain so bizarre it’s dubbed Influenza X, and hunted by a spark-throwing figure that can’t possibly be human. And to think being known as a goody-goody used to be her only problem. Those days are as gone as the hems of her burnt pants. Oh, and her sanity is pretty close to up and leaving, too.

The only thing left she finds comfort in are her drawings. They seem to be trying to tell her something and she’s compelled to draw more often and more vividly every day. A new world comes alive on her paper. Through her boyfriend, Lawrence, she learns the world on her paper truly exists—in another dimension called Themura. He confesses he is a Transporter, one of very few with the gift to be able to go to the world she thought she created with her charcoal pencil.

She makes a confession of her own. She can see his aura—along with all the rest of the Transporters’ glowing forms. While she swallowed his news without a second thought (okay, there may have been a third), he didn’t return the favor. He’s gone. To make matters worse, he blabs about her rare “gift” of vision. Now Transporters are watching every move she makes, prepared to haul her to Themura to put her on trial. Confused and scared, she’s determined to learn who, or what, she is. She believes the answers are written in an old family journal. It's too bad the secrets are stuck inside its seamless binding. No lock, no opening. Only whispered stories hinting at its contents.


It’s only a matter of time before she’s caught by somebody. The trouble is, since everyone is out looking for her, the real evil doers are getting closer to finding what they’re looking for: the portal between the dimensions. If they do, life will never be the same. However, if Dawn can somehow help the Themurans keep their little secrets, she just might save the worlds.


I hope you’ll fall in love with Solstice, an 80,000 word YA Fantasy novel, as easily as Dawn falls into trouble.  When I'm not writing about make-believe worlds, I'm sparking an interest in reading and writing for my second graders or reading books to my cuddlers at home.


Thanks for your time and consideration,


Christy

#14

#14 of best/worst things of being an aspiring author querying agents vs. sending right to publishers

This is probably a no-brainer for you guys. You've researched, you've written, you've researched, you've edited and you're ready.

Ready for what, though? Most authors (of novels, anyway) would say "ready for an agent." Agents will tell you to be ready for an agent (for proof, go here and here). Heck, even editors/publishers will tell you to get an agent (just check their submissions requirements).

But what if you don't want to? Or you can't? Or an editor puts out an open call for submissions (like this one and this one, too)? Would you consider trying something other than the traditional agent route? A small publisher? A contest (like ABNA)? Or would you rather kill your manuscript and start over with a new one?

In the interest of full disclosure, I (erica) recently sent my ms out to the two publishers I've linked to above and plan on submitting to ABNA - while working on my WIP (or two). So I guess you know what I'd do.

What would you do?

Oh, and here's your Monday recipe (what? you thought this one would be short? pffft)

On our side of WI, we got over 16 inches of snow on Saturday, we live on top of a hill, the drifts are over my knees (I'm 5'10") and I haven't left the house other than to shovel in almost 48 hours (with more to go - school's cancelled tomorrow, er, today). So I want things that are easy and available and require the oven so it helps heat the house. This is super simple and good and always leaves leftovers.

Fake Spanish Rice
2 cups rice (cooked)
1 can drained peas (you could use corn, but I always use peas)
1 can tomato soup
salt and pepper

Mix all the ingredients. Put in casserole dish. Cover with crushed crackers. Bake 30 minutes at 350. Enjoy!



12.12.2010

#15

#15 on our list of best/worse things about being an aspiring author  being thankful vs. wanting more (alternatively - things that make you cry with thanks and praise)

we always want more, don't we? more money, more fame, more books to read, more ideas to write down, more, um, followers. but we're also very, very thankful for what we do have.

you guys already know we're both teachers and moms to two boys each. we saw this video and needed to share it with you. get a box of kleenex. then hug your kids (or someone else's. they won't mind). and, if you can, donate some money to a great cause. or join erica and become a potential bone marrow donor - get more information at marrow.org. seriously, don't forget the kleenex. this family and their town are amazing. as are all of you. have a very merry holiday season - we wish you all the best that life has to offer.



12.11.2010

#16 - and the Harry Potter Blogfest

#16 on the list of best/worst things about being an aspiring novelist: writing vs. reading (and a blogfest - it's down there - points down - start with the part in green)

Everyone knows that to be a good writer, you must be a great reader. I've read hundreds of books - probably thousands - in the 31 years since I first learned how. Recently, though, I've slowed. It's a time thing.

**ducks from rotten tomatoes about to be hurled across the continents**

Which means I haven’t read (most of) the Harry Potter books.

**peeks to see if it’s safe**

Last year, my son wanted to read The Deathly Hallows. He's an advanced reader and sometimes we struggle to find him appropriate books (at that time, he was 8, but reading at a 6th grade level). He'd seen all the HP movies many, many times, so we decided it would be okay, but that I'd read ahead of him in case there was something we should discuss (like the possible elimination of some of his book-friends).

It took me forever to read it. I'm sure there's tons of really clever stuff that I missed because I hadn't read any of the others and some stuff I forgot over the 4 months it took me. I'm sorry. I'll try to catch up eventually.

But man, have you seen those books? They're HUGE. If I take the time to read them all and really, really pay attention so I catch all the clever stuff - I'll never have time to write. Or shower. Or make sure my kids shower.

So, for now, I'll watch the movies (er, glance at the movies over the top of my laptop as I write - it's a Friday night ritual my sons and I have. Sort-of-family-movie-night.)

What books have you missed out on reading lately? Or what have you read that was super awesome and I should drop everything and run out to the nearest library/bookstore to pick up (don't say Harry Potter)?

Oh, yeah, there’s supposed to be a blogfest post in here somewhere
Michael Di Gesu is someone I met through ABNA and I wanted to support his first blogfest (click on his name to learn more). But it's about Harry Potter. And I'm just not smart clever well-versed enough in HP to pull it off. So, instead, I asked my son (who's since read 3 of the books) to write one. He's home sick from school today, so this was perfect timing. Take it away, Zachary.

Thanksgiving Dinner with the Weasleys

Harry looked at the table and couldn't believe it. All the turkey was gone. Nobody got a bite but Ron. His mother, brothers, and Ginny got really angry at him for eating the turkey. Fred (or George, maybe) said, "Well, we're wizards. Can't we just poof up a turkey?"

Mrs. Weasley said, "No you can't, you're underage. At least we have all the stuffing. Wait a minute. Fred? George? Did you eat all the stuffing?"

"It was so good, we couldn't resist."

"Aww, come on," Ginny said.

"I'm starving. Couldn't Mr. Weasley poof up some food? Isn't he of age? Can he do it?"

"Hmm, that would be a good idea, Harry, but he's off at the ministry. He's doing something for the Minister of Magic."

Fred and George tried to make some food with magic, but Hermione caught them.

"Fred? George? Don't even try it or Dumbledore will give you an F for Charms and an F for Defense Against the Dark Arts as punishment."

Mrs. Weasley said, "I'll just go to the Muggle store and get a turkey. Hermione, you're in charge. Everyone can snack on the pumpkin pie. Except for Ron, you should be full of turkey."

"Yeah, I am. I'll take a nap I'm so full," said Ron.

The End. 




12.10.2010

#17

17th on the list of best/worst things about being an aspiring novelist:  blogging vs. writing.

sorry!  writing won out today.

here's a repost:

sorry, we're not home right now. please leave us a message and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

we're currently away from our blog

expect our return shortly

until then, browse
we have lots of fun tabs you might never have looked at,
fun pictures on the sidebars,
lots of other links to blogs with active bloggers
cuz
WE'RE ACTUALLY WRITING, IF YOU CAN BELIEVE IT!


wish us luck, we'll try not to hurt ourselves

click on the story starter
and you might be taken to a few passages of what we've written in the past

super sincerely,
erica and christy

p.s. ARE YOU WRITING TODAY?

12.09.2010

#18

#18 of our countdown brings us to something I (erica) have thought about since I started writing. Longhanding it vs. laptopping it (okay, desktopping it in my early days) (and when my beloved laptop is broken)

Longhanding it has tons of benefits. You have to concentrate - there are no tabs to open in a spiral. You get a much different sensory experience - the feel of the pen, the look of your own writing, the satisfaction of turning the page vs. bright lights and delete buttons and fancy fonts (oh my!). Also, of course, paper and pen can go wherever you go. Even space (er, bring a pencil if you're in space. And, um, me. Thanks.)

Laptopping (and, yes, desktopping) it has its own set of benefits. It's faster. It has instant editing. You don't have to go back later and type it in because, well, no one wants to read your handwritten pages. NO ONE. Plus, when your husband puts in a terrible movie, you can type on the laptop and pretend you're doing lesson plans, grades, etc. A notebook and pen will just make him suspicious.

Personally, I love longhanding it. It brings me in touch with my characters. It tells me where this story is going.

The first few chapters, sure. A difficult scene, absolutely. I love the complete attention it takes and the connection with my characters that it gives me. But I would/could never write an entire novel that way. I encounter too many dead ends/changes to make it worth my while.

How about you? Do you longhand? Would you try it? How do you connect?

12.08.2010

#19

19th on our countdown (the best vs the worst parts of being an aspiring novelist):  commenting under a blog post vs. emailing or visiting the commenters' blogs to acknowlegde a comment


we've been struggling with figuring out the best way to comment on comments.


if you're a commenter, you might have realized this:


we always comment on our blog UNDER  your comments (er, we hope, anyway)


we always email comments as well. er, nope, we don't. (but we've started to.) HOWEVER, thanks to Abby (yes, click on the word Abby and follow her. she's awesome) we now realize we've been responding to a non-address. (your name @ no reply blogspot [dot] com) which means we're responding to no one. oops.)

sometimes we follow you over to your blog to reciprocate a comment (we mean to do this EVERY time...and will get better at it)we're busy moms, writers, and bloggers. but we intend to respond to all of you.

on a personal level.


you are our friends. sincerely.

SO, how do you prefer to have your comments acknowledged? 
a) comments under our blog post
b)comments under YOUR blog post at YOUR blog
c)email (only if you want this you have to check the box on YOUR blog's profile to SHOW EMAIL.  then we will no longer email you at a no reply address aka your email out there in oblivion)

(also check out this post by YA author elana johnson on comments...#3 also helped us figure out our replying via email problem.

lately we've been trying to do all three, and we believe that is the best way.  then all commenters can see our comments, plus we're sending a personal email and making that connection with you, and we're visiting you to see what your thoughts are that day. it's only fair and right after all.

time consuming?  yes.  can we promise to do all three every day?  no.  we wish we could.  so, since we can't do all three all the time.  which method is your favorite?

And if you have a chance, let us know how you connect. How did you find us? How do you know other aspiring novelists? How do you find followers?  Who do you choose to follow and what does that mean to you?


thanks!!!!