Thursday, February 28, 2013

February in New Hampshire

I just came across a poem I wrote when I was away from New Hampshire for a while and missing winter. I'm just in time, because it's called "February":

A desolate wasteland of white,
Of wind and of snow and of light--
The wind in the trees on a hill,
The snow now at rest from its flight,
And everywhere--everywhere--light.

A universe barren and bare,
Where man cannot see for the glare
And barely can breathe for the chill.
He stands 'midst the elements there.
And they? Neither see him, nor care.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Snow, Rocks and Other Kinds of Mud

So another snowstorm hits New Hampshire. Time to shovel and make cocoa and enjoy the beautiful whiteness of it all. School won't close for this one because it's already closed for a scheduled vacation.

They named this one Rocky. I don't think so. Rocky is what we have when we don't have snow.

I recently learned that the Old English name for the month roughly equivalent to our modern February was Solmonath, or mud month. I hear England can be very muddy in February. Well, Brits, I'll be thinking of you as I shovel today. We have a mud month, too, only we call it April.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Writing Tips: Apostrophes

Question: Which of the following sentences is correct?

A) Julie would need to brush Molly's teeth as well as the dog's.

B) Julie would need to brush Molly's teeth as well as the dogs'.

 C) Julie would need to brush Molly's teeth as well as the dogs.
Answer: All of the above. Which one to use depends on what you're trying to say.

In A), there is one dog, and Julie needs to brush his teeth.

In B), there are at least two dogs, and Julie needs to brush the teeth of both (or all) of them.

In C), there are at least two dogs, and Julie can put the toothbrush away, because it's not their teeth she needs to brush, but the dogs themselves.

The key:
  1. The apostrophe (') and 's' together show possession. Together they indicate that something belongs to someone. (The apostrophe also has one other function in English, and we'll get to that.) 
  2. If the apostrophe comes before the 's' then there is only one owner (or at least, only one owner mentioned). This is called a singular possessive. Some examples: Mary's dollhouse, the resident's home, the dog's teeth.
  3. If the apostrophe comes after the 's' then more than one owner is being mentioned. This is called a plural possessive. Examples: the girls' dollhouse, the residents' home, the dogs' teeth.
  4. Sometimes the thing that's owned has already been mentioned and it's not necessary to state it again. For example, you wouldn't say, "When you've filled the horse's water bucket, go ahead and fill the donkey's water bucket and the llama's water bucket." You'd say, "When you've filled the horse's water bucket, go ahead and fill the donkey's and the llama's." In our original examples, both A) and B) contain the understood word 'teeth.'
  5. If there's no apostrophe, then there's no possessive. In C), Julie simply would need to brush Molly's teeth, and also brush the dogs. The dog's teeth are not the object here: the dogs are.
(There are two exceptions to these rules, and we'll talk about them in a little bit.)

The grocer's apostrophe:

What about sentences like these?
  • This weekend only, potatoe's are only $1.00 a pound.
  • Check out our new shipment of  fruit's and vegetable's.
Sorry, but they're incorrect. These are simple plurals, not possessives (more than one potato, more than one fruit, more than one vegetable, and they don't own anything) so the apostrophes shouldn't be there. This error is so common in grocery stores that it has come to be known as the grocer's apostrophe (or the grocers' apostrophe - nobody seems to know how many grocers there are).


The exception to rule #1 above is for irregular plurals such as children, men and women. In these cases, the apostrophe will come before the 's' but the word will still be plural: 
  • Child's: belonging to one child. Children's: belonging to more than one child.
  • Man's: belonging to one man. Men's: belonging to more than one man.
  • Woman's: belonging to one woman. Women's: belonging to more than one woman.
The exception to rule #5 is the word its. To prevent confusion with the contraction it's (short for it is), the possessive its (belonging to it) is spelled without the apostrophe.

Other uses for apostrophes: 

The only other official use of the apostrophe in English is to show where something was left out. Usually you'll find them in contractions (didn't, hadn't, that's, he'd, etc.), but sometimes they're used in dialogue to help show how someone speaks (he's bigger'n me, peaches 'n' cream).  

Unofficially, the apostrophe is often used to indicate a glottal stop, especially in casual transliterations of foreign words. The glottal stop sounds a lot like a hiccup, and can be found in the middle of 'uh-oh'. 

If you want to know more about that, I have some Sco'ish friends who are experts a' the glo'al sto'p.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Fiction Writer Spotlight: Cathrine Garnell

I'm very happy to be able to say that indie writer Cathrine Garnell, author of Basil the Bionic Cat, has consented to an interview:
Jae: Why do you write fiction? What got you started and what do you think influenced you to take up fiction writing?

Cathrine: Ever since I was able to write, I’ve always penned stories of some sort or another. My mother used to read a lot of Enid Blyton to me when I was very small and I’ve always loved all types of stories.  As I got older and began to choose my own books, there was no stopping me and I’m the same now. My to read pile is humongous, it’s like the Leaning Tower of Pisa on my bedside table and I’ve even built myself a library to house my lifelong obsession with the written word!

Jae: Can you tell me a little about the books you've written?

Cathrine: My first published children’s novel was Basil the Bionic Cat – a story of Mad Scientists, secret laboratories, ruthless mafia gangs and Basil who becomes the world’s only Organic-Bionic Cat. Vile Violeticia was next, followed by Tamara’s Time Machine.   I’ve also co-authored three adult novels too: Clawless, The Cross of Ramplet and a marketing book called Cooking Up Customers.
Jae: How long does it usually take you to write a book?

Cathrine:  It depends what I’m working on. Basil the Bionic Cat took six months to write the first draft, but it was 92,000-ish words. Typically if I can get some peace and quiet a 40,000 - 50,000 word novel can take about 3 months.  Shorter books, perhaps only a month, if I can sneak off and get some quiet time.

Jae: How do you choose the titles for your books?

Cathrine: The titles come out of nowhere, literally.  I can be thinking about a 100 things at once and then a title will just pop into my head, I always make a note of every title that comes into my mind on my phone – that’s my new note book!

Jae: Do you think in concepts, pictures or words? If words, are they spoken or written?

Cathrine: I think in every medium, words, pictures and concepts all at the same time – it’s just how my brain works. It’s like a mass cosmic storm of endless information racing through my mind as the story reveals itself.  I type pretty quickly, but sometimes my fingers just can’t keep up with my brain! LOL
Jae: Tell me about your writing process.

Cathrine:  I don’t really have one, I know that sounds crazy, but I just sit at my computer, open a document and pray for inspiration.  Usually something triggers the words and then the flow begins. On a really good day I can write up to 10,000 words, however on a bad day perhaps only a thousand.

Jae: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing for you, and how do you overcome that challenge?

Cathrine:  The most challenging thing about writing is keeping up the consistency with one novel at a time – when so many ideas are popping into your head, sometimes it can be a bit difficult to stay with just one novel and I can have several on the go at once.  I don’t recommend this system at all, so now I try my hardest to stick with just one at a time.

Jae: What do you like least about writing?

Cathrine:  The least favourite thing for me about writing is the editing process.  It’s the fun-killer of creativity!  But it is a necessary evil of being an author, sad but true!

Jae: What do you like most about writing?

Cathrine:  You get to play god! LOL (Not that I have a god complex I might add!)  When you think about it, you actually are creating worlds and their inhabitants from scratch, so in effect you are The Creator of your creation.   I love the fact that you can do anything, say anything and create anything for your characters and worlds, it’s like pure magic.   It’s the best fun ever, especially when you’re writing something with a comedy element like my next novel – Kosmic K9 and BatCat.
Jae: How do you make time to write?

Cathrine:  Great question – now that my library is finally finished and has no internet in there at all – not even 3G  (on purpose I might add)  it makes it so much easier, as there is no lure to go online and check all my social media and websites!  Prior to this I was fitting everything in with periodic stoppages to go web surfing.  This interrupts the flow of the writing, so I’m really pleased to have a space where I can concentrate and there are no distractions, apart from the kitties who like to be with me. Basil can be a little naughty, he likes to tread on the keyboard if he’s feeling left out!

Jae: What important lessons have you learned as a writer that you'd like to pass on to others?

Cathrine:  The one invaluable piece of advice I can pass on to other writers is this:  Never stop writing, the more you do it, the better you become.  It’s that age old adage: Practice makes Perfect (well sometimes!)

Jae: What are you working on now? Can we expect a new book any time soon?

Cathrine: At the moment I am just finishing the final edits on my latest novel for the 8 - 12 age group.  It’s called Kosmic K9 and BatCat ~ Quartermass and the Pigs.  It’s due for release Spring 2013.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Writing: When It's Right to Do It Wrong

Ever since I can remember, I've had a knack for creating characters. (Actually, I think most three-year-olds do, and I was just lucky enough not to lose it.) By the time I was about nine I could write dialogue pretty well, and for the next ten years or so, I worked on the more difficult skills of description and narrative.

So that was all I needed, I thought. I'd just throw together some characters that didn't fit together (so they'd create enough conflict to produce a plot) and see where they took me. I'd write it all down, and the result would be a novel called The Birch Tree's Daughter.

It failed, of course, but I still think the premise was good. Maybe someday I'll write it again, only differently.

My failure to have any plot in mind - or to even understand the difference between a plot and a premise - was not the only reason it failed. I had read every piece of writing advice I could get my hands on, and almost every one had steered me wrong.

It wasn't really the fault of the people giving the advice - at least, not entirely. They made the mistake of assuming all inexperienced writers are alike, and I made the mistake of assuming their advice was meant for everyone, at all times and in all situations.

The advice was to write less - not to spend less time writing, or to write fewer books or anything like that, but to condense my writing. The message should be given to the reader in as few words as possible, they said. Any passages that don't propel your characters directly toward the end of the book should be cut out. Avoid all unnecessary scenes or descriptions.

The Birch Tree's Daughter turned out to be about 15,000 words, if I remember right, and contained none of the feeling I had tried to convey. Feeling, after all, would have required more words, would have required scenes and descriptions that didn't drive everybody directly to the end of the book, and that, the experts told me, was both unprofessional and unpublishable.
Of course, it was very good advice for the majority of writers. I know now that bloated ramblings are the norm, and most writers have to work very hard to contain the flood of words and produce a polished, concise manuscript. I just happen to have the opposite problem. If I didn't make the effort to 'write more,' this post would probably look something like this:
"I can write novels now because I learned from some bad writing advice in the past, and because I always plot out my books and don't write them sequentially."
Interesting, huh?

Those are the other things The Birch Tree's Daughter taught me: I need to have an outline, and I need to write the ending early. A novel, in my opinion, should end with fireworks, and Birch Tree ended when it finally ran out of the conflict that had brought it to life. I suppose the birch tree and its daughter lived happily ever after, but the story would have been a whole lot more interesting if you could have read it backwards.
And now I'm in the second draft of An Analysis of the Cardassian Language. The beginning is done, the final chapter is done, and I'm working on the homestretch. When that's done, I'll write the middle.

Next Sunday, I'll talk about preventing burnout as a writer. Yup, it's another rule I happily break.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Survival #5: Kerosene Lamps

For a number of years when I was a kid, my family lived without electricity and got most of our light from kerosene lamps. Okay, we got most of our light from the sun, but you know what I mean.

I met plenty of people who seemed to feel sorry for me, living like that, and I didn't understand why. Much later I happened to be with some friends when they lit a kerosene lamp, and then it all made sense to me. Their lamp wasn't much brighter than a nightlight, certainly nothing you'd want to read by, and that was just for the first few minutes. Pretty soon the clear glass chimney turned black, and all we had was a little glow.

It doesn't have to be like that. If you know how to use them, kerosene lamps give enough light for cooking, washing the dishes, doing homework and enjoying a good book. Sewing and mopping the floor may need to wait for daylight, though, not because there's not enough light, but because it's often hard to get the light where you need it.
Some tips:

Choosing your lamp: I like to pick one with a heavy base for stability. A large fuel reservoir won't help since it won't burn properly unless it's pretty full, anyway. Height is optional and depends on where you'll be putting it and what type of activity you're planning. If you're buying more than one lamp, I recommend buying both short ones and tall ones.

Preparing your lamp: We had a ritual in our house: every day, sometime before dark, we prepared the lamps. If they were going to function properly for the evening, they needed to be filled, trimmed and cleaned.
  • Filling: I always do this outdoors because it's very smelly. A funnel helps a lot unless your kerosene jug has a very narrow spout. Hold the lamp in one hand and grab the screw-threads with the other, and twist the top off. Never try to unscrew it by the wide part of the cap: I've broken at least one lamp that way. Let the cap dangle by the wick and pour in the kerosene beside it. Fill it up all the way to the bottom of the narrow part at the top where the cap screws on, then close it up again. Wipe off any drips with a rag.
  • Trimming the wick defines the shape of the flame and helps keep it from smoking. You'll need a pair of small, sharp scissors. 
    • Start by choosing a shape for the wick. Some people prefer a round shape and some a flatter one, and it's mostly a matter of what you find easiest to work with. I like to follow the shape of the cap.
    • Using the knob, turn the wick up until it's convenient to work on.
    • If it's a brand-new wick, light it with a match and then blow it out right away.
    • Photo:
    • Now it's time to attack it with the scissors. Your goal is to make it smooth and rounded, without any bumps or corners, and relatively free of crispy, charred wick material. The best results I've ever gotten were from leaving just a tiny bit of the crispy stuff and gently running my finger along the top of the wick to smooth it. But since I haven't been doing it every day, I'm afraid I'm out of practice and haven't managed to leave just the right amount of crisp for that lately.
  • Cleaning: A clean, dry chimney without water spots is essential to getting good light out of your lamp. This job is best done by someone with a small enough hand to fit inside easily, but if necessary you can use a wooden spoon. Don't use a metal utensil, don't clink the spoon around in there, and don't ever force your hand in! Lamp chimneys are delicate, and no amount of light is worth slicing a tendon. Clean the chimney as you would clean a window, with glass cleaner and paper towels. If it's very dirty, you may want to wash it in a plastic dishpan first, but not directly in the sink or together with your dishes, because it could shatter. Hold it up to a window to be sure you've eliminated all streaks and fingerprints, and then handle it only by the bottom.
Placing your lamp: Location makes a big difference. Here are some things to consider:
  • If that lamp gets knocked over once it's lit, it's a Molotov cocktail. Okay, so kerosene isn't as dangerous as gasoline, but you've still got a potential disaster on your hands. It's also very hot anywhere near the chimney, and especially above it. 
    • The temptation is always there to set a lamp on the edge of something where people are likely to bump it. It's just not worth it.
    • Don't put it on a tablecloth. If the cat gets playful or feels the need to scratch, or the tablecloth snags on your chair, you've got trouble.
    • Don't put it too close to flammable materials. If you have a hanger or bracket, be sure it's installed so the lamp will be far enough from the wall and ceiling. The first time you use it there, it's a good idea to keep checking the wall and ceiling to make sure they aren't getting hot.
    • If you have children or pets, don't ever leave the room with a lamp burning. I know it's a pain, but grab your matches, blow out the lamp, and relight it when you return.
    • Supervise children near the lamp, but remember they will never learn to be safe with it if you don't let them near it at all. To minimize accidents due to carelessness or curiosity, it's a good idea to explain to them how it works and where it is hot (the chimney and the air above it). If they want to touch it, they can do so safely if you're holding the lamp near the screw-threads to keep it steady. Just be sure they know to touch the base and not the chimney.
Can you find two things wrong?
  • Think about how to make the light shine where you need it most. You may need to rearrange your work area to safely maximize your usage of available light. Items that require electricity, such as small kitchen appliances or electric lamps, can be stowed elsewhere to eliminate unnecessary shadows.
  • Have you ever noticed how small and dim the bulb in a flashlight really is? It gets all that extra lighting power from the reflective cone it sits in. You can do the same thing with your lamp. Aluminum foil is wonderful, window glass is great, and even a backdrop of porcelain canisters helps a lot. Try to remove any objects that have a dull texture if they don't absolutely need to be near the lamp.
  • Remember that unlike an electric light installed in a ceiling, a kerosene lamp will not shine its light directly down. In fact, a lot of taller lamps will cast an annoying round shadow that pretty much rules out homework or reading. Placing a short and a tall lamp together in the middle of the table, or a tall lamp and some candles, will eliminate this shadow, especially if the table is lined with foil. 
Lighting your lamp: 
  • Be sure the chimney is clean and within easy reach, and turn up the wick until you can see it peeking out above the cap.
  • Light the wick with a match or lighter.
  • Turn the wick down again until the flame is very small but not in danger of going out.
  • Put the chimney in place, being careful to handle it only by the base. Check to make sure it's seated correctly and none of the little metal holders got stuck inside.
  • The heat of the flame will cause water vapor to cloud the inside surface of the chimney. Wait until this burns off before adjusting the flame. If the flame is too high before the vapor burns off, there will be water spots on the chimney and the lamp will not give off as much light.
  • When the chimney clears, turn up the wick until the flame is as big as possible without flickering or smoking. You should not be able to see the wick itself.
When you're done, turn the wick down, blow out the flame and allow the chimney to cool before moving the lamp. The wick will continue to wick kerosene even when the lamp is not lit. The difference is that without the flame, the kerosene can evaporate. So be sure to store the lamp with the wick turned down as far as it will go without falling out of its holder.

Coming up in this series:

  • How to heat, cook and bake with a wood stove
  • How to live without running water
  • How to get the most out of your food budget
  • How to keep your food from spoiling without electricity

Friday, February 22, 2013

Short Story: Miss Communication

Another snippet of my novel An Analysis of the Cardassian Language. This one's from Chapter One:

'Note to self,' I thought, feeling myself blush, 'Don't wear a knit bra and a knit top together around cute, intelligent guys.' But I'd brought a sweater, so I put it on.

"What's this vision you keep hinting at," I said, recovering my dignity, "about linguistics as a tool for social change?" I asked not only to change the subject, but because I was burning to know. I myself wanted to find the universal language patterns that would allow me, in partnership with a good computer programmer, to create software that could translate just about any language into just about any other language. The possibilities were staggering. This software, loaded on either a regular computer or a small, tough device built for the purpose, could empower indigenous businesspeople all over the world. It could let ordinary individuals build relationships across cultural boundaries, lessening international tensions on the grassroots level. It could reduce war, oppression and poverty by building bridges and eroding misunderstanding, fear and hate. But I wanted to hear what Derek had in mind. I knew it was going to be good.

His smile showed his dimples. I was beginning to suspect that when the dimples didn't appear, he was just being polite. I smiled, too, because I had a feeling I was going to have plenty of time to test that hypothesis.

"It's simple," he answered. "Purity of language. I'm applying for a grant for it."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it starts with a study to find the pure form of the language. I'm hoping to begin with German first."

"Naturally. You must be fluent."

"I am, but that's not why. German is a whole lot less corrupted than English or even Spanish. It's a good place to start. The world isn't ready for the purification of English yet."

I still had no idea what he was talking about. "So you find out the pure form a language, and then what do you do after that?"

He shrugged. "It's a long shot, I know, especially with the way things are trending lately, but the hope is that people, governments, will embrace the pure form of the language and reject the corrupted versions."

I wasn't sure I liked where this was going. "For what purpose? What would that do?"

"Our cultures have been weakened," he explained. "It's insidious. I'm not sure if you've ever looked into it, but you may be surprised how many words from inferior cultures have gotten in there, even in German."

We managed to part on friendly terms, mostly because for the rest of the meal I pasted a smile on my face and just listened and made small talk. It wouldn't do to stalk away in a self-righteous huff: it was kindness that would reach this man, if anything could.

Finally it was over. We confirmed that we had each other's numbers, and I took a taxi back to my cousin's.

I paid the driver and got out, and then realized I'd had him stop in front of the wrong building. Should have just given him the address and let him do his job. Fortunately, he didn't hang around to watch me walk. After two buildings I got out my copy of Connie's door key and turned to go up the front steps.
And that was the last I saw of Chicago.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Emotobooks Revolution

I've been seeing mentions lately on Twitter about something called 'Emotobooks' and 'the Emotobooks revolution.' Sounded intriguing, so I thought I'd check it out.

Emotobooks are a product line of Grit City Publications, who have this to say about them:

The term Emotobook was conceived by GCP founder, Ron Gavalik, in 2011 to label our first exclusive tablet fiction medium, which heightens emotional awareness in stories. Emotobooks have a unique style and structure, unlike any other fiction. Abstract, emotionally provocative illustrations are tied into each story to depict what characters feel during moments of emotional consequence. These expressive elements provide a cerebral and visual stimulation, which enhances the impact of the experience. GCP illustrators and editors use ePublishing technology to inject visualized emotions inside Emotobooks to immerse the mind in each story.
Hmm, okay. Can I see an example?
From Swing Zone #3: There were bodies left in the soldiers' wake, littering the beach. Mia sucked in her breath and rushed to kneel in front of the television, replaying it in slow-mo as she put her hands to the glass, trying to see their faces. She bit her lip, feeling overwhelmed with apprehension. What if he was one of them? What if that's why he didn't show up? Tormented by that uncertainty, her brain flooded with turbulent emotions. As hard as she had fallen for him, it was more than just upsetting – it was terrifying. She took a few large gulps of air, forcing herself to breathe. Her hand clutched tightly over her heart, praying he wasn't part of it. Desperately, she ran her eyes over each and every body.
She could see some of their faces, but their features all seemed blurred. The rest of the rebels were shown in the distance, always completely obscured. Pulling up some of the older reports, she observed the same thing in all of them. Coltis said she couldn't believe everything that she was seeing, and now she had to wonder. She narrowed her eyes as they showed a close up of the Freedale soldiers, noting once again, it was her brother's division.
This sample doesn't make me want to read Swing Zone #3. "Her brain flooded with turbulent emotions. was more than just upsetting - it was terrifying." I can't help but wonder, if Emotobooks are so effective at communicating emotion, then why did I need to have the emotions introduced and named for me?

I looked up another emotion book I think I'd like much better: The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Their plug:
One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying a character's emotions to the reader in a unique, compelling way. This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. Using its easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment. The Emotion Thesaurus also tackles common emotion-related writing problems and provides methods to overcome them. This writing tool encourages writers to show, not tell emotion and is a creative brainstorming resource for any fiction project.
"Show, not tell," now I like that much better.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Cardassian Language #2

Having a main character who's a linguist is turning out to be lots of fun, especially when she's surrounded by Cardassians and the communications grid goes down.

Thanks to Paramount
I'd like to express my gratitude to Nerys Ghemor, author of Sigils and Unions, for providing a huge body of material to draw from. Everything I've seen is very professionally done and based on a sound knowledge of linguistics. I confess that it bothers me, maybe a little bit too much, when a (supposedly) alien language turns out to be little more than English in a fancy new font, and I'm glad to say that's nothing like what I've found here.

One of the interesting things about the common tongue, as the Cardassians call it, is how it reflects their culture's sense of hierarchy. There are multiple versions of the language, with different pronouns and grammatical forms for each, and which one to use depends on your relationship to the person you're addressing. It's a little like the Spanish tu and usted on hyperdrive.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Writing Tips: How to Use Your Bio to Turn People Off

Self-proclaimed bookworm.

Aspiring writer.

Writer and author.
These are just three of the phrases in people's Twitter, Facebook or even Amazon bios that drive me crazy.  I realize I'm a grammar nut and a bit of a purist, but it's not just that. These people are sabotaging their own success. I suppose I should be happy because it makes me look better in comparison, but it's hard to feel that way. Here's why they bother me:
  • Self-proclaimed basically means 'I'm not calling her this; she's calling herself this.' So if you write it about yourself, what am I supposed to think?
  • Aspiring means hoping. If you're an aspiring writer, then you're hoping to write. Well, stop aspiring and write already! 'Aspiring author,' is a different matter, but don't use it if you've got a book out.
  • Writer and author. Since you can't possibly be an author unless you're a writer, why specify both? I can just imagine how this person's book must read: "I drove to the restaurant and steered. My wife had already arrived a few minutes earlier, and she looked lovely in a blue sleeveless dress and matching pumps, and she had clothes on. The wait was very long, but when the food came it was well worth it and acceptable. The food in that place is always delicious and edible, and both my wife and I love to eat and swallow there." 

Another thing that can turn off potential readers is using one word when you mean to use another one. Proofreading is very important (don't just rely on spell-check), but sometimes it's a matter of confusion between similar words. Here are some commonly confused ones:

  • Loose is an archaic word meaning release. Use it if your fantasy character has been stricken by his conscience and decides to loose all his slaves. To lose means to be defeated in a competition or to be without something that you once had.
  • Could of is incorrect. You mean to say could have. Same goes for should have and would have. It's a verb phrase: 'have' is a helping verb and 'of' makes no sense there because it's a preposition.
  • Insure means make arrangements for payment if something goes wrong. Your car is probably insured. Troy Polamalu's hair is insured. Ensure means make sure. You should ensure that your meat is cooked before you eat it. In a lot of states you must ensure that your car is insured before you can register it.
  • Site, as a noun, means place or spot. Of course, it can also be a website: a place on the web. As a verb, it means 'put in place' or 'provide a place for.' Cite is a verb and it means reference. The related noun is citation. Sight, as a noun, is the sense we use our eyes for. As a verb, it refers to using our eyes to line up objects in a straight line. And that leads us to its other meaning as a noun: a tool we use for sighting, often called a gunsight. An example: "The dainty architect was always a welcome sight to new hires, but to the rest of us, she was a nightmare. No job was ever good enough for her, and she seemed to spend her entire time on the job site doing nothing but complaining and citing obscure regulations."
  • A roll may be something to eat with dinner, the way the dice landed, a sleeping bag ready for carrying, or pretty much anything else that results from the act of rolling. A role, on the other hand, is a part to be played or a function to be carried out. If you tell me you've been 'roll-playing,' I'll think you've been playing marbles or croquet. 

And then there's the apostrophe-'s' issue. Which side of the 's' do you put the apostrophe on, or do you leave it off altogether? The answer depends on what you're trying to say. I'll get into that next time.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Science Fiction Story: Building Towers

From Chapter Five of An Analysis of the Cardassian Language:

I carried the chair to the bed, moved the pillows and set it near the wall. Then, very carefully, I climbed onto it, then gingerly stood up, taking my time and using the wall for support.

The moment I was fully upright, a jolt of electricity shot through me. I fell off the chair, missed the bed entirely and hit the floor with my side, knocking the wind from my lungs.

In that long, desperate moment before the air came painfully back, I heard Gul Dukat's voice say calmly, "I'm disappointed in you, Teryn."

I raised myself to my hands and knees and coughed and struggled to breathe. When I could speak, I said, "Gul? Can you hear me?"

"Of course I can hear you," came the answer. "I didn't know you enjoyed building towers so much. Are you an architect?"

"No," I answered, and coughed.

"No," he repeated, "but you have deceived me."

I wondered how I should respond to that. I wondered how I could have been so dumb as not to realize they would have bugged the room. I wondered where the cameras and microphones where hidden, and whether the Gul could see me now as well as hear me. I wondered if any of my bones were broken.

"Did you hear me, Teryn?" Gul Dukat persisted. "You've deceived me."

I wondered who Teryn was, and why he'd confused our names. "Yes," I answered. "I'm trying to figure out what you're referring to."

"You seemed happy enough to share my bed last night. I thought we had something good going. And now I find you trying to escape."

"It won't happen again," I promised, and meant it. I wouldn't be touching the top of the wall again, at any rate.

My breathing was becoming more regular now, and I got off my hands and knees and sat on the floor. Moving hurt: I was badly bruised, at best. I felt very grateful that I hadn't landed on my head.

"Gul?" I asked.

"Go ahead."

"I think I need a doctor."

"Why? Are you dying?"

"No, but I think I could have cracked a rib."

"A souvenir, then. A reminder to improve your behavior in the future. Is there anything else, besides your medical status?"

Thanks to Paramount
I couldn't believe he wouldn't let me see a doctor. "Yes," I replied numbly. "Are there any other places I should be aware of, that are off-limits, besides the top of the wall?"

"The top of the wall isn't off limits," he answered. "Insulting me is off limits."

"Of course," I answered, confused now. "Did I insult you, Gul?"

"I would consider attempting to run away from me insulting. Wouldn't you?"

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Survival #4: Non-Electric Lighting

How would your characters see if the lights went out in a storm or disaster? What if they lived 'off the grid' or in a time or place where electric light was unheard of?

Flashlights seem to be the first thing everyone mentions, followed by batteries. It would take quite a stash of batteries to get enough light to function for long, from flashlights, and it would be inconvenient, too. But flashlights are great for those first moments when suddenly everything is dark and you need to find things. Of course, they're modern, so some characters would have to get by with something a little less convenient.

Aluminum foil is another modern convenience I love to have when the lights go out. It's actually pretty cool to use when they're on, too. Lining counters, tables, walls, etc with foil, shiny side out, reflects light back to where you can use it. Look at your car headlights and you'll see the same principle in use. It also protects surfaces from candle drippings. If foil isn't an option for your characters, putting the light sources near light-colored or shiny surfaces will help a lot. The last time we had an ice storm that caused an outage, I took all the dull-colored items off a deep kitchen shelf and left only glassware, metal tins, glazed ceramics, etc. The lamp we placed there seemed nearly twice as bright after I made that change.

Windows also reflect light very well after dark. Just be careful not to put anything hot near a curtain or too close to a window frame.

Candles work best in groups. If your character needs to walk with a light, there's a special kind of candleholder for that, with a handle and a drip catcher.

Kerosene lamps can also burn liquid paraffin (lamp oil). The paraffin smells better but the kerosene is a lot more economical. These were my family's main source of light during my teen years when we had no electricity, and I learned how to get the most light from them. It makes me laugh when I see a rerun of Little House on the Prairie with a kerosene lamp flickering. A flickering flame means that either the wick is turned up too high or the fuel level's too low. Either way, if it's flickering, then it's smoking, and pretty soon the inside surface of the chimney will be covered in soot and the lamp will be useless. I'm pretty sure the Ingalls family didn't get out a new lamp every ten minutes so they could see to eat their supper.  In the next "Survival" post, I'll share tips on how to get the most light from a kerosene lamp.

Gas lamps and Coleman lanterns are the brightest non-electric lights I've seen.

A railroad lantern is great for traveling with. It has a convenient bail handle, won't blow out like a candle and is a lot safer to carry than a lamp. It's still not safe like a flashlight, though.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Why Do We Need Yet Another Writers' Group?

Yesterday our new indie writers' group Suckers Guild opened its doors and began accepting applications for membership.

But with so many writers' groups already out there, why did we start another one? And why should you consider joining it?

Different groups have different missions, and while others may exist for purposes like meeting like-minded hobbyists, providing services for a fee or even boosting self-esteem (all of which I applaud), Sucker's Guild's mission is more exclusive. Sucker's Guild exists to fill two important needs that we don't see being met effectively elsewhere:

  1. An easy way for readers to sort the real authors from the dabblers. Indie doesn't have to mean low-quality, and certainly shouldn't mean you pay ten bucks for 90,000 words of rambling drivel. But there's plenty of that out there, and it's giving the rest of us a bad name. The Suckers Guild entrance exam is designed to weed out people who aren't serious about writing, and books will have to meet certain quality standards before they can be endorsed by the Guild.
  2. A way for authors to get the editing, proofreading, design, formatting and marketing services that are essential to success, without having to pay cash for them. My hat is off to the professionals in these fields, but the reality is that few writers can afford them. Suckers Guild offers a peer-to-peer barter system in which each member provides services in his or her area of expertise and receives services in other areas.
Here's co-founder M Joseph Murphy explaining it another way:

Friday, February 15, 2013

For Fiction Writers: Suckers Guild Now Accepting Members

I'm happy to report that the Suckers Guild is now established and ready to accept new members.

The Suckers Guild is an organization of indie fiction writers. Tomorrow I'll cover why we started it and how it's unique. Today I'll tell you how to get in and what happens after that.

To apply for membership go to the How to Join page on the Guild website ( and follow the instructions. You'll find an entrance exam consisting of two writing/rewriting assignments. Simply put, we're looking for members who are serious about writing and strive to produce quality fiction.

Once you're a member, we'll send you a placement questionnaire. This will help match your needs with other members' expertise and vice versa.

You'll also receive a ranking based on your accomplishments so far, and you'll be able to increase that ranking by doing work in your field of expertise for other members. In return, you'll be entitled to have other members do work for you, in their fields of expertise.

Learn more by visiting the Suckers Guild website or liking its Facebook page.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Space-Valentines for Nerds

I don't get romance novels. When I was seventeen I read a big stack of them to see if I could figure out why they're so popular. Nope, no clue. The whole plot is based on a fleeting emotion and the outcome is locked in from the beginning. The couple will end up together (they have to, or it's not a romance novel), probably after the hero has lost all his interesting qualities.

Which is precisely why I want to master the art of romance writing: I don't consider 'I don't get it' to be an acceptable excuse.

Sure, there are lots of things I don't get, and most of them don't bother me at all. I don't get pop music or obsessive materialism or pro wrestling or American football. But if I were a sportscaster I'd consider it my professional responsibility to watch games and study playbooks until I did get football. I'd go to sleep with my head full of those little X's and O's until I had it mastered.

But it's not so bad. Little by little I think I'm starting to get it. Maybe I'll never write the traditional kind of romance, and that's okay, because there are lots of options with subgenres and crossovers.

And as hard as it is to swallow my 'I'm-above-all-that-mushy-stuff' pride and admit this, there's plenty of romance coming up in the science-fiction novel I'm writing.

Thanks to Paramount
It gets worse. I have a dirty little secret. In spite of all the times people accuse me of belonging to the emotion-suppressing Vulcan race because of my logical approach to problem-solving, in spite of the fact that I consider television kissing scenes to be opportunities to leave the room without missing anything, in spite of the fact that the latest Hollywood hottie usually doesn't even register on my attraction meter at all, I have a thing for Cardassian men.

That's right, I go all bat-the-eyelashes over some guys who 1. don't exist, 2. have scales on their faces, and 3. with rare exceptions would make terrible partners. (It's the strong necks, great posture, impeccable manners, intelligence and courage.)

I'll never get the chance to act on this myself, of course, but fortunately I'm a writer. I just have to create an avatar (ahem, character) and have my raging Cardassian love affair vicariously. It's a little less risky that way, too.

Okay, that isn't what the book's about. It's a science fiction novel, a tribute to Gene Roddenberry, a space adventure complete with battles and political intrigue. But with its human female protagonist surrounded by Cardassian men, it's also the perfect excuse to have a little fun indulging my weakness - I mean, furthering my professional education.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Quantity and Quality: On Writing Quotas

When I asked novelist Michael Lane if he had learned any lessons he wanted to pass on to other writers, he said, "Set a daily word-count and meet it, even if you’re writing absolute garbage that day. If you do that, you’ll finish, and once it’s done there’s no passage so bad you can’t go back and fix it." From what I've seen, Michael's in good company: word count is a pretty common measurement for writers to use in setting quotas for themselves.

When I was doing the first draft of my current book, a word count quota worked perfectly. The only important thing was to get the ideas down. Clarity, completeness, voice and all that were optional at that point, and getting the details right was not even a consideration.

When I started doing the second draft, I didn't give myself any quotas at all beyond knowing I needed to get it done before NaNoWriMo '13. I waited until I felt recharged after NaNoWriMo '12 and started in with enthusiasm about a week into December. But without a standard to measure my progress by, I alternately floundered and obsessed. By the middle of January it was more than clear that I needed to set some sort of quota.

But word count wasn't going to do it, for two main reasons:

  • Overall, the second draft expands on the first, but passages of the first draft are ridiculously wordy, redundant or just need to be removed, so some days the word count goes down instead of up.
  • This is a Star Trek novel. That means I have a huge body of already-established particulars to follow, from timelines and events to technology, cultural thinking and of course, the Cardassian language itself. And thanks to a not-entirely-unearned genre stereotype, I'm zealous about protecting my reputation by not letting the novel degrade into an inaccurate hack-job. Sometimes a single sentence can represent several hours of research.
Thanks to Paramount
After a few weeks of mulling it over and some help from my brother, I decided to try these simple requirements:
  1. Write something each day, six days a week, even if it's just a couple of sentences. This keeps my head in the story so I don't lose momentum. And more often than not, writing those obligatory 'couple of sentences' has gotten my thoughts flowing and turned out quite a bit of work for the day after all. As for that seventh day, sometimes I need to take time away from the story to gain a little perspective or refresh my mind.
  2. Stay on track to finish this draft and the related screenplay Quicksilver before November. I'm about two months into this draft and a little over a quarter done. At this rate I should finish in early August and have plenty of time for the screenplay - not that I have to do them in that order, of course.
The plan is so simple and general I wasn't confident it would work, but I've been doing it for about two weeks now and it's going great. My writing productivity has shot up and I'm able to relax and enjoy it instead of worrying whether I've done enough yet.

What kind of quotas do you set for yourself? If you use word count, how do you account for time spent on research and the need to cut or consolidate a passage from a previous draft? Or, to put it another way, how do you resist the temptation to be sloppy with your details or leave bloated passages untouched?

(This episode was brought brought to you by the letter Q.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Status Update

Years ago when blogging was new and I first heard of it, I imagined that a 'web log' was the online equivalent of those fascinating logs kept by the travelers on the American frontier. In case you haven't had the pleasure, here's an entry from James and Nancy Coon's log of their 1847 Oregon Trail journey:
Mon Jun 14th

Buried Turner's son, three years old. Left south fork of the Platt at 12 o'clock. Camped on the prairie eight miles from the river. Here we used buffalo chips for fire for the first time.

Cold. Seventeen miles.
Daily reports of exciting adventures sounded like a wonderful thing to read, and was it true that I could actually just go on the internet and read them for free, once I'd learned the secret of which characters to type into that little space at the top of the screen?

The first several times I actually saw a blog, I didn't know what I was looking at. I thought I had been directed to a blog, but what I found didn't look like a daily log of anything, much less of an exciting adventure. I figured I just didn't know what I was doing, and hoped I would learn eventually.

Then one day I stumbled across an article about art blogs in Spanish and finally got the point of what a blog was. Now I have my own blog, and guess what? I make daily entries. I guess that's the only thing I have in common with James and Nancy Coon. I don't even mention the weather, usually, or how far I've traveled. But if you're curious, Cold rane. Zero miles.

I'm guessing the Coons didn't do guest posts, either. I did a guest post on South Wales Shorts about someone dying of exposure in a desert. Thanks to Damian (@shortstoryblog on Twitter) for having me. The Third Sunday Blog Carnival (@thirdsundaybc) ran my story "Euthanasia" in December, and has accepted another story for their February 17 issue. This one's about genetically engineered humans.

I have some more stories I'd like to post here, especially "The Suitcase Man" which inspired Bronwyn Cair (@bronwyncair) to come up with the plot for next year's NaNoWriMo project Sixteen Thousand Nights. Unfortunately, my hard drive crashed, the backup is on CD's, I can't seem to find my external optical drive, and both computers with integrated optical drives are broken. Sometimes I wonder why I bother with fiction; real life is strange enough.

I'm editing Resist the Devil again in preparation for a relaunch in April.

I guess I'm about a quarter of the way through the second draft of my novel An Analysis of the Cardassian Language, and really enjoying it. I've posted what I've done so far; see the links above. I may finish this draft around August. Then I'll need to do a third draft to refine the details of Cardassian architecture, mannerisms, social life, etc. After that will come copyediting and proofreading. This book is not a quick one to write by any means because it requires intensive research (but I love doing research). More on that tomorrow.

Sixteen Thousand Nights is still a twinkle in its mothers' eyes. It won't officially get started until November, but we've already got a basic outline for it. Sometimes it's wonderful to have the luxury to let ideas mull, to let our subconscious minds get a whack at them, and that's what we're lucky to have with Sixteen.  It's going to be a suspense novel about waking up on the wrong side of the American criminal justice system.

The Suckers Guild for indie writers is building up steam. We still have a few more preparations to do before we can start accepting members. Thanks to M Joseph Murphy (@windswarlock) for all your hard work on this, and for being so easy to work with. Every group needs a difficult member, though, and since you don't seem to be any good at that, I'm going to try hard to be as difficult as possible. Sorry if I've been slacking in that department.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Short Story: Children's Activity B

The smell was getting bad. There were almost twenty people in that small room and most of them hadn't changed clothes for weeks. A medium-sized man of twenty-five sat in the doorway with his back to the jamb. He could have passed for a Greek.

"Pike." His best friend squeezed his arm. "Don't let the floor bugs bite."

Gavin Pike shook his head. It was a weak joke, but his lips curled up anyway. Phil Petrarch would probably outlive them all. When it got too cold, when the food ran out, he'd live on his sense of humor.

The man in the doorway glanced around. Eighteen people were stretched out on the bare floor of the ten-by-fifteen room with no heat. Most had no blankets or coats. "Children's Activity B" the room was called, according to the sign beside the door.

"Are we all here?" asked an old man who was new there.

"One more," Pike whispered.

"Who is it?"

"Name is Shelly." He put his finger to his lips. There was no need to alarm the others.

"How long do we wait?"

Gavin Pike shrugged.

"What if she doesn't come?"

Pike held up his index finger and cocked his head to listen.

"Tell me that's not a guard coming," said the new man.

Pike said nothing.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Old Style for a New Story?

I'd like to get your opinion on something. Do you think there's room in today's literary world for alternatives to the popular fast-paced, minimalist fiction style? Specifically, I'm thinking of a style that emphasizes the richness of the scene over fast-paced action. Maybe we could call it neo-17th-Century. Here's a sample beginning:

Now it came to pass upon the equinox that the King commanded a gentle mare to be saddled, and compelled his youngest daughter to go forth and ride in the forest for the space of three hours (for the Queen and the King's advisers said, Let her not die in the castle, but instead let her partake of the goodness of the sun and the goodness of the earth, for she hath not gone forth from the castle these six months). And they constrained also the King's son to accompany her, and certain of the King's advisers went also, and certain of them that ministered daily in the castle.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Writer's Log, Supplemental


A desolate wasteland of white,

of wind and of snow and of light.

I stand midst the elements there.

And they?

Neither see me, nor care.

Welcome to the family, Nemo!

Liebster Award

I'm very grateful to be able to say that two of my fellow bloggers have given me the Liebster blogging award. It's a recommendation, basically: a vote for a blog worth following.

Actually, this is kind of old news. I've been sitting on this for a while and haven't said anything, because I wanted to fully participate in the Liebster tradition, and it took me a while to find the time to do it right. So to those who gave me this honor, I apologize for the delay.

My first Liebster came from Billie Thomas (@ChloeGetsaClue on Twitter). The second came a day later from M. Joseph Murphy (@Windswarlock on Twitter). I'd like to say a big "Thank you" to them both.

Billie says:

So here’s how it works: 
1.) Tell 11 things about yourself
2.) Answer 11 questions from the blogger who nominated you.
3.) Post 11 questions for those who will be nominated by you.
4.) Nominate 11 bloggers who have less than 200 followers.

5) Get in contact with those 11 bloggers to inform them that you nominated them.

So here goes:

Eleven things about myself:

  1. I'm an introvert. (For those not familiar, an introvert isn't necessarily shy. I'm not. It's a person who restores his or her emotional energy through solitude.)
  2. I was home-schooled.
  3. I like both dogs and cats. And humans. And goats. And...
  4. If I were a guy, Billie Thomas would like me (Her number 4: "I like outdoorsy granola guys with sketchy hygiene.") Just to clarify, I don't consider my hygiene sketchy, but Billie might. I do tend to forget about my curls for days at a time, and you never know what kind of trouble unsupervised Irish curls might get into.
  5. I'm actually less than half Irish. I just happened to get the looks.
  6. The field of linguistics fascinates me.
  7. I speak Spanish, but badly. I write it better.
  8. My biggest creative strengths as a writer are in characterization and dialog. My biggest technical strength is in grammar.
  9. My biggest creative weakness is in keeping the excitement in the middle of a novel. My biggest technical weakness is in grammar. It's a great servant but a terrible master.
  10. I grew up on Dickens, Lewis and a little Tolkein, but not television, church hymns but not popular music. So I don't get a lot of pop-culture references.
  11. I can't shake the feeling that I'm leaving out all the important things here.
Answers to Billie's questions:
  1. What is your favorite thing about me?  Your curls, of course! No, seriously, your cheerful friendliness. Maybe it's a southern thing. At any rate it makes me smile when we chat.
  2. If you could keep one celebrity as a pet, who would it be and why? I'd have to do a lot of research before I could give you a name, but it would be the one who causes the most trouble in the world. I'd give him a comfortable cage and keep him from doing any more harm.
  3. If you could steal the muse from another author or blogger, whose would you take? Maybe Tolkein's, as I'm in awe of his world-building talent, and his books certainly don't sag in the middle.
  4. Would you rather have a Sex-in-the-City-caliber closet (clothes and shoes included) or an underground lair? An underground lair, no question.
  5. What’s you’re biggest grammar pet peeve? (Heehee) Could of (or would of or should of).
  6. What is a movie or book you tell everyone you’ve read or watched but really haven’t.(Or even if you don’t actively lie about it, you let them assume otherwise by nodding or laughing when it is mentioned.) Any book by the famous author they just mentioned. I'm terrible about reading books and forgetting their titles and the names of their authors. I also tend to read books by obscure authors.
  7. If you could retire to a house in Miami, a la The Golden Girls, who would be your housemates? And who would be the Rose, Sophia, Blanche and Dorothy? Hmm, I think that show was on when I was a teenager, so I'm only vaguely aware of what you're talking about. I hope I never do something so terrible that I'm forced to retire in a hot place. If I couldn't live with my family, I think it would be fun to live with a bunch of other writers.
  8. If you found yourself being interviewed by Oprah, what is one question you pray she doesn’t ask you? How come you never watch my show?
  9. If you’re eating Jelly Bellies in a darkened movie theatre, which flavor do you dread biting down into? I don't know, maybe anchovy. What are Jelly Bellies?
  10. What is your guilty pleasure? And do you give in to your sin or fight that loving feeling? Coffee, and I've cut back.
  11. What is a quality about yourself that you feel goes unappreciated or makes you, like most artists, “ahead of your time.” Sorry, but you've stumped me on this one. I feel very much appreciated, and I don't think I'm ahead of my time. I think I've been blessed with aptitudes that I don't develop as much as I should, though, mostly in writing and linguistics. I'm working on that.
Answers to Joe's questions:
  1. When you eat the smarties do you eat the red ones last? Nope, didn't remember there were any red ones. I like Smarties, but don't eat candy very often.
  2. What writer's career would you most like to emulate (fancy word for follow)? J K Rowling. The amount of human suffering I could stop with that kind of money is staggering.
  3. What fantasy world would you most like to live in? Narnia.
  4. Have you ever had a story/book idea so bad you decided to not write it? If so, give details. I have them all the time. If you see me start laughing for no apparent reason, I've probably just come up with another one. It's not that they're funny ideas; I'm laughing at myself for dreaming up something so preposterous. An example: Princess Leia's Hairstyle Book.
  5. What superpower would you most like to have and why? The ability to remain alive and well for as long as I want. It constantly frustrates me that there's so much to do and only one lifetime to do it in. I just have to hope others will take up the work when I'm gone.
  6. What was the scariest nightmare you've ever had? The scariest ones can't be described; they don't make enough sense to attach words to them. But in most of my childhood nightmares I was being chased by rotten broccoli.
  7. What is your most favourite part of the writing/creative process? It's that point, usually in the second draft, when the narrative sings, the dialogue reads like real conversation and I'm sucked into the story so far I almost forget where my body is.
  8. List five of the best books you've ever read Zigzag by Jose Carlos Somoza, The Strongbox by Michael Pon, A Stitch in Time by Andrew J Robinson, The Horse and His Boy by C S Lewis, Next by Michael Crichton.
  9. List one of the worst books you've ever read (and why you think it was so bad). Love is a Gentle Stranger by June Masters Bacher. The characters don't feel human and most of the 'perils' are harmless.
  10. Have you spent time thinking about what you would do in a zombie invasion Nope.
  11. List your favourite toppings on a pizza Hamburger, onions, green peppers, fresh tomatoes and extra cheese. 
Eleven questions for my unfortunate victims:
  1. Why do you blog?
  2. What's your favorite/dream vacation spot?
  3. If you had the power to change any one thing in the world, what would it be?
  4. Do you think there are intelligent people on other planets? If so, do you think you'll ever meet one?
  5. If somebody else's paycheck somehow got deposited into your bank account, and you couldn't be punished for keeping the money, what would you do?
  6. If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
  7. Is the glass half empty or half full?
  8. What's the quirkiest thing about you?
  9. How old were you in your first memory?
  10. What else do you enjoy doing, besides writing?
  11. Name an author you admire, and tell us why.
I'm passing the Liebster along to: