Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Writers: Is Your Beginning Good Enough?

I don't normally enter writing contests (not that I'm opposed to them), but three years ago, I submitted the first three pages of what was then my WIP (work in progress) to the Guide to Literary Agents literary fiction contest. To my surprise, I won - or rather, my beginning did.

Even so, I ended up revising the beginning of what is now my latest novel, and I'm glad I did. Here’s what Publishers Weekly says about how the novel begins now:

This lyrically written coming-of-age story from Vanasse grabs you from the opening line and never lets go: “I am a poem, Sylvie once thought, swollen like a springtime river, light swirled in dark, music and memory.”

Author Sinclair Lewis learned the hard way about the importance of beginnings. Cruising the Atlantic aboard the Queen Elizabeth, he was pleased to see a fellow passenger settle into a deck chair and open his latest novel. She read the first page, got up, and dropped the book over the railing, into the ocean. “If I didn’t know it already,” Lewis told his assistant Barnaby Conrad, “I learned then that the first page – even the first sentence – of one’s article, short story, novel, or nonfiction book is of paramount importance.”

Don’t Try This at Home

Suppose you hand the first 250 words of your manuscript to an actress, who then reads it before a panel of four agents and editors. Each agent raises a hand at the point where his or her interest fades. When two hands are raised, the actress quits reading. Yours doesn’t get read to the end? Don’t feel bad: only 25 percent do.

This was the scenario that played out at a “Writer Idol” event. As reported by Livia Blackburne on the Guide to Literary Agents, there were many reasons the panelists rejected the beginnings. They were generic, or slow. There was too much unrealistic internal narration, or too much information. There were too many clichés, or the writing was unfocused, or the writer seemed to be trying too hard. In her PubRants blog, agent Kristen Nelson elaborates on this latter problem, pointing out that too often authors trying for active beginnings overload them with action.

Ways to Begin

The fundamental purpose of a beginning is simple: it must entice the reader to want more. In Learning to Write Fiction from the Masters, Conrad suggests several types of beginnings that, skillfully rendered, will lure readers into the prose. Conventions of the nineteenth century allowed the luxury of beginning with setting, or a combination of setting and character, strategies that are tougher, though not impossible, to pull off with today’s attention-challenged readers. If you begin with setting, Conrad warns, you need to be masterful with it, as was F. Scott Fitzgerald in launching Tender is the Night, using specific details, imagery, dynamic verbs, foreshadowing, and a hint of conflict.

You can also begin with a provocative thought, though you’ll want to follow it directly with specifics of the story. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” says Jane Austen in the opening of Pride and Prejudice. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” opens Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

By no means do beginnings need to be elaborate. The Old Man and the Sea opens like a news story, with the straight facts: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” The appeal can be more emotional, as in the opening sentence of Mary McCarthy’s The Company She Keeps: “She would leave him, she thought, as soon as the petunias bloomed.” Or the novel can open with action: “They threw me off the hay truck about noon,” begins James Cain in The Postman Always Rings Twice. In each of these examples, there’s enough said to engage the reader, and there’s enough left out for the reader to want to know more.

With some beginnings, the reader dives with grace into the story. With others, it’s more of a cannonball splash. In media res takes the reader directly into the middle of a scene. Opening with dialogue has the same effect. When you’re suddenly immersed in a scene, you grab for bits to hang onto. You want to puzzle your way to some clarity. In short, you’re hooked.

Character beginnings prove equally enticing. Look no farther than Conrad’s Lord Jim or Nabokov’s Lolita for proof that a book can open successfully with character. Also endearing is the author’s appeal to the reader, as in Melville’s “Call me Ishmael,” or Twain’s “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that don’t matter.” Conrad calls this author-to-reader appeal “disarming, confidential, effective, and somewhat old-fashioned,” but given today’s emphasis on voice, it seems more than modern.

Ending Thoughts on Beginnings

It’s all too easy to get attached to our beginnings. Because they come to us first, they soon feel indelible.  Remember - they’re not.

To weigh in on what makes a good beginning, check out the “Flog a Pro” feature at Writer Unboxed.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Books and Business: Relationships Matter

I first thought of business creep as the dance of an author between creative work and the business side of writing, especially promotion and marketing. Then I started paying attention to the genuine creepiness that can slip in on the business side, as in the carjacking of a literary agent perpetrated by a writer that she’d rejected. How had the crazy guy tracked her down? Her frequent postings on Twitter and Facebook told where she was and what she was doing.

Creepy in a different way are writers who’ve paid for good online reviews of their books, and the freelancers who’ve paid their bills writing those reviews. I understand about the free market and all, but there’s still something chilling about a guy making $28,000 a month providing fake reviews. Google and Amazon eventually agreed, pulling the enterprising Todd Rutherford’s ads and reviews. Now he’s selling RVs while on the side running a business that creates book buzz via blogs and Twitter.

For as much as we hear about buzz, there must be limits to what we’ll do to get noticed. At the same time, we can’t abdicate completely the marketing side of the equation. “I can’t self-promote,” I’ve heard writers say. “That’s just not me. If my book can’t sell itself, then I just won’t write.” Harper Lee did it; J.D. Salinger did it, they say.

A handful may be able to duck out on the business end of writing. But for most of us it’s a reality: we have to find the right balance between what we want to do – create – and what we must do – help sell our books.

Much of the marketing legwork, though not all, is electronic. With more than ten million members, Goodreads is the largest site in the world for book recommendations. Compiled using data gathered from a title that launched with three Goodreads giveaways, a Goodreads post titled The Anatomy of a Book Discovery uses a color-spiked graph to show how one thing leads to another when it comes to book buzz. What’s harder to quantify is how good the book was to begin with: how timely, how well-conceived, how brilliantly rendered.

Beyond the scope of the Goodreads analysis: how a “following” built before a book is published, or even before it is written, plays into its eventual success. Among the advice passed around to emerging writers these days is that they must make a name for themselves: get a website, get on Facebook, get on Twitter, start a blog, get a following. At best, this advice can be overstated. At worst, it’s a gigantic distraction that will keep you from writing the book you must write.

Yes, buzz sells books. Yes, your Facebook friends and Twitter followers and blog followers will be among the first to buy your book when it comes out. And yes, a website shows you’re a professional. But you must absolutely guard your time. Even when you’re up and running and you’ve got a book or two under your belt, you should aim for spending no more than a quarter of your writing time on the business part. If you’re an emerging writer who’s still pushing out that first million words ahead of your real publishable work, you should spend a lot less time on promotion. The exception: if you write for a specialized nonfiction market – growers of heirloom tomatoes, for instance – you’ll need to be recognized as an expert within the field in order to successfully pitch your book, so you’ll want to spend a larger chunk of your time getting recognized.

While electronic buzz is huge, huge, huge, don’t forget that in the end what we’re really talking here are relationships. In that way, writing is no different than any other business. Your online presence must project the real you and your real book, because that’s what gets outted one way or the other. Fake reviews may sell a few titles, but if the book stinks, the readers won’t be back.

The profile of Emma Straub in Poets and Writers brings this point home. After her first four novels were rejected, Straub got serious about the quality of her work, putting herself under the tutelage of Lorrie Moore. A small press, Five Chapter Books, published Straub’s first collection of short stories. She has more than 10,000 followers on Twitter. She posts regularly on the Paris Review Daily and on New York magazine’s culture blog Vulture. Yet she says it’s her job at an indie bookstore in Brooklyn that really taught her how to market her work, which now includes her novel Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, published by Riverhead Books and selected by Barnes and Noble as a Discover pick when it came out.

“I see how some writers have really great relationships with bookstores and with booksellers, and some writers don’t. I see what happens when a writer is a kind of dick to people who work at a bookstore. I am never going to recommend that person’s book,” she says. “Nowadays it really is the role of the writer to make sure that you have these personal connections with everyone you can to help things go well—and not in a gross, networky, slimy way; in an actual, genuine way. Relationships matter.”

As you consciously, purposefully, strike a balance between creativity and business, consider that relationships are at the heart of both. What you do with and for your fellow writers along with what you do with and for your readers will come back around in the best of ways to you and your work. And there’s nothing creepy about that.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Writers: Are You Overdoing It?

Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.
~Ernest Hemingway

My only daughter got married two years ago, on a bluff overlooking Kachemak Bay. We pulled it off as intended: a beautiful, simple affair.

Make that deceptively simple. A year before the Big Day, my daughter traveled 1500 miles from Portland to deposit in my closet the first set of dishes lovingly scavenged for the reception, the perfect shade of green, more yellow than blue. That was only the beginning. What followed: dress, rings, music, officiant, photos, catering, cake, lodging, vows, seating, tents, heaters, rehearsal, plates, flatware, tables, coffee urns, welcome bags. One hundred twenty-five things to buy, rent, or borrow; 162 items to scratch off the to-do list. 

In writing it also takes effort to pull off the simple. A little exposure to the classics, a lot of textbook drivel, and we leave school with writing that’s pompous and overbearing. Re-training can take years. 

Overwriting is the caste mark of the emerging writer, worn unaware. “Diction problems are symptomatic of defects in the character or education of the writer,” John Gardner says. “Both diction shifts and the steady use of inappropriate diction suggest either deep-down bad taste or the awkwardness that comes of inexperience and timidity.” Ouch.

In Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us, agent Jessica Page Morrell calls it purple bling: writing that’s euphemistic, clichéd, and extravagant. “The problem with purple prose," she notes, "is that it calls attention to itself instead of performing its job – telling a story – and it tries too hard to manipulate the reader’s emotions.”

In The First Five Pages, agent Noah Lukeman echoes this concern. He identifies these warning signs of overwritten prose: writing that feels forced or exaggerated, not fitting the subject; books that come off as arenas for showing off the writer’s talent; and writing so noticeable it drives the reader away from the story.

Gardner identifies these signs of badly elevated diction: cliched personification (“greeted by the sound”), abstract language (“unique sound”), and Latinate where Anglo-Saxon will suffice (“surveyed the sound situation”).

Maybe once, long ago, you let a purple phrase or two slip. Examples, courtesy of Morrell:

  • In love scenes, quivering and throbbing; breasts as mounds or globes, couples locked in a primal dance
  • Storms featuring distant thunder and menacing clouds that crouch on the horizon, generating violent gusts of wind that frighten the shutters
  • Characters known to the core of their being or to every fiber of their being; characters who experience the slow burn of anger or who are touched to their innermost souls
Fortunately, there’s a cure. “By reading carefully and extensively,” Gardner says, “by writing constantly and getting the best criticism available to him, the writer who begins with no feeling for diction can eventually overcome his problems.”

Try This: As an antidote for purple prose, Lukeman recommends rewriting a passage in a style exactly the opposite of its original. “If your style is straightforward,” he says, “try one that is convoluted; if it is baroque, try one that is minimalist.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Crowdfund Your Book

I’ll start, as I sometimes do, with a confession: I’ve not been especially interested in crowdfunding books. At the heart of my not-especially-well-founded objection was the thought that readers are already investing in my books by purchasing them, so how could I ask them to make an even greater investment up front, to help me produce them?

Then Karen E. Lewis, illustrator of my book Amazing Alaska, send me a link to her crowdfunded appeal on Kickstarter for a project called Grandmother Fish. When I clicked through on the link, the proverbial light bulb went on.

No matter how it’s published, every book has investors. First and foremost, there’s the author, who invests no small amount of time and—in many cases—cold, hard cash, paying for publicists, author tours, book launch events—and that’s not even getting into the costs of independently publishing a book with a professionally designed cover and top-notch editing.

In every aspect, the traditional publishing industry is all about investing in a product. As with all investors, the key players, be they agents or editors or publishers, are taking a risk on their investment in hopes of a return. What I didn’t get until I looked at Karen’s project is that investors in a well-crafted crowdfunded book project also get returns of a kind, in the form of creative products (and involvement) that they’ll find nowhere else. The best-crafted projects make them genuine partners.

The best part about crowdfunding your book? You’ve got a ready-made, boots-on-ground team of fans, aka word-of-mouth.

With 26 days to go, the Grandmother Fish project has already exceeded its goal, while other book projects by friends of mine have gone unfunded. What’s the difference?

·         For this project, there’s real value for investors at each level. Even at the lowest level ($15), you get an e-book (including artwork), wallpaper images for your computer, and your name listed in the back matter of both the electronic and print editions.
·         There’s a limited sponsorship level, for early backers—the sort of extra-value, limited offer deal that everyone loves. (Yup, it’s sold out!)
·         There’s a pledge level that allows you to give to others—a matching book shipped to an education-oriented nonprofit.
·         There’s ample evidence that the project is well-conceived and professional: video footage of children’s reactions as the book is read to them, a complete pdf of the book in draft, testimonials about the writer and artist.
·         There’s humor. Without getting into a debate over creationism vs. evolution, you have to love that a project subtitled “A Child’s First Book of Evolution” offers a special “Wait, I’m a Creationist” level of sponsorship: “Do you *hate* the idea that we're teaching little kids about Evolution? Want to burn the books in protest? At this special level you get ten copies of the book, plus a specially illustrated book of matches so you can light the pile of books on fire as soon as they arrive!”
·         Karen and writer Jonathan Tweet, who Karen describes as the real engine behind the project and the kickstarter campaign, have covered all the bases. Even the “Risks and challenges” section points to the inevitable success of this project: “The book is written and the art is underway. The major content questions are settled, and all that remains is putting the book together. Even if Jonathan or Karen were hit by a bus, the rest of the team could carry the project to completion.”
·         It’s part of something larger: “If Grandmother Fish is successful, it could be the start of a line of books and games that introduce science concepts to children. We have already made valuable contacts in the science-education community that could help us succeed with future books, games, and apps.”
·         It includes Dino-Wars (who doesn’t love Dino-Wars?), meaning investors get to be part of the creative process: “We’re going to include one dinosaur in the book, and as a backer you get to help choose which one. When you pledge, leave a comment telling us whether you want Karen to illustrate a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a Triceratops.”
·         It’s clear that the author and illustrator have already made a major investment. Of the author’s journey: “He started the project fifteen years ago when his daughter was little. Last year, he added the interactive motions and sounds, which make the book click with young children. Reactions to the book were so positive that he decided to raise funds for it here on Kickstarter. Is the world ready for an evolution book for preschoolers? Jonathan’s betting that it is.”
·         It’s a great project—well-conceived and professionally rendered.
·         Last (but most definitely not least), it’s clear why this particular book needs to be crowdfunded: “US publishers consider evolution to be too “hot” a topic for children, but with your help we can make this book happen ourselves.”

None of this happened by accident. As Karen points out, the book’s author, Jonathan Tweet, “worked hard to understand his audience and gain support, reviews and attention for the book ahead of time. He is also working with a Kickstarter consultant to understand what works - and what doesn’t - for social media crowd funding. And he’s still hard at work - setting up interviews and making daily posts and updates to the project's Facebook account and Kickstarter page. It’s a full time job and hard-hitting publicity tour before the book is even finished.”

For her part, Karen adds, “I’m not a natural self-promoter.  I work hard to find ways to promote the project with posts, in context, that have integrity. Talking about work in progress or the development of sketches and characters, for instance, feels much more natural than shouting BUY MY BOOK!!! BUY MY BOOK!!! over and over again.

She also notes the importance of having a project that you—and your backers—believe in. “While this may seem obvious to a (passionate) writer or illustrator of children’s books,” she adds, “it’s important to note that there’s no guarantee of making a bunch of money. We set modest but realistic goals that, now met, will make it possible to produce a wonderful little book and cover our basic costs.”

The best part, according to Karen? “We get to make our book! . . . which is pretty wonderful, as is getting feedback and support from a community of folks who think our concept and sketches have promise.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Successful Writer

In a recent workshop on publishing, I opened the session with a brief exercise. First, I asked participants to write for a few minutes about the fantasies that all of us have about becoming successful writers: if in five years, each and every one of their writers’ dreams were fulfilled, how would it all look, in terms of income, recognition, their body of work, and how they spent their time (creative vs. production/promotion).

Then I asked them to take a few more minutes to consider each of those areas—income, recognition, body of work, and how they’d be spending time—in terms of what they realistically thought they could achieve within five years.

This exercise takes only a little time, and the results are revealing. Lurking within every writer are fantasies which, for the most part, we shy from acknowledging—the what-ifs and it-could-happens. By bringing these forward, we can learn a lot about what defines success for us: money, fame, awards, the work itself, the creative life.

When we take a moment to examine them, we find that our ideas about what would make us feel successful as writers are often misguided—either internalized from others or skewed toward factors over which we have no control.

After my first two novels came out, both with big New York publishers, I was working sixty-plus hours a week at my day job and struggling to keep writing. But I wanted to eventually make a living as a writer, which led me to think I needed to keep publishing, so I set a goal of having a book a year published (through a traditional publisher; this was back when I would never have considered self-publishing). I came fairly close to my book-a-year goal, but to do it, I ended up doing some travel books on contract—time that in retrospect I wish I’d spent honing my craft. If I’d done the fantasy/reality five-year exercise, I’d have figured out that for me, it’s the work itself and the creative life that matter more than accumulating publishing credits.

That point was brought home this week when an author copy of my forthcoming novel, Cold Spell, arrived in the mail. Compared to my previous thirteen titles, this one feels different. It’s the book I always wanted to write, the one that’s most like the books I love to read, and it’s the result of what I call my DIYMFA (do-it-yourself MFA), in which I worked hard to learn how to write the very best novel I could. Some authors I hugely admire have written beautiful endorsements of it, and early readers have told me that even after they’d finished reading, they couldn’t stop thinking about it. That feels like success.

Would I also like a six-figure advance? A Pulitzer? A National Book Award? Sure. But I can’t control whether I get those or not. And great as they sound, there’s always a downside. For big award-winners, there’s horrible pressure regarding the next book. And even the six-figure advance has its downside—if you don’t believe me, read the interview with Cheryl Strayed in the most recent issue of Scratch (a publication to which you should subscribe if you’re serious about making a living as a writer).

If you don’t think consciously about how success looks for you as a writer, you’re going to be pushed about by comparing yourself with others—sales figures, accolades, book deals, and more. You can end up spending a lot of time and energy chasing your tail around aspects of authorship that don’t matter as much as you might think.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

On a Budget: Write Your Book without Going Broke

As I’ve said here before (not that it’s any big revelation), there’s not a lot of money in books. So most of us authors (even big sellers like Jonathan Franzen, I was pleased to learn) go about our lives in a less-than-extravagant way.

Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank to write books. A few thoughts on where you can cut corners—and where to splurge:

·         I understand that some writers prefer to record their thoughts in beautiful, expensive journals as a way of honoring their work. But my thinking is exactly the opposite—I like to be messy with my ideas, and I don’t want to cling to words that aren’t worthy just because I wrote them on expensive papaer. So I use spiral composition books for all my writing, purchased ten for a dollar at back-to-school sales. In the red ones, I keep my weekly to-do lists, one page per week; in the blue ones, I keep my creative work—quotes, ideas, revision notes, brainstorming; in the purple, my notes on production and promotion. The rest I reserve for specific projects.
·         I’m addicted to writing with certain pens, but I keep my addiction affordable—Uniball 207 signos that I purchase in bulk, for about a dollar a piece.
·         In addition to an external hard drive, I use Dropbox (free) for file backup; I save everything there as a matter of course.
·         To extend the life of my laptop (five years and counting; wish me luck), I use a netbook when I travel.
·         I use Mailchimp (free) for my e-newsletters, and I use PicMonkey (also free; maybe a cousin to Mailchimp?) for certain projects, like audiobook covers.
·         Obviously, a good word processing/spreadsheet/presentation program is essential—and you should learn how to use it. After much resistance, I finally upgraded to Word 365, a subscription service ($99 per year). The time I’ve saved thanks to its enhanced features (not to mention the free tech support) makes me glad I switched. I’m no whiz at Excel, but I know it well enough to save myself all sorts of time by using it to keep track of everything from research material to mailing lists to marketing plans.
·         A book budget is essential—no respectable writer can do without reading, including the work of your friends and colleagues, which you’ll want to buy new. For other titles, I keep a reading list in the back of my creative notebook and pick up them up at Powells (used) and also at the library.
·         For books I bring out independently, I prefer contracting a la carte for the parts I can’t do myself, such as cover design, as opposed to purchasing an author services package. (I love working with Cyrusfiction Productions; Cyrus is professional and affordable.) For print books that aren’t with a publisher, I use Print on Demand through Lightning Source and CreateSpace so that I don’t have to deal with inventory and warehousing.
·         For promotion, I’ve learned that a whole lot of what sells books doesn’t cost a thing, other than some time, which I personally limit to 20% of my overall time for writing, so that my primary focus remains creative.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Book Promotion: Bundling Works

Because we’re both fans of the same blog, The Business Rusch, my friend David Marusek and I read at the same time a post that mentioned book bundling, and we both had the same idea: let’s make it easy for readers to discover the real Alaska, minus the hype and minus the cost, by creating a free bundled eBook.

So we put the challenge to ten of Alaska’s finest authors: to share unique and intimate prose—some previously published, some brand new—that reaches beyond the usual media stereotypes of Alaska. The resulting collection, the Alaska Sampler 2014, features fiction, memoir, biography, and humor that lay bare a cherished and primal land. Dana Stabenow, Howard Weaver, Don Rearden, and Ned Rozell are among the contributors.

“Our selections range all over the literary landscape,” says Marusek. “As we swerve from adventure to opinion and biography to humor, you’d best keep both hands on the wheel.”

Unique to this ebook is a partnership with brick-and-mortar bookshops in Anchorage, Homer, Palmer, and Skagway; each Sampler selection includes a link to annotated store listings, aiming to get beyond the either-or thinking about books that are downloaded and books that readers hold in their hands.

For those who are thinking of creating their own book bundles, here’s our advice:

·        ·         Approaching authors: For this initial bundle (we plan to do one every year), we approached ten authors whose work would add value to our Alaska-themed bundle. These authors needed to either own the digital rights to their work or be able to get reprint permission from their publishers. They also needed to be forward-thinking in their understanding of our purpose in offering the book for free—that by aggregating high-quality prose, we’d be getting cross-readership, plus the advantages of marketing together.
·         Legalities: We procured signed agreements with all contributors, and we signed agreements with one another, with David as the production person and me as the editorial director. The project is officially housed with Denali Ventures, a sub-S corporation doing business as Running Fox Books.
·         Production: David is a master at graphic design and eBook production, so he handled the cover and the manuscript conversion. We used social media to get input on covers in draft and we used Dropbox for file sharing. We assembled the contributions into a “bible” that we updated as we went along.
·         Partners: We appreciate independent booksellers, and we didn’t want them out of the loop by producing in digital format. So we offered annotated bookshop listings within the book, and we feature our bookshop partners on our webpage and in our newsletter.
·         Timeline: We came up with the idea in March, with the goal of releasing in time for Alaska’s big influx of summer tourists. Next year, we’ll start earlier.
·         Proofing: I proofed the contributions; once assembled into the initial “bible,” they were returned to the authors for their proofing. Then David proofed the entire book, and we did a short beta launch during which our authors re-proofed before our official launch on June 5.
·         Availability: I created a “freebie” page on the Running Fox website so that readers could easily access links for downloading the book in all formats. We made the book free wherever we could (Kobo, Inkbok, Instafreebie) and listed it for 99 cents on Nook and Amazon, with links and side-loading instructions so that readers could load to Nook and Kindle directly from our webpage.
·         Promotion: On launch day, we urged our authors to broadcast to their contacts. We also sent out a press release and an e-newsletter.  Within a few hours, we’d hit #1, #2, and #5 in our Amazon categories. Amazon’s bots took note, and within twenty-four hours, the book became free on Amazon—exactly what we’d hoped for. In the same one-day period, our website received ten times the traffic it normally gets in a week. We’ll continue promoting the Sampler through blogs, social media, and sites that feature free books and/or Alaska-themed material.
·         Follow-through: Together, David and I have so far clocked over 180 hours of work on the Sampler. We believe it’s worth it in terms of exposure and cross-marketing. Collectively and individually, we’ll be tracking the impact of the Sampler on traffic and sales.

Readers can download the Alaska Sampler 2014 for free at www.runningfoxbooks.com, or directly from Amazon and Kobo.

This post also appears at www.49writers.blogspot.com.