Posts Tagged ‘WIP’

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I’ll be the first to admit sometimes I just can’t find the motivation to dive into another big revision of my manuscript. After a time one gets used to the chapter-by-chapter scale of writing, and whatever your pace is, that pace becomes comfortable, familiar. If you are part of a critique group, you can get feedback on that chapter within a week or two, and fix most issues in a couple of days. But full manuscript revisions?  Not only do they take more time to plan and actually write (it’s like taking a finished tapestry and deciding to replace all of the yellow theads with green theads), but once you’re done, getting meaningful feedback on your changes can take months. This is especially onerous if you have interrupted your querying process and wish to get back to it.

So … you’re not querying, and not exactly writing, either. You’ve put aside any other writing projects because you want to put this one to bed. You do a lot of planning and mulling of possibilities and testing of various ideas, while the clock ticks relentlessly.

This is where I am. I recently received some useful feedback and embraced the suggestions, seeing real possibility of improvement if I can make the changes just right. But the other two books I’m working on have been shifted to the back burner, and no matter how much I stare at my notes, I can’t seem to get excited about actually messing with the latest “final” version of my manuscript. That one is still in the hands of beta (gamma?) readers, for chrissake! Sure I want to get back to querying, given that the possibility of success ought to be higher with the revisions in place, and I want to get back to working on the sequel, but even if I do, how long will it be before I can rustle up anyone willing to read it and give me feedback? Because I don’t want to burn any bridges, querying with a flawed manuscript (again).

The motivation to revise (again) has taken a sabbatical.

You remember how I’m always saying how entering contests is good for your craft and career, even if you never actually get picked for any of them? Well, here’s some proof. In my online critique group someone started a forum topic on the recent Pitch Madness contest. “Who’s entering?” “Want to swap entries and gI’ve each other feedback?” And like that. I posted my entry — a 35-word pitch and the first 250 words of the book, along with the genre and age group. I didn’t get picked in the contest, this year, and given that this is the third year I’ve entered with a different version of this same manuscript, I later commented that I was beginning to question my ability and the marketability of this particular book.

Someone else on that thread said that they’d read the entry I had posted, and doubted I had anything to worry about. They would be delighted to read my full manuscript and offer feedback, if I wanted.

I responded immediately that I would gladly welcome the kind offer, but first I needed to finish this pesky revision.  And, boom, I had my motivation to get on with it.  Because I had a reader already lined up, eager to give feedback, so I could get back to querying.

You never know where motivation will come from. Be on the lookout for it and when you glimpse it snatch it up like ambrosia. Because sometimes it apears just like a gift from heaven.

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A couple of weeks ago, I gleefully told you about my economical and oh, so convenient solution for writing on-the-go: my iWerkz folding bluetooth keyboard, which lets me write on my phone anywhere and at a moment’s notice.  This is great for getting in some writing during my short breaks at my retail job.

But let me be honest — I still want a laptop.  And I still don’t have the money for one.  And even if I had one, it would not be as portable as a phone.  Well, I found a perfect middle-ground, and I am in writer-geek heaven.

I happen to have a two-year-old iPad Mini.  I hear, you … what happened to “economical”?  Well, you can pick up a brand new iPad Mini 2 direct from Apple for less than $270.  There are better deals and refurbished iPads available all over the place, including deals on eBay for around $150.  Mine had been pretty much claimed by my eight-year-old son.  I bought him a dandy 7″ tablet from Barnes & Nobel for just $50, and now I have my iPad back full-time.

So what’s my killer solution? I found a rocking keybord case for the iPad Mini. It’s made by Zagg, who is known for quality cases for Apple devices, and this one is called the Zagg Slim Book for iPad Mini 2 or 3.  It’s been around for a couple of years, because the iPad Mini 2 came out three years ago. And that’s the best part of this; instead of the original retail price of $119, I paid only $26 for my case on Amazon, with free shipping.

It’s fantastic. As you can see, above, it looks just like a MacBook, with an aluminum keyboard with black, back-lit keys.  The top row of buttons take you to the home screen, turn the iPad on or off, launch Siri, launch search, and control video and audio playback and volume. While smaller than a standard-sized keyboard, this Zagg keyboard is surprisingly easy and enjoyable to use.  It really is as if I turned my iPad into the world’s tiniest MacBook. The keyboard even supports the familiar alt/tab feature that lets you easily switch between apps.

But that’s just the beginning. The “screen” part of the mini laptop (the actual iPad itself) is attached to the hinge mechanism by a series of very strong magnets. Which means you can detach it and use the iPad without the keyboard. This also means you can flip it around and use the keyboard behind the iPad as a convenient stand for viewing videos. And in this configuration, you can fold the keyboard flat behind in what they call “book mode.”

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The rechargeable keyboard has a two year battery life.  That’s right, two YEARS. Even if it’s only half that….

Here’s a nice video review.

The best part is that I can carry this around with me. I’m planning to get one of those padded slip cases for a little added protection and to hold a pencil and note pad. I already have apps for Wikipedia, Webster’s Dicionary/Thesaurus, and, of course, Microsoft Word and OneNote — all free. On an iPad, Word works without a 360 subscription, and it is integrated seamlessly with DropBox. I used my new keyboard case to compose this blog, and found it effortless.

If you happen to already have an iPad (Zagg makes this exact same case for the full-sized iPad, too), you can turn it into basically a touch-screen reversible laptop for under $50. The reversible touch-screen Windows laptop I bought my daughter cost ten times that much. If you decide to try this case, I’d love to hear your reviews.

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Last week I introduced the idea of “preinforcing” — going back after you have finished a manuscript and revising with the intent of adding details to support later scenes. This is in contrast to “foreshadowing,” which I distinguish as putting in details as you write to support future scenes not yet written.

By preinforcing, you have a much better opportunity to fold in finer details and make them more subtle.  When my daughter and I wrote our first draft of THE LAST PRINCESS, we knew that near the end of the book our hero would discover she is descended from trolls. We also wanted this to be an “of course!” moment for our readers by sprinkling in many supporting hints along the way.  However, as the book evolved, so did our definition of a troll.  Also, those scene where we wove in our clues changed, moved, or were cut, and many of those details were erased or altered to the point where they were no longer useful.

At this point we have a finished and polished manuscript, which has gone through several revisions of varying degrees, but there is one new idea we would like to emphasize. Near the end of the book, our hero is locked in a duel with her rival for the crown, and losing. She has all but given up and is succumbing to his special kind of magic, when a voice of encouragement pulls her out of it.  Then more voices. She discovers that all of her friends and many people she has never met have come to support her in her hour of need. That support gives her the strength to defeat her foe.

We realized that we weakened a potentially big moment, here, because it is later revealed that her best friend called most of these people and told them to come. Which is important to their friendship. But we realized this would be stronger if those people came to support our hero because our hero inspired them to do so.  This is a perfect case for preinforcing.

Throughout the book, our hero meets or is introduced to new characters who help her on her quest or provide a vital clue along the way. These people make up the core of those who come to support her at the end. But to believably change the reason they all show up, we needed to go back and add a pinch of motivation to each of those conversations.  So our notes for this revision pass looked something like this:

LAST PRINCESS – CLIMAX SETUP

GAIL: Gail needs to mention how none of the fae-born races can see each other anymore. Cat needs to think about that.

MR. P: Make sure she mentions she wants to unite the fae-born. He scoffs at this.

NANNY S: Nanny says her mother was friends with different types of fae-born. Cat points out she might meet more of them herself if she went out in the daytime.

ROSE: Cat shares with Rose the bit in her reading about how all the fae races used to be united.

MR. G: When he mentions that dwarves and elves don’t get along, she asks why and he admits he doesn’t really know.

MR. & MRS. J: When Cat tells them who she is, add that she wishes to bring the fae-born communities together. Mr. J will think this is a great idea because of his business.

HUNTER: When Hunter gives Cat the figurine, she tells him she would like to give his number to her dwarf-born friend. As an elf-born, Hunter is not enthusiastic about the idea. She tells him things will change when she becomes princess, and he might as well get used to it.

FAYE: When Cat tells Faye she plans to re-form the Seelie Court, add that she hopes to reunite the fae-born into one big community.

BONE-BREAKER: Work in that she wants to unite the fae-born, not control them. The prince will think that is the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. He claims the fae-born will never voluntarily get together.

By subtly slipping in these little preinforcements to already-established scenes in such a way that makes them a natural part of the conversation, it will become perfectly reasonable for all of these people to come out and support her in her hour of need — which they already do as-written. However, now, it will be because Cat spread the idea that they should all get together.

So, without having to completely re-write the story, we are able to weave in a new idea to support a scene already written, and give it a whole new level of meaning.  Try this yourself, and let us know how it works for you.

Daddy’s Little Helper

Posted: December 15, 2016 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Writers write — they don’t let little things like lifestyle get in their way.

I work seven days a week and have a family, including three kids, two cats and a wife. When the family is awake I’m not writing, and sometimes I don’t get home from work until 11:00 pm. So how did I manage to write a whole novel in under two years? When do I write?

Whenever.  I developed the same habit old soldiers develop around sleep — any time you can catch a few winks.*

Most of the time I do my writing between 11pm and 1am.  But I often try to write on my lunch hour at work.  I’ve made Dropbox an invaluable part of my writing arsenal, because I can access my WIP from any device at any time, and always be sure I have the very latest draft.  Autosave is a huge timesaver. Microsoft made Word available as a free download for smartphones, and you don’t even need a 365 subscription to use it, so I can open and edit the same Word documents as those I access on my office PC.

I discovered a whole chunk of unused time, however, and recently took steps to remedy that. My second job is retail, and when I work on the weekends I get a half-hour lunch and one or two 15 minute breaks, but I don’t have a PC at my disposal.  When I work in the evenings, I just get one break.  However trying to write using the on-screen keyboard on my iPhone is not particularly efficient.

So for my birthday I treated myself to an iWerkz folding bluetooth keyboard.  It only cost $30 on Amazon.img_1089

The notch you see in the case holds a iPad at a convenient angle, and there is a little pull-out tab on the case which holds my iPhone in landscape mode (as above). And the best part is that I can easily carry this in my back pocket on the sales floor, so when I get a break I don’t need to waste any time running to my locker.  I can grab a beverage and be writing in 2 minutes.  My laptop takes longer than that to boot up.

I may not get a lot of writing done in 15 minutes, but I get some done.  Mostly I use this time to review what I wrote last and polish it. Best of all, I keep the story fresh in my mind between bursts of writing.

So if you find yourself using lack of time as an excuse to not write, here’s your opportunity to give that excuse up.

 

 

 

*Unfortunately, I developed the same habit around snacking.

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In case you didn’t read my post from last week, #NaNoReDo is a do-over for anyone who missed National Novel Writing Month (#NaNoWriMo = November), during which participants try to write 50,000 words in 30 days. My daughter and I are using NaNoReDo to motivate us to complete the revision to our middle grade novel, THE LAST PRINCESS.

I am pleased to report that we have completed three of eighteen chapters, as of December 7, which puts us on track to complete our full-manuscript revision by the end of December.

And I think that puts us past the hard part.  The first three chapters are where all of the set-up, foreshadowing, and personal stakes are established. And for this revision were are changing all of that. Well, most of that. And, of course, that will trickle down throughout the rest of the novel, so we have to go over it page-by-page, paragraph-by-paragraph. I think we’ll make it.

Feeling the pressure, I ordered a nifty folding bluetooth keyboard which fits in. My back pocket, for those breaks and lunches at my second job where I don’t have access to a computer. The case has a little pull-out stand to hold my phone, which has MS Word and Dropbox, so I can pull up the latest draft of our manuscript at a moment’s notice and get to work

Check back next week, and wee if we’re still on track to finish by month’s end. Place your bets.

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Thank you, Hannah Fergesen (@HannahFergesenLiterary Agent at KT Literary)!  Hannah is the creator of the NaNoWriMo do over known as #NaNoReDo.

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Basically, if you missed out in November, here’s your shot to try again in December. It’s like a big red friendly “do over” button!  Only this time, set your own goals.

I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo because reasons.  But I’m taking NaNoReDo  literally, and using December to complete my full manuscript revision.  This is perfect because many (if not most) agents close up shop during the month of December, and then spend January playing catch-up.  So I wasn’t going to start querying again until February.  This gives me time to revise the whole ms, then get some feedback and polishing in before February.  But with NaNoReDo, I have a goal in place and a support structure to lean on.

If you are thinking about NaNoReDo, just follow Hanna and/or the hashtag #NaNoReDo.

Good luck! See you in the funny papers!

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I’ve noticed something pretty significant about this latest revision my daughter and I are doing on our middle grade manuscript.  With every revised paragraph, we are tying together tiny loose ends that previously dangled.  Many of these were not noticeable or even an issue, but in the process of writing any story things get invented and added on page 157 that you hadn’t considered on page 3.  And nobody expect you to go back and reference every nuance throughout the book in the first chapter.

But there is something very … mature … about a manuscript in which it is clear the writer clearly knows what’s coming.

It has always been my practice when writing to make every scene, every paragraph, every sentence, and as many individual words as possible accomplish more than one thing.  Why use a sentence to just describe the weather, when with that same sentence you can also establish a mood, give a glimpse of the setting, tie in the character’s motivation, or hint at some detail that will be revealed in full later?  Beginning writers often have difficulty smoothing out info dumps in their writing, because they can never figure out how to bury that information in the rest of the text.  This is how; you spread it out and dribble it into your text little by little.

Here’s an example: On the first page of our book (in this new revision) our hero thinks she sees an ogre hanging out at the fair.

I sat perfectly still while my heart thudded. Ogres were the ones that ate children, right?

Except that nobody in the crowd seemed to notice him. Magic dust or something sparkled all around him, but everyone else walked by like he was just some random guy hanging out at the fair. I didn’t know what was scarier – the fact that I was looking at a real live ogre, or the fact that I was the only one seeing the freaking ogre. Was I a few crayons short of a full box? I held my breath and squeezed my eyes shut … then looked again.

The guy in the Hawaiian shirt was just a guy. No sparkles or anything.

I blew my breath out slowly. Get a grip, Cat. Rose told you not to read those fairy tales right before bed the other night. Right. Like I’d ever actually do school work at a sleepover at my best friend’s house.

Which was why I was doing my homework now. Feeling guilty, I looked down at the paper in front of me. I was homeschooled, so Mom would be the one reading my report – and the only thing I’d written so far was, “Catherine Brökkenwier, age 12.”

Look at the paragraph in red.  In these two lines, while ostensibly describing Cat’s reaction to what she’s seeing,  we also introduce Rose, the fact that Cat reads fairy tales, the fact that she was at a sleepover, as well as transition into the next action — her homework.  We also introduce Cat’s voice and the way she talks to herself in her head.  In the final paragraph, above, we give you Cat’s age and full name without “telling” it to you.

Okay, so with this tool in hand, what’s so significant about this latest revision is the fact that we can now do this with full knowledge of what’s to come — not just plot, but emotional arc, little details, jokes that need to be set up, hints about things that won’t be revealed until the end, and details to support conclusions that Cat draws about her circumstances later in the book.  And we can fold them in subtly, almost invisibly, as we smooth over the manuscript.

And that’s why it’s called “polishing.” All of this smoothing.  Instead of unsightly lumps of info dumped her and there, we can level them out and at the same time tie up all kinds of tiny loose threads poking up everywhere.  This is the part where we make the manuscript even, silky smooth … where we make it shine.

If you know anything about woodworking, you know, you can’t sand your table to a mirror-like finish before you attach the legs.  Polishing is the last thing you do.  And it only works when all of the pieces are already in place.

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Last week I talked about the importance of stakes in your fiction.  Basically: get some.

Fine, but how do you find them?  Where do you put them?  How do you make them work?  To clarify, “stakes” are the thing the hero of your story is after.  The thing they are invested in.  The thing that makes your reader want to turn the page to find out if they succeed.  Most tension is derived from the stakes, because if we don’t care about them, roadblocks won’t bother us.

There are two basic kinds of stakes: Personal Stakes and Public Stakes.

At first glance, you might think Public Stakes are automatically bigger, and therefor better for your story.  Saving the world, or the town, or even just the clock tower are bigger than your character, and so the obstacles are naturally bigger as well.  However Personal Stakes are often more emotional, and if you have a character in which your reader can identify, those personal stakes become magnified.  An orphan boy who is forced to live under the stairs is automatically more sympathetic than a local official.  So if that boy’s stakes are to become a wizard, say, your reader might be more interested than the governor trying to save the town from bankruptcy.  Surely, keeping thousands of people from ruin is bigger than one boy becoming a wizard, but which do you prefer to read about?

Of course, of you can include both kinds of stakes in your story, that much better.  But if you have to pick just one, stories with strong personal stakes tend to be more popular and sell better.

So you have your stakes.  Where do you put them?  My advice — as close to the beginning as possible. Certainly within the first 50 pages.  It’s not absolutely necessary to put them on page 1, but the earlier the better.  Getting readers (and agents) to turn the page once they are invested is easy (well easier). But how do you get them invested in the first place?  Your stakes.  They have to want it as much as your character.  So if you can build you stakes into your hook, you’re golden.  The natural place to define the stakes is the Inciting Incident, which is the first major plot point, but stakes = tension, and tension = suspense, and all of those = reader interest.  So if you’re struggling to find a way to make your opening irresistible, consider introducing your stakes early.

Okay, you’ve gotten your stakes and introduced them.  Now, how do you make them work for you?  Simple: you add suspense.  That boy who wants to be a wizard?  Make his family block his efforts, introduce a bully, make him powerless to pursue his dream.  Oh, and put him in the dark about his past and any advantage he might have.  Create roadblocks.  Add time limits.  Let him fail and lose faith and momentum.  Build the tension and suspense.  The purpose of all this is to force your character to act, and give him/her opportunities to fail, which in turn further raise the stakes.  And the purpose of all of that is to make your reader unable to put your book down, because they need to know what happens next and what happens in the end.

And that’s all there is to it.  Easy as becoming a wizard.

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Last week in That “Aha” Moment I talked about how you never know when a good idea will strike, and also about when you may have to let one of those ideas go.  I closed by telling you how my new Critique Partner and a professional editor both pointed out what was missing from our book, and that I would share with you what that was, in case it applied to you, too.  It was really quite a game-changer.

What’s been missing from my daughter’s and my book were the stakes.

stake
[steyk]
noun
  1. something that is wagered in a game, race, or contest.
  2. a monetary or commercial interest, investment, share, or involvement in something, as in hope of gain: I have a big stake in the success of the firm.
  3. a personal or emotional concern, interest, involvement, or share: Parents have a big stake in their children’s happiness.
  4. the funds with which a gambler operates.

 

In fiction, this means the goal or outcome the hero wants. And more importantly, what is in the way of achieving that goal?  Another word for this is “suspense.”

To be fair, we did eventually get around to adding in stakes to our novel by the time we got to the end.  And we went back and diligently hinted at it in the early chapters, too.

This is, apparently, not sufficient.

Our first clue (ignored) was when we struggled to come up with a longline, or 35-word pitch.  For sure, this is not easy under the best circumstances, but the crux of the pitch is the stakes. If you can’t figure out what your main character has at stake, there is a problem with your book.

We began writing THE LAST PRINCESS by the seat of our pants, without an outline, and letting the story evolve as we progressed.  In fact, we never actually intended the story to include a villain, but one sort of appeared organically, and we added him to the story.  In the end the final conflict is rather juicey and full of hard choices — stakes — but that suspense, that energy, that urgency, is simply not very apparent at the beginning.

It needs to be.  In fact, I’d suggest that by page 50 (page 30 for children’s books) it should be clear to your reader what is at stake for the hero, and just as importantly, what will happen if she or he fails.  And remember, failure is an option.  It depends on what kind of book you want to write.

What does this look like?  Imagine I told you I had a guaranteed winning lottery ticket worth millions, and I was willing to let you have it.  Now, imagine I told you the only way to get it is to climb up the outside of the U.S. Capitol Building and retrieve it from the top of the dome.  Before midnight tomorrow.  Now you have some suspense.  Can you do it?  How will you do it in time?  How will you get past security?  Do you have the skill and equipment?  What if you get caught?

It doesn’t have to be that dramatic.  A woman is engaged to a horrible person but falls in love with a different, wonderful man.  But she must marry the first in order to save her dying sister.  A boy has a dream of becoming the best cornet player in New Orleans, but he lives in poverty and can’t afford nice clothes to audition for the band.

So how do you sharpen the stakes?  Pour on the pressure.  The engaged woman learns the wonderful man loves her back, and he’s rich, too.  But her fiancé is the only surgeon qualified to perform the life-saving operation.  And when he gets jealous he drinks.  The cornet player earns the money to buy a nice suit, but his mother loses her job and can’t afford to buy food for the family.  If you really want to lay it on thick, add a time-bomb: The band auditions are this Friday, then the talent scout is leaving town. The sister’s condition is worsening by the day.

For our book, we need to put the conflict with the villain right up front, and make it clear what the hero has to lose — personally — if she fails to defeat him.  That’s the thing about stakes, they have to be personal.  It’s not enough to just save the kitten from the fire.  The kitten has to be personally important to the hero.  Ask yourself this question:  What would happen to your hero if he/she fails?  If their life could pretty much go on unchanged, your stakes aren’t high enough or personal enough.

This’s what was missing from our book.  We had stakes, but they weren’t personal enough.  It came own to saving other people or going back to her normal life.  Not enough suspense.  But now we know how to fix that.  We’re going to have to let go of some of our favorite lines, even favorite scenes.  But the results should help make our manuscript irresistible to readers — particularly agents.

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Ideas come at the oddest times.  In the shower.  In the car.  In the middle of an unrelated conversation with your spouse.  At that last possible moment before you drift off to sleep.  You never know when you’re going to get one.  Which makes ideas precious.  So precious, in fact, that sometimes you’re compelled to hang on to one tooth and nail.  This can become a problem if you are committed to selling a novel.

Writing a novel, that’s the easy part.* Hanging onto ideas is a necessary skill; sometimes they get lost betwixt “Once upon a time” and “Happily ever after.”  But the harder part of writing a novel is re-writing a novel.  It turns out this is a huge step in the process of selling a novel.

Think of climbing Everest as an analogy for selling a novel (no, I’m not being overly dramatic — you try it.)  Doing your research, psyching yourself up, taking the training classes, getting in shape, buying all your gear, and getting to the base camp — that’s writing the novel.  Planting your flag on the summit — that’s signing a contract with a publisher. All of that mountain in between the base camp and the summit?  That’s re-writing (also known as slogging).

This is where you will find you need to begin to let go of some of your precious ideas.  Ideas that have served you throughout the writing process, informed your characters, served as a framework for your plot.  Because it will take lots of people reading your manuscript and giving you constructive feedback to work out all of the hidden hitches and subtle slowdowns you can’t see yourself. And by “people” I don’t mean your mom (unless she is an accomplished novelist or literary editor).

My daughter’s and my novel, THE LAST PRINCESS, has been “finished” for over a year.  We’ve workshopped it and rewritten the first several chapters, taken the advice of beta readers and editors, and revised and resubmitted to an interested agent.  But despite these spasms of retooling and polishing, we do not yet have agents lining up for a chance to offer us a contract.

Then we got two more people to read it. One was a #PitchWars mentor from whom we won a three-chapter critique, and the other was a shiny new critique partner we found though #CPMatch.  They both noticed something — or at the very least described something — that no other reader/agent/editor had ever pointed out before. And bang! we saw what was missing.

That “Aha!” moment.  This idea means we will have to rewire a lot of things in the book.  Disconnect A from B and attach Q.  Find a new place to plug in B without short-circuiting F-J.  And do it in such a way that all of the original buttons, dials, bells and whistles still work correctly.  Or, hopefully better than before.

Wanna know what the editor and CP pointed out that will make our manuscript magically delicious?  If you eat all of your vegetables and promise not to complain when I say it’s time for bed, I’ll tell you next week.  Stay tuned; it’s a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

*I know this; I’ve written two.