Monday, November 28, 2011

Word warring and winning

It's amazing how motivating a good old-fashioned word war contest between two friends can be!  I convinced a friend of mine — a published author, John Beachem — to do NaNoWriMo this year, and at first I was amused that my word count stayed consistently pretty far ahead of his.  This was partly because I started the month with flying colors, and partly because he spent time rewriting what he'd already written about a week in.

NaNoWriMo word war widget

He started catching up with me around when my daily pace started flagging, and that made me nervous enough to jump start my writing drive again.  Last night, I got to 50k before he did, though he was only 500 words away when he quit for the night, so he easily could have beaten me if he'd kept going!  Not that I'm complaining...

It feels good to be a winner!

I stopped last night with 51,119 NaNo words (75,119 total words in the novel), for a total of 2,562 words written yesterday evening.  I think I probably have a few thousand words left to write before the novel is finished, plus I need to go back and fill in a scene I skipped, which will probably be another couple thousand words.  In other words, I should be a little over 80k by the time I'm done with the first draft, which will hopefully be in another couple of days!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Restoring my rapidly narrowing lead

I've had an impossibly busy week, and as a result, not a lot of time to work on my novel.  As a result, there have been several days when I've not had a chance to write at all, and several others where I've failed to meet NaNoWriMo's daily minimum goal (1,667 words).  You'll see it when you look at my calendar widget in the sidebar (which is working again) — whereas it used to be almost all green squares and just one yellow (which means I wrote some but not enough), now there are 7 yellow squares and 3 red squares (which mean no writing at all).

One of those yellow squares is today's, however, and I plan to change its color to green before the day is out.  Our 24-hour write-in for the weekend was canceled, which is too bad because I and a lot of others were really looking forward to it.  Tonight, however, is the last of the Friday write-ins I've been going to at our local 24-hour used bookstore and coffee shop.  I plan on staying extra late and trying to recover some of my rapidly narrowing lead: Whereas I did at one time have a 5-day lead, right now I'm only about a day ahead, and that's only because I've already written 1,000 words or so today.

My word count goal for the day is 4,000 words — I'm already a quarter of the way there, but cross your fingers that I'll make it the rest of the way tonight!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Creating a blog for your book

Yesterday Barnes & Noble's PubIt! Facebook page posted an interesting article with some tips for creating an author or a book blog.  If you are wanting to create a blog for your book or series, or a promotional site for yourself as an author, the article is worth a quick read-through.

Author Blogging 101: Blog Design

It appears this blog post is one of a series — you can get to the entire series of posts here:

Author Blogging 101

It sounds like the rest of the series has some basic tips such as buying your own domain and that kind of thing — general things that make your blog appear more professional.

The post on blog design boils down to a couple of important points, so I'll give my one sentence summary: Don't get too hung up on all the widgets and other add-ons in your sidebar, but DO make sure you have an attractive, professional-looking header that can be used for branding.

Beyond that, he says, your main focus should be the content.

I agree, but I do think that a well-laid out blog should contain some other design elements.  Blogger, WordPress, and most other major blogging platforms these days make it very easy to customize templates without having to hire a graphic designer (except for perhaps your logo and/or header).  You can tinker with color schemes and font sizes, experiment with various sidebar widgets, and just in general have a lot of fun designing your blog.

After your header and content, I think the next most important thing is to make sure your blog is easy for readers to navigate.  This means links in the sidebar to previous posts and/or archives, and maybe a labels cloud so that they can see posts grouped by label (subject).  Other things — web badges and awards, ads, etc. — can be added and may make the site look more professional or more credible, but aren't necessary.

One final thing that I think is pretty darn important, and that the blogger did not address: Your blog design needs to include, prominently, some way to purchase the book (or a placeholder for that space further on down the road, if you are still working on the book).  For instance, my blog here has a "Books" page (link in the top nav bar) where the book covers, teasers, and sale links will go as the books in the series are published.  Once the first one is published, I'll also be putting a linked cover image in the sidebar for faster purchasing power.

If you have a book or author blog, feel free to post the link in the comments, and let us know why you designed it the way you did!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Victor's unveiling

Here it is!  At long last, Victor is revealing his face to Ruby and the world!

Victor was a tricky one, the trickiest of all my characters to find an accurate representation of.  All of the guys in the old tinted postcards I was finding looked rather effeminate and not at all like how I pictured my star vampire.  Ruby wouldn't fall in love with a dandy, that much I know.

Ultimately, Victor came in the form of an actual photo from the era, rather than one of the tinted photo postcards I've used for all my other characters.  This meant that I had to add a little color on my own (it's subtle — can you tell where?).  It also means that I have the original photo up on my bulletin board.  Yes, Victor is staring me in the face as I write this. Love that intense stare and that faintly amused quirk to the lips — that's Victor to a T!

Exciting news!

I'm just back after a weekend of nothing.  I didn't write either Saturday or Sunday, but I did finally sit down tonight and add 2,818 words to my novel.  I am at a critical point in the story and needed to hurry up and write some more to keep the momentum going.

I am fast approaching the climax now, and will have to figure out how exactly that is going to go.  I have a general idea, but hadn't yet decided on the specifics.  I think I came up with a few good ideas tonight.  My ideas for the next book are gelling as I get further along in the story, too, and I may actually be able to start writing that one right away when I finish my first draft of Ruby Ransome and Pandora's Box.  I'll decide then whether or not I need a break from Ruby's world for a little while, or whether I am ready to jump right into the next novel.

My biggest news, however, is that I am finally ready to unveil Victor!  I was waiting for the photograph to arrive, and it is finally here.  So now you all get to see what I picture when I imagine my heroine's vampire heartthrob!

I will post his photo tomorrow!

Friday, November 18, 2011

NaNoWriMo's calender widget is broken!

If you've noticed over the last few days that my NaNoWriMo calendar widget suddenly turned all red, that's because apparently something is broken on the site.  My statistics page, with my word count graph, isn't updating correctly either.

It's probably nothing more than coincidence that my first few slow days happened to occur at the same time as the calendar widget broke... right?

I didn't work on my novel at all on Wednesday, primarily because that's when I moved my newest horse to my barn.  Yesterday was quite busy too (riding lesson, work in the afternoon, and book club in the evening) but I did manage to write 599 words in the evening, bringing my NaNoWriMo word count to 37055.  (I'll wait to update tonight, since only the first update per day seems to be showing on the graph, and with the write-in tonight I should have a big increase in my word count before midnight.)

If the calendar widget doesn't get fixed soon, I'll switch to a different (operational) word count widget!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fun with Auto Summarize

If you need a good laugh sometime, try using Word's "Auto Summarize" feature on your novel.  Just remember to save your novel first, and have it open the summary in a new document!

The shorter the summary, the funnier it is.  According to Word, this is my novel in 10 sentences:

"Victor?" "Victor?" Victor nodded. Victor smiled. Victor.
"Victor. "Victor!" "Victor!" "Victor!

I think I'll be laughing about this one for a while yet.

Monday, November 14, 2011

May the frog be with you!

W.C. Frog says, "May the (word count) frog be with you!"

I am thrilled with my progress so far on my novel.  I had a moderately productive weekend — last night (counting my words after midnight) I got to 31k (31,099 to be exact).  Attending a write-in Friday evening helped me surpass my personal goal of 2k per day with 2,353 words.  Although Saturday is my busiest day, and I just generally assume I won't have time to write, I did at least make the NaNo minimum goal with 1,695 (you have to write 1,667 words a day in order to get to 50k in a month).  Yesterday was wildly productive, with 2,302 words before midnight and 867 after — a total of 3,169 words in one day.

All in all, that makes the weekend (counting Friday night as part of the weekend) a 7,217-word weekend — not far from the 8k weekends that the NaNo Powers That Be are always recommending as a good way to catch up.

Of course, I don't need to do any catching up — at this point I'm nearly 5 days ahead of schedule, which is just fine with me considering my tendency in past years to neglect my novel around Thanksgiving.

I'm also officially two-thirds of the way done with my total word count, at least if my goal remains 80k.  As I get closer to the end, I might revise that up to 90k — we'll see.  It's a lovely feeling to be this far through my novel and still have the feeling of being swept away with it!  I love my characters, I love the story, I love the ideas that I'm getting for future books in the series.

To all others doing NaNoWriMo, may the frog be with you!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Using 20s images in fiction

iconiconI guess I shouldn't be surprised, but it appears I am not the only one who has thought of using original images from the period to illustrate a story about the 1920s.  I've mainly focused on finding images to represent my characters, but Caroline Preston's The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt sounds like it uses the images to illustrate the entire story.

Unfortunately this one isn't available in ebook format, probably because of all the images, or I would have bought it on the spot.  As it is, I put a hold on it from my library, but I'll probably look for it in Barnes & Noble next time I'm there.  I'm interested to see how the author and publisher handle the illustrations, and whether the novel is mostly pictures, or text, or an equal combination of both.

However the images are handled in Prescott's book, I have to say I was very interested — not to mention delighted — to find that I'm not the only one who has thought of using old images to enhance their fiction!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Rockin' along

I am thrilled to say that I am really rocking the novel this year.  Maybe it's that I have solid plans to publish this one; maybe it's the excitement and inspiration generated by things like using 1920s images for my characters and listening to a lot of 1920s music.  Who knows.  All I know is that I'm having my most successful NaNoWriMo ever.

Last night I broke 20,000 words.  I am very nearly halfway done with my 50k goal for November, and three days ahead of where I should be.  I'm also more than halfway through with my total word count goal for the novel, 80k, though there are times when I think it may end up being longer, maybe 90k.

There are times when I feel like I'm struggling, such as during the first 1,500 or so words last night.  But I'm finding that if I push through, everything falls into place.  Part of it is this particular novel, or perhaps more accurately, how much I'm feeling this particular novel.  If I just make myself keep writing, eventually it all starts coming together.

This is a glaring difference from previous years.  Every year since 2007, I've failed miserably — some years I hardly even got a word count at all.  Other years I started writing and couldn't keep up.  Even the one year I did win, 2006, it was by the skin of my teeth.  I finished my novel at just 100 words over 50,000, and that was after a superhuman effort to catch up.

But this year, I have hope that I will not only reach 50k, but also finish my novel (at around 80k), so that I can set it aside for a month or so before I start revisions in January!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NaoWriMo word count widget in sidebar

NaNoWriMo still hasn't rolled out their word count widgets, so... I got tired of waiting, and found the code in an old blog post from a few years ago.  Turns out the widgets are still there, they just run off of our old participant numbers instead of our usernames (like they are supposed to this year — IF they are ever rolled out!).  So my calender widget is now in the sidebar!

Now to go make today's box turn green!

Life after NaNoWriMo

I know, I know, it's only November 8th — way too soon to be thinking ahead to when NaNoWriMo is over.  But even though I'm frantically pounding out words, I've had a big picture in mind for this (and subsequent) novels for months, so I found these articles interesting.

It all started with an article in an email newsletter I get, about whether NaNoWriMo is beneficial.  The article assumes that you're following the NaNoWriMo rules, of course, by starting a fresh novel on November 1st, rather than continuing work on a current project and just counting the words you write in November.

I think I may write a lot faster than many people, because 1,667 words each day doesn't normally take that long, so when I'm reading an article like this I don't understand what the big deal is.  At the word war Friday night I wrote 1,400 words in 30 minutes, which surprised me — I've long thought that 1,000 words in an hour was a fairly average pace for me, but I guess I can do much better than that when inspiration hits.  I may also have gotten faster over the years, since I would consider last night to be on the slow side of average (I was struggling somewhat with the scene), and I wrote 1,500 words in an hour.

Anyway, from this first article I clicked on two more links, and found some that were even more helpful.  One was about what to do after NaNoWriMo, if you want to eventually publish the novel, that is.  The article recommends taking a break first, then going back and revising when it's no longer so fresh in your head.  That's pretty sound advice — Stephen King says pretty much the same thing in On Writing.

I've been planning on taking a break for a month or two after I finish my first draft, and working on something else until I pick it back up to revise.  Maybe I'll finish last year's NaNo novel, which has been languishing, forgotten, in a drawer for all this time.  Or maybe I'll rework my first (and only) completed NaNo novel, which I wrote back in 2006.  It's a great idea and I've wanted to go back and turn it into something really good, I just haven't ever gotten around to it.  It means that it'll be a little longer before anyone gets to read Ruby Ransome and Pandora's Box (other than my husband and friends who are helping me to revise and polish it), but I don't want to rush it into publication until it's truly ready.  You'll just have to be patient!

One other article I found was this handy little summary of genre novel rules.  A couple of weeks ago I'd been looking for this very information, wanting to know whether my target total word count of 80,000 was a good length.  It's definitely a little on the short side, but still within the requirements — and as I get further into the novel and flesh the story out a little more, I'm thinking it may actually be more like 90,000.

What about you?  What are your plans for your NaNo novel?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Do you have time to write on weekends?

This weekend was a moderately successful one for me.  A lot of wrimos try to achieve astronomical word counts during this first weekend, but I was just trying to maintain a steady pace.  My Saturdays are ridiculously busy right now, so I suspected I wouldn't have time to work on my novel that day, and a lot of Sunday was spent on day-off kinds of things: sleeping in, hanging out at the bookstore drinking coffee, riding my horse, and watching a little TV.

Friday was my phenomenally productive day.  With the help of a write-in, my first-ever win at a word war, and a really late night, I pounded out 4,105 words before I went to bed.  Almost half of those — 1,798 — were written and updated to my profile after midnight, though, so they counted for Saturday instead of Friday.

Which was actually good, since — as I'd expected — I didn't have time to write on Saturday.  The timing makes it look on my graph like I did, though, which I like!

Sunday I didn't get around to writing until late in the evening, and then I only wrote 1,871 words, which means I didn't achieve my normal daily goal of 2,000 words either day this weekend.  That's all right, though — with 15,227 words in November, I'm still cookin' with a 2-day lead!

I updated my total word count in the sidebar, but so far NaNoWriMo hasn't yet rolled out the word count widgets this year.  When they do, I'll add my favorite widget, which is a mini-calender that will show green squares on days when I achieved the minimum (1,667 words), and red squares when I didn't.  So far I won't have a single red square on my widget!  Awesome!

Celebrate NaNoWriMo with free ebooks on writing

I don't know if it's just a coincidence that these ebooks are being offered free during NaNoWriMo, or if it's deliberate, but I thought I'd provide the links for my fellow wrimos.  Of course you probably won't want to take the time off writing now to read them, but do download the ebooks ASAP — promotional freebies are notorious for only last a brief period of time.  There could be only another day or two on these.

iconiconGet advice from the best in the business on every part of the novel writing and publishing process!

In The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, 2nd Edition, you’ll learn from the invaluable advice of established writers. Discover new ways to generate ideas, implement intriguing techniques, and find the inspiration you need to finish your work. This fully-revised edition includes a revamped marketing section that covers the unique challenges of today’s publishing market and the boundless opportunities of online promotion.

Inside you’ll find expert advice from dozens of bestselling authors and publishing professionals on how to:

· Master the elements of fiction, from plot and characters to dialogue and point of view

· Develop a unique voice and sensibility in your writing

· Manage the practical aspects of writing, from overcoming writer’s block to revising your work

· Determine what elements your story needs to succeed in a particular genre—science fiction, fantasy, mystery, suspense, inspirational, romance (mainstream and Christian), or historical fiction

· Find an agent, market your work, and get published—or self-publish—successfully

You’ll also find interviews with some of the world’s finest writers, including Margaret Atwood, Tom Clancy, Brock Clarke, Cory Doctorow, Dave Eggers, Elizabeth George, Jerry Jenkins, Stephen King, Megan McCafferty, Audrey Niffenegger, Joyce Carol Oates, Chuck Palahniuk, James Patterson, Richard Russo, Anne Tyler, John Updike, and Kurt Vonnegut. Their words will provide you with the guidance and encouragement of your very own writing mentor.

The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing is your one-stop resource for everything you need to know about the craft and business of creating a bestseller.

iconiconThe road to rejection is paved with bad beginnings. Agents and editors agree: Improper story beginnings are the single biggest barrier to publication. Why? If a novel or short story has a bad beginning, then no one will keep reading. It's just that simple.

In Hooked, author Les Edgerton draws on his experience as a successful fiction writer and teacher to help you overcome the weak openings that lead to instant rejection by showing you how to successfully use the ten core components inherent to any great beginning. You'll find:

Detailed instruction on how to develop your inciting incident

Keys for creating a cohesive story-worthy problem

Tips on how to avoid common opening gaffes like overusing backstory

A rundown on basics such as opening scene length and transitions

A comprehensive analysis of more than twenty great opening lines from novels and short stories

Plus, you'll discover exclusive insider advice from agents and acquiring editors on what they look for in a strong opening. With Hooked, you'll have all the information you need to craft a compelling beginning that lays the foundation for an irresistible story!

iconiconThe Secret to Good Writing

When asked by the Paris Review what compelled him to rewrite the ending of A Farewell to Arms 39 times, Ernest Hemingway replied, "Getting the words right." His answer echoes what every successful writer knows: The secret to all good writing is revision.

For more than twenty years, Getting the Words Right has helped writers from all professions rewrite, revise, and refine their writing. In this new edition, author Theodore Cheney offers 39 targeted ways you can improve your writing, including how to:

create smooth transitions between paragraphs

correct the invisible faults of inconsistency, incoherence, and imbalance

overcome problems of shifting point of view and style

express your ideas clearly by trimming away weak or extra words

You'll strengthen existing pieces and every future work by applying the three simple principles—reduce, rearrange, and reword. Once the secrets of revision are yours, you'll be able to follow Hemingway's lead—and get the words right!

iconiconTake Control of Your Destiny!

Bottom line: You want to get published. You want to control the future of your manuscript and your writing career.

Best-selling author Marilyn Ross and publishing expert Sue Collier show you how to make your own success —whether you're a published author, entrepreneur, corporation, professional, or absolute newcomer to writing. In this expanded and completely revised 5th edition of the 'bible' of self-publishing (over 100,000 copies sold), they empower you to publish your own work with minimal risk and maximum profits. You'll find:

* Complete step-by-step guidance on publishing and marketing a book
* Ways to leverage social media marketing to build your platform and make yourself stand out from the crowd
* A thorough explanation of the difference between POD self-publishing, subsidy publishing, and true self-publishing—and how to decide which is the best option for you
* Practical advice on making the decision between offset printing and print-on-demand
* How to leverage the Internet to create 'buzz' and promote your book with killer PR
* The latest information on e-publishing
* A detailed marketing plan and timetable to keep you on track
* Proven marketing strategies to get free publicity, reach nontraditional buyers, and sell books
* Information-packed appendices with marketing contacts, organizations, and vendors, complete with names, addresses, and Web sites
* Valuable case studies and examples of how other publishers excel
* Dozens of tips and resources for publishing and selling books in Canada
* An in-depth discussion of exclusive distributors, plus coverage of the most recent changes in bookstores and the book-selling industry
* Thirty-one creative ideas for generating capital to launch your publishing company

The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing is the one book you need to take control of your writing career. Read it. Believe it. Do it. Your future depends on it.

iconiconBuild a Timeless, Original Story Using Hundreds of Classic Story Motifs!

It's been said that there are no new ideas; but there are proven ideas that have worked again and again for all writers for hundreds of years.

Story Structure Architect is your comprehensive reference to the classic recurring story structures used by every great author throughout the ages. You'll find master models for characters, plots, and complication motifs, along with guidelines for combining them to create unique short stories, novels, scripts, or plays. You'll also learn how to:

* Build compelling stories that don't get bogged down in the middle
* Select character journeys and create conflicts
* Devise subplots and plan dramatic situations
* Develop the supporting characters you need to make your story work

Especially featured are the standard dramatic situations inspire by Georges Polti's well-known 19th century work, The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. But author Victoria Schmidt puts a 21st-century spin on these timeless classics and offers fifty-five situations to inspire your creativity and allow you even more writing freedom. Story Structure Architect will give you the mold and then help you break it.

This browsable and interactive book offers everything you need to craft a complete, original, and satisfying story sure to keep readers hooked!

iconiconAthletes practice. Musicians practice. As a writer you need to do the same. Whether you have dreams of writing a novel or a memoir or a collection of poems, or you simply want to improve your everyday writing, this innovative book will show you how to build your skills by way of practice.

Through playful and purposeful exercises, you'll develop your natural aptitude for communication, strengthening your ability to come up with things to say, and your ability to get those things into the minds (and the hearts) of readers. You'll learn to:

1. Train and develop your writer's powers—creativity, memory, observation, imagination, curiosity, and the subconscious

2. Understand the true nature of the relationship between you and your readers

3. Find your writer's voice

4. Get required writing projects done so you have more time for the writing you want to do

5. And much more

Empowering and down-to-earth, How to Be a Writer gives you the tools you need, and tells you what (and how) to practice so that you can become the writer you want to be.

iconiconFrom the foreword by Maya Angelou:

"[T]he joy they promise in their prose makes me glad that I and other writers have been willing to make good writing our aim, and even great writing our dream."

"How do I get my book published?"

Good question. Lucky for you, publishing insiders Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark have laid out the blueprint for what you want--your book. From transforming an idea into a manuscript to finding an agent to working with an editor to marketing your book, BookPage's Author Enablers are here to assist you every step of the way. And they've brought some backup with original insight from literary superstars like Stephen King, Amy Tan, Rita Mae Brown, and more.

It's everything you would ever want--and need--to know about the industry from the inside out.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tips for writing a series

If you didn't already know it, I'm planning an entire series about Ruby Ransome and her adventures with vamps.  I already have ideas for future books, and I need to sit down and brainstorm one of these days to flesh some of them out and come up with more ideas — the first book takes place in 1923, so I need to see how many books I'm going to want to cram into the remaining 10 years of the decade.  Some of the ideas I have take place in specific years — one of them in 1929 — so I really need to get an idea of all the books I want to have in the series before I get too far along.  Initially I thought of doing a book per year, but most will cover fairly short periods, so maybe I should plan for more.

Anyway, Barnes & Noble's PubIt Facebook page linked to a very interesting article today, on dealing with continuation issues in a series.  (The title is somewhat misleading — the article isn't really about continuation issues to avoid, but how to deal with the issues.)

I've already come up with ideas for my covers that I think will create a strong brand, so I'm good on number 4.  I also have a very good idea of the overall story for the series (Ruby and Victor fighting vampire-driven organized crime in the 1920s), so put a check next to number 5.  I also feel good about Ruby's character arc throughout the series, so we're good there too.  And number 7 deals with what I was just talking about: planning out the series ahead of time, so that I can make the time line work.

Numbers 1, 2, and 3 are more about keeping the details straight.  I'm actually not sure 1 and 3 aren't the same thing — 1 talks about getting character details right, and both 1 and 3 talk about rereading prior books to make sure you're remembering the details correctly.  Personally, I keep an "outline" (loosely defined as such) with character information, and I try to add important details as I think of them.  I may develop this to include more detailed character sheets for each one.

Two is a very interesting issue.  Do you make each book a standalone?  Do you repeat information in each book in order to bring up to speed the readers who are just now coming into the story?  While I agree that books need to bring readers up to speed — for those who read the last book or books a while ago, as much as for those who have never read them — I think too much of this really bogs down the story, and in my books I'd like to keep it to a minimum.

I've written novels before (though never published), but writing a series will be a new adventure for me.  I have to say I'm looking forward to sticking with these characters for a while!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

W.C. Frog says, Good job!

I have decided to call my word count frog (from my goody bag the night of the kickoff party) W.C. Frog.  He's pretty happy right now because so far, I'm racking up some serious words.  I got to 1,678 at the kickoff party before leaving (even though I was so exhausted for that last few hundred that I was nearly seeing double), and last night I added another 3,384 for a grand total (for November) of 5,062.  If NaNoWriMo ever makes their word count widgets available, I'll put one in the sidebar with my overall word count status bar, so that you can see how far along I am in NaNo versus my total word count and overall goal.

The key to NaNoWriMo is getting ahead as much as you can at the beginning, so that when things interfere with writing later in the month — Thanksgiving, family obligations, and all the other little things that come up that you couldn't anticipate — you have a cushion to make up for those days when you don't get anything done at all.  That's where I've failed in previous years, and it's kept me from winning every year but my very first, 2006.

For some people, the weekends serve as a great time to get ahead on their word count, but for me it's usually the opposite — it's harder for me to work on my novel on the weekends, when my husband and I are usually pretty busy.

Of course, I have a pretty busy month ahead of me this year, but I am hoping to maintain (and hopefully even increase) my slim lead, so that when the craziness hits later in the month, I won't fall behind!


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