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You know how easy it is to start a book? There’s that terrific premise you’re dying to get down on the page, plus those fabulous characters you’ve fashioned, to whom you’ll feed just the perfect opening lines. My books usually open right with the action. I hit the group running and it’s off to a rip-roaring start. But sometimes it happens I get to page 150, and my characters are metaphorically gasping for breath, not from where they came from, but in anticipation of where they’ll end up. It’s like their train is barreling toward the station, but I don’t know which track to send them on to get them there. So what should I do? For advice I like to turn to a book that’s helped me numerous times in the past, The Art and Craft of Storytelling by Nancy Lamb ( Writer’s Digest Books, ISBN 978-1-58297-559-7, $14.99). She says to travel the length of your story grab hold of the throughline–the driving force of your book you can set up as soon as the opening line.
According to Nancy Lamb’s Tricks of the Trade: Before the end of the first chapter, make an effort to set up the primary throughline of your book. By creating a natural trajectory for your story’s development, the plot will unfold in a more organic way, and you’ll feel more comfortable in moving forward. This is also insurance against getting sidetracked. You can set up your throughline in an outline, or you can wing it. Either way, make the effort to establish this critical introductory plot point from the beginning.
Did I do that? Well, I know where my characters were in the beginning, and I know how I want them to end up. Okay, let me adopt this theory to a well-known story: The Wizard of Oz. The only thing Dorothy really wants is to get home. So everything that occurs to her after she lands in Munchkinlad propels her towards Oz which, in theory, will get her home. So what’s my guiding force? And how does that guiding force contribute to the forward motion of the story? If it doesn’t, it should. Because if it doesn’t, then it’s quicksand. And it’ll keep me stranded in the sagging middle.
If you’re stuck, perhaps you’ve lost sight of that. Or perhaps you’ve just been too bogged down by the prose, trying to tweak wordage and phrases, when you should be concentrating on the story. Therein lies the danger of constantly editing: details can always be fixed later, but a main plot thrust should always command your attention. Not that a little re-reading isn’t in order, especially if you’ve lost the main plot point of my story. So in times like these, when we can’t see the forest for the trees, the only thing to do is go back to square one. Maybe it’s time to pay a quick visit to that magical beginning, and remember to drop bits of it like breadcrumbs on the way back and all the way through to the end.
Back to work!
Last week I was as sick as a dog. (Tell me: where did that analogy spring from anyway? Because if sick = dog, then my neighborhood should be a pandemic site.) My affliction ran the full gamut of misery: fever, chills, aches, head congestion and general all-over-shittiness, and from so much coughing and sneezing, this week I threw out my back. So it’s another week of not being up to a hundred percent, and now it’s thirty-eight degrees out and raining. Add to this one hell of a winter hangover which seemed to put all progress in reverse, and I’m finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning, let alone work on the book which I recently started. Put it all together and I’m decidedly in a funk, and wondering how to get my motor started when so much of the world is working against me.
(My goodness, I’m depressing. Now write yourself out of that hole, Gwen. Go ahead. I’m waiting.)
It’s very easy not to write when you’re feeling bad, actually too easy. Your brain gets preoccupied with everything that’s messing up your day, and it become almost mandatory to dis your routine for social media or TV, twin junk foods for the distracted mind. Kind of like when you have a bad day at work and you head right for the Doritos, a balm for the belly that actually works against you, especially after you realize you just inhaled 3000 calories, and you don’t even like Doritos. So how do you counter these counter-intuitive measures? How do you write when writer is the last thing you feel like? One thing I’ve found out about myself is I feel worse when I don’t write, that the act of writing itself gives me a feeling of self-worth unlike any other practice I partake in. The only thing that comes close is teaching, perhaps because both involve the dissemination of information uniquely my own. Maybe because as writers, we are innately messengers, and this need to communicate is what puts us in touch with our reality, giving us validation. Really? Is that what we need? Must be true, because why would I feel so bad when I’m not doing it? I mean, seriously, who feels bad when they’re not hitting their thumb with a hammer?
Man, writers are strange. But that’s why you love us so much, right?
If you fancy yourself a novelist ( as I, on occasion, have been wont to do), and you’d like to see yourself represented, sooner or later you’re going to have to attempt that necessary evil, the Dread Agent Query Letter. Truly, I know people who’d rather stick pencils in their eyes than apply that pencil to the task, but sweeties, it doesn’t have to be that painful if you know the assembly method. So here, in four easy paragraphs, I’ll try to show you how to compose the Perfect Agent Query. Now pay attention…
First, some preliminaries… First and foremost, a query is a business letter. Since most (if not all) agents accept queries only through email, and since that email entails one finger firmly adhered to the delete button, you want your query to be as concise and professional as possible, contained in the body of the email and NOT by attachment. Since attachments can carry viruses, agents are loath to open them unless they know you, so send attachments by invitation only. Most definitely use honorifics (Mr., Ms. etc.) in your Salutation as you should never assume familiarity. If you had previously met with the agent at a conference, workshop, cocktail party, etc, and were invited to query, most definitely write REQUESTED in the subject line as well as the first line of the email. These will get opened first. As a best practice, check the agent’s website or blog for query/submission guidelines. If you don’t have a particular agent in mind, try Jeff Herman’s guide, the library for The Literary Marketplace, or www.agentquery.com, just to name a few resources. Another one is troll the library or bookstore stack of the books of your genre, and see who the author thanks in her acknowledgements. Now, on to the actual construction…
Para One – Howdy! With Benefits – This is your query knock-on-the-door, your literary calling card designed to get the agent’s attention. Introduce yourself, remind her if you’ve previously met and where (we chatted during lunch at the XXXX Writers’ Conference), if you’ve been invited to query/submit, the name of your novel, the genre and word count. You might what to toss in a quick teaser like, A cross between Stephen King and Carl Hiaasen, My Bloody Margarita is a 80,000 word…, to illustrate what your writing is like. But on the whole, keep this para to a five-six line minimum, with just the facts, ma’am, inviting her to the next para to learn more.
Para Two – In which we employ The Hard Sell – this is where you get ONE paragraph to car-crush your entire 80,000 word novel into one easily digestible capsule. Twelve to fifteen lines in all, introduce your main characters, basic plot line, conflict, lessons learned, the conclusion. Remember, although you want the agent to be intrigued, you don’t want to raise her ire. So if you say …but if you want to know how the story turns out, you’ll just have to request the rest of it… you’re just asking for a delete. Be creative, not cagey.
Para Three – It’s all about YOU! – This is where you get your close-up, Mr. DeMille; it’s all about you, you, you. Cite your published works, awards, training, blogs, websites, education (if pertinent), professional associations, jobs or skills that give you credibility for/authority on what you’re writing about. Again, because this is a business letter, remain professional. Don’t take this personally, but no one really cares if you like to raise bunnies and take long walks lakeside, unless, of course, you’re writing about The Killer Hare of Lake Superior. Again, no more than twelve to fifteen lines. A link to your blog or website is also advisable, as most industry people now assume you have a web or social media prescience, and if you don’t, you have to ask yourself why.
Para Four – Wrap it up – This is your shortest paragraph of all. I’ll even toss in examples free of charge: I can send a proposal or the complete novel at your request. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. OR According to your submission guidelines, what follows is the first ten pages (or synopsis or first three chapters, or any combination thereof stated in their guidelines) of <Name Work> Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon. THAT SHOULD BE IT. No more, no less, just a salute as you head out the door.
All finished? PROOFREAD AND SPELL-CHECK, then add your email address and your phone number. All in all, a succinct query should never contain more than 400-450 words, and NEVER more than one page. And never query unless you have a completed, fully-polished, proofread and spell-checked novel ready to go. I know of agents who get 200 queries a week, and some substantially more. That’s a heck of a queue, and if you’re not ready to submit at a moment’s notice, rest assured there are hundreds of others who are.
One more thing — good luck!
I’m one of those poor academics who has to work most of the year except for a few weeks between semesters and in that venerable time called Spring Break, which for me was last week. The hind end of it was spent at the Liberty State Fiction Writers annual conference, where the Keynote speaker was bestselling author, Sylvia Day. (She actually was much closer than this when I snapped the picture at left. It sure didn’t look this far away!)This year it expanded into a two-day conference, and I got to attend some great workshops and talks, as well as hook up with several writer friends, my agent, who also sat on the Agents Panel at right, and a bunch of other publishing professionals. But mostly–and here’s the really important part–I got to spent a goodly amount of time imbibing in all things theoretically Bad For Me, the absolute BEST part of any conference.
For example, here’s my glamorous agent, Marisa Corvisiero and I lunching on the de rigueur plate of institutional chicken atop a mish-mash of rice and what I believe were vegetables scraped from the previous day’s soup pot. That’s Marisa laughing at another of my uproarious bon mots. It was probably something like, “You gonna eat that?” (Yes, I’m that funny.) The iced tea was incredible, at least.
Conferences are also prime places for getting embarrassingly shitty cell phone pix taken of you. Consider the Edvard Munch study below. Don’t ask me what the impetus was for that. I have no idea.
Juxtapose that against what I call “A Composition in Light and Dark” at the right. There’s me looking all shady and ironic (and beat-up; it’d been a rough night) against the beatific figure in the background beaming like a Botticelli. Truth be told, I never knew I possessed such a talent for artistic expression. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but I swear, these are absolutely improv-ed. I’m also that talented.
Ultimately, the conference comes down to hanging out with good friends, drinking some good wine (or at least priced accordingly), and demolishing a honkin’ big dish of Brownie Sundae. Between all of this I got to make some really good plans for the future, some of which you will be privy to shortly. If the best business is done in the off-hours, then I’ll take this office space any time. It truly is where the best people are.
There’s a writer I know who always pens the perfect dialogue. His characters can banter with all the snap and speed of a table tennis tourney, their chatters’ cadence a direct reflection of the intensity of the situation, or in its languor, its lack thereof. Dialogue can paint a vivid portrait of a character’s personality, revealing the level of intimacy between the protagonists, or recreate a historical era with its manner of speech and choice of words. Dialogue, in and of itself, can be your book’s barometer, setting the mood through the characters’ zingers, laments, opines and asides. Prose would be decided dry and lumbering without it, relegating readers to trudge through page upon page of telling not showing, its characters never really coming alive. Knowing this, I think we could all agree attention to dialogue is essential to good writing. But so is too much attention, which is what new writers often can’t see.
There comes a time in every professional writer’s life when the work ceases being written and thus becomes read. From the time it leaves the desk and goes before a beta-reader or an editor, it begins to exist on its own, without the aid of its creator’s vision. What the reader sees is exactly what the writer has put forth, but if what they’re seeing becomes skewed in the transmission, then it’s not the reader’s fault if they don’t “get it.” Dialogue, as stated above, is a wonderfully descriptive vehicle to transport your story along. But if you’re only saying so much outloud then finishing the balance of the information in your head, you’re not getting your character’s message–or your vision–across to your readers.
New writers often have fabulous stories in their heads, but fail when getting them to the page. Often, this mistake shows itself in dialogue, as the characters will say things colored by insider information obvious to the writer, but not so much to the reader. This happens when the writer is so close to the story they unconsciously fill in the missing information. When this happens, try closing your eyes to take a look at the scene, then write what you’re seeing beyond what the characters are saying. When your hero says, “Feeling a bit depressed today?” Don’t wait for the heroine to simply say “Yes,” before the hero rambles on. Imagine the scene from his point of view. Let us see her with her head in her hands. Let us feel her tremble under his touch as she breaks into tears. Do we hear the ocean rumbling below as they stand on the cliff, taste the salt in their mouths? Dialogue’s essential, but if you’re not giving us the complete picture, you’re only getting half your story on the page.
Years ago, ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” after some complaints about all the yak going on during the games, dropped their color commentators from the night’s telecast, simply showing the game with the score on the screen. The experiment was a rousing failure, as the game lost its sense of immediacy, its excitement, its human quality. Dialogue in our writing works the same way, but only when we’re adding the complete picture, by coloring inside the lines. If we don’t, we’re left with just a line drawing, a one-dimensional outline with no substance or depth, a yadda yadda yadda of sound and fury, signifying a lot more work to do!
No, you’re not crazy, even though your friends and family think you are. Even so, you have to admit that at time, you do seem a bit “off.” Still, how do you measure crazy against what accurately borders on obsession? I was thinking of this last weekend while lunching with some fellow writers, wondering whether they’re afflicted with similarly bizarre affectations, or if I was I suffering in silence. Odd or not, it’s made me realize that dammit, I must be a real writer, because although I’m not cutting off an ear or anything for my art, I sure am suffering some peculiarities. Such as:
1. Post-it Note Addiction – It’s true. I carry them everywhere. I have pads of them on my desk, in my purse, in the pocket of my course binder. I whip them out to jot down lines of dialogue, character descriptions, plot lines–even the premise for this post. They’re all over the place in my office, and when I’m on the road and inspiration clocks me, I jot down my genius and stick them to the inside of my wallet so I don’t forget. By the way, they’re also good for shopping lists, as you can stick them right in front of you on the inside of the shopping cart.
2. Drinking Hot Liquids Cold – During the winter months I usually have a cuppa something at my elbow while I’m writing, but I have to tell you, I can’t remember the last time I actually sipped it while it was still hot. Usually the cream’s left a sheen on the coffee, or the tea’s soaked down the string to the tag, an “accident” puddling on my desk, whatever’s in the cup long, gone cold. The opposite effect is true in the summer, when I never seem to sip anything cold: the ice just a memory, the glass dripping condensation. I should probably just yank a bottle out of the cabinet and forget about it. Either way, it all ends up the same place: room temperature.
3. Vitamin D Deficiency – My last routine blood screen had everything come back normal except my Vitamin D level. Apparently deficiencies of this vitamin, which is created by sunshine, can cause depression, chronic fatigue, weight loss (I wish), diabetes, heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis. In addition to a disease I thought went out with the nineteenth century–rickets! “It’s not unusual to see decreased Vitamin D levels in the winter,” my doctor had said. “But yours? Don’t you even step out on the porch?” All right, I guessing the LED glow from my laptop isn’t enough, so I suppose it’s supplements until the snow melts and I’m hitting the sidewalk again.
4. Plot-related Memory Loss – Has this happened to you? You’re driving along, trying to work out what exactly Protagonist A is going to leave on Protagonist B’s doorstep, and the next thing you know you’re sitting in the parking lot at work, with no idea how you got there. Or you’re in the shower and you’ve just thought of the perfect setting for your heroine’s vacation. But there’s this bottle of conditioner in your hand, and you can’t remember if you washed your hair first. Whether you’re staring at blank walls or losing threads of conversations, it’s not early dementia–it’s Plot On the Brain. And trying not to think about it only makes it worse. Better to lock yourself in the closet and get it down and over with.
5. You Do It Anyway – This I have found the most telling. You’ve written a bunch of novels, a dozen short stories, more than a few essays, innumerable blog posts, even kept a journal for more years than you’d care to own up to. And although you’ve had some limited success, though nowhere near where you’d like to see yourself, you keep doing it. You finish one piece then start another, because you know if you don’t your axis will tilt and forget the Vitamin D–you’ll feel a deficiency worse than if all the chocolate in the world suddenly disappeared. You can’t help yourself, even on the days when that rejection shows up in your inbox, you still want to do it. You’ll cry and curse and hate the world for stopping you from doing what you can’t seem to give up. But then all of a sudden that perfect line plants itself in your head, and you’re back to doing it anyway. You’re so pathetic. Maybe. Maybe not. But oh man, sometimes it’s such a bitch being us.
Okay, enough whining. Back to work.
I’ll have the house to myself all day, so I’ll get up at the crack of dawn and hit my desk by 6:00 AM. I’ll mute my phone, ignore my email, and do nothing but write. Oooh! I love it when I can work in my jammies.
5:30 – Alarm rings. Roll over, hit snooze.
5:31 – Cat finds ball. Ignore tinkly bell and fall back asleep.
5:40 – Alarm rings again. Cat jumps on face. Swat at cat. Miss cat. Knock over alarm. Alarm stops by default. Pull pillow over head. Fall back to sleep.
5:44 – Dream of jingle bells.
5:49:58 – Cat pulls curtain and curtain rod from window, knocks alarm from night table.
5:50 – Alarm rings. Give up, get up and go to bathroom. Tinkly sound emanates from bedroom.
5:55 – Feed cat.
5:58 – Bowl of Cheerios and sliced banana. Get newspaper while cereal soggies.
6:03 – 6:14 – Front page, editorials, comics, horoscope. Take vitamins.
6:15 – 6:19 – “Morning Joe.”
6:20 – 6:47 – Switch to TCM while “Joe” is on a commercial break and become embroiled in pre-code Jean Harlow/Clark Gable rom-com until cat leaps into window at neighbor’s cat reminding you to look toward wall clock.
6:48 – Make cup of tea; visit bathroom while waiting for water to boil, turning on laptop en route. Brush teeth. Spy book on dresser on the way out. Finish reading chapter started the night before.
6: 54 – Return book to dresser.
6:55 – Retrieve tea and head toward office.
6:56 – Visit several email accounts and return email, re: 3 student crises, web course designer, critique partner. Email agent. Sneak peek at Facebook, Twitter, tweet, favorite. Check website.
7: 18 – Bring up work-in-progress. Shrink work-in-progress. Bring up FreeCell. One therapeutic game to get brain functioning. Or two. Three. Four at the most.
7:39 – Bring up work-in-progress. Remember need to look up legal term first. Shrink WIP; go online, homepage, CNN. Check if world blew up the night before. Switch to Google. Find term. Tweet. Check email. Answer email. One more FreeCell. Return to WIP.
8:07 – Emergency email from critique partner. Forestall imminent artistic self-thrashing and proceed to email buck-up. Email is replied to in less than a minute. Send another buck-up complete with happy emoticons. Check Twitter.
8:47 – Return to WIP. Stomach growls. Go to kitchen and make toast, toss cat teeth crunchy treats. Stare out window at trash truck across the lake as toast toasts. Remember forgot to put out trash. Run out door in robe. Return to smoke alarm blaring from toast stuck in toaster. Open windows. Toss toast. Fan.
9:05 – Return to office. Email from agent. Needs immediate proposal for prospective editor. Panic but produce passable proposal in less than ten minutes. Return to WIP, but first retreat to kitchen for cube of 72% cacao dark chocolate while entertaining visions of NYT Bestseller Glory. Return to office and WIP. See cat had jumped on keyboard and now there’s kmsadslvy]e0-vn’aey9-3 rya2932f all over page 78. 79. 80. 81———————
9:16 – 9:19 – Clean up WIP. Phone rings. Seems forgot to mute phone.
9:20 – 9:51 – Chat and play solitaire.
9:52 – Return to WIP. Take sip of tea, notice it’s cold. Go to kitchen to reheat tea. While heating eat forkful of cold spaghetti from fridge. One more. Another. Mmmm….
9:58 – Return to office. Pick up hand weights. Lift. Throw out back. Lay on floor to stretch. Cat jumps on stomach. Yelp. Swat at cat. Miss. Cat circles head, purring. Melt.
10:10 – Remember forgot tea in microwave. Go to kitchen to retrieve. Spy calendar and see it’s wrong day for trash on my street. Go to street to retrieve trash can so don’t look like an idiot. Return to kitchen and retrieve tea. Cold again. Check MSNBC on TV as tea reheats. Go to HBO during commercial break.
Noon – Get up to retrieve tea as credits roll for “Get Him to the Greek.” Dump tea; go to fridge and retrieve pot of spaghetti from fridge. Take to office, shrink WIP and go to Slate.com and read “Dear Prudence” while eating cold pasta with fingers. Phone rings. Still forgot to mute. Chat while licking fingers.
12:49 – Find Lindt Dark Chocolate Truffle from old Christmas stash in desk while rearranging desk tray while still on the phone. Eat, toss wrapper at trash. Miss.
12:50 – Cat finds missed wrapper. Grabs in mouth. Runs from room.
12:51 – Hear a crashing sound from bedroom. Ring off phone. Go to bedroom. Jewelry box and entire contents is now on floor, truffle wrapper on top. Scoop contents, return to box, return box to dresser. Toss wrapper. Cat missing. Eye bed, still unmade.
12:52 – Call day a wash. Return to bed. Bed never so comfortable…
12: 59 – Cat finds ball.
One of the basic tenets of romance concerns the hero and heroine overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to fall in love. It doesn’t matter if he is a detective, a duke or a ditchdigger—or if she’s a countess or a country bumpkin or a feminist attorney. Their problems can be of class differences or underlying neuroses or even as simple as she hates men who wear Panama hats. Whatever the bone of contention, it has to forceful enough to cause night sweats and rashes, yet still won’t stop them from crossing mighty rivers or hacking through buffalo grass to get to each other. And nine times out of ten, it’ll be the hero doing the hacking because as sexist as that sounds, most romance readers still like their men physically stronger than they are.
All right…don’t get your knickers in a twist. There are reasons for that, and if you’ll just calm down a second I’ll tell you what they are. First off, romance heroines are strong women. That’s right–tough, inside and out. They’re also smart enough to spot a sniveler a hundred yards off. So of course – and here’s the logic – a strong and smart woman is not going to be looking for a man weaker than her. It just wouldn’t make sense, because if he was, she’d barely give him the time of day. She’d be looking for her equal at least, but more often than not, she’d be looking for someone to knock her off her feet. He can’t be anything less than an Alpha Male, someone powerful, smoldering, unrepentant. And looks alone aren’t enough, because our savvy heroine can get anyone she wants with a crook of her little finger. Her man, in any form he takes, has to be everything she’s looking for plus. Plus equaling that inimitable quality only she can define, and recognizable the moment she meets him. Because when she collides with someone who can actually best her, it’s such mind-blower she’s instantly intrigued, whether for good or for bad, for love or for hate. And from there, the chase begins.
I can hear you saying, but that’s not realistic. Most men have foibles, shortcomings, are far from perfect. But this isn’t the real world, my dears–this is fantasy. Yet in so many ways, it isn’t. Fact or fiction, real life or not, don’t we all realize something in our object of affection that no one else can? Aren’t we privy to insider info maintained for our eyes only? Of course we are. Because only when we’re in love do we open up our hearts, to share the things no one else can see, to an enraptured audience of one. Who would want it any other way?
Have you ever seen the movies Misery or Romancing the Stone? Both feature writers banging out the final paragraph of their books before they triumphantly type THE END, culminating with either an elaborate ritual or an all-encompassing snif of enormous satisfaction. Now although it’s true that most writers look more like Kathleen Turner sporting a red nose and a dirty bathrobe than James Caan with his Dom Perignon, it’s also true that if there’s a writer out there who is really and truly done when she types THE END, then I’ve yet to meet her. The fact is it’s the rare person who emits perfection the first time. My best writing usually comes through in the rewrite, which I’m sure is true with most: it’s all in the editing.
But there are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to the nip/tuck of the edit (perhaps more, but I’ll just focus on two, or we could be here all day.) The first is the “just write it!”, the second is to edit on the fly. Both have their merits, and neither method is wrong.
The average novel is anywhere from 75,000 to 125,000 words, or 300-500 double-spaced pages, most falling somewhere in between. For a work of this length, I’ve known “just write it!” writers to pump out 200,000 to 300,000 words before they finally take a breath and fan the smoke off their laptops. Many take their inspiration from such methods as Book In a Week or NaNoWriMo which instructs participants to just get it out–no editing, no going back over what’s been written. The point is to get the words down and create a first draft, and worry about the revising later. The main thrust is to get the ideas out. I believe this method works well for people who plot their story out beforehand, who work from outlines, or, to take the opposite tack, who write best in stream-of-consciousness. Like a virulent case of verbal vomit, “just write it!” writers throw it all against the wall, deciding to see what’ll stick after it dries.
I prefer to fix on the fly and edit whiile I write. Unlike my plotting, I’m deliberate in my revising. Usually I go back to edit before starting another writing session, whether that session is a couple of hours worth or from the day before. Most of the time I do both, and always if I set it aside for a while, as I’ve done now by revisiting the novel I put aside last year. The advantages to this is it keeps the story fresh in your head, lets you and fix plot or continuity problems, and you’re certainly writing more concisely and compactly, as you’re choosing your words more carefully, not just pumping out the first thing that flies into your head. Of course, there’s always the chance, with constant revisiting, that you’ll drain the life out of your prose. The last thing you want to do is beat it into an over-processed, mechanical bore. But this method does help if you tend to lose track of your story, working even better if you’re actively writing every day and on a deadline.
Neither method is right for everyone, and you may work best under a combination of the two. The important thing is you’re writing, and if it takes a bit of the nip and tuck, or more than a few Joycean interior monologues to get you going, then damn the Spell Check–full speed ahead!