Tag Archives: creativity

Conference Season is Upon Us

Good Day, Scribe Followers,

PJ Sharon here. March is an exciting month for authors. Springtime is around the corner and this year’s conference circuit begins. Since I’ve been at this a few years, now…eight to be precise, I’ve come to learn the value of attending at least a few hands-on workshops and major conferences every year. There are so many great opportunities out there, how does one know which conference is worth the time, effort, and money?  I’ve narrowed down my favorite, and most productive conference experiences. I’d love to share my take on a few of them.

I’ll start with the CTRWA sponsored events. I may be biased since this is my home chapter, but the events planners for CTRWA manage to consistently offer fantastic programming at very reasonable prices. With a smaller, more intimate gathering of authors, you can enjoy getting to know other writers, networking, and learning from such greats as Michael Hague and Kristan Higgins. Michael Hague’s teaching on story structure and the heroes’ journey revolutionized my writing. I can’t wait to hear him speak again this coming weekend! CTRWA also puts on an incredible Fiction Fest conference in the fall. These two events are on my MUST attend list.

This will be the first year I’m attending the New England Conference April 24-26, so I’ll be anxious to see how that one is. I’ve heard good things, and I’m looking forward to presenting, as well as seeing some of my CTRWA pals giving workshops as well. If expenses are tight–which is the case for most of us writers–presenting workshops can be a great way to attend conferences at a discount and also get your name in front of a a good number of people.This will be my first time presenting to a crowd this size, but with a workshop on Ergonomics and Self Care for Writers (Subtitled: Is your writing killing you?), how can I go wrong?

One of the funnest parts of attending conferences is that you never know who you’re going to meet. I rode an elevator with Nora Roberts three times before realizing who she was…my bad. I also got some amazing and very sound advice from Bella Andre at the 2013 National conference. She was open, warm, and honest–just like her books.

RWA2013 me and Bella Andre

Me and Bella Andre at the 2013 National RWA conference, where she rightly told me to set aside the third book in my Lily Carmichael trilogy and go home and finish another contemporary YA romance. I did as she suggested and produced PIECES of LOVE last summer before finishing HEALING WATERS which released in December. In doing so, I was able to keep my contemporary readers happy, add a box set and novella to my bookshelf, and still finish up the trilogy before the end of 2014. I don’t think I would have written and recorded my PIECES of LOVE theme song if I hadn’t been pushed to write that book at that time. I needed that time away from writing the last book in the trilogy to regroup and get organized again before bringing the series to a close. Writing something totally different and using my music in a new way gave me the creative boost I needed and offered my contemporary readers new content.

I’ll always value the opinions of others who have done it before me and done it well. Conferences are rife with good advice from the pros!

When it came to deciding between RT Booklovers and the National RWA conference this year, it was a no brainer for me. I’ve been to RT twice, and both times found it to be a bit disorganized and chaotic. There were some good workshops and the schmoozing is always fun, but overall, I get much more bang for my buck at Nationals. One caveat, is that RT is a great place to meet readers.

R Fan pic- Marissa pic (2013_06_02 00_59_02 UTC)

The YARWA folks do an amazing job putting together a Day of YA, where hundreds of young readers show up to meet and chat with authors. I might have to go back again for just that event! I took this pic of me and one of my YA readers who actually recognized my name and had read my books! One of those perfect moments I’ll never forget.

Meeting awesome people and rooming with others is one of the greatest parts of conferences for me. I’ve had the best roomies and it saves me a bunch of money! That’s me and my Scribe’s pal Katy Lee at the 2013 National conference below. I’ve had the great pleasure of bunking with some top notch ladies who are always up for an impromptu brainstorming session or a late night cocktail. The hotel bar is a hot spot for agents and editors, so be ready with those elevator pitches and always be professional.

 Me and Katy Lee

Since my focus has shifted a bit this year toward creating visibility, opening myself up to educational opportunities, and writing my non-fiction book, I figured offering my workshop at the National RWA conference in July would be an excellent way to spread the word about my first passion–health and wellness. How much fun will it be for me to share my best life balance and self care tips with hundreds of authors–all of whom are suffering from the sedentary lifestyle syndrome that is sweeping the globe? (My story about how this idea came to be and my celebration of 10 years as an entrepreneur is up at my website, along with my three best exercises for improving posture.)

For those of you who spend hours a day at your desk or in your car, or find yourself imprisoned by your computers and perpetually attached to your cell phones, i-pads and e-readers, you know the pitfalls of the sedentary and chair-bound lifestyle all too well. Do you suffer neck and back pain, poor posture, symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, or even significant weight gain from all the sitting you do? With today’s fast paced, digitized world, we’re all finding ourselves in this predicament and there seems to be no end in sight to the perils of techno-overload and the inevitable decline of our health as a result. Having the experience and knowledge to help others navigate their way back into a health body is a privilege and I take the responsibility seriously. The more people I can reach with positive messages about proper ergonomics and self care, the better.

We won’t even talk about all those gorgeous (and non-ergonomic) shoes we’ll all be wearing! Conferences are a mecca for fashion and glitz…an opportunity to feel like a princess a few times a year.shoe pic

The last conference I’ll attend will be CT Fiction Fest in September. That should round out my year nicely with an affordable way to advance my writing, meet some new people, and hang out with my pals for another fun-filled weekend of replenishing the creative well. I had to skip all the conferences last year in lieu of finishing two books and a novella in 2014. This year, I’ll be making up for it!

Which conferences or workshops are on your MUST list? Any tips you’d like to share about making the most of your conference experience?

Books are Like Babies

Welcome friends. Casey here.

MysticStorm2_850First off, can you believe it’s already August? Where has the summer gone? There’s something about this time of year (and around Thanksgiving) where I feel like I’m on time’s roller coaster ride.

One minute it’s May and then suddenly August is here and I feel like the whole summer has flown by. I suspect the school calendar plays a part in this phenomenon because younger son would always start whining about having to go back to school (the infamous countdown would begin).

Well, not this year. Steady readers of this blog, may recall he graduated in June (my baby, my baby!). This year he and his older brother will be attending college together. So while they are still going to school, there is no complaining involved (well, except for the ridiculous cost of college texts).

All this thinking about time, combined with the recent birth of the royal baby (HRH Prince George) got me to thinking about how books are born in my brain. While pursuing two books at once (Mystic Hero is pulling to the lead, so by the time you read this, it might be the only book I’m writing), I’ve noticed that the story is often born while I’m writing it.

What?!? But what about all that talk of plotting and planning?

Oh, those things still happen. But like any story, I leave room for new ideas to hatch. I also rely on the characters to dictate how they react to the barriers I toss out. There is no way I can script every waking moment of the story. I decide on the big events and letUndeadSpaceInitiative_200 the rest fill itself in.

So like a baby, sometimes a book can take forever (Mystic Storm - almost ten months) and others are done in less time (Misfortune Cookie - two months). The Undead Space Initiative poured out of my brain like there was a big hole in it and I could barely keep up!  (Note: this is writing time. Not the time it took for me to plot and plan.)

And like babies, nature can’t be rushed. Some characters, like Zephyr, in Mystic Storm, gave me nothing but trouble. I think it may be because of the whole “cursed to be a woman by day” thing (which I am not apologizing for!).

Not to be too graphic, but any woman who has gone through labor knows that babies don’t just come out in one easy push. And neither does my writing. I can have a week of super productivity and then another week where I have to flog myself to sit down and write. However, I will add a caveat. I did have younger son in my bathroom (in under a half hour of going into labor). He was apparently so eager to enter the world, he couldn’t wait!

Just goes to show –  you never know!!

Has anyone else had this experience? Do you have some books that just take forever to come out of your head?

Me and my baby!
Me and my baby!

The Untranquility of Three by Vivienne Lynge

Good Morning, Scribblers.  Vivienne Lynge here.  Does this every happen to you?  You wake at five minutes before the sun crests the horizon because your son, Minx, is poking you with a finger to find him dry jammies?  Then 30 seconds after you fall back to sleep, Jester comes along and needs the same thing.  Then at the unGodly Saturday morning hour of 6:00am, you wake to Princess Second Grader screaming that she wished Minx and Jester were never born…

Ahhhh, parenting.  Good times.  Why oh why would anyone willingly have three children?  It seems to be a horrible idea.  I think children should just arrive in even numbers.  I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but when I have two children (if one is at the coveted G-Mom’s house) things are much quieter.  Of course, it’s usually Princess Second Grader who goes to G-Mom’s, and she’s a girl.  Quite loud.  And a bit bossy.  napoleonI sometimes call her Napoleon.  To her face, even.  She hasn’t studied enough history to realize the implication…yet.  I look forward to that day in high school or whenever when she comes home and says, “Dude – that Napoleon guy wasn’t very nice.  Why do you call me that.”   Is it wrong for me to dream about that moment?

Lest we forget, Jester and Minx are boys.  Even though we are a rabidly anti-gun household (I won’t even allow squirt guns – it’s not the water I object to, it’s the distribution device.  They can dump all water and stuff on each other all they want – just no gun!) these little fellows make a gun out of everything!  Sticks, pencils, train tracks.  Sometimes they add extra train tracks to make some kind of riffle thingy.  And then site down the barrel.  How do they even know about that?  They have seen exactly two movies with guns in them, The Incredibles and Wall-E.  Ok, and Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back – hey it was 100 degrees here last summer and I needed to imprison them…I mean keep them…in the basement where it was cool.  The VCR is in the basement and the VHS selection is very thin these days.  I couldn’t face Thomas the Train again.  If you’re a mom, you’ve been there.

So they’ve seen 4 movies with guns but honestly, they were making things into guns long before they ever saw those.  How do I stop it?  All the old guard moms in my family (my mom, my aunts etc) say not to worry about it – their kids all played with guns (cap guns and air rifles mostly) and turned out fine.  Then there’s the other side of things where two kids were suspended from elementary school for playing soldier with each other when one’s father was a US Marine!  They weren’t threatening anyone – they were PLAYING!

Lordy-be…Princess Second Grader is bugging me again…something about Minx not feeding blueberries to a plastic snake, only to the actual children.  These kids have a lot of rules…no wonder they’re always fighting.  Where was I?  Oh yes…Society today has so many conflicting expectations…let children play and be children…but not too creatively lest we have to punish them for role playing.  Ahhh, what’s a mom to do?  Immerse herself in romance, of course.  When I can find the time.

Today’s secret: if at all possible, don’t have 3 children.  Have 4 or 2 or 6.  Not 3…I gotta go…Minx seems to have thrown a cardboard brick at PSG and she’s expecting some kind of consequence.  I’d better get in there before she takes matters into her own hands.  She might find an actual brick and throw it back…

The Saga of Mr. Fern

DSCF0661Mr. Fern, who by then was raggedy, although he still had green fronds, sat discarded outside the teachers’ room door at the school where my husband teaches, and rather than let him be consigned to the garbage, John brought him home. For years, Mr. Fern sat by the sliders to the deck in the winter, and on the deck, summers, and regenerated and bloomed, and — I truly believe — begat a whole family of ferns that return every year, shooting up like alien pods, in my pachysandra patch.

So it was with great sorrow that two or three years ago, we watched as Mr. Fern deteriorated to the point where he had no new growth, his leaves shriveled, browned, became dessicated, and he died.
We put him in the back yard nevertheless, loath to leave him in the detritus that would be cleared away in the bi-annual garden clean-up. And there he sat for a summer, a winter, another summer, forlorn, dried up, leafless, lifeless …

And then one summer day, I saw a sliver of green poking out from the midst of the jungle of brown. One fully formed fern frond, child-size, fresh green, fresh life, a little miracle stretching out from the dirt and decay. No stopping him then. I began watering him. He pushed out more long stringy fingers which turned into an explosion of brand new fronds.

Mr. Fern is back. Why, how, from that mass of crinkly dead leaves, I’ll never understand. I thought he was truly gone, and then, suddenly, there he was. And now he sits in my cluttered dining room by the sliding doors, growing and flourishing every day.

It’s a lesson to all of us. Sometimes we feel hopeless, helpless, dry, dessicated, chewed up, beaten down
— like we couldn’t produce another word, even if it was the word “I” — and we just bury ourselves and let it all go.

Don’t let go. We’re writers. There’s always life in there, even if at times it seems like still life with no possibilities. All it needs is a little poke and prod. A book, a word, an overheard conversation, something in the news — and we green up, poke our way out of the dessication, and get going.

Because we have to. Because there are stories to tell and we can tell them. Because there are fictional lives to explore, and we can do justice to them. Because when you’re a writer, you’re never not writing, even if you think you’re not.

And, because we can.

Thea Devine is currently working on her next erotic contemporary romance. She’s pleased to announce that five of her early books, Reckless Desire, Ecstasy’s Hostage, Relentless Passion, Montana Mistress and Angel Eyes are now available in Kindle editions.

Do Not Disturb – Daydreaming in Progress

Happy Friday everyone! Casey Wyatt here.

Shh… hold on a moment. I’m staring out my window. Aren’t my squirrels cute? I know I should be writing but I’m vegging.

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I’m not thinking about anything writing related right now either. And that’s okay.I’m remembering a recent trip to Ikea with my buddies, Katy, Suze and J. We had a lot of fun with those owl puppets.

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I’m letting my mind wander while I look at this. . . . this is such a divine tree.

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I’m a true believer in daydreaming/vegging out/being lazy. I can’t think of a single idea that originated from me sitting down and saying, “I will now generate story ideas.” That totally doesn’t work for me.

Here’s where my past ideas came from:

  • Mystic Ink - baby name book while I was researching a totally different story.
  • The Undead Space Initiative - driving my car.
  • Misfortune Cookie – while daydreaming during my day job. Let me clarify – I was working on something repitive and my mind went into some other dimension.
  • Ascension – during a car ride.
  • Unnamed projects in the works – various places like sitting around being a couch potato, waiting in line at the grocery store, watching the news, and driving in the car (that seems to be my biggest idea generator).

The best ideas always sneak up on me when I least expect them! Kind of like those gremlins in the dryer that steal socks – no one sees them, yet the results are the same – two go in – one comes out. And don’t tell me I’m the only one with them! Either that, or I have a pocket dimension in my basement.

I have to thank Jamie for her post Monday - I don’t wanna. It reminded me that it’s normal to not do anything once in a while. In fact, I would argue that if you don’t stop and stare out the window regularly, you will never, ever have any fresh ideas again.

What does everyone else think? Can you command your mind to be creative? Or do you have to trick it like I do?

Writers Survival Guide to Menopause

Writers Survival Guide to Menopause

PJ here, and I’ll bet you’re wondering what menopause has to do with writing. For those of you struggling to put words on the page through sleepless nights, power surges (aka: hot flashes) that make you feel like your hair is on fire, or trying to focus through the foggy haze of hormonal upheaval, you know the answer to that question. For those of you not there yet, consider this a head’s up and a public service announcement.

Are you ready for a frank discussion about menopause? There…I said it. I’m still amazed how many people are not comfortable discussing this natural part of aging. It’s not like we’re trying to keep it a secret or bringing to light some controversial topic. If you’re squeamish about discussing such personal issues, feel free to move on to the solutions list below. But if you feel like you’re among friends here, read on and know that you aren’t alone. I’m here to share my experience and pass on what worked for me. (This is not intended as medical advice. Do your research and talk to your doctor to discuss your options).

MY STORY:  I went through “the change” a little early. Although I’m mostly on the other side of it now and I’m not even fifty, the age of onset varies greatly, depending on the woman. Symptoms started at about forty for me. Irregular periods after years of being like a clock in sync with the moon. At first, heavier and more frequent than normal, and then months of skipping entirely, causing me to sweat the possibility of pregnancy a few times—not cool when both of my sons were already grown and out of the house and I wasn’t married yet to my sweetheart. According to doctors, you aren’t officially in menopause until you’ve gone a full year without menstruating. Until then, whatever symptoms you’re having are considered peri-menopausal and will likely go untreated.

 So then came the hot flashes. OMG! There were times I had a dozen or more hot flashes in a day, and I’m not talking about a little heat. Think of what it would feel like to put your face in a five hundred degree oven and keep it there for about a minute. Breaking out in a sweat every time I put my hands on a massage client when all I wanted to do was tear off my clothes and stand under cool water was totally not cool…pardon the pun. I began having trouble sleeping, waking at three a.m., tossing and turning until six, and then, just as I fell asleep again, I would have to get up. Talk about sleep deprivation torture! I did this for about two or three years, often getting up and writing for those few sleepless hours, trying to make use of the nightly torment and keep my sanity. But the next day sluggishness was brutal and added to the crankiness that was so uncharacteristic for me. I finally understood why those “old” ladies I knew as a child were so grumpy. They were in menopause! Even wearing a bra was irritating enough to have me worming it off in the car after a long day. I’ll admit, I chewed out a few grocery store clerks and made unkind hand gestures to trucks and SUV’s that cut me off or gave me a look…you know the look I mean. But it wasn’t until the worst thing that could happen to a romance writer happened to me. (Come closer…I’ll whisper this part…my sex drive went out the window.) That was the final straw. I needed help! Fast!

After first turning to the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novels by Laurell K. Hamilton with mixed  and temporary results, I decided a visit to my Naturopath was in order. She listened to my woes, prescribed my constitutional homeopathic remedy (an entirely different post), and we discussed some natural alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (taking synthesized horse urine just sounded all kinds of wrong to me!) A note to you informed menopause researchers out there: What I did is different than “Bio-identical” therapy, which is another way of treating hormonal imbalances with natural substances that mimic estrogen and progesterone, but requires guidance from a doctor who specializes in that treatment protocol. Feel free to look into it. I’ve heard very good things about it. You might also find some great tips in a book called WHAT YOUR DOCTOR MAY not TELL YOU ABOUT MENOPAUSE  by Dr. John Lee.

This is what worked for me:

1)      I took over-the-counter herbal supplements called Estrovan, and later, Remifemen (the Estrovan worked moderately well for about a year before my Naturopath told me to try switching.) I found the Remifemen worked better for me. The essential ingredient in both of these products is an herb called black cohosh, which in combination with some other herbs and vitamins helped greatly with the hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings. I took one in the morning and then I took the Night Time relief brand before bed. It worked far better for me than taking sleep medicine that made me drowsy and foggy the next day, or the chamomile tea that had me up staggering to the bathroom several times a night. With a few good night’s sleep a week, I began to focus better and feel less depressed and irritable.

2)      I also changed my daily vitamin to include 1000 IU’s of Vit. D, 1500 of Calcium and 1000 mg. of Magnesium. I found a single vitamin (Complete Menopause), that had everything I needed at my health food store  and took one in the morning and one at night. I also added an oil blend that included fish oil, evening primrose, and flax oil–another super combination that can be hard to find, but worth looking for. If you have any doubts about whether you are lacking in these vitamins, or if you are on medication of any kind, check with your doctor and have a blood test done. Many of our aches, pains, and physical/emotional symptoms are due to lack of Vit. D since most of us aren’t getting enough sunlight sitting in front of our computers a gazillion hours a day.

Note: Diet and nutrition are critical in feeling your best at all times of your life. Let me just say that sugar is killing us all, but that’s another post!

3)      I layered my clothes, wearing a tank top or short sleeved shirt and adding a light sweater or having a shawl to throw on and off easily since the temperature changes internally were dramatic. Shortly after a hot flash, I would get a chill and a desperate thirst. I kept a water bottle with me at all times, including next to my bed for those middle of the night power surges that had me throwing off the covers and feeling as dry as a desert. (For the sake of our squeamish readers I won’t get into the all too common “dryness” problem.)

Incidentally, things that aggravate hot flashes? Why chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol, of course. Could the gods be any more cruel?

4)      Believe it or not, exercise helped! Aerobic activity for twenty minutes three to five times a week makes all the difference on so many levels. It’s not uncommon for women in menopause to gain as much as ten to twenty pounds in just a couple of years due to metabolic changes, food cravings, depression, fatigue, etc. Those lovely curvacous sculptures the Renaissance artisans depicted were undoubtedly of mature menopausal women. Does the term “sagging middle” mean anything to you? (And I’m not referring to your pacing problems.) No wonder those ladies wore robes–no skinny jeans for them! 

There’s no point in white-washing it. Aging and change aren’t fun, but  they are inevitable, so if you want to come out on the other side of menopause healthy, you’ll fight the fight and make it work for you. Bottom line–staying active is being proactive!

5)      ON THE PLUS SIDE! Yes, there is a plus side, other than the obvious absence of our dear aunt “flow.” Menopause can bring on an incredible surge of creative energy (my theory is that our bodies are transforming all that “baby making” creativity that we no longer have evolutionary need of, into mental, emotional and spiritual creativity. It’s not surprising that menopausal women take up hobbies such as quilting, knitting, painting, photography, yoga, and yes…writing. There is a wisdom, peace, and quiet strength that comes with this rite of passage that is hard to describe until you get there, but even with all of the challenges—and maybe in spite of the challenges—we are transformed to a higher state of being. Eventually, we come back to being ourselves, only better. (Hold onto that thought gentlemen.)

 We may be a little less patient with foolishness since we’ve learned to value ourselves and our precious time, and likely we’re wearing a less than pristine earth suit (the shelf life of the human body is about fifty years—anything after that requires high maintenance and parts replacement), but more than ever, we are part of a sisterhood. I appreciate and respect women so much more than I did when I was young—a sign that I have grown in respect and love for myself over the years. Just remember, we are in this together and through sharing our experiences, we can help one another through the rough spots.

Perhaps you could ask Santa for a portable fan for Christmas. Happy Hot Flashes!

 Any other tips for beating the heat and surviving menopause, dear writers and readers?

 

 

Tales From the Spam Folder . . .

Happy Friday everyone! Casey here.

Today, rather than the usual blog post, I’d like to try something different. And it’s going to require audience participation (that means you, dear readers). Don’t worry, it’ll be fun. I promise.

The other day, I was cleaning out the spam folders for my blog and the Scribes. Normally, spam is a bunch of gibberish or poorly written attempts to sneak past Akismet (WordPress’ s filter program).

But on this day, I found something a bit different. A hidden gem that teased my imagination. The Scribes have talked about doing some type of round robin and I think this bit-o-spam would be a perfect start.

So here is how this will work. I am going to present the spam exactly as I found it. Then, I’m going to add my two cents. Next, each commenter is going to add  what they think happens next. The following person is going to build onto whatever the previous commenter has written. And so on. . . .

Let your imagination run wild. Feel free to add dialogue, more characters or whatever strikes you!

Hopefully by day’s end, we will have an interesting bit of story. And, I suspect this may be from a movie, so if anyone has any guesses, throw them out there.

Here is the spam: SMITH: Well, well, it’s been a long time. I remember chasing you was like chasing a ghost.

And away we go:

“Well, well, it’s been a long time. I remember chasing you was like chasing a ghost,” said Smith.

<here’s what we have so far>

Lady Tansy Mumford sipped her tepid and tasteless tea, unwilling to rise to the comment. Mr. Edward Smith, the most odious of men, stared expectantly, his forehead shiny and sleek in the afternoon sun. Was it wrong for a lady of her genteel upbringing to wish harm upon another? After all Mr. Smith was only pursuing her for one thing.

That’s because I am a ghost, and I’m going to haunt you until the end of your days. Accident, smackccident. You murdered me and I won’t rest til the day you join me. With a horrendous cackle, the translucent image of Smith’s ex-wife faded.

“Jesus,” said Smith to himself. I have to stop mixing antacids with wine. The combination not only gives me gas, but hallucinations, too.

Smith, his eyes ablaze, turned to the tap on his shoulder. He opened his mouth, his hand fell across his lips and he took a gulp the size of Niagara Falls. He reached out to touch the wisp of his wife . . .

“I swear, Sarah, it was an accident. I never meant to hurt you.” Smith’s arm fell to his side as he slowly backed away from his wife’s apparition.
“It seems your sins are catching up with you, Smith,” said Lady Mumford as she regarded him over the rim of her tea cup.

“So many sins,” she continued. “Remember that time you bought me a carpet cleaner for my birthday? Or those numerous times you clipped your toe nails in the bed? And the toilet seat! Do you know how many times I have fallen into that wet cold water? Oh, I’m going to haunt your ass, I’m going to annoy you so bad that you’ll go crazy and no other woman will want you.”
But ghost or not, you will not escape me. I will find you. I will fill your email box with offers for v@aagra and beutifull babes pron. You have no way to leave me behind except to change your email address, and that is only a temporary solution. We shall track you to the ends of the earth.

Well, Scribesters, time for you to add to the story. Have fun! At the end of day, I will compile the responses (in order) and add them to the blog post so everyone can read the results.