It’s not what you think

Since I have zero words to express how the death of Chris Cornell has affected me, I’ll let this fantastic article speak for me and say everything much better than I ever could.

The First Ten Words by Rich Larson

Chris Cornell, 1964-2017

Chris Cornell died early Thursday morning. His band Soundgarden played a show on Wednesday night at the Fox Theater in Detroit. Two hours after the show ended, he was gone.

For two days, I’ve been working on a piece to pay tribute to him, and it’s been a struggle. Usually when I have a problem like this it’s because I’m staring at a blank screen trying to figure out what I want to say. That’s not the problem this time. The problem is I have way too much to say.

I’m not going to sit here and claim to have been a huge fan of Soundgarden. I didn’t dislike them, I just had to take them in small doses. I was a fan of Cornell. I love “Seasons,” the solo song he had on Cameron Crowe’s movie, Singles. It’s a droning acoustic song about isolation and the…

View original post 1,454 more words

One Giant Leap

Sooo…I guess an update is in order.
Those who follow my personal Facebook account may have read that my poor, beaten-to-death-with-rewrites manuscript was out on submission to quite a well-known agent as a result of #AdPit (I think that’s what it was?) late last year. I’d queried and subbed 15 pages in response to a fav on Twitter. Got a response asking for 50 pages. Sent that. Heard nothing.
 
Shortly afterward, I picked up where I’d left off revising. Again, and again. None of it had legs to carry it to completion. Changing backstory, POV, etc etc etc., hours of writing, deleting, writing again, some of which has been published here on this little mostly neglected blog o’ mine.
But. Nothing worked.
 
Finally, last week, from out of nowhere, that well-known agent emailed asking for the full manuscript. WHAT??? By now I knew that the novel as it was during that sub last year was a pile of unmitigated plot-holey word-vomit, which was why I’ve been beating the shit out of it in the 6 months since. I’d figured the agent agreed, hence the radio silence from their end after getting the 50pgs.
 
SO….despite the fair assurity that if I ever got this thing done to my liking I’d go indie, I tossed it into another Twitter Pitch contest, got more favs, and I once again looked at the possibility of traditional publishing.
 
One huge motivator is up-front money, and my lack thereof. I can’t afford an editor, a cover designer, a person to format it for e-book and print, and then printing costs. Yes, I know the tradeoff is higher royalties, but I’m not gonna see one sale if I can’t afford to publish it in the first place.
 
Now, there’s no guarantee-in fact, the chances are pretty damn slim-that this agent will ultimately sign me, and then successfully shop this book to a publisher, landing me a contract. But getting a request for a full is a huge, HUGE leap in that direction. I can’t pass it up. Who knows if/when that may happen again? Something in the first 15, and then first 50 pages, clearly resonated with them.
 
So… I wrote the agent back, explaining that the manuscript is in the midst of a substantial revision. Would they be willing to wait for me to complete it? I kind of doubted it. Agents are busy, busy people, yo. There’s a whole lot of manuscripts in their slush piles, why the hell would they wait for mine?
 
Wellllll….the agent emailed back today. She said, “Sure! Please send it as soon as it’s completed!”
 
Whoa. OMG. Okay….
 
Well, I’m over 12K into the new & improved. That’s in under a week’s time. I’m diving in and gettin ‘er dun. It might not be beautiful and polished to a high mirror shine, but the story’s really, really there. Finally. I hope and pray the agent sees the diamond sparkling under the mud as much as I do.

Jackpine Writers Bloc

So…..

New first chapter. Dumped the backstory-laden prologue. *RIP darlings!* Revised back to 3rd person dual POV, following my initial instinct when I first conceived this story. I’d thought since A PROMISE IN THE STORM was so effortless to write in 1st person male POV, that EXIT, STAGE NORTH would prove the same. I mean, I have a pretty front-and-center male main character, I had no problem with it in that previous work, so yeah.

Or not.

Strangely, there was a disconnect that developed as I wrote exclusively from Jonah’s POV, a disconnect that didn’t exist in the earlier 3rd person drafts. And a whole hell of a lot of telling rather than showing. Weird….1st was supposed to fix those pitfalls. But EXIT, STAGE NORTH had other ideas. 

Last week I rewrote the first chapter in 3rd and along the way, revised Andi’s backstory YET AGAIN. In so doing, she came alive at last. I got into her head, maybe even more than Jonah’s, and that’s a first for sure.

So, onward.

I’d hoped to get this thing done at last by June of this year, in order to take part in the MN Writer’s Showcase event at Beagle and Wolf Books in Park Rapids, but clearly that isn’t going to happen. As I’m going indie, that poses a little problem. See, I have a kid graduating high school next May, and want to use my tax refund and any other monies I can spare for that. Kicking out what’ll likely run into a few grand to get EXIT, STAGE NORTH published would eat away at that budget. Not sure I can do both.

Well, I’ll just do what I can do, and maybe late this year I’ll have managed to get the editing, set-up fees, cover art, ISBNs, and a marketing plan put together. We shall see.

In other news, I’ve joined Jackpine Writer’s Bloc. I’d reached out to a member, Sharon, and the response was a little tepid…I was asked to provide a sample of my writing first. Sharon wanted to be sure that I was a serious writer before inviting me to join. Actually, I appreciate that, because I don’t want to waste my time with people who aren’t serious about their craft!  So I attached a bit of EXIT, STAGE NORTH and waited.

Sharon replied and praised my work! She invited me to their next meeting which was coming up in just a few days and I accepted.

I went and had a really good time meeting and talking with other local writers. Writing is lonely work; made lonelier yet when you live in a rural area. It’s nice to meet other scribblers out here in the woods 🙂

One of the activities we did was share our work. I provided copies of EXIT, STAGE NORTH’s opening few pages, and got great feedback both verbal and in editing form on the pages I got back. Some very helpful stuff!

JWB produces an anthology of work yearly called The Talking Stick, and publishes individual authors as well (via CreateSpace, LuLu, etc…so…IDK). There’s an editing service as well, and I’m all over that idea….we meet again this Sunday, and I look forward to getting feedback on the work I did on EXIT, STAGE NORTH. Hopefully they’ll agree that the changes are a marked improvement. I really want to discuss the option of publishing with them – that would be a major, huge boost insofar as the regional market goes, because everyone and their third cousin around here knows about Jackpine Writer’s Bloc. I’d just really prefer NOT to go with CreateSpace for the print version of my book, and absolutely don’t want to use Lulu. Unless there’ve been major changes over the years, that is.

Some Kind of Serendipity

So it’s been a minute or three since I blogged last. Just life stuff mostly, but a few things on the writing front have developed, which leave me in a combined state of anxious, ecstatic, frustrated, and sprinkled amongst these is  that little niggling “I suck” voice. Blargh.

QUERYING, SUBS, AND THE INDIE OPTION

I took part in #SonofaPitch as I’ve spoken about before. Nope, I didn’t move into one of the 20 coveted spots, and I was/still am okay with that. I did, however, take part in the Twitter Pitch Free-for-all, and that netted me some interesting results.

I grabbed the attention of a publisher, Curiosity Quills. I also got a like from two agents from Holloway Literary. Since I’ve previously subbed to Holloway this same manuscript, I wasn’t/am not sure about resubbing. Granted, I’ve made some significant changes to the first pages their submission guidelines request, and I have also changed the title of the novel. More about that in a minute.

Also, Diedre Knight of the Knight Agency put out a query sprint call over the last weekend. I got in on that since The Knight Agency is one of my top picks for a Literary Agency to sub to. She came back at me with a request for more pages.

HOWEVER…. though I’ve subbed my manuscript in the hopes of nabbing a traditional publishing deal, another part of me is going…uh, why?! Because I need validation of my worth as a writer and the quality of my novel from an assorted gang of random gatekeepers? REALLY?

Indie appeals hugely. I don’t like relinquishing control as anyone who knows me will tell you. I know my book is a tough sell. I know that 99.99% of submissions never make it through the gauntlet. I know even if I do, it’ll take forever, and that as a new author I’ll be responsible for marketing the book. Every publisher has their favorite child; y’know, the one that provides a shining example to the house, and who rakes in the bucks based on his/her name and existing brand. The rest of us are left swimming in the wake and trying to do what we can to become successful. So…why am I even bothering? I don’t fucking know. Few people who find my book, read the summary and ultimately buy will make that decision based upon who published it. I daresay NO ONE is going to give the most remote fuck whether it was Random House, KDP, or CreateSpace.

A friend and I had this conversation today. I mention him below…he’s a BRILLIANT writer, I can’t say enough about the wonderful memoir he wrote and self-published. He impressed upon me those very same principles, essentially asking if a group of strangers in a cube farm in NYC or wherever would take care of my book, my brand, and my career like I could. The answer is no, obviously. They’re in it for the bottom line, and I’m in it because it’s my life’s passion. So, once again, my eyes turn back to the wide open opportunities available in self-publishing. Glory hallelujah and thank you, Frank, for reminding me of what’s truly important.

A BETA READER! YAY/YIKES!

However, I needed a fresh set of eyes on my work. That’s where, out of the blue, a Twitter contact and fellow #sonofapitch’er stepped in. He offered to beta and I happily accepted. I did a quick two or three passes on my first three chapters and after a bit of trepidation, I hit send.

Now, the manuscript as is/was is in third person and I’ve made it my main focus to change it to first person POV. Oh, the pronouns. Lots n lots of pronouns. He to I, him to me, etc. I changed them all, or so I thought…I definitely missed a few, but one huge issue flew past me, something that my beta quickly spotted and didn’t hesitate to point out.

Writing 1st person POV requires a change beyond mere pronouns. My beta said I fell out of Jonah’s voice, especially in chapters 2 and 3. At first I wasn’t sure what he meant, but in reading it back with a critical eye and comparing it to the prologue (which btw must go or be at least truncated quite a bit), I sure did take a step back. I was in narrative voice, and nowhere near Jonah’s head. Oh, not consistently, but certainly enough to make my beta point it out. Therefore, I have a lot more work to do than him=me and he=I.

Plus I discovered a terrible, dark, shameful secret. I am an adverb-aholic. Oh, Stephen King, I am ashamed of myself. I’m indeed trotting down the well-paved “-ly” path to hell. *sigh* More work. Lots more work. On top of that, I am stacking adjectives. I admit I tend to do that. It is a part of my voice, and in certain cases it can be a cool tool to whip out of the writer’s box of tricks, but there is such a thing as moderation. So, more work.

But it wasn’t all red-lining. Beta liked a great deal of the sample. He likes the story as a whole. There were a few things he wasn’t entirely on board with, such as the initial conversation with Jonah and Dr. Simon. He’s not the first to point out that Dr. Simon comes off as a bit of a dick and unprofessional at the outset, so I know I need to change that. I was attempting to show that Dr. Simon is a bit on the defensive himself, and out of his depth having never had a celebrity patient, much less one with a history of arrogance and unwillingness to take part in much of his own treatment plan. So he was trying to impress upon Jonah that Jonah’s celebrity status meant nothing at Pine Serenity House, he was to be treated equally. No better, no worse. Well, I went a little overboard. So, there’s another revision.

In all of that, I could’ve walked away thinking “I SUCK”. Or that my beta is a big old meanie-head that doesn’t understand my voice or somesuch. This is why I had a near-panic attack at even taking on a beta….because it happened before, in a CP situation. That CP was a female, and I don’t know how much that played into our inability to get on the same page, as it were. She dished out critique like mad, and praise extremely sparingly if at all, and was incensed at my critique of her work. The parting was a little acrimonious.

This beta experience is nothing like that. My beta is HILARIOUS for one thing. I adore his witty remarks even when he’s beating the ever-loving shit out of a darling, and advocating the murder of even more of said darlings. For another, I can tell that he’s truly championing my work and wants to help make it better. I never got that vibe from the CP. So I read his set of notes, looked at the plethora of red splashed all over those 35 pages, and in between laughing at his commentary, his “ADVERB SLAYER” edicts, and suggestions, I was nodding along. He’s right. Right, right, right. And deciding to take my novel on the self-pub route in no way negates the fact that my book needs more polish before I present it to the world. 

I “MET” FRANK

In other news this week, I bought a book. I know, that’s not very exciting. I’m a voracious reader, and most disposable income finds its way to a book outlet, be it Beagle and Wolf in town, or Amazon, or the thrift store/garage sale. Books, books, books. But this particular tome is something entirely different. I’m going to plug it because it’s probably the most raw, beautifully written, and heart-wrenching memoirs I’ve read. The name of it is DIRTY WHITE BOY, and the author is the (I swear, superhuman) Frank Ruhl Peterson.  Addicted to heroin and on the streets at age 16, he somehow managed to become a physician, but was consumed repeatedly by drug dependency. He was the subject of an extremely skewered episode of 20/20 back in September of 1997, and he…well, I’ll let him tell you in his own words. Buy his book.

I’m telling you about Frank because the book has had an impact on me like few others have. I fired off a review on the Amazon page before I was even halfway through reading it and without a clue how it all turned out for Frank. In that review I told him about my novel-in-progress and that I’d originally purchased the book as a research tool into heroin addiction, but that his story grabbed me so deeply that I didn’t take a single note as I read.

Frank responded to my five-star review and invited me to communicate via email. I finished DIRTY WHITE BOY and sent the first of what I hope will be many correspondences. As much of an introvert as I am, this is something I just. don’t. do. But I really felt compelled to communicate with him. I guess maybe because via DIRTY WHITE BOY I got to know this guy on such a deep level, that I was thoroughly invested like he was a friend or relative I’d lost contact with and had been left hanging about whatever became of him? I don’t know, but it was something I couldn’t at the time define. I can now, because of how succinctly he responded, touching on a philosophy I have adhered to without ever really verbalizing it in any way, shape or form. It’s one that my character Jonah embodies at the end of my novel, in fact. But anyway….

Frank emailed back promptly, and amid telling me how his life is going today (I really did feel like I had a vested interest in knowing, like he is a personal friend or something), he offered his assistance with my book. Wow!!! I’m so happy to have made that connection on a professional as well as personal level. Frank Ruhl Peterson is a truly remarkable man, and my life is already enriched from having “met” him.

STARVING ARTIST…

Back here on the homefront, well, I’m between jobs, money is extremely tight, and I’m resisting the primal urge to go back to work at my previous job. It left literally no time to devote to my book. But I still have to eat, keep the lights on, and my internet functional. I have a teenage son to support. I have those responsibilities weighing heavily on one side of the scale, while my book, begging to be finished and sent out into the world on the other. I had made a vow to be published in my mother’s lifetime. She’ll be 92 at the end of this month. I can’t waste a moment.

I attended a job fair in town yesterday in the hopes that I can find something that’ll strike more of a balance than I previously had. I am determined to get this book finished, but financial struggles will also prove to be an impediment. Tough to get in the head of a struggling character when the wolf is baying at my own damn door.  Then again, perhaps it could be inspirational, if I could channel that stress into my written words.

A BRAND NEW NAME

OH! I almost forgot. Geez. So, FACES got itself a new name. I’ve been struggling with the perfect title for this manuscript since its inception. FACES came to mind during the first draft, very early into it, and it sort of stuck as a working title. During So You Think You Can Write, I knew I needed to give it a more Harlequin-esque title, and hit upon CATCH THE FALLEN STAR. <=== that’s about as Harlequin as they come!

Well, this week a new title finally slammed into my head from out of nowhere. I tried it on for size, had a few doubts, hesitated in saying anything, but on Twitter my beta asked what it was. So I held my nose and told him. He said it’s a good one and better gives us a look at the story and the MC. That title is, EXIT, STAGE NORTH.

So in the future, when I mention EXIT, STAGE NORTH, it’s the same book as FACES. Just so you know.

Back at it. I have all these edits from my Beta to go through so I can get these chapters solid.

Crossroads…AKA: Now what the hell do I do?

Is it broken, and should I fix it?

So, last fall I had this idea, and it seemed like a really good one at the time. After FACES got requests during #Pitchwars and two mentors suggested I change the POV to only Jonah’s, I sat looking at my MS and thought hard about it.

Writing 1st person Male POV is my jam. I never knew that until I wrote this fanfiction some time ago and the 1st person POV just flowed from me. The story rang clear and true and omg LONG…we’re talking 158K long. I read it over even now and go, wow…I wrote this. I actually WROTE THIS??!! Meaning, there’s good stuff in there. Really good. Publishably good (once I scrub serial numbers away, that is). I mean, sure, it’s fanfiction and sure it’s first-draft quality, but…there’s something special there. And yeah, one day I’ll tackle that behemoth and get it done. It really is a good story, y’all.

Okay, I’m digressing.  Back to FACES. 

SO, in the aftermath of #SonofaPitch, I’m revisiting this whole revision-to-Jonah-only POV. Which means cutting Andi’s POV. Which is really super-limiting in a way. No longer will the reader know her thoughts about Jonah the first time she meets him, and the impact he has on her life, both negative and hugely positive. Nor will we know what motivates her to do the sometimes dumb things she does, unless she tells us through dialogue and action around Jonah.

BUT, and this is why 1st person appeals to me, Andi wasn’t very multidimensional. I couldn’t really dig deep into her. I couldn’t find her voice. She went through the motions of scenes sort of robotic, at least compared to Jonah. Her mouth moved, and words came out, but they didn’t really touch me. Her character is, in a word, FLAT.

Instinctively I know revising to 1st person POV is the way to go. I can do that. But me being, well, ME, when I decided to try it last fall (about 15K words worth, anyway), I took it to an extreme and changed the whole setting of the story and much of the subplot. For example, instead of a large Victorian home in a small Midwestern town,  the “sobriety house” Jonah goes to becomes a wilderness camp outside of the same small Midwestern town. Dwellings are semi-primitive hand-built log cabins. There is electricity (supplied by generators), and well water and plumbing, but nothing much else.

I kept Dr. Simon, who runs the camp and teaches Jonah to live off the land in a quasi-survivalist environment. And BTW, Dr. Simon is now of Native American (Ojibwe) heritage. Instead of Jonah being on the Methadone Program, Dr. Simon insists on weaning him off the drug beginning immediately, believing that treating one addiction with another is counter-intuitive. He utilizes natural methods and Native American spiritualism instead. Jonah resists, and voila, conflict.

A lovable supporting character in the original story,  George Denby, is still in the story. He’s a former client and now close friend of Dr. Simon, and owns a one-man taxicab service in Pine Valley. He will feature quite a bit in the story. But at the moment, George’s old 1959 Apache truck that was featured so much in the original story is gone. Which is okay in a way, since I know next to nothing about auto restoration, which in the first story is a form of therapy Jonah enthusiastically embraces and keeps him sane. I may still throw it in there, though. Somehow. Or not.

Naturally, Andi, Charli, and Belle are in this revision. I’ve gotten rid of Steve Preston, another character I struggled hugely with…another cardboard cutout and flat characters are never good in antagonists!!!

So…instead, Andi’s ex-husband Pete, who was an abusive, controlling asshole, becomes the villain. Andi (who I’m thinking is going to be a relative of Dr. Simon’s … his daughter, perhaps?) comes to Pine Valley and moves near (or into?) the camp while hiding out from Pete, who she slapped a restraining order on, but to a crazy cop hell-bent on retrieving his wife and daughter, a restraining order is meaningless. He’ll hunt her down, no question.

NOTE: I grew up in the setting I’m describing. I lived in the deep MN woods, picked puffballs, hazelnuts, wild berries, Morel mushrooms, boiled acorns and utilized cattails for all sorts of things (they’re actually pretty damn tasty). I know this land very well. I live here now. I’ve always had a fascination with Native culture (am part Native myself), going into the wild and living off-the-grid, providing for all my needs from the earth, the fresh clean waters, and the forest. I used to build shelters in the forest, fish with a string and hand-made hook, with worms I dug from the earth. I cleaned my catch and cooked it over a fire I made myself. This was well before the technology invasion. This was the way I had fun from childhood, until I moved to the city as an adult. So yes. I know my shit.

Now, my quandry.

I have a completed version. An early draft is on Wattpad. That’s the 3rd person dual POV I’ve been shopping around with obviously limited success, though readers there seem to like it….I mean, it DID advance is So You Think You Can Write in 2015, and it’s more or less consistently ranked in its genre in the top 1000 for a few months, and I’m getting new reads/votes/comments/followers daily. So yeah, FACES has a decent, if somewhat swiss-cheesey plot in place as it is. I could in theory save myself a hell of a lot of time and work by simply polishing the existing story and revising it to 1st person.

…..OR…..

I could truly send Jonah into the wild. It would mean essentially writing a whole new first draft, and subsequent rewrites. It would take huge amounts of time and effort. But I think the story would go from a pleasant read with a nice HEA into something on a whole new level. If I do it right.

So, is it broken and should I fix it?

I do know I’m really excited at the idea of the revised story despite the daunting task of actually writing it. And that excitement’s gotta mean something.

Not Advancing in #sonofapitch…but that’s a good thing!

Welp, despite my efforts, I didn’t make the top 20 in #sonofapitch, but really, it’s a good thing. I got the feedback I both wanted and needed, and have given FACES another good hard close-up look. I know now why this rewrite has been such a challenge (besides lack of time, that is) and most importantly, I know now what I need to do to address the issues I’ve had.

It means yet another total rewrite. Ye gods. But it’ll be the book it was meant to be if I buckle down and do it. It means cutting huge chunks, revising everything else, and adding in more story. Well, it’s a good thing the soul-sucking, words-robbing job is in the rear-view. Today is the first of my 4 days off and I intend to get shit done!

 

Revised #sonofapitch Entry – Query and First 250

Okay folks, the week is winding down. I’ve left the soul-sucking, words-robbing job in favor of a weekend-only gig that allows me 4 days a week to focus on my first true luv: writing. I couldn’t be happier, though I’ll miss my co-workers greatly.

I am going from a night shift gig to days. Two days off in between to flip my clock. Not much time when my sleep schedule is pretty much cemented. But with the help of loads of caffeine and feedback from the #sonofapitch judges, I made it to 6pm taking the feedback to heart and revising both my query and my 250. Yes, I made it to round 2 and landed a spot on Team Leia hosted by author and #sonofapitch judge Elizabeth Roderick!!

So, after mulling over the responses, here’s what my sleep-deprived brain came up with….this query looks a tad long, but is only 263 words.  I could still pare it down some, and might, depending on the feedback I receive for this latest revision*. The 250 hit 250 exactly, which I’m very happy about!

*NOTE: I revised the query again and am under 250…242 to be exact!

QUERY

 

After losing his wife and child in a car accident, world-renowned actor and musician Jonah Wilder spirals into heroin addiction. After a near-fatal overdose, Jonah lands in rehab, but finds no help in the facility’s one-size-fits-all program. He needs something more. Something different. Something far away from the glittering lights of Hollywood and the fishbowl of fame.

Jonah slips into his most ambitious role to date — that of John Walker, a bearded, long-haired, and reclusive auto mechanic. In the guise of Walker, Jonah flees Hollywood for the tranquility of Northern Minnesota, where he checks into Pine Serenity House for a year-long Methadone program.

There, an old, broken-down truck ignites passion in Jonah’s wounded soul and its restoration becomes a form of therapy. Despite his determination to keep his distance and protect his identity, Jonah finds himself drawn to Andi Sawyer, the young single mother who lives next door with her musically gifted, special-needs daughter. As his walls crumble and love opens the door to dreams of a new life. John Walker can see his future. But Jonah Wilder can only see his tragic past.

Soon, the realities of who they are and where they came from boil over when Andi’s dangerously obsessed ex-husband catches up with her. Jonah must find the strength to trust himself and accept the better man he’s become, or else he’ll lose all that he’s come to cherish: Andi, her little girl … and his second chance at life.

FIRST 250

God, I need a hit. One little hit. Just one.

Jonah Wilder tried to silence the thought as soon as it appeared. But the free-fall into agonizing withdrawal had begun the instant his daily routine was abruptly changed.

Stay in your room today, the nurse who brought his breakfast instructed. Dr. Vance’s orders. He’ll be here to see you shortly.

Jonah paced around his room in this prison that masqueraded as a posh, private treatment center for the wealthy and famous. He paced until dizziness forced him into a chair. Then he gazed blankly out the window. God, how he longed to be out there. Sunshine, fresh air, and freedom. Instead, he was trapped in the same shit, different day, meaningless lump of inertia his life had become — until today.

One hit. Just —

Jonah’s emaciated body twitched and the room swam as he rode a wave of nausea. His teeth slammed together as he fought the sour taste of breakfast threatening to make a return trip. A moment later, it subsided. He’d won the battle … for now.

There was a soft knock on the door, and then the man of the hour stepped into his room.

Dr. Vance was a bespectacled, thin, gray-haired man with a New England accent, an enormous beak of a nose and kindly brown eyes. “Hello, Jonah,” he said, closing the door. “How are you today?”

“I’ve been ordered to stay in my room, no reason given. How do you think I am?” Jonah snapped.

Take a gander over to  Elizabeth Roderick’s blog and check out my entry, the feedback, and the competition – it’s fierce!!!