The Top Ten Last Minute Gifts Under $20
I'm posting this only because Jessie is e-mail-twisting my arm behind my back. Okay, it's three (almost two) days until Christmas. You have that one, final person you have not found a gift for. It's a person like Donald Trump -- has expensive hobbies, cars, a house for every month of the year, weekly liposuction appointments, whatever -- or a person who has no hobbies, basic transportation and lives in an efficiency apartment overlooking a dumpster. You have very little money left in the checking account. So here's what you buy him or her:
1. Wind chimes:
Hang them up on the porch or by a window, they make a nice sound, no maintenance required.
2. A George Carlin tape or CD:
I don't know
anyone who doesn't like George. He's raw, funny, obnoxious, and great to listen to on the way to work.
3. Gift Certificate to His/Her Favorite Restaurant:
Hey, they gotta eat. Make sure it's a restaurant they like, and I guarantee they won't return the present.
No, not the drug -- the movie with Keanu Reeves on VHS or DVD (if available.) Great flick, Sandy Bullock being perky, lots of things blow up. Or DIE HARD
with Bruce Willis. Great flick, Alan Rickman being perky, lots of things blow up.
5. A Nice Ceramic Popcorn Bowl and a box of Orville Redenbacker Microwave Popcorn:
Self-explanatory assembly, and they're going to need some popcorn while they watch Keanu kick Dennis Hopper's butt.
6. Kodak IMAX Disposable Camera and Tickets to A Local Museum/Attraction:
So they leave the expensive fiftteen-toggles-to-adjust Nikon camera at home and can go to blow an afternoon snapping shots of Degas or Flipper.
7. Incense and Incense Burner:
Pick out a selection of interesting scents and a matching holder so they don't set the house on fire.
8. A Radical 2002 Calendar:
Get one of the chunky, square desk-types with something unusual. Garfield toons. Escher engravings. Fast cars with semi-naked women (or men) posing on them.
9. A Back Massage:
No, not from you. Most health clubs have a masseuse on staff, and they charge around $15.00 -- $20.00 per thirty minutes. Alternative: A Manicure:
Better for women, but there are some guys secure enough in their masculinity to want to have nice-looking nails.
and finally -- something you can't buy in stores, no matter how hard you wish:
10. Slave for a Day:
My friends and I used to do this in the military when we had no money for gifts. We'd basically put ourselves at the disposal of the other person for 12 hours -- get your minds out of the gutter -- to clean house, do yardwork, watch the kids, cook meals, whatever needed to be done to free up the other person.
A peaceful day of revelations leading into an equally tranquil night. The final piece of the Gamers puzzle fell in place today, when I realized what I could use as a catalyst for Tya's specific problem -- an environmental deprivation that, once reconstituted, would enable her to do her thing. It was so simple my jaw fell out of my face when it hit me; how could I have overlooked that
? I've got to take a few basic biology courses one day, maybe they can train me to think more like a scientist.
I'm listening to John Coltrane and putting a few finishing touches on the Christmas tree. Tomorrow I'll do the final baking, do my one and only book signing of the year, then play Santa and have fun with the kids.
It seems to be a weekend for observing the modern ritualisric slaughter of traditional poetry. A friend told me to watch "Def Poets" on HBO, which I found to be equal parts entertaining-horrifying-exhausting. More extremely earnest young people trying to capitalize on their Ethnic Experience is fine -- one has to snag that fifteen minutes of fame somehow -- but the language
(wince.) Responding to a question regarding epics on Holly's board this morning sort of rounded out the experience. I realize cannabilizing the past provides steady fuel for some creative fires, but it doesn't mean I have to like watching the dissection and digestive processes. I know I'm stodgy about poetry; blame Keats and Plath, they ruined me for anyone else.
Oh, and a public safety service announcement:
The Next Person Who Bah Humbugs Christmas Around Me is Getting Their Jaw Broken.
(smiling primly) Thank you for your attention.
Evil Master SuperComputer Triumphs Again:
I still cannot make transcripts in Holly's conference room one. This really ticks me off -- I can cut and paste, I can skip and jump, but I can't select and copy in that bloody damn conference room. Oddly, I can do it in chat, which is why I was able to make one last week. Now I know
I'm not the shiniest apple on the cart, but I followed the directions implicitly. And still, no go. I'm beginning to feel like that kid who always sat in the back of English class, playing finger football with his pals and answering every question from the teacher with, "Uh, I rully didn't get that part, Missus Smith."
Beware of Dog:
My neighbor has an adorable dachshund puppy she's trying very hard to housetrain, and I smell like three adorable cats, so we try not to make simultaneous trips down three flights of stairs. Today Killer (yup, that's his name) slipped his leash, ran down and attacked my ankles as I was midway down the second floor stairwell. It was step on him, fall, or grab the railing, and I think I did a little of all three. Ended up on my backside, face full of wiggly happy puppy, and a spreading wet stain on both legs of my jeans (courtesy of Killer, not me.) My knee was okay, and I hadn't broken my neck or Killer's, so I figured we lucked out. My poor neighbor, who has seen me in all kinds of casts, splints, braces, and other orthopedic supports nearly fell down the stairs trying to get to us. She tried to help me up as she apologized profusely, Killer began to bark, and the grumpy old guy on the second floor emerged to ask What the Hell is Going On Out Here? All I could do was laugh, shake my head, and give her a hug. After a minute, she started to laugh, too. Then, incredibly, Grumpy Old Guy chuckled, and Killer sat down and looked very pleased with himself. Our animals always remind us, 'tis the season to be jolly. :)
It's 56 degrees F this morning and we're all popsicles, huddled under our thermal blankets . . . the Florida equivalent of a white Christmas, I guess. Mike admitted he's freezing, so I must turn on (cough) the heat
. . .
There are moments -- usually about this time of night -- when it isn't the insomnia keeping me awake. It's the work waiting to be done. Specifically, the novels lined up inside my skull, waiting to be written. They aren't patient, and they all want to be first, so there's a fair amount of shoving going on even at the most serene of moments. That's not what keeps me awake. It's fear. Not the fear of the actual writing -- I'm practically a machine when it comes to production now. It's the "I can't write this book. It's a crazy idea and I'll never pull it off" heebie-jeebies. The more extreme the story line, the bigger and darker the fear. I think tonight's dose came from describing a little of what I'd gone through writing Blade Dancer in an e-mail to a friend. That book was the toughest project I ever tackled.
StarDoc Six -- Battlefields -- is the next. First, I have to completely abandon the original manuscript, and start from scratch. I've been avoiding admitting this for months, but it has to be done. I saw the benefits of doing that with Iceman and I want the same for this one. Like Endurance, it's going to be a dark novel, but told from four different POVs in first person -- something I've never done with StarDoc's storyline. The plot makes this a must, I can't tell the story otherwise. And the world building has been evolving for more than a year, and I'm still not sure I've nailed it. Yet this is the book that's always at the front of the line, the book the shoves all the others out of the way, the book that's keeping me awake tonight.
Behind the fear and doubt, I know I've got to write this book. That keeps me from surrendering and saying, "I'll write something safer."
I read blogs written by aspiring writers, who question themselves and wonder if they can finish their current projects. I know when I was at the point I thought getting published would give me more confidence. Wrong.
It doesn't matter if you've only written 36 pages or 36 novels. There is always fear, and always some part of yourself you doubt. You succeed when you find a way to keep from surrendering to it.
I have this journal I've fallen in love with -- can't be faithful to only you, Blogger -- which has beautiful smooth line-free white paper, and every other page is illustrated with some engimatic Asian art or characters by Michael Green (ISBN#189173184-X). The artist's name is prophetic; Michael is my son's name, green is my second favorite color. And the paper takes to my Koi pen like water to a fish. There's something very soothing about it, not just the act of writing but the weight of the paper and the illustrations and little quotations here and there. For journal lovers, I highly recommend it.
The Politics of Dancing:
"Center Stage" is a gorgeously choreographed movie, and while it strays over into chick flick territory by diluting such issues as bulemia and unnecessary injuries caused by practicing ballet (don't get me started on that), the dancers are first rate. I liked "Save the Last Dance" better -- which was also homogenized for the white folks -- but I'll go ahead and recommend this one as well.
Ghosts of Christmas Past:
I get very enthusiastic about the holidays for the kids, and have nearly conquered my personal aversion for the month of December. Still, when I'm alone, I have some bad moments. My first ex and I would have been married 21 years next Friday. And while true love never dies, I do get tired of lugging its baggage around. Oh, and that whole "Tis better to have loved and lost . . . " attitude? Doesn't help when you're the loser.
Last minute, just before Christmas annoyances:
People in malls who can't wait in line longer than one minute without whining (shop earlier, you wimps.) The 12 pains of Christmas song every radio station plays constantly (it stopped being funny about four years ago.) Federal Express and UPS delivery boys with attitude problems (if you don't like the job, do us all a favor -- quit in November.)
North Pole Department:
We went to see Santa today and get some pictures taken, and my son informed me this was the last
year I can do this to him. He wore a dark green plaid shirt and very hip jeans, and looked about fifteen. I stood back with the photographer and got very misty-eyed; Mike turns ten next summer, then I'm sure before I can blink he really will
be a teenager. Katherine also got to me -- resplendent as she was in ivory and dark green velvet -- by walking around the mall holding her skirt and eyeing everyone regally, like a young monarch. I still can't figure out how two old and not very attractive people (me and the ex) produced such gorgeous kids.
There are plenty of gifts I'd like to ask Santa for myself this year -- a cure for my sister's cancer, better health for my parents, and a new right knee for me. I know they won't be in my stocking Christmas morning (imagine finding a knee in there. Yikes.) I also know it's unrealistic to hope he brings some happiness and peace back to this very changed, scary world we live in. But in many ways I've never grown up, so maybe I'll go back to the mall tomorrow and have a little talk with him anyway. Never hurts to ask.
Today I was reminded that men need equal time on the gift-complaint soapbox. So to be completely gender unbiased, some suggestions from a few male friends:
The Ten Worst Christmas Gifts a Woman Can Buy for a Man
1. Flower-patterned bedsheets. Men love to give flowers. They do not want to sleep on them. And none of those silk or satin sheets, either -- destroys all hope of traction.
2. Barbecue Preparation Accessories. J.C. says: "The next female who gives me a silly apron, four foot tongs or a chef's hat is going to test the temperature of my grill rack with her butt."
3. Stuff for the Kitchen. Men don't want things to help them cook. They want you
4. Exotic T-shirts. If it doesn't have a monster truck on the front, or it's blue, green, pink, red, yellow, lavender, gray, mauve, black, turquoise or any other color besides white, forget about it.
5. Video Tapes. No chick flicks. Nothing made by Merchant & Ivory. Exception: If it's got guns, knives, fast cars, Heather Locklear or Pamela Anderson, or was banned by Blockbuster as too explicit, well then okay.
6. Three piece suits. Men only wear them for two reasons -- to get married or buried -- and vests cover up the monster trucks on their t-shirts.
7. Cologne. Just because there's a picture of a Stetson on the bottle doesn't mean a guy who wears one would actually spray that stuff on himself.
8. Abstract Statues of Two Embracing Figures. J.C. says: "They always look like they coated themself with superglue before they started kissing."
9. Tool Sets. Men don't need fifteen sets of metric sockets. Besides, remember all that fuss you made, picking out your engagement ring yourself? That's how men feel about cordless drills.
10. Membership to a Health Club. Why not just write "You're paunchy"
on the tag and be done with it?
(Thanks to my friend J.C. for helping me with the list.)
Copyright 2001 by S.L. Viehl
All Rights Reserved
Best of 2001
Since everyone else is doing these lists, I might as well take a shot.
1. Memory of Fire by Holly Lisle (Eos, to be released in 2002) -- my favorite book of the year. Don't hate me for getting to read it early. :)
2. I Dare by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller (MMerline, to be released in 2002) -- second runner up. A must for Liaden universe fans.
3. Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey -- the protagonist is a professional masochist, and while draggy in some places, a good read.
4. Narcissus in Chains by Laurell K. Hamilton -- I think we'd better get Anita on the pill, but otherwise, another fun addition to her popular series.
5. A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton -- This heroine makes Anita look like a nun, but I liked the alternate faerie universe.
1. Hemlock Bay by Catherine Coulter -- Her fiftieth book, and she just gets better and better. The villain is particularly gruesome.
2. Open Season by Linda Howard -- Not your usual LH heroine, and the ending simply floored me.
3. Final Target by Iris Johansen -- a new addition to the Wind Dancer stories! Ms. J, write faster!
4. The Devil's Bargain by Robyn Donald -- I'm basically Robyn Donald's #1 fan for life. Another classy, beautiful love story.
5. Into the Woods by Linda Winstead Jones -- a totally new spin on Hansel and Gretel. Another Ms. J who should write faster.
6. Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts -- the setting is New Orleans, which I love, and the beta hero wasn't bad either.
7. Dark Fire by Christine Feehan -- go ahead and sneer about purple prose, but I like her fang books. This one was as much fun as the others.
8. Obsessed by Susan Anderson -- a '93 reprint, but I hadn't read it, so a nice surprise for me, and the heroine is a doctor.
9. Taylor's Temptation by Suzanne Brockmann -- major sexual tension and manly SEALs. What more could a girl want?
10. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden -- not exactly a romance, but a very cool and readable inside look at the life of a geisha.
Movies (I didn't see too many this year, sorry.)
1. Shrek -- oh, just go rent the video tape, it's wonderful.
2. Enemy at the Gates -- Jude Law nailed the lead in this so well. And Ed Harris . . . sigh . . .
3. Lara Croft, Tomb Raider -- lots of folks didn't like this movie but I thought Angelina was pretty cool. Good and unusual fight scenes.
Stuff I Did out of the Norm in 2001:
1. Candle-making: Taught myself how to with acrylic and metal molds. Fell in love with beeswax, it smells wonderful.
2. Going on a vegetarian diet -- I went for six months, and I must admit, there are definite health benefits. As long as you can avoid the smell of steak grilling, that is.
3. Weblogging -- Well, you're here, you can see how much fun I have. Highly addictive.
4. Studying Norwegian -- always good to add to the linguistic database. Norwegian isn't as hard as I thought it might be.
5. Teaching online -- I've only been doing it for a couple of months, but I'm completely hooked.
6. Japanese paper dyeing -- I actually took a class in this, which raised my paper standards.
7. Platinum Fountain Pens -- I invested in a Koi, and it seduced me. I don't want to write with anything else now.
8. Dragon Naturally Speaking -- I wasn't sure how well I'd do with this talk-and-it-types software. So far, very promising.
9. Getting Rid of the Negatives -- for the first time since the ex and I separated, I dumped a lot of weight off my shoulders by resigning from various situations and so-called friendships. It's good to know who your real friends are.
10. Eucalyptus bathing -- my aroma self-therapy. Has been helping out a little with the insomnia.
Shifting gears (since Christmas is only 6 days away) I think I'll do a top ten list today instead of the quotes. In case some of you are still shopping for a significant other and need ideas, here's
The Ten Worst Christmas Gifts A Man Can Buy for a Woman
1. Art. Sweetheart, we don't know how to tell you this, but DaVinci never painted Elvis, or worked in black velvet.
2. Anything that is Officially Signed, Recognized, or Sanctioned by the National Football League. Women don't actually like
contact sports -- not counting occasional body-bashing 75% off sales scrimages -- we just watch the game so we can snuggle up beside you.
3. Small Kitchen Appliances. Babe, we can go out and buy our own
can openers, 'kay? Besides, you never pick out the right color to match everything else.
4. Anything Made of 1/2 Yard of Lace from Victoria's Secret. This is a present for you,
you dirty old man, not us. And the lace is inevitably itchy in the worst places.
5. Packaged Food Gifts from Wisconsin. We're not that hungry, we don't know what's in those Summer sausages and all that cheese makes us gassy.
6. Perfume Collections. You always pick out the pretty bottles but you never bother to smell
the fragrance. (Which is why I once went around smelling like a mango for two years.)
7. Anything from the Craftsman Department at Sears. Please. If you want a rotary saw, just buy one for your damn self.
8. Music CDs. We've never actually told you how we feel about your taste in music. This might force us to get real honest, real quick.
9. Anything with Batteries to be Used While We're Naked. Your depth perception stinks, and for God's sake, what if the children see that thing?
10. Membership to a Health Club. Why not just write "You're Fat"
on the tag and be done with it?
Copyright 2001 by S.L. Viehl
All Rights Reserved.
Among the regular e-mail today, a grim message sent directly to my business addy from one of my beloved colleagues (never mind who.) It's too good not to share the warmth . . . or lack thereof:
There are reasons for professional distinctions within the ranks and they should be enforced. RWA chaos reigns because of unpublished membership and by sheer numbers they now wield the majority power. . .the unpublished have no place at the table until they have earned it.
More of the same for three paragraphs (it goes on and on, making other moronic analogies to the taint of the great unwashed masses etc.) until I get to the actual semi-personal part of the letter:
Your recent change of membership was brought to our attention. If you have similar sentiments, I urge you to join our newsgroup and discuss options to protect your professional status. You can subscribe . . .
Now, how do I respond to this little warm and fuzzy fascist? Here's my response, verbatim:
I found your e-mail -- and the ideas expressed therein -- to be quite fascinating. Incomplete, but fascinating. You've clearly articulated your problem with those pesky unpublished writers, but why stop there? There are so many other undesirables you could ostracize. Why not add writers of color to your list? After all, they only get published because they have that whole ethnic thing going, right? And gay writers -- you should really boot out anyone who doesn't hide the salami in the right pocket. And women writers -- you know only real men can be great chefs and great artists, why should fiction be different? And the Jews -- everyone knows how they ruined Hollywood, can't allow them do the same to publishing.
Boy, this is like a Christmas wish list, isn't it?
Add a few more groups to the exclusion list -- the liberals, because they're so damn twitchy, and the conservatives, because they're such tight asses. Get rid of the Libertarians, they're just plain crazy. People whose parents didn't come over on the Mayflower should go -- all that bad immigrant blood. Anyone born after 1961 is too young to properly appreciate the profession, and they missed the Beatles, too. Tally all that up and you've cleared quite a few places around the table. In fact, I'd be surprised if there's a place setting for anyone besides you.
But then you'll be in an excellent position to go (censored) yourself.
Sent Christmas cards out (late again, as usual) and performed an exercise in Zen revenge by doing two nice things -- one for someone I like, and one for someone I don't. I figure if God wants me to love my enemy, I'd better start getting affectionate sometime. The fallout is I feel better about the disappointment from a couple of days ago (which is what Zen revenge is all about).
I'm going to paint tonight. Flying swallows and bamboo. They'll probably look like big fat black turkeys swooping around sugar cane, but what the heck. I'm creating something.
Out of Nowhere:
I came up with a very short short story for the daily dare over at Holly's site. Gave it an interesting twist, too. And I had absolutely no intention of doing anything but wander around the boards for an hour. Is the muse leaking or something?
Famous Quote for the Day: (might as well, since I'm up) "To imitate one's enemy is to dishonor."* Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679
While to ignore the enemy's badmouthing you is to drive him bonkers.
*(I always felt this quote was unfinished. Maybe someone grabbed Hobbes by the throat toward the end of it.)
Gloat for the Day: "War hath no fury like a noncombatant." C.E. Montague, 1867–1928
Yeah, everyone hates it when you won't play with them.
Okay, I give up. I've been horizontal for two and a half hours, pretending to sleep. Eyes closed, snuggled under the quilt, rain CD playing on the stereo. And my mind going a million miles an hour behind my eyelids, like a hamster on amphetamines in an exercise wheel. Has to be some kind of weird writing withdrawl.
The synopsis for Raven's book has almost finished coalescing; I want to type up the first draft. I've decided to call the heroine of the third book Kameko, after the new arrival (just returning the favor, Lily) and I've nearly got her story pegged out. There's SD6 and BD2 waiting in the wings. And the new books, Into the Fire and BioRescue, hovering stage left. The largest number of books I've worked on simultaneously was four; now it looks like I'm going to stretch to six. The contract addendum for Onyx sits on my desk, smirking: Write three books in 120 days or do not pass go and waste the best shot of your career.
God, don't let me blow this.
Evil Master SuperComputer likes my insomnia -- I could have sworn I heard him chuckle as I switched him back on. But he's smooth, and I've gotten adjusted to the keyboard, and all the pretty graphics and icons and click-y things. I feel almost --but not quite -- confident when I sit down and start typing. The Word Perfect program still seems like Star Wars compared to my old 5.1 version, and I haven't found all the settings and formatting things yet. Still, it's a magnificent machine, awesome software, and I'm damn lucky I could afford to reinvest in my career like this. Someone told me I'd have to buy another computer in two or three years, just to keep up with the industry. Hope not, I'm really starting to like this one.
My friend Lillian gave birth in the wee hours this morning to a beautiful 7 lb. 5 oz. baby girl, Kameko Cherijo, and mother and daughter are doing fine. Lily didn't warn me ahead of time about the Cherijo part, so I'm going through a lot of Kleenex here. :) Welcome to the world, Kameko!
The World is Fire:
Did you ever hear a song and it won't get out of your head for days? Happened to me as I was passing by a TV at the hospital (dropping off donation books for the inpatients, good girl that I am) and they had on one of those endless Rock of the Whatever Decade collection commercials chock full of the little 3-second artist spots strung together from MTV videos. Anyway, Corey Hart was singing "The World is Fire" from the First Offense Album, looking earnest and sweaty, and it stuck. Yes,
I have the album. It's somewhere around here, probably in with my old Police LPs. I was young and single and much hipper in the eighties, and he was very hot, so sue me. But I don't need to find the album -- every time I relax the cerebellum, I hear Corey's voice echoing in there. I know it's brewing a short story along with it. I'm already getting flashes of spiking solar flares, a world literally on fire and intergalactic smoke jumpers rescuing colonists. This always happens to me.
For a Monday, this hasn't been too terrible. I got four hours sleep last night -- better than the two the night before -- and I'm feeling a little energized instead of sludging around in a semi-coma. I have the whole morning to myself, which I'm going to spend doing something Christmas-y, then tonight the kids visit their Dad so I can either watch a movie or play with Evil Master SuperComputer some more. Drefan and I have come to terms with each other in a kind of slave-owner detente. The question now is, who's the owner, and who's the slave?
Famous Quote for the Day:
"We fear something before we hate it; a child who fears noises becomes a man who hates noise." Cyril Connolly,1903-1974
I must have been terrorized by lazy people as a kid.
Gloat for the Day:
"Visits alway give pleasure -- if not the arrival, the departure." Portuguese Proverb
Like that moment when you close the door, lean against it, and say, "I didn't punch her in the mouth. Thank you, Jesus."
So What's The Deal Here?
(tapping foot, folding arms) I have to wait nine hours to post on my own weblog? Who's in charge around here? Where's my baseball bat? I had to read the world's worst rip-off of Umberto Eco tonight. It was tacky, it was smarmy, it was stupid, and it was supposed
to be a romance
novel. All I can think is some editor at Mira is getting money under the table from this author; it was an awful book -- barely comprehensible in too many places. Like every other page. And the author, who shall remain nameless, needs to end her love affair with her mirror and get a life. Don't do this to me again, Blogger.
Reader mail bag offerings:
are rather humbling today and I'm not going to get into details; suffice to say I don't deserve the many, very kind people who read my books. No writer does. Along with much praise, a heads-up which led to an unpleasant revelation online, a nasty situation about which I can nothing except be a little wiser next time. I am now re-thinking another, similar situation in which my name and work will be used; perhaps it's better that I pass and avoid a repeat.
When I'm hired to do work, I'm a professional. I write the best story I can, always turn it in before my deadline, and remain completely cooperative during the revision process. To me, a good writer is someone who gets the job done. For that, I expect to be treated by other pros with courtesy -- or I did, in the beginning of my career. But as a wise friend recently told me, my career is like being a survivor from the wreck of the Titanic. If you rock the SF genre lifeboat and push yourself using whatever oars you have trying to get somewhere, don't expect the other people sitting and wailing (and doing nothing to save themselves) to appreciate you.
Secret Compartment Department:
My skinny little daughter, who is six years old, four foot nothing and weighs maybe 50 lbs., just drank an entire quart of milk with her breakfast. I keep wanting to tap her legs to see if one of them is hollow.
Famous Quote for the Day:
"We should talk less and draw more. Personally, I would like to renounce speech altogether and, like organic nature, communicate everything I have to say in sketches." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832
Negotiating publishing contracts that way would be interesting.
Gloat for the Day:
"Daring ideas are like chessman moved forward; they may be beaten but they may start a winning game." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832
And checkmate is when your book hits the BSL.
What the world needs is more friends like one of mine, who not only pre-reads my manuscripts on demand but writes back to me the minute he finishes them to tell me what he thinks, (bless you, Tom) thus relieving a huge amount of tension. Yes, I still get tense, especially when I strike out into unfamiliar territory. Future contracts for seven books rest on this single manuscript, and I want this new series.