The Road to Publication: A bit about Small Press

On the heels of the 2018 Writer's Digest conference in New York City, I returned home rejuvenated, riding that post-conference high. I had networked, conversed with talented writers (shout out to #5amwritersclub on Twitter!), participated in informative and motivational sessions, and listened to inspiring keynote speakers. Writer's Digest offered a commendable conference and it was 100% worth going [plus a few days in NYC with no kids, yup!]. At this stage in my publishing career I chose to attend mostly business and motivational sessions rather than craft  (though we could always hone craft and I swapped notes with other writers).

I left also feeling a bit meh. Why meh? Because not one session in the dozens offered addressed small press publishing. There was plenty of information on the agent to big publisher route (the dream of many an author) and the indie/self-pub route. But the hybrid in between the two? Nope. Shaking off my self-doubt and negative self-talk (hey, there was a session on that!), I decided why not share a bit more about the small press experience. I've had a wonderful journey with The Wild Rose Press and I've learned in life to turn struggles into opportunities. If I was feeling a bit down, I guarantee there may be others who felt the same way OR don't know that small press is an amazing route for publication.  So here's my take on it! (Keep reading, it's good)

 A rainy, gray day in the lowlands of Scotland. A sheep and its buddy. Eventually we'll find our herd if we keep walking.   Fun fact that makes me smile: My first books are historical romances, and my editor at The Wild Rose Press hails from Scotland...and her surname is the descendent of my heroine's name. Ponder that interesting coincidence for a moment!

A rainy, gray day in the lowlands of Scotland. A sheep and its buddy. Eventually we'll find our herd if we keep walking. 

Fun fact that makes me smile: My first books are historical romances, and my editor at The Wild Rose Press hails from Scotland...and her surname is the descendent of my heroine's name. Ponder that interesting coincidence for a moment!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...oh, wait. Not that. Leave that to Chuck Wendig, one of our keynote speakers. Okay, a long time ago, in years far, far away (circa when I was ahem, 20, uh like twenty years ago)...

I had just written my first two manuscripts. Not knowing much on the biz, I researched and jumped into the querying trenches. Back then, it was mostly by snail mail with a SASE (anyone remember those?). I dabbled in querying agents and directly to editors at publishers (at a time when that was a more common method). Got some rejections, feedback, and a few requests. Ultimately, it went nowhere. Enter my blooming science career, parenting, and on and off writing for a decade. I finished a third manuscript. Did the same, but this time, email was the way to go. I even met with agents at conferences. I honed my craft, took in feedback from agents/critique partners, and filed away more research on the biz. Despite more queries and more requests, that book was still not "there" yet.

On to manuscript #4. Rinse and repeat the above, but at a more intense level. I was wearing my game hat by now. I had skills, was refining my craft, learning, growing. I got so close I could taste the offer! Still after close to 40 rejections (a small number, I know), I grew frustrated. The traditional route of agent to big publisher was not in my stars (yet...there is always a yet, for we don't know our future). I'd gleaned knowledge through the rejections/feedback but was still not capturing the eyes of agents. Yet, in the words of my always-first-to-read beta, "this manuscript was IT!" Yes, she texted that after reading my polished, revised version number 100 (or it felt like it). 

I took a leap and queried two small press publishers. The Wild Rose Press, a publisher with a very good reputation and who has been around for over a decade, said yes! That book, A Hundred Kisses, is now out in print, e-book, and audible/audio book.

What is a small press and what do you get working with one?

I will tell you because I did a lot of web-searching on indie vs. self vs. small press. Even Google searches lead to conflicting definitions.

Small Press highlights:

  1. Direct queries to editors, deleting the middle person (versus finding an agent).

  2. No agent fees/percentages (you get your full percentage of royalties).

  3. You earn royalties on sales, but with some you may receive advances, too. Royalties vary, and as a new author, don't expect a bestseller. Publication and developing readership is a marathon, not a sprint.

  4. Quicker turn-around time on all aspects of publication from query to release date. The Wild Rose Press prides itself on publication within a year from contract date.

  5. Niche markets -- many small presses specialize in and cater to one or a few genres. Those romance readers are dedicated and loyal (and I read a stat somewhere that romance is nearly 35% of the fiction market). The Wild Rose Press started as an e-book/print book publisher for romance, but has now branched out to other fiction genres, and audio book formats.

  6. You build a network of like-minded and cheerleader authors (I've established great relationships with many of the authors at The Wild Rose Press).

  7. Personalized support from the editors ( = TLC!). The Wild Rose Press has writer/promotion forums, weekly author chats (open to public), and makes efforts to meet with the authors at conferences or meetings. No question is too big or too small to your editor.

  8. Cover design, copy-edits, assistance with promotion.

  9. A team of editors and staff that are quick to respond and support you in your publication needs. Okay, this is like #7, but I just had to say it again.

  10. No-up front out of pocket expenses.

  11. Though supportive, be prepared to do a lot of your own marketing and promotion (this is even expected from big publishers, as I've been told). But also be prepared to have a team ready to support you in those efforts.

  12. Numbers of books published per year vary by publisher. The Wild Rose Press has published thousands of books by hundreds of authors in its 12-year span.

Enter manuscript #5. I had spent a year writing a contemporary Women's Fiction book, different from my usual historical romance. I queried the heck out of it with agents. By now, I knew my stuff (disclaimer: we are always learning and improving). I attended conferences and workshops, delved into the Twitter world, read books. I had my A-game. But over 70 rejections later, still nothing. And for the agents that did request it, the feedback was surprisingly vague. As painful as rejection is, getting specific, detailed agent feedback on a full request is gold in your hand! Though it's subjective, I find it to be the best information on what to do with my book: edit it more, change up the plot/characters, or follow my gut and leave it be? After another year of revision and input from countless beta readers and critique partners, I honed that baby the best I could. Feeling a bit defeated and hesitant, I sent it off to my editor at The Wild Rose Press. Though started as a romance publisher, they also publish other fiction genres, including Women's Fiction. I thought, "Why not?"

Guess what? My editor LOVED it. In fact, I need to go work on my first round of edits right now...

They are also publishing the prequel to A Hundred Kisses. So now I have one book published, and two more in contract. I have another manuscript pending decision. And you can guarantee that this fall, I am going to get working on the sequel to A Hundred Kisses, turning that series into a trilogy. My momentum is on...and it happened with a small press. Where do I go from here? I'm not sure. Can any author say where they will be in a few years? Just a few years ago I was in the query trenches. Now, I'm overwhelming satisfied and happy with the support and care I've gotten from my editor and fellow "rose" authors! Right now, I've found my publishing home.

I'd love to hear about your publishing experience.

Best,

Jean

Swept Away by Words: A Hundred Kisses on Audio Book!

It's here! I am ecstatic (yeah, okay that's a bit over the top, but hey I'm excited!) to announce that A Hundred Kisses is now released in audio book format through Amazon Audible and iTunes! Interested in a wee listen? Well, I have that for you: here.

It is my pleasure today to introduce Rosalind Ashford, Voice Actor and narrator of A Hundred Kisses audio book. It's been a surreal experience to have gone from listening to audio books in my car (while writing my own novels) to having my OWN audio book to listen to! It was a joy to delve into this process with Ms. Ashford, and admittedly, I squealed with glee each week when I received the latest chapter to review.

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I enjoyed the process and the final product to the production of A Hundred Kisses, so I knew I wanted to invite Ms. Ashford to my blog. She is a Voice Actor and an Audible-Approved narrator and producer, member of both Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) and SAG-AFTRA, the unions for professional performers. Having been my first experience with narration, I picked her brain a bit...

What drew you to this career choice?

I was born and raised in Worcestershire, England and trained in Dramatic Arts—dance, drama and film—in conservatory programs at Madeley College and Keele University, UK. I moved to NY in part to pursue a career in theater, in part to satisfy a strong wanderlust. Whilst I have, since then, performed onstage from Off-Broadway to regional theater and on film and TV, I also detoured into other fields over the years. 

Microphone training and a great deal of valuable voice experience was acquired as a radio presenter, and for a number of years I read Books for the Blind live on the air—great on-the-job training for audio book narration! I have also done many voice-overs and radio commercials for national and international markets.

Author note: How interesting that I live north of Worcester, MA...funny, these things. Also, that my editor at the Wild Rose Press is Scottish and from the Scottish isles and has the last name that was the descending clan name of my heroine, Deirdre. Small world indeed...I love life's little coincidences and overlaps.

Did you need special training to learn various accents?

I received a great grounding in elocution in high school and had training in college, but it really helps to have a good ear for accents and dialects. I listen to people’s speech all the time and file away interesting patterns and dialects in my mind for later use when I’m developing a written character’s “voice.” It’s a fascinating pastime.

What advice do you have for people interested in this type of career?

Audio book narration is so much more than just reading. Many of the best voice actors are also trained stage and/or film actors. It is acting with the voice and requires well-honed technical and performance skills and excellent cold-reading ability, as well as specialized equipment and the knowledge to use it.

I would recommend mastering the basics first: microphone technique, proper breathing, voice control (timbre, pacing, emotion, etc.), plus acting technique, character development and so forth. Narration is the long-distance marathon running of voiceover work so it also requires great breath control and voice stamina. Like an opera singer, a narrator’s voice is his/her instrument and it takes a lot of practice to play it well.

Then, to produce as well as narrate means also becoming proficient at the editing and mastering of computer sound files using proprietary software. In essence, becoming a sound engineer in addition to being a good voice actor! 

Finally, to record anywhere other than in a professional sound studio it is essential to invest in the best sound equipment you can afford. Being able to slowly upgrade to studio-quality equipment in order to record top-notch audio at home has been a game changer for my career.  A few years ago I had the amazing luck of finding an uber-expensive professional sound booth going for a song on Craig’s List (who knew?!) which improved the quality of my audio output a hundred-fold. And oh, what blissful working conditions compared to the hours I’d previously spent stuffed into a tiny, hot and airless foam-clad bedroom closet, affectionately known as my padded cell! 

Wow!

How many books have you narrated? 

I don’t know for sure but it must be scores! I started as an on-air reader and read many books live, so sadly they were not recorded for posterity.  I moved to digital recording in 2006 with a series of educational audio books. I was later hired by Disney to narrate an interactive version of “The Aristocats” and then a re-recording of the BBC classic, “Muzzy in Gondoland” which was heard by a NYC audio book producer who hired me as a studio narrator for online audio books. Now I narrate for Audible Studios, Harper Audio and Brilliance Audio as well as Indie publishers and authors such as you. I currently have 56 books available on Audible/Amazon/iTunes and a very full recording schedule. 

I feel grateful to be a busy, working actor in what is a VERY competitive and difficult business, and to have the ability to work from home—in my bedroom slippers, no less!

((as I also write this post from my desk while in pajamas and with coffee in hand...))

What are your hobbies and interests when you are not narrating?

I still perform onstage but when not learning lines I love to hunt for British antiques to buy and sell, and dabble in interior design. I enjoy gourmet cooking (and eating!) and entertain often. I play golf for exercise, although not very well, and rarely read for pleasure—a sad consequence of reading for a living!

Tell us something unique about you, an experience you've had, or a memorable place you've visited.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to have traveled all over the world, visiting every continent. I’ve listened to dozens of accents and dialects and wish I could master them all!

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Speed Round!

Favorite book(s)? The one I’m recording on any given day. 

Coffee, tea, or wine? Wine. Definitely, wine!

If you could live anywhere, where would it be? Right where I currently am, which is on top of a mountain in the foothills of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of SC. 

Your work area, messy, tidy, or somewhere in between? Very messy, except inside my sound booth which is pristine.

You have a time travel machine, do you go to the past or future? And where? To a stately home like Downton Abbey (but upstairs not belowstairs) in early 19th century England. 

To learn more about Ms. Ashford, stop by her website or Amazon.

Where can you find A Hundred Kisses?

Amazon Audible

Also available on iTunes.

Amazon Paperback/e-book

Also available as e-book from The Wild Rose Press, Google Play, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo.

If you enjoyed A Hundred Kisses in audio, print, or e-book format, be on the lookout for its prequel, A Hundred Breaths, to be released in the upcoming months!

Author Self-Care: taking the time for ourselves

Self-care. We all need it. We hear it all the time. We ALL need to take some time to recharge our batteries. For myself, summer is especially difficult to take some R&R. I am fried. Even though I bask in the sunshiny weather (a welcome break from our loooong winters), I still have a packed schedule while the kids are out of school. There are activities, vacations, travel, appointments/errands/house erupting in Lego bricks and paper, camps/sports, teaching and volunteer work...

...oh, and yes, less time to write. When you work at home, there is quite a bit of juggling in summer! Did I happen to mention that I just signed TWO new book contracts and I'm working on edits, and my audio book to A Hundred Kisses just released? 

 Yes, one of my gardens...again. If you read my blog regularly you'll see I am a wee bit obsessed with my flower gardens. I have many. And I purchased this sign at an apple festival/craft event last year. :)

Yes, one of my gardens...again. If you read my blog regularly you'll see I am a wee bit obsessed with my flower gardens. I have many. And I purchased this sign at an apple festival/craft event last year. :)

That plate is full! And I need to take some me time. I bounced the question off fellow The Wild Rose Press Authors. What do they do for self-care? Here's what they had to say:

My number one way to TRY to stay healthy is to stay hydrated and to get off my butt regularly. One inevitably leads to the other since drinking a glass of water every hour pretty much guarantees a trip to the bathroom in the next hour. Just that short walk down the hall loosens my limbs. -- Luanna Stewart

Mary Morgan's helpful bullet-point list:

  • Shut down all electronic devices (phone, laptops) by 7 p.m. It's too tempting to check social media and/or emails. Making this a firm rule has helped me tremendously. 
  • Exercise 5-6 days per week: Walking, Biking, or Yoga. It helps to stir the imagination, clear the cobwebs, and keep me limber. 
  • Make a 1-2 day retreat day each month to escape the work environment. When you work from home, there is no closing the door on your career. Mine surrounds me and I need a fresh perspective.
  • Working in my garden. Tending to my plants, herbs, and vegetables eases the tensions and helps to center me.
  • Sunday is a day of rest after one hour of line-edits from my current WIP. And I'm firm with the one hour. After I'm done, I'm lazy for the rest of the day.
  • Meditate every morning. It doesn't matter if it's five or twenty minutes, I honor each morning with a positive approach.

I heartily agree with all of those. Gardens are my zen place.

From Jennifer Wilck: Being an author is lonely and isolating. Make sure you have people to talk to and see, both writer and non-writer! Don’t sit all day. Go for a walk, switch rooms, take breaks. It’s good for your mind and your body. No one is perfect and everyone has to revise. Don’t judge yourself on your writing. Put the words down, pat yourself on the back for writing them in the first place, and THEN go back and edit. Set yourself small goals—like word count per day for example—instead of huge ones. That way you have an easier time of attaining your goal and the task isn’t as daunting.

Kerry Blaisdell says, "Like others, I take a physical break. But in my case, I also make sure it's a "tactile" one. Writing is so cerebral, and I'm a tactile person. So in the summer, I get out in my garden -- anything hands on. It's incredibly restorative, and nurturing for the plants as well as for me. I also cook what I've picked, which is another way to be creative while taking a brain break, moving around, and using all my senses. In winter, I also cook or bake, or even do "mindless" chores, like laundry. It's surprisingly satisfying for me, to handle all those clean clothes, organize them, and put them away. It can give me a sense of accomplishment, when I'm stuck on something in my story (or even at work, or in my personal life)."

Kathryn Knight teaches fitness classes: Step aerobics, Zumba, weight lifting, Pilates, and she finds it serves so many purposes: gets her away from the computer, keeps her active, and keeps her mind 100% off anything but instructing the class for an hour, which usually helps dislodge writer's block. She also gardens and listens to audio books. 

Claire Marti also teaches yoga and meditation classes. She states (and I concur!) that they are two invaluable tools to staying sane and healthy! She even has a FREE Yoga Break for Writer's Block class on YogaDownload.com that's only 13 minutes long and doesn't require a mat or stretchy pants or any experience. She also has a free meditation on the YogaDownload.com called Manifesting Seeds for Spring, but it's a great visualization for creativity any time of year.

I agree. We all need a break from the computer. I run. Just finished 12.5 miles. I have run with friends every Saturday morning for the last 30 years. And when I run alone, I dream up stories. It's whatever works for you. The yoga really sounds inviting! -- Cyndie Zahner

Mary Gillgannon recently went to a workshop on dealing with life stress and creative burnout at the PAN retreat of the RWA. She said it was a fascinating experience.

When I am up to my neck and feeling like I'm about to go under, I grab a water bottle, lace up my shoes and head to the mountains. Alone. My favorite summer spot is a ski resort with a lift that ferries me to the top and it's a beautiful, scenic, soul-soothing hike down. By the time I've descended, I'm ready to reengage with the world and my writing. -- Julie Howard

I see a trend here with getting OUTSIDE...sometimes it's a simple as getting outside with the dog:

C. Becker: I walk my dog; the time away lets me clear my head and refocus.

When looking at my computer screen makes me want to scream, I lace up my shoes and take 'Bitsy' my dog for a walk. There is a nature trail near here and being out in the 'green' really helps. Sometimes, depending on how hot it is, I turn on the TV and watch British TV shows... -- Kathy Scarborough

What about being social when we are home (many of us, alone with our computers and our thoughts)?

As an introvert, I have fairly modest needs in that area. Being around groups of people can be exhausting, in fact, even if I'm enjoying it. 
One thing I did like about working in an office was daily chatting with co-workers. Now that I'm retired, though, I'm quite content being at home...church on Sundays, casual chats with clerks at the supermarket and
when I take the dog for her multiple short walks every day, I often have the chance to casually greet other people and dogs out walking. So I have the sense of being surrounded by people without the draining experience of having to interact in-depth more than an introvert enjoys. Also, several times per year, we go downtown to listen to our favorite Irish singer, who performs in the upstairs lounge of a local restaurant almost every month. That's a pleasant evening among a small group of like-minded people. In addition, I go to at least two conventions every year. -- Margaret Carter

Here's what Margaret Ann Spence does to keep herself sane on the writing journey: 

* Buy flowers or pick them from the garden so I have something good to smell and look at while writing. A little luxury but it could be as simple as a vase of blossoms from your tree in spring or a glass of basil in summer.  
* Get up and stretch every hour. 
* Make a date for exercise. Take a walk with a friend or go to a class. Writing is one of the most sedentary jobs and your body will not thank you for your choice of career unless you take care of it over time. 
* Limit time on social media. Schedule it like everything else. 
* Find a supportive writers' group. 
 

Well, there you have it! Advice from a plethora of other Wild Rose Press authors on how to care for yourself while in the throes of writing. I see many trends in those responses.

I'd love to hear from you. What do you do for self-care?

Happy writing...and happy R&R,

Jean

--And by the way, my flower gardens are PEAK this month (ahhhhhh!)--

Exciting news...

When an author says "exciting news" it usually means a great thing...either we've found an agent, landed a publisher, or have signed a new contract. In my case, my fabulous news is that I just signed the contract for my next historical romance with The Wild Rose Press!

This latest novel takes place thirty-years before A Hundred Kisses, in 1263, and serves as a prequel (though each can be stand-alone novels). There will be much more coming from me over the next year...a back cover blurb, cover art (oh, I can't wait!), excerpt, and release date. Plus I'm working on a few more novels...

But for now a few teasers to hold you over.

First hint:

 Ahhhh Vikings...and Viking ships! Our trip last spring to see the  Draken Harald Harfagre  was misty and mystical in Mystic, CT. I asked lots of questions and stared in awe as I was in research mode. The kids got to "steer" at the steer board and we learned a lot about Viking (Norse) ships. The Draken impressed me to no end: 115-feet long, 26-feet wide, and built with 10,000 planks. Oh, and the hull was filled with rocks!

Ahhhh Vikings...and Viking ships! Our trip last spring to see the Draken Harald Harfagre was misty and mystical in Mystic, CT. I asked lots of questions and stared in awe as I was in research mode. The kids got to "steer" at the steer board and we learned a lot about Viking (Norse) ships. The Draken impressed me to no end: 115-feet long, 26-feet wide, and built with 10,000 planks. Oh, and the hull was filled with rocks!

Another hint...

 Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands. This was a beauty to visit! It is the seat of Clan MacKenzie (and Clan MacCoinneach from my novels).

Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands. This was a beauty to visit! It is the seat of Clan MacKenzie (and Clan MacCoinneach from my novels).

Hmm, here's one more:

 Dryburgh Abbey, Scotland, former home to the Premonstratensian order of canons/priests. Though now in ruins, the building and grounds were awe-inspiring  and eerie to visit.

Dryburgh Abbey, Scotland, former home to the Premonstratensian order of canons/priests. Though now in ruins, the building and grounds were awe-inspiring  and eerie to visit.

A summary of hints:

Norse warriors...

a final battle for Scotland...

the mystical powers of the Ancients of Uist...

a vengeful Scotsman and a merciful Healer...

and a journey to heal body and heart.

I really enjoyed writing this novel, especially my research into Viking/Norse culture and my continued journey of Scotland and medieval history.

I'll leave it at that for now. More to come soon! I'm very excited for this prequel to be released in the next year!

In the meantime, if you've not read the other book, hop over to Amazon! Like trilogies? Never fear...if all goes well, I am writing the sequel to A Hundred Kisses as well.

p.s. Like audio books? A Hundred Kisses will be released later this year via Amazon audible! Stay tuned!

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The Perks of Research: Mad River Valley, Vermont

Ah, I love research and travel. Among my suggested list of ways to research (books, library/online research, in-person resources/interviews, museums, etc.), my favorite is to actually go to the source...to touch, smell, and breathe it. Living only 3 hours away from my next book's locale (central Vermont, in the quiet, rustic, gorgeous Mad River Valley), means one thing...road trip! The hubs and I planned a getaway with the kids north for Memorial Day weekend so I could do some hands-on research. And take time off from our busy schedules.

 Getting ready to hike a 3.5-mile part of the 273-mile Long Trail (that runs North to South in Vermont) up to a warming hut in the Mad River Glen ski area with views of the valley and nearby mountains.

Getting ready to hike a 3.5-mile part of the 273-mile Long Trail (that runs North to South in Vermont) up to a warming hut in the Mad River Glen ski area with views of the valley and nearby mountains.

More familiar with the White Mountains in New Hampshire and the coastal towns and mountains of Maine, I now know why the Green Mountains are called such. Not only is Vermont a very "green" and environmentally-conscious state, it is in fact, quite green in late spring through summer. Granted, I'd visited Vermont once before to tackle a climb up Mt. Mansfield, but this time my goal was different: research. We planned a relaxing, low-expectations itinerary with plenty of down time. 

Our explorations included visits to the historical, small towns of Waitsfield, Warren, and Iraville, and a few others along the way. No visit to Vermont would have been complete without a tour of Ben and Jerry's and cheese tasting at Cabot Creamery (yum!). Rounding out our trip: a 20-ft cliff jump into a water hole (brrr...I took the pictures and kept my shoes dry!), long country drives, waterfalls, and a climb up Mt. Stark. Note the mud in the fourth picture below...Vermont is known for it's 5th season in early spring, "Mud Season," and we got to experience the tail end of it.

Our days were filled with overcast skies, some sun, and rain, but that's to be expected over Memorial Day weekend in New England. The Warren Lodge was a splendid find! The courteous staff provided us with s'mores fixings and we enjoyed nightly fires by the Mad River while our kids went for a dunk (with clothes fully on -- why not? -- and also with bathing suits later once they realized they had them). It was a lovely respite from the daily grind of school projects, chores, and work assignments (okay, okay, I did do some writing over the weekend!).

Vermont Signatures:

  1. Cows

  2. Covered bridges

  3. Green Mountains

  4. Farms, meadows, long drives

  5. Cheese, ice cream, chocolate

  6. Rivers and waterfalls

  7. Hikes or skiing

  8. Rustic small towns

How do you actually do the research?

Well...

1. No matter what you do, make sure you have fun. Take in the moments and cherish them.

2. Take lots of photos!

3. Chat it up with locals - ask questions about anything! There are always stories to be heard, or some interesting facts only locals know.

4. Get trail maps, brochures, road/park maps, etc.

5. Visit places off the beaten path.

6. Observe people in their everyday routines (parks, restaurants, etc).

7. Eat the local cuisine.

Well, that's all from here! Hope you enjoy the photos, and always remember to follow your heart and have fun while on this ride called life. And when researching, take it all in...and write detailed notes.