Sunday, September 8, 2013

Our Flight from the Devil's Own Home

Due to popular demand, I will be deviating from my regularly scheduled program of writing tips to share the story of my wonderfully disastrous flight from Page, Arizona, to Indianapolis.

After joining the Taylor family's annual trip to Lake Powell (which was wonderful!), my hubby Steve and I were scheduled to fly out of the Page, Arizona, airport. Pros: It's nice for a small area to actually have its own commercial airport. (Yes, West Lafayette, I am looking at you as I say this.) And there was no chance of us running late to catch this flight. Cons: Small airline I've never heard of, Great Lakes, and a connection in Denver to a major airline. I cannot stand switching airlines in the middle of a flight. But Steve had flown with Great Lakes once before and experienced no issues.

(Let it be known that I would still have preferred to ride with the family back to Salt Lake and fly out with my trusted Southwest Airlines. Only the risk of missing that flight, due to the long drive back, was enough to sway me.)

Steve and I arrived at the Page airport a couple hours early. I had never flown with such a small airline and didn't know what to expect. The airport was even smaller than I'd imagined, check-in took about a minute, and security wasn't even opened yet for us to go through. No problem--we both had lots of reading to do. And the relaxed feel to this airport was refreshing, compared to what you usually find in a typical major airport.

All was well until about twenty minutes before our flight was scheduled to leave. We still had not been asked to board our plane, there were no preparations evident to get this flight rolling, and we couldn't even see a plane on the runway. Steve asked the check-in crew what was going on, and they assured him that all was well and we'd be boarding soon.

1:17pm. Departure time. We were still in the waiting area. And I looked at the departure screen and saw the awful red letters noting that our flight had been cancelled.

We went again to the front desk to find out what is going on. The woman there told us that a pilot called in sick.

Seriously? Great Lakes does not have a better set-up than to cancel a flight because one person is down? Furthermore, this flight had two prior trips that day, all of which would have been cancelled due to a no-show pilot. They should have known about this hours ago.

I thought I saw on the departure screen a 3:00pm flight out of Page, and asked if they would move us onto it. And they would--expect that the flight didn't leave until the next day. They had cancelled the last flight of the day, and the only flight to Denver.

Yep, we were spending the night in Page.

After much monkeying around by the Great Lakes crew to get Frontier to give us a new connecting flight out of Denver, Steve and I were given a new itinerary and, fortunately, a hotel voucher and food vouchers for the night. We took the shuttle to the hotel, and were then left to navigate Page without a car. We found a restaurant that looked within walking distance, though our journey did include navigating a dry wash bed (and helping a drunk woman cross said wash).

After much more walking (a mile longer than we had anticipated--thanks, inaccurate GPS) we reached the restaurant . . . only to find it was closed. By this point, I was too thirsty to care about anything but water, so we stopped at the first restaurant we came to and have a surprisingly good meal, then lounged about our hotel room waiting for our flight the next afternoon.

That first night had very much a laugh-along-with-it feel. I even wrote on my Facebook wall, "Life is beautiful."

But I was still impatient to get home.

Facebook post the next morning: "I really hope we make it back to Indiana tonight. All our clothes are filthy, my cat is apparently throwing tantrums because we've been away for so long . . . and I kind of need to get back to work. Be healthy today, pilot! Don't call in sick again." 

The shuttle driver returned to take us to the airport, mentioning along the way the numerous struggles this airline has had recently to stick to their flight schedules. "It seems at least twice a week I ferry people to hotels because their flights were cancelled. When you fly Great Lakes, plan to add an extra day or two to your vacation." 


"Where is your destination today, anyway?" The driver asked. 

"Indianapolis. We hope," I said. 

As we checked in at the airport, Steve and I were told that our flight was running about 25 minutes late. "But you'll still be able to make your connecting flight," the clerk reassured us. 

Facebook post: "Oh my gosh . . . our rescheduled flight out of Page is already delayed. If I am not in Indiana tonight, in my own bed . . . I might just cry here in the airport in front of everybody." 

Famous last words . . . on both our parts. 

Thirty minutes after our scheduled departure time, our plane finally showed up. The passengers for our flight--all 19 of us--were ushered through security, then made to wait in a tiny room. And wait. And wait.  My already riled nerves were grated by a quartet of sorority girls who shrieked with laughter at everything they said and congratulated one another on the opportunity to use the restroom before boarding the plane. (I am not kidding.)

I turned to Steve. "I'm worried we're not going to make our connecting flight. We were supposed to leave 45 minutes ago."I alternated looks of vehemence between the crew wandering about and the sorority girls shrieking on.

At last our carry-ons were gate checked, and we were allowed onto the tarmac to board the plane. It was one of those tube of toothpaste models, with only one seat along each side. And we were short a seat. One poor man was left standing in the aisle, while the crew was as perplexed as if he'd dropped from the sky. 

Their resolution: Announcing to the passengers that someone must to get off the plane. 

No. Nope. Nope. No. Many people on this flight were already delayed from the day before, and nearly everyone was trying to make a connecting flight. No one budged. Finally, the crew kicked off a stewardess who was trying to get to Denver for her flight. 

We waited on board some more. The plane was ridiculously hot. There was no air conditioning running. 

A crew member stepped on board again. "We are 24 pounds overweight in the back. Someone needs to leave their bag behind. We'll have it expedited to Denver." 

By expedited, she meant the next day. Because that was when the next flight to Denver was scheduled. 

"If someone doesn't volunteer their bag, I'll just remove the last one checked in," she threatened with a smile. 

Have you ever loaded a plane before? I wanted to shout. All of the crew members on this plane were young--the youngest I've ever seen working a plane. Which is fine--except that I was coming away with the distinct vibe of "the neighborhood kids decided to open an airline."

One man--a veritable saint--finally agreed to have his bag removed and disappeared off the plane to identify it. 

Then, the pilot came aboard with my bag. "Whose is this?" 

"Mine! And it is staying on this plane. I will carry it on my lap if I have to." Which I know is against airline regulations. But unless they expedited that bag to the Purdue airport (not Denver, and not Indianapolis), I was not leaving it behind. 

"We'll just put it here, then." And the pilot stuffed it in the closet with the crew's bags. 

"When is this flight going to land?" A guy in the seat behind me asked. "I have a connecting flight at 7:30." 

And Steve and I had one at 7:00.

"It's a two hour flight," the pilot said. "We should be landing in Denver around 7:05." 

All I could do was just look at Steve. And cry silently, those tears that leak from my eyes while I rubbed at them furiously, because I can't stand anyone seeing me cry. 

At last we took off. At last, when we were flying, the air conditioning came on and sweat stopped tricking down my face and neck. But there was no stewardess and no water given to the passengers, and when the turbulence makes me sick, I swallowed another ginger pill dry. I tried to distract myself by reading Code Name Verity, whose characters have a much worse life than I ever will. 

The plane touched down in Denver. One woman hopped to her feet, saying she has to get off now, that she has 30 minutes to check into her connecting flight. 

"Our flight is leaving right now," I mention to another woman in front of me. She let Steve and I get off before her. 

We gathered our bags and ran through the airport, searching the departure screens for our flight gate. But it was no longer listed. And there were no other flights to Indianapolis posted. 

In the Customer Service line, I looked to Steve and say, "We're not making it home tonight, either." And I leaked a few more silent tears. 

"If someone asked me what is the worst thing I could have expected to happen on our flight back," Steve said. "This is even worse! I defy anyone to come up with a worse flight experience." 

My tears came to an abrupt end when I saw a woman ahead of us in the line, screaming at the service rep about how she had to have a flight home that night, she wasn't going to lose her job and her daughter wasn't going to get kicked out of school over a flight delay, and no, she couldn't buy a different ticket, she didn't have the money. While over and over, the rep explained that there were no more flights available that night to her hometown. 

And I felt bad for the woman and her circumstances that pushed her to so much anxiety, but I also saw that, no matter what your circumstances, it always pays off to at least be civil to the people who are in a position to help. This woman ended up storming off without a resolution to her problem, and how she got back home, I'll never know. 

But I resolved that I could be patient and composed when it was our turn at the counter. Which was good, because our rep admitting that she couldn't get us back to Indianapolis until the next afternoon. 

Whatever. By this point, I just wanted someone to promise that they could get us home. 

Back at the Great Lakes desk, I asked for another hotel voucher and briefly explained our circumstances to the clerk. "I am very frustrated. This is the second night in a row this has happened. It would have been quicker for us to drive back." 

"I hear that every day," the clerk admitted. 

So all of you have now been warned. 

Facebook post: "Guys, it happened. We are stuck in blinking Denver for the evening. Two days to get from Page to Indianapolis. You'd think we were trying to fly to the Moon." 

Our hotel had a shuttle that was supposed to pick us up from the airport. Steve called and got instructions on exactly where we needed to stand. At the location, we waited, and waited, and waited. Twenty minutes later, Steve called them again. 

"You missed the shuttle," the concierge said. "We'll have to send another." 

"There is no way we missed it!" I said to Steve. "We are exactly where they told us to be." 

At that moment, the shuttle zips by--without so much as slowing down. 

"That's it!" I shrieked. And we charged for the shuttle, our rolling bags in tow. The thing didn't stop until Steve caught up to it and banged on the window. We hurled our bags inside and clambered into the back seat. 

A man in the seat in front of us turned around. "I'm really sorry. We told the driver someone was running, and he handed me a tissue." 

Steve was missing one of his sandals. "What happened to it?" I asked.

"It fell off while I was running," he said. And we just started laughing, because at this point there wasn't much more we could do. 

The woman in the seat in front of us asked the driver, "What time in the morning does the shuttle leave for the airport?" 

"Three a.m.," the driver said. 

"Then why are we getting a hotel room?" Steve asked. 

"That's probably just the time it starts leaving for the airport," I said. "We can ask the concierge when we get there." 

At the hotel, the concierge looked at our voucher. "Were there a lot of people delayed on your flight? I've already checked in one person from this airline." 

"And you might be checking in a few others," I told her. And I had to ask for some toothpaste, because, well . . . we were out of pretty much everything. 

I woke up a few hours later in a night terror, certain we wouldn't get home the next night. Then I was kept awake by acid reflux running up and down my throat--I'd ran out of my prescription medicine two days before. I'd almost brought some extra  when I was packing, but then told myself I was being paranoid, that I'd never had a flight delay that lasted more than a few hours. As soon as the hotel breakfast was opened I was at the counter, looking for some oatmeal to absorb the acid. When I poured milk into a cup, there was a round blue spot floating near the surface. 

"What is this, a blueberry?" My spoon brought out a dead fly. 

At that moment, a fire truck and ambulance with their lights flashing pull up to the door. "Someone else drank the milk!" I thought. But the paramedics hauled away a guy sitting in the lobby--don't know what was going on with him. 

I felt like moaning, as one of my brothers once did as a toddler at the end of a long road trip, "I wanna go home!"

Back at the Denver airport, once we where through security (longest lines I've ever seen, except for the DC airport), Steve and I searched for a departure screen to verify our flight gate. And wouldn't you know it, the one screen that had our flight information was down. 

"Where do we go?" Steve asked. 

"Our tickets from yesterday say Terminal A," I said. "Let's just take the train there and hope our gate hasn't been changed very far." 

And it hadn't--turned out we were just moved four gates down. The sight of the lit-up sign saying Indianapolis was one of the most beautiful things I'd seen that week. But I wasn't ready to call anything good until we were actually in the air, on the way to Indianapolis--or, for that matter, on the ground in Indy, waiting for our ride home. 

Fortunately, this time I was not disappointed. 

Returning home has never been so sweet. And I don't feel like flying again anytime soon. Though I think (hope) that we've met our bad luck with flying quota for quite some time. 

Or are those some more "famous last words"?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Query Letter Writing: There are No Rules (But Some Good Advice)

Although my book is nowhere near ready to send out to agents, I plan to write a query letter very soon. Based on my experiences last fall, putting together a query letter seems to be an excellent way to revise a book's large-scale issues. Do I have my themes lined up? Does my plot move forward with enough clarity that it can be summarized in a few sentences? Are my characters interesting enough to snare attention? Are the stakes high enough to be meaningful to anyone besides me?

No wonder after writing a few drafts of query letters last fall, I found a number of element in my story that needed rewriting.

Now the kicker: Last fall, I spent hours and hours researching online how to write query letters. I researched query letters in the indispensable Guide to Literary Agents. I studied Query Shark and other blogs with letters that had secured for their writers agents and, ultimately, publication.

No Rules! Complete literary anarchy! Oh, what to do?
And I learned something frustrating: There is absolutely no science to writing query letters. Just as there is no science to writing the books we have devoted ourselves to.

In my research, I found so many opinions on what goes into a query letter--as well as the order. There were absolute Musts. There were absolute Must Nots.

And yet something different worked for everybody--even those whose query letters led to publication. Especially those whose query letters led to publication. Some put their mini-synopsis first. Some put their author bio and credentials first. Some address the agent directly, mentioning a time they'd crossed paths, or specific reason why that agent was suited to representing the work. Others did not have any direct address to the agent at all. Some even committed Must Nots, such as pitching another book in the same letter. Or writing the letter in the voice of a character. Or mentioning that this was a first novel.

And yet the letters still somehow worked for those writers--and their new agent partners.

This field's blessing--and curse--is its objectivity. Getting published depends on more than simply writing the "correct" query letter. If there was a checklist of absolutes, everyone (well, most everyone) would be published. It's not even just about writing the query letter well. There's more to be said about matching your book--and your query--to the right agent, than I think most of us realize or want to admit.

But there is some help out there!

For me, the most solid piece of advice that I have received regarding query writing has been to write your book summary as it would appear on the back cover. Describe your book in a way that would keep it in a potential reader's hands, instead of being placed back on the shelf. (The upside of this advice is that there are so many examples to look at. Think about your favorite books: What intrigued you about them so much, that you brought them home with you?)

The other tip that has stuck with me comes courtesy of agent Jill Corcoran, when she caught me on the fly at a conference (when I was just 8 pages into writing my book): What is your story about?

If you can't answer that in one sentence, you have some more work to do.

Here's to all of us and our desperate need to tell stories--a need that keeps us writing late and chases us out of bed early.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Writing Tips: Start on the Day that's Different

In Lin Oliver's list of writing tips, number three comes from Susan Patron: Start on the Day that's Different.

What throws your characters' worlds out of whack? What pushes them out of their comfort zones, makes them ask questions about their world, their lives--even themselves? What makes them take action . . . and what stirs even more conflict into their increasingly troubled world?

Bilbo's story in The Hobbit begins when Gandalf unceremonious recruits him for an adventure--something Bilbo was not particularly seeking or hoping for. (This, of course, after a baker's dozen of dwarves crash his home, eat all his food, and admit that he may not return from his adventure, but they will arrange for his funeral appropriately, if necessary.)

Seraphina's story, in the eponymous book by Rachel Hartman, begins the day she defies her father's order to never play a musical instrument in public--and thus reveal her musical talents to their society. (Furthermore, she playing at a funeral, for a prince who was mysteriously and violently killed on a hunting trip.)

Verity, in Elizabeth Wein's novel Code Name Verity, begins her story the day she agrees to trade radio code, along with her story, to her Gestapo interrogators, in exchange for having her clothes back, as well as a chance to write.

Begin on the day that is different. What drives your character to make a choice and select a path to follow? What changes become so compelling, that your readers have no choice themselves but to follow your character and see what happens next?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Writing Tips: Follow Your Weirdness

Way back at the beginning of the summer, I said I would blog about each one of Lin Oliver's fifteen (really seventeen) writing tips that she shared at the SCBWI Wild, Wild Midwest conference. This is still the plan. I am a woman of my word.

Tip #2 hails from Bruce Coville: "Follow Your Weirdness." Whatever it is, find it your niche, your personal insights, viewpoints, and creative threads, and follow them wherever they may lead you.

This newest book I'm working on takes a definite dive into some different territory. Last December, I got the notion: What if my dragon wasn't really a dragon? What if he was a nature spirit in disguise? And what if he wasn't alone?

So I set to work researching elemental spirits and pairing mythological creatures with them (including many off-the-beaten path creatures).

Realizing that my interest in anime and manga was influencing this world I was designing, I embraced that foundation, and also researched Japanese mythology and the very nature-based Shinto religion. My intention here wasn't necessarily to cut and paste Shinto traditions into the cultural world of my book, but rather to learn more about the mindsets of people who live in such a world, as well as the perspectives they would have and the kinds of questions and concerns they would carry.
Some of my favorite animes & mangas include Mushishi
and Natsume's Book of Friends (Natsume Yuujinchou)

But mostly, it was just tremendously fun to consider a world that was so different from what I know in my life.

Back at the SCWBI Midwest conference, I was enthusiastically explaining my book's world to another attendee. After my description, she looked at me and said, "Now, do you believe in this nature world, or is this just a story to you?"

"Ehhhh?" I wanted to respond (in the vein of some manga characters I know).

I believe in this world as much as any author does in order to bring his/her book to life. If there is no passion demonstrated for that story world--whether it is a real-life setting, historical, or fantasy--then the story is nothing more than a bunch of ink smeared on a page. Do I literally believe that these nature spirits walk around the world and that I can see them from my apartment window? No. (Though I wish I could.)

As it turned out, this woman was taking alarm at what seemed to be my embracing of Eastern religion over Western. (At which I though: Hey, if I do, be respectful. And props to me, either way, if I was describing my book's world with enough detail and enthusiasm that it came off as my "real belief.")

So . . . my story is off the beaten path. So . . . the society I depict is different enough that it may cause some parents alarm for young readers. (It seems that most books worth reading have caused ire for parents for one reason or another.)

I embrace my weirdness as I write this story that can re-energize me at the end of the most draining days. Embrace your weirdness, too, and we'll all have a bit more to learn from each other every time we read.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How I Spent my Summer Vacation: Writing 1000 Words a Day

So I'm a "grown-up" now, with a full-time desk job, and sadly do not receive a weeks-long summer break anymore. (Oh, how I miss those days!) But at the very start of this summer, way back in the beginning of May, I made a goal for myself that I would have a draft of my new book completed by the end of summer (or the beginning of August, when the hubby and I actually do leave for a bit of summer vacation).

To accomplish this feat, I made a goal that I would write at least 1,000 words every single day on my book--and at least 1,500 on Saturdays, if the day wasn't completely booked with other activities.

I felt confident in this goal, knowing it is a number that many other aspiring writers (and even full-time authors) aim for. When I would tell other non-writers about it, they were aghast: "One thousand words a day is so many! How do you do it?"

Discipline. Aside from my hubby and the day job, I made writing my number one priority. I completed my writing goal for the day before I let myself get carried away in whatever book I was reading. I completed my writing goal for the day before I practiced my violin. I completed my writing goal instead of watching movies. I completed my writing goal instead of goofing around on the internet.

Sometimes, the writing worked like magic. I could come home from the day job, completely exhausted and in bad spirits, write my thousand words, and suddenly my energy was back and all was right with the world. Other times the words came slowly or badly, and I'd have to fight to get each one down on the page. Or I'd be so tired and just want to nap and have to push myself to keep typing until my manuscript was at least 1,000 words longer.

And with the exception of a few days in the beginning of May, when I was still learning the ropes of my goal, I achieved it every single day this summer. Often, I even exceeded it. Making and sticking to a daily word goal has been one of the most beneficial things I have done for my writing. By writing consistently, every single day, I kept myself in the story and never had to waste time figuring out where I'd been and where I was going. My keeping my writing skills primed, the words flowed from my mind to the computer so much more smoothly. The notion of a thousand words daunted non-writers, but it became a very achievable goal for me.

And though my story ended up taking more words to tell than I'd anticipated, I actually finished the manuscript two weeks ahead of schedule! Hurrah for writing! Looking forward to editing this guy in a few weeks.

Now I just need to figure out how to manage book writing and blogging at the same time .  . . :/

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Writing Tips: Write the Book You Want to Read

At last week's Wild, Wild Midwest conference, SCBWI co-founder Lin Oliver presented us with 15 (actually 17) tips to improve our writing. Some of these points were her own observations; others she had borrowed from other writers. I thought I would borrow them again for string of delicious blog posts and add a bit of my own wisdom and insights [insert grin and\or eye roll here] to the fray.

Tip #1 hails from Judy Blume: "Write the kind of book you like to read."

What is missing for you on library or bookstore shelves? What have you not been able to find in recently published stories? Think of your favorite genre--what hasn't been done yet? Find those answers, and then fill in those gaps. Because unless you are truly strange (and we'll talk about that next time), there are likely a number of other readers feeling the same void. And as writers, we have the ability to do something about those empty spaces and untapped needs.

For me: I like young adult fantasy. I have since I was a teenager and I still like it now that I am . . . not a teenager. I love high fantasy (though I'm less crazy about the prophesy aspect too often deployed in fantasy stories. That is guaranteed to make my eyes roll). I'm enjoying steam punk more and more. I like dragons and other mythological creatures. I love stories based on folktales and I like fractured fairytales. Looking at a story from a different angle--especially a "well-known" tale--has always been exciting for me.

Here's what I don't like: Love triangles (you bet that's first on the list). Other romantic drama. Paranormal. Characters who are killed and then magically and conveniently brought back to life. And when the villain does a gut dump at the end of the story and (also conveniently) tells the hero exactly how he/she did everything to bring about the evil plan.

Here's what is missing: I want to see more YA stories with less romantic drama. Yes, budding romance is a big part of teen life. But does it have to happen every freaking time a good-looking male or female enters the scene? I want to see more books with guys and girls who are friends, and are comfortable being friends, and then, if it's right for them, grow to a deeper relationship. Preferably one without all the agonizing angst and drama of "Does he love me? Or doesn't he? Or . . . does he love that other girl?"

I would like to see more stories with proactive female protagonists who are confident in themselves and make a difference in their lives and in the story around them, without having to pick up a weapon. More and more books are being published that feature female protagonists, but so many of them revolve around girls who contribute to the story as fighters. In fantasy, does the message have to be, "Girls as just as capable of leading a story as boys, because girls, too, can wield swords and shoot arrows and kill someone in the middle of the night?"

I'm not saying I dislike every one of these stories. It is fun to read them, and it is gratifying to see girls breaking through barriers in their world (and in our own) and proving that they are so much more than a pretty face to be saved at the first sign of danger. Because girls are fierce fighters and will defend the people important to them. But I'd like to see more stories where girls' strengths are demonstrated by skills other than martial combat.

And I'd like to see less stories laden with girls who melt into quivering puddle every time an attractive young man steps in to the room.

What is missing for you in the books you've been reading?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Sam's Book Bag: A Natural History of Dragons

Today I finished Marie Brennan's A Natural History of Dragons. This interesting book came to my attention via a Twitter post/blog article by Word for Teens. Initially, I thought this was an encyclopedia-type book filled with information about dragons. It seemed the perfect resource for my own writing endeavors, so I popped it onto my Amazon wish list and received it for a birthday gift.

The book is NOT, however, an encyclopedia by any means (as the subtitle rather obviously points out. In my defense, I didn't pick up on it during my quick reading of the blog). Rather, the story is a mock-memoir of the fictional Lady Trent, or Isabella Camherst, a natural historian who broke gender-barriers in her time (a very Victorian-esque setup) by becoming a dragon scholar in her own right. This book--perhaps the first in a series?--charts the beginning of her career, detailing her childhood interest in dragons and moving through her first expedition to study dragons in the wild. 

I was surprised at the contents, but happily not disappointed. Isabella's voice is astute and engaging. She could be your grandmother telling stories of her youthful escapades.
One of the many drawings in the book

I do feel the title of the book, however, could have been more aptly chosen. Granted, it does reflect the title of the text book that sparked Isabella's interest in dragons. But a quick peek at other reviews shows I wasn't the only one who came to the book with incorrect expectations. Others, for instance, complained that they expected an art book and were disappointed to find a novel. (Incidentally, the book does include a handful of very detailed and beautiful drawings that illustrate the creatures Isabella encounters. But this is by no means an art book, or a history of anyone other than Isabella Camherst.)

And, clever allusions aside, even those who know the book is a novel could be turned away because of the incredibly dry title. (Personal example: I'm having a hard time convincing my husband, who loves dragon stories, to read the book. No matter what I tell him, he won't believe the book has a plot.) 

Disclaimer: This criticism comes from a writer with little skill in titling her own stories. But I do feel I know an exciting title when I see one. And I know that a bad title can mar the success of a story. I hate to see it happen when the story behind it is good. 

Should you read the book? I'd say so, especially if you enjoy historical fiction. Even those who typically don't like fantasy may find this book enjoyable, since the story involves no magic, vampires, werewolves, wizards, fallen angels, curses, prophesies . . .  you get the idea. 

And lest you think this book still has no story to it, just pretend the front cover readers The Rock-Wyrm and the Firestone, or . . . well, I'll just stop while I'm ahead.