And Now, For a Brief Intermission

It’s hard for me to believe it’s been 20 months (almost to the day, coincidentally) since I started the blog. I’ve taken it seriously and I think it’s done wonders both for my writing itself and my mental state while trying to find my footing as a struggling author. The friends I’ve made and support I’ve gotten from WordPress and beyond has far exceeded my naive expectations when I sat dumbly in front of my computer in February 2013. That being said, it’s time for a wee little break.

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It’s nothing serious, no big departure, just a little break. And believe me when I say, it’s not you, it’s me.

See, here’s what happened: when I started the blog, I was still figuring out what I was trying to do with my writing (something I’m still trying to figure out, but that’s beside the point). Even though I’d finished a novella and thought (god help me, I really did) I was ready to try and get it published or self-publish, I still had no real idea what I was doing. I was like the monkey they say you could sit in front of a keyboard and eventually it would write Shakespeare—except instead of Shakespeare it was a mediocre-to-poor kidnap/torture thriller.

But I really wanted to get after it and make things happen, and so I forced myself to jump in with both feet and start blogging. As I did so, I realized how far behind I really was. I was nowhere near ready to publish anything but blog posts, and I decided the best thing to do was stick to a strict schedule and keep at it. I’ve tried my best to crank out at least one post a week and, with a few exceptions, I’ve done a pretty good job of doing just that. I was using the blog as a crutch to hold me up and keep me writing while I tried to hone my skills and strengthen my story-telling muscles. There were ebbs and flows, but I kept at it.

Then I hit a patch a couple months ago where I felt dead in the water. I had drafts of short stories that I didn’t know how to finish, and longer projects that I couldn’t wrap my head around. I finally decided on a project to make the first novel and went to it, writing about 16k words before the new job and life caused me to stall out a little bit—then I got stuck again.

I went into the comments on one of Chuck Wendig’s posts and whined about how I felt stuck and couldn’t seem to make myself put words on the page. I received a comment back from author Kay Camden (link to her awesome website). It was simple, succinct, and to the point:

“Stop thinking. Start writing. Open the vomit hatch. Let it out.” (NOTE: DO NOT GOOGLE THE PHRASE “VOMIT HATCH.”)

That might not sound like much, but it was exactly what I needed to hear when I needed to hear it (sidenote: what is it about vomit as a metaphor for writing? it’s so oddly fitting). I said to myself, You know what? She’s right. What the hell are you waiting for? And so I kicked myself in the ass and started typing. In the two months that followed, I proceeded to knock out about 50k words and finish the rough draft. Not exactly the Tasmanian Devil behind the keyboard, but as productive a stretch as I’ve ever had.

And the best part? It’s hasn’t really let up. I wanted to let the story breathe a little before I jumped into edits and rewrites, so I turned to three unfinished short stories and have made tremendous progress with those, finishing two and hopefully wrapping up the third in the next few days. By next week I should be ready to tackle the second draft of the novel.

My late friend Mike (RIP, buddy) once compared writing to having a fever (there it is again—writing as a kind of sickness), where you’re consumed by this need, this compulsion to get the stories out of your head and onto the page. I never really felt that way. I mean, I have stories to tell and all that, but I could go a day without writing and be just fine. Two days, even. Hell, a week. But once I opened the vomit hatch I haven’t been able to close it completely since. Every spare minute I have I want to be writing, rewriting, or editing, or it’s time wasted. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch my  TV shows and movies; I still read my books. But you know what I mean.

I have Vomit Hatch Fever.

All of which brings me back to this dear, sweet blog o’mine. There have been more than one occasion in the last year and eight months where I felt like I had run out of things to write about, and I would manage to pull a post out of thin air and make my self-imposed weekly deadline. Lately it feels like all I’ve been writing are book reviews, and to be honest I’m bored with that. Couple that with the fact that November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), when many writers (and bloggers) are strapped to a chair with a coffee IV and a catheter (possible slight exaggeration) trying to meet the challenge of writing 50k words by the end of the month, and it just seemed like a natural time to take a little break so I can focus solely on writing and recharge the blogging batteries.

So this will be my last post for a while, probably until the beginning of December. I’m going spend November knee deep in semicolons and em-dashes, with piles of unnecessary commas littered about like punctuation shrapnel in the Great Writing War. Whenever I think of something that would be a good idea for the blog I’m going to jot it down so I have things to write about when I come back, and I have a feeling the site is due for a bit of a facelift, so things may look a little different when you visit next.

Any of you that want to keep in touch outside of WordPress and haven’t done so already, feel free to send me a friend request on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

I hope to come back revitalized and full of great posts. My biggest fear? That you wonderful readers will find another insecure, socially awkward writer to follow in my absence, and when I confront you about it, sitting in the glow of your screen reading that other person’s blog, you cry out defensively:

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5 Things I’ve Learned After a Year of Blogging

This is slightly premature, but let’s go with it: late February marks my one year anniversary here on the blog (blogiversary?). Yessiree, it’s been a whole 12 months since I started this thing…my, how things have changed. What have I learned in the past year? Let’s take a look back…The Books of Jobe, this is your life!

1. I was a naive, ignorant turd to think I was ready to try and publish a book.

That sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true. I started the blog because I was finishing up a novella that I was considering either submitting to publishers or self publishing via Amazon. As I delved into the blogosphere I realized a couple of things: There were a lot of other aspiring writers out there with excellent blogs of their own, and I was nowhere near ready to publish anything (although I did submit my novella once before coming to my senses). Reading the blogs of fellow writers showed me how far I really had to go to become a writer of any real quality.

2. I had no idea how far-reaching my blog could be.

As I reviewed my stats, I was not entirely surprised to see people from Canada and the UK popping up. Then I saw India, Australia, and Denmark. Wow, this blogging thing is more popular than I thought. Then came countries like Pakistan, Tanzania, Israel, and Budapest. Really? I’m still floored by how many different countries are listed in my site stats. Granted, a lot of them are just 1 view, but still, I had no clue as to the global reach of WordPress.

3. People are freakin’ creepy.

I had read other bloggers’ stories. I knew the freaks were out there. For anyone reading not familiar with how WordPress works, it will show you how many people were referred to your blog from search engines and, in some cases, what specific search terms they entered. There are true horror stories out there about what types of perverted things people typed into Google to wind up where they did. My cringe-inducing winner? Someone found my blog by searching for the term “daddy watching jailbait daughter masturbate.” All together now—*shudder* As a side note, my site came up on that search because of the post I wrote about creepy song lyrics. NO OTHER REASON.

4. I could apparently have the most popular blog of all time if I devoted more posts to this bug.

Last April, I was at the beginning of the A to Z blogging challenge. I was on the letter B and decided to devote a post to the godforsaken bugs that feast on the seeds of the golden rain tree in our front yard. Aside from the post I wrote that WordPress promoted as Freshly Pressed, that post about bugs is far and away my most viewed post. I mean, seriously—by a mile. It’s not even funny. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t have at least one view on that post or some combination of the words ‘golden rain tree bug’ in the search terms. If I was more ambitious I suppose I I could consider starting another blog devoted to the little bugger, but I’ve got more than enough on my plate as it is.

5. I needed this blog more than I thought.

I started the blog thinking it was basically some sort of publicity tool and nothing more. I didn’t know anyone who had a blog, and although I heard the word all over the place, I associated blogs more with things like Perez Hilton and Gossip Girl. I had no clue what awaited me once I went down the rabbit hole.

Although I haven’t met any of my WordPress friends in person, I wouldn’t hesitate to call a good number of you friends. I’ve friended or been friended by a few of you on Facebook (which, coincidentally, all of you are free to do—don’t worry, I don’t post much), connected on Twitter, even one LinkedIn connection that I still don’t know what to do with. The point is, a year ago none of those relationships existed. And while I assume some of these connections may help me sell some books whenever I’m ready to publish (be it traditional or indie), I see now that’s not the real point. The point is support and encouragement while I work to make my writing better and get myself published, because if any of you out there haven’t heard, writing is hard goddamn work. I honestly don’t know if I could’ve stuck with it if I was still doing it alone.

Thanks for reading, everybody.

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Best of 2013 – Blogs I Follow

It’s December, that time of year when everyone and their brother doles out their Top Ten and Year’s Best lists. And since I, on occasion, lack any shred of creativity and originality, I wanted to do a Top Ten/Year’s Best list of my own.

That’s when I ran into a problem.

I boldly and with much confidence declare myself a “Pop Culture Lover” right there in the header of my blog, so I thought sure, this’ll be easy. Books, movies, TV, yeah, let’s do this. Wrong. I realized I’ve only read one book released in 2013, and have seen maybe a handful of movies released this year. The only subject I’d be halfway qualified to talk about in terms of the year’s best is TV, and I really don’t feel like doing that (although, since I can’t help the narcissistic notion that my opinion actually matters, I will say that my two favorite new shows of 2013 were Hannibal and Brooklyn Nine Nine).

So…I thought. What on earth could I possibly discuss with any kind of authority in terms of the year’s best? Then it dawned on me. I follow just shy of a gazillion blogs on WordPress (okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration – more like 109), and it never ceases to amaze me how good they all are.

That settled it – I would pick my favorite blog posts of 2013. I will say now I’m sure I’m forgetting some, so if anyone out there is hurt or offended that their blog isn’t listed below just know that I’m not perfect, this steel trap of a brain is not completely infallible and I apologize.

Greg’s China – Guts and Bai Jiu (October 18)

Greg is a Brit living in China as a Mandarin translator, and before that he taught English there. He relays his experiences on this very entertaining blog, which I will definitely refer to should I ever find myself visiting the country. He’s shared the terrifying experience of riding in taxis, the way people try to take advantage of him when they think he doesn’t understand the language, and how people ignore him while simultaneously giving him a compliment.

In Guts and Bai Jiu, Greg explains how over his time in China he’s learned some extremely valuable survival skills – how to avoid unknowingly ordering food with organs in it, and avoiding the paint thinner-like alcoholic drink Bai Jiu, which according to Greg can leave a normal man crying in the fetal position between bouts of projectile vomiting.

He learned to identify the character mostly associated with organ meat on menus, and devised two clever methods for avoiding the nasty shots of what he describes as tasting like a “burnt, worn sock.” Click the link to read the desperate measures he went to, and follow his blog!

Darius Jones – Talk With a Young Writer (October 25)

Darius is a cool guy. He’s already self-published two books (available here and here), which is a feat worthy of admiration in and of itself. Add to that he’s done this on top of his full-time job, traveling, and having an otherwise full and well-rounded life, and the fact that he finds time to write fiction leaves me flabbergasted. I bitch that I don’t have time to write as I sit playing games on my iPad, and this dude’s getting shit done. I have a lot of respect for the guy.

In Talk With a Young Writer, Darius is asked to speak to a young budding writer – the son of a friend. Being a professional writer (in a technical capacity) already, there was a lot of advice Darius could offer. After speaking with the young man, however, Darius comes to a surprising realization that perhaps the talk did him as much good as it did the budding writer. I really loved this post.

The Surfing Pizza – Ocean (November 11)

The Surfing Pizza is a fun blog most of the time. A writer who devotes his blog mostly to the toys of his youth, proudly posting any new purchases from garage sales, the blog took an unexpectedly serious turn in late October.

During his annual build up/countdown to Halloween (which it seems is The Surfing Pizza’s favorite holiday by a mile), his mother fell gravely ill. Sadly, she passed away after some time in the hospital. Pizza continued to blog occasionally, and I could feel his pain through the computer. Without knowing all the details, it’s fair to say he did not it coming and was completely and utterly shocked by her passing. As someone who also lost his mother suddenly and at a young age, I could certainly relate.

Ocean is basically one man’s grief on the page. It’s his hurt and pain at the loss of his mother, but his fond memories that will last long after the pain is gone. I look forward to The Surfing Pizza blogging about his latest ’80s toy purchase again, but in the meantime I’ll read whatever he feels like publishing.

I hope it doesn’t seem too odd to “celebrate” this post as one of the year’s best. This post was not that long ago and what this guy is feeling is still very raw; I’m sure he really couldn’t give a crap who likes it. I just really connected with it and thought it was something special.

Hooray for Movies!! – Deja Vu (2006) – Time Travel Twoddle…Time Twoddle? (August 21)

Movie review blogs are a dime a dozen on WordPress. Good movie review blogs, however, are still quite rare. It takes more than simply having an opinion about a movie to make someone qualified to actually review them. Hooray for Movies!! is the cream of the crop.

In my opinion, reviewing a good movie is easier than reviewing a bad movie. It’s easy to recognize when things are done well, and easy to sing the praises of a well-written, well-acted, and expertly directed film. Identifying why a movie absolutely blows, however, takes more skill. Fortunately for us, Dylan at HFM has it down to a science.

Deja Vu is a Denzel Washington vehicle about an ATF agent who travels back in time to try and stop a murder. I’ll admit I have not seen the film, and after reading Time Travel Twoddle…Time Twoddle I’m sure I will probably never watch it under my own free will. This is one of the funniest things I’ve read in my time on WordPress; I read a lot of blogs on my lunch break at work, and this post made me struggle to keep from laughing in a quiet office.

If any of you are on Twitter (and you all are, right?) you may also want to consider following HFM. Dylan live-tweeting the recent massive storm that barreled through England was one of the highlights of my little corner of the Twitterverse.

Steven J. Dines – Free Fiction: The Fly (March 24)

Steven is not your average, every day writer/blogger. That’s because he doesn’t really blog the way many of us do, telling tales of our self doubts and wondering if we’re crazy for pursuing our writing endeavors. No, his blogs are of a different nature – he’s too busy actually writing and getting stuff published. He already had FOUR short stories published just this year, with one already scheduled for publication in 2014.

I can’t remember how I found Steven’s blog, but I remember clicking around and seeing a link to a flash fiction piece called The Fly. I clicked it and started reading, and I remember finishing the story and thinking, “Oh. This guy’s for real.” I think all that’s stopping him from basically conquering the world is time and opportunity. Before long his name will be on real Year’s Best lists for his forthcoming novel.

He doesn’t post often, but you should follow him for announcements of new stories being unleashed onto an unsuspecting world.

Rants from a Starving Writer – Creativity, Depression, and Self Worth (October 22)

Larua (LL) Lemke (Pogomonster, as she’s sometimes known) is a dynamo. Another self-published wunderkind, she has already self-published two novels with a third on the way. She’s also a freelance editor, and did I mention she’s a black belt in TaeKwonDo and is barely old enough to legally consume alcohol?

Creativity, Depression, and Self Worth is a post pretty much any writer can relate to. We all have these feelings – the joy in creating, the doubt that it will ever lead to anything or be read by anyone, and the question…is it worth it?

I’m only a few pages in to her first novel, Opus Aria (which you can find here), but I can say with confidence Laura’s self doubt will probably not last much longer; her talent is just too strong.

Miss Four Eyes – What-If-It-Sucks-Syndrome (May 15)

Miss Four Eyes really doesn’t need any help getting hits and page views to her blog. Her site is so popular, it’s really kind of disgusting. 🙂 However, as with all popular blogs, it’s popular for a reason. What-If-It-Sucks-Syndrome is a perfect example why.

She details the thought process of getting ready to publish a blog post, and it’s nearly identical to the way I feel each and every time. There are some cool animated doodles to help illustrate the point, too. It’s funny, cute, entertaining…everything you could want from a blog. If you don’t already follow her blog, read this post and snap to it!

The Hobbes – A Brief Analysis of Contemporary Post-Industrial American Transportation (October 28)

Hobbes is…a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, inside a puzzle that ate an enigma. I’m not entirely certain as to the gender of Hobbes (though I believe male), but they are one of the smartest bloggers I follow.

I get the feeling Hobbes needs an outlet for things he/she wants to say and started this blog as a way to do so anonymously. As of right now they have exactly 7 followers, and for some reason I’d bet they feel like that’s a few too many. A Brief Analysis of Contemporary Post-Industrial American Transportation takes a look at something we all tend to overlook on a daily basis – how much planes suck. To say more would ruin the joy of reading this post, so just click the link and read it for yourself.

Okay, well that’s it. My favorites of the year. I’d love to hear who you think I forgot; like I said, there were so many I’m sure I must’ve missed a few. Until next time, keep blogging!

On Constructive Criticism, Beta Readers, and Being An Accidental Fraud

Constructive Criticism

Last week I found a great new (to me) website called Lit Reactor. You may have already heard of it, but if you haven’t, it’s a tremendous resource for writers looking to better their craft (and aren’t we all?). The site is a spinoff of sorts from The Cult, official website of author Chuck Palahniuk, and features pretty much everything a writer could possibly imagine. From essays on the craft of writing to articles on how to write a query letter and get an agent, all the advice given here is from people in the field – published authors (many of which you’ve probably heard of), agents, publishers, etc.

Along with reading Mr. Palahniuk’s essays on writing, which already have my head spinning with good advice, the best thing about the site in my opinion is the writers workshop. Here, members of the site can submit their work for their fellow writers to critique and review. After reading a few of the stories other people had submitted and the (extremely detailed) critiques people wrote back, I was ready to submit one of my own and see what people thought. So that’s what I did.

Hoo boy.

By the next morning, two people had offered up reviews/critiques suggesting what may need to be fixed. I wasn’t surprised that they were offering ways to fix my story. I expected it. What I didn’t expect was that they would offer so many ways to fix it. One person even included a line by line review, where words and sentences were underlined and suggestions made as to what to change or take out altogether. I guess I just thought the story was more polished than it really is. Reading the multitude  of things wrong with my story that morning, I got a little dejected. Until, that is, I got to work.

Beta Readers

I have two people who serve as my beta readers. They don’t realize that’s what they are, but they are. I sent them each of my novellas and they would tell me what they did or didn’t like about them. The thing is, since I know them pretty well they won’t give me any honest feedback about anything they don’t like. For the most part. So if they both give me the same piece feedback, I’m tempted to think there’s something to that.

My second beta reader emailed me Friday to let me know he finished novella #2. He said he really liked it for the most part, which cheered me up some after the critiquing beatdown I’d gotten earlier, but he thought the ending was very abrupt and there should have been more resolution. I liked the abrupt ending, but having two different people tell me it ended too soon made me think. Since the story had been left open, I had thoughts not of a sequel per se, but more of a spinoff. Now I’m thinking about combining the two into one story, which would turn novella #2 into novel #1.

Here’s the thing: the protagonist is basically written off at the end of the first half, and the second half would follow the antagonist with a new protagonist. Is that crazy? I can tie in the first protagonist easily enough (they are actually ex-husband and wife), but it isn’t something I’ve seen done before, which is both scary and exciting. I hope to start the rough draft for the second half in the next day or two.

Being an Accidental Fraud

I’m turning red just at the thought of typing this, but when it comes to anything writing related I will share anything with you guys, even if it is a bit awkward, uncomfortable, and embarrassing.

Fellow writer and blogger Darius Jones sent out a quick blog post Friday announcing he had a short story being published on the Fiction Vortex website. This is the first work of his accepted for publication, and that’s a big deal, worthy of celebrating. I wanted to do my part to help spread the word and get people to read his story, so I decided to reblog his post.

I forgot/didn’t realize one tiny detail.

Via the Publicize feature on WordPress, my blog posts are also sent out on Facebook and Twitter. Even posts that I reblog. Do you see where this is headed?

I was at work when I reblogged Darius’s good news, and when I got home later I saw the post had shown up on Facebook, and one of my relatives ‘liked’ it. Surely they don’t think it was me who got published…do they? Nah… I went back about my business and tried to unwind after a long week. Read a little, played some games on the iPad, that sort of thing. A couple hours later I went back on Facebook and now had 8 ‘likes.’

Oh God, everyone thinks I got published.

I put a comment on the post trying to explain what had happened, and that I appreciated everyone’s showing of well wishes, blah blah blah. There, that should take care of it.

Then, another hour later, the death blow.

A text from my Dad: So how does it feel to be a published author?

Jesus.

So, in short, don’t worry everybody. I’m still in search of that first publication. But to right this wrong, please check out Darius’s blog, and click here to read his short story!

Now, for anyone willing to comment, a couple of questions:

Have you read/written a story that shifted the POV from one protagonist to another as the story progressed? How did you like it?

Before writing this post I took a quick look around Chuck Palahniuk’s website, and realized he’s on a book tour and will be stopping in my town! I’ve never actually been to an author event before, what’s it like? Do the authors read excerpts, or just sit there and sign books as a line files by? What authors have you met/seen in person, and how was it?

Top 5 Movies I Hated Initially, But Now Love

Before I get on to the topic at hand, a quick note:

In 1992, my old band opened for the death metal band Cannibal Corpse. We had only been together a few months, and only had a half hour’s worth of material at most. But thanks to our lead singer’s relentless hustling of tickets to the show, we were awarded the opening slot.

So there we were: an inexperienced group of kids, thrown on a stage in a crowded, sweaty little club that had been packed in excess of the fire code thanks to the greedy owner, with all eyes on us. Waiting. Expecting.

That’s sort of how I feel right now, after getting all the love and affection from the WordPress community. Having my previous post selected for Freshly Pressed was surreal to say the least. Here I was going about my business in my quiet little corner of the blogosphere, then I got an absolute tidal wave of page views and lovely comments, and it’s been an absolutely wonderful experience. But now I feel all these virtual eyes on me. Waiting. Expecting.

I didn’t know how to follow that up, so here’s a post about movies 🙂

I found myself reading a thread on Reddit earlier singing the praises of the film Shutter Island. I don’t remmeber liking the movie very much, mostly because the trailer made the “twist” ending kind of obvious. I watched the movie and was disappointed to be proven right.

But reading all the comments from people saying how much they liked it made me think I should give it another shot. It is Scorcese, for Pete’s sake.

That got me thinking about movies I didn’t like (and in some cases downright hated) the first time I watched them, but after some time went back to them and did a complete 180. Here’s the top 5.

5. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (Jay Roach, 1997)

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It’s just so stupid, I remember thinking. I had already made up my mind I hated it before the opening credits were over. I can’t even remember if I finished it the first time I watched it, to be honest. I love comedy, but I don’t always like the really over the top stuff like the bottom-tier Wayans brothers (Marlon and Shawn), and every Adam Sandler movie since Big Daddy.

Then, one day I walked into the living room and my wife had turned it on, the scene where Will Ferrell’s character is telling Austin Powers how badly burned he is. It hit my funny bone just right, and I ended up settling in and watching the whole thing like it was the first time. I howled at it this time. It was like I was on a different wavelength that first time, and now I crack up at every stupid scene.

4. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, 1998)

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Despite the title of this post, I don’t really love this movie, but I like it a lot more than when I first saw it. The first time I watched it, I thought it was pure crap. I just didn’t get it. I like Johnny Depp, I like Benecio Del Toro, but I don’t know…it just didn’t click. I think what helped was becoming more familiar with Hunter S. Thompson and what kind of crazy he was. Now when I watch it I appreciate it a lot more, and I feel bad for how harsh I was about it. I literally told a friend who liked it that I was sorry I ever watched it.  Sorry, DJ.

3. Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven, 1997)

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Another one where I just didn’t appreciate the humor and satire the first time around. I enjoyed the gore (of course) but I just couldn’t bring myself to like it. I later gave it a second chance and was really glad I did. I love this movie now, and can’t imagine what the hell was wrong with me when I watched it the first time.

2. Swingers (Doug Liman, 1996)

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Okay, now here I was just being stubborn. I had the misfortune of seeing this movie literally after everyone I knew had already seen it. They all declared it the best movie ever, and that put an enormous chip on my shoulder. There was no way it could ever live up to the hype my friends gave it, so I basically crapped all over it when I watched it. Of course, now this is one of my favorite movies, and I feel like the ultimate hypocrite for being so cruel initially.

(As an aside, if your safe search is turned off and you do a Google image search for ‘swingers,’ you’re going to have quite an experience.)

1. Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004)

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I’m sure I’m not alone here. I knew plenty of people who just flat didn’t like this movie when they saw it, and a lot who seemed to instantly  hail it as an instant classic. I watched it with a raised eyebrow, unsure what to think of the dull, thick-headed characters I was seeing. It took several partial viewings before I finally started seeing the genius that this film actually was. Now I have a hard time not laughing just looking at stills from the movie.

So now it’s your turn.

I want to know what movies, books, TV shows, or music you really didn’t like the first time you experienced it, but now you really like it.

One last plug – I started using this website Readwave to publish a few short stories. A couple are nonfiction that I’ve already posted here on the blog, and a couple are stories I wrote just for shiggles. Feel free to wander on over and check them out, and leave me a comment to let me know what you think.