Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Happy Ending

Yesterday morning I was feeling somewhat sad and stressed for reasons I don't need to go into here. I decided on the perfect cure for sadness and stress: go out at lunchtime for a jolly little drive in search of covered bridges. I remembered that there was a covered bridge not very far away from the university, and I thought I had a good chance of finding it. I turned on County Road 200W, wandered past cornfields and copses of trees, and there it was - a covered bridge! I continued curving around past barns and fields of soybeans, hoping I'd now come across the road that would lead back to the university. I reached an intersection that might have been the correct road, but then didn't seem to be. I hesitated at the stop sign, decided against making my turn, kept on going forward through the intersection, and - WHAM! BAM! I lost control of my car and careened into a farmer's fence.

I still didn't know what had happened. Then I saw a huge 18-ton trash truck there right behind me. Had he seen my inexplicable accident and stopped to help? No. He had just hit me and sent my car spinning off the road.

It wasn't his fault. He had tried valiantly to miss me and had almost succeeded. It was clearly my fault, because I was the one with the stop sign, and the person with the stop sign is the person who is supposed to stop. An eye witness to the accident, who lived across the street, came over to me and said, "I saw your car, and I thought, what IS she thinking?" Reasonable question!

So now the happy ending:
1) I am alive.
2) I am completely unhurt.
3) My car is drivable.
4) There is considerable damage to the body of the car, especially to the trunk which now no longer opens or shuts, but State Farm will pay for all of it except my $500 deductible, despite the accident's being 100 percent my fault, because I've been a customer in good standing for so many years.
5) Best of all: the police officer called to the scene did not give me a ticket. He said a state trooper would have given me one, but he was just from the county sheriff's office, and they "don't like to make anybody sad."

Well, probably the best part is being alive. And having the other driver alive (needless to say, his enormous truck sustained nary a scratch). But the sheriff's comment is my favorite part of the story. I went out at lunch to reconnect with the sweet charms of Indiana, and then had this terrible misfortune, and then along came this sweet charming Indiana county sheriff. So this incident isn't an omen that my second year in Indiana is going to be fraught with peril. It's an omen that my second year in Indiana is going to reveal unexpected Indiana marvels.

Moreover, being hit by an 18-ton truck and emerging unscathed turns out to be a highly effective cure for sadness and stress. Whatever I was so sad and stressed about? Right now, it really doesn't seem to matter.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Desperation Frisbee Derby

At DePauw University, the Friday before classes begin in the fall is known for some reason as Funny Friday. The program, for faculty, opens with the "Faculty Institute": an informative state-of-the-university talk from our president Brian Casey and then various talks, workshops, or small group discussions on issues of relevance to faculty for the upcoming academic year. The morning closes with a lovely faculty lunch served on tables under a large tent on the lawn in front of East College. Then that evening there is a picnic served in that same spot for faculty, staff, and their families. (It was on Funny Friday last year that I first realized that I would able to live quite well nourished for the entire year simply on free food provided to by DePauw).

This year at the evening picnic, we were all given yellow-and-black DePauw Frisbees, to celebrate the university's 175th year; we were founded in 1837. I wasn't planning on taking a Frisbee - it's been decades since I've had occasion to toss one, and I was never much for Frisbee tossing even then - but my friend Deepa, whom I met at last year's new faculty orientation, seized upon her Frisbee with a gleam in her eyes. She instantly saw its potential for doubling as a plate for junk-food snacks eaten in her office during late-night work-related desperation.

Of course, as soon as she said this, I was consumed with longing to share in the festivities of late-night desperation with snacks eaten off our DePauw Frisbees.  Like the little girls in Madeline, who envy Madeline's appendectomy for all the treats it brings her, I cried, "Boohoo! I want to be desperate, too!

Luckily, I have an enormous amount of work to do early in the semester, with a philosophy paper due September 1 (time to start it pretty soon, wouldn't you say?), a children's book writing workshop in Skokie, IL, in two weeks (where I have to give four talks/workshops as well as 13 detailed manuscript critiques for people who are paying extra to get my pearls of wisdom), and the enormous Ethics and Children's Literature conference I'm in charge of that takes place mid-September.  It's only the first week of the semester, and I'm desperate already. 

Deepa cheerfully agreed that she is already desperate, too.  So we set a date for this afternoon, to work together on the large table in the political science department office (Deepa's department), and luxuriate in desperation while eating Frisbee-plated snacks. This morning at Gobin church, DePauw-affiliated people each received a small bag of home-made cookies. They are now there in readiness on my Frisbee. Deepa just arrived, and she's setting up her computer next to mine.

We can't wait for a merry afternoon working side by side, desperate together!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My Sweet New House

This year, my second at DePauw, I am renting a different house from the house I rented last year. Last year I rented from a faculty member who was on sabbatical in Guatemala. He returned from his adventures abroad, so this year I am renting from a faculty member who will be on sabbatical in Germany.  I thought I could never love any house as much as I loved my teensy little house last year: it was so small, just right for one person all alone, and steps away (literally) from campus. But now I love my new house just as much.

It's a bigger house, with a wonderful front porch with a swing on it.

It has beautiful original woodwork, lovingly restored.

My room upstairs is extremely cozy, with a bed tucked in a corner with cross ventilation from two windows. I sleep under a German-style duvet, or what I call a "puff."  It is so comfortable that it's hard to get out of bed in the morning. Of course, Ruby, my stuffed jackrabbit puppet, sleeps with me.

This house is several blocks from campus, in a neighborhood filled with DePauw faculty.  Best of all, Julia, whose house this is, and her darling little boy, Alex, aren't leaving for Germany until October, so I have had the joy of making two wonderful new friends. It is so lovely to sit on the porch with them after work, as Alex eats a Popsicle, and we all share stories of our days at work and school. I will miss them desperately when they depart in another few weeks.

Year two is looking pretty good so far!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

730 Days

Today is my birthday, always an occasion for taking stock of one's life and charting one's course for the coming year. I've decided to chart my course for the coming TWO years, as in 730 days I will have a significant milestone birthday, so that means I have 730 days to do whatever I need to do to salvage this decade and position myself to have the best decade ever coming up in 2014.

I know that I want to try to pay down my mortgage so that I can have more work-related options in the decade to come. Maybe I won't want to be a professor AND a writer any more, but will want to see what I could achieve as a writer if I devoted my energies to it not just for an hour a day but for eight hours a day (well, at least two or three). Maybe now that I've experienced the fun of living somewhere else, during this enchanted hiatus in Greencastle, Indiana, I'd like to live for a while in an intensely urban environment like the Upper West Side of New York City - or live abroad - on a Greek island? - or - ???  But the key to this kind of geographical flexibility is greater financial independence. So I didn't spend money to take myself out for lunch on my birthday, but ate a most tasty lunch that I found in the Prindle Institute fridge, left over from a Prindle event yesterday.

And I know that I want to write more books, and better books - maybe even one truly wonderful book that will be read by many children for many years. So this morning I got up early, made myself my mug of Swiss Miss hot chocolate, and wrote page one of Izzy Barr, Running Star. What better way to begin a birthday than that?

I know I want to build my life more and more around what I love, and what I love is children's literature, so I spent the rest of the morning finalizing the syllabus for the children's literature class I'm teaching for the first time ever this semester, which starts TOMORROW - as well as dealing with some emails connected to the major conference I'm hosting on Ethics and Children's Literature next month. That was a good way to spend a birthday, too.

This afternoon I'll take part in the orientation session for the new crop of Prindle Institute student interns. I think we're going to be drawing pictures of what we did over the summer, so I need to be thinking of what I can draw that will have anything to do with China, or the Betsy-Tacy fandom convention I attended with Cheryl in Minnesota; I guess if all else fails, I could draw a big Sudoku puzzle to represent my writing of Anniza Riz, Math Whiz.(Self-congratulation time: I haven't done a single Sudoku since returning to Indiana last Thursday - am I cured of that addition?)

And pictured above is the cake which just arrived at my desk, as a gift from our wonderful assistant director Linda. It's made completely out of flowers so won't cause me to gain a single ounce.

So I am having a very pleasant birthday - not only pleasant, but productive, and non-fattening, too. Because after today, I have only 729 days to launch my best decade yet.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Work and Play

One of my only regrets about my first year in Indiana was that I had too much fun. "All play and no work makes Claudia an unproductive girl."  To be fair to myself (I love being fair to myself), much of my play was to throw myself wholeheartedly into every single university activity, from reading groups (I was in six in the fall, five in the spring) to lectures, films, student theater productions, sitting in on a course on The Tempest, helping advise Fulbright applicants, and more. So my play had a lot of work incorporated into it. But it wasn't the kind of work that produces any product. And I do love producing products!

So this year I'm vowing to work more and play less. Or maybe just work more, while continuing to play the same amount. I gave up early rising last year, as it is so dark in the morning in Indiana, situated as we are in the wrong time zone: Eastern time when we are far enough west that we should be in Central time. I could double my productivity just by getting up an hour earlier every day. (Note the title of this blog!).

Today I decided to inaugurate this program of increased productivity by heading up to my office at the Prindle early this morning with the plan of doing the revisions for the paper about children's author Beverly Cleary that I gave at the conference in China last June, in preparation for its publication in a Chinese and American edition of the conference papers. The job involves expanding the paper a bit (but not too much), incorporating insights from Cleary's two memoirs, adding a reference or two to some of the papers by the Chinese scholars, and - this is the tedious part - reconfiguring the citations for the Chinese edition.

I did work for three or four hours this morning. But then I realized that the job was too big for one day, so I might as well take myself to the closing day of the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis.
Which I did. I mean, what is the point of spending a year in Indiana if you aren't even going to bother going to the Indiana State Fair? I admired prize-winning quilts and many cow-themed handicrafts (the theme of the fair this year is YEAR OF DAIRY COWS); I watched the North American six-horse-hitch classic competition, I ate corn-on-the-cob dripping with butter, as well as a chocolate ice cream soda (but passed up the fried butter, tempting as it was to be able to say I tried it once).

Tomorrow I'll finish the China conference paper, and face my syllabus for the new semester, which begins on Wednesday. I'll work so hard! I'll accomplish so much! But I don't feel guilty for stealing a few hours for the Indiana State Fair - though maybe a tad guilty for not sampling fried butter. Who knows when I'll ever get a chance to eat fried butter again?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Last Day

Today is my last day in Colorado before heading back to Indiana tomorrow for my second year as a visiting professor at DePauw University.

It's both easier and harder departing for my Indiana life this time around.  It's easier because I know how much I loved my first year there and which sweet pleasures I can anticipate during year two: breakfasts at the Prindle Institute with Linda and Nicki, breakfasts at the Blue Door Cafe with my little notebook or current writing project, walks around the rim trail in the nature park out at the recovered quarry, dinners with Keith and Meryl, stimulating evenings with Prindle reading groups (I'll be in four this fall, plus another delightful reading group called the Janeites which begins each year with re-reading a beloved Jane Austen title - this fall it's Mansfield Park). I want to go to Brown County for the autumn foliage, and I'll have a weekend in Indianapolis with my sister, and I can go to the covered bridge festival in Park County.  I'm teaching children's literature in the English department!  I'm hosting the coolest conference ever, on ethics and children's literature.

But it's harder because I already said goodbye to my family and friends once before, promising them I'd be back in a year, and now here I am saying goodbye AGAIN for ANOTHER year. I already miss them desperately. Colorado has its own sweet pleasures that will go one without me: the golden aspen, the Open Studios weekends in October, meetings of my writing group, a special cabaret evening put on by the AnthemAires at church. Living in two places takes a cumulative toll on one's heart. I like to live wholeheartedly, rather than divided-heartedly.

Today I'm trying to cram in one last burst of Colorado summer joys. I went to the Rockies game last night in Denver with the boys. I'll swim this morning with my friend Cat and her darling little boy, Max. I'll have lunch with two dear church friends. I'll go out for dinner with my family tonight. In between, I'll do laundry, pack, run the dishwasher, clean out the fridge, do everything possible to leave my house in order and to prepare to start year two with everything I need to make it as happy as year one. I'm telling myself how lucky I am to have not one but two places that I love so dearly, two worlds that I inhabit so joyously.

Even as it's wrenching to leave one behind as I got forward to the other.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What We Can't See

With the lovely momentum of having just finished a good first full draft of Annika Riz, Math Whiz, I have been turning my attention to the third and final book in the proposed series, Izzy Barr, Running Star. For the last couple of weeks, I've been taking my clipboard, pad of paper, favorite pen, and mug of Swiss Miss hot chocolate every morning to the lounge chair on my little deck and spending a pleasant hour moodling possible ideas. I wrote them all up into a one-page synopsis, which I shared with my writing group last night, glad that I had such a good start already on book three.

The only problem with my synopsis was that my writing group hated it. No, that isn't fair. They were encouraging, and positive, and saw many appealing features to the story I had planned. But they also saw egregious problems with my proposed storyline, problem that were glaringly obvious to me as well once they had pointed them out.

I'm too embarrassed to tell you exactly what that now-rejected story line was going to be, so let me just say that I committed both of these beginner-level mistakes:

1. One of the main story lines didn't involve a problem for Izzy at all, but a problem for one of her friends.

2. The other main story line, which focused on Izzy's own problem, was resolved not through Izzy taking steps to solve her own problem but through having her problem solved for her by others.

Oh, and I also had low stakes, and missed opportunities for dramatic tension, and unconvincing motivations for my characters.

How could this be? Izzy Barr, Running Star is not my first book. In fact, it's my FIFTY-first book.  How can I still be making mistakes that I'd spot immediately in a student, or mentee, or fellow critique group member?

The answer is that we simply have a blind spot when it comes to our own stories, or at least I do. I don't know why this is. Sometimes in my head I just SEE the story playing out in this (flawed) way. It starts to feel to me as if this is how the events "really" transpired. But of course a story is something we make up. And other people can be needed to help us see how to make it up better.

I spent this morning doing just that: making it up better. I love my plan for the book now. I've emailed the new plan to my writing group, and so far three of them have emailed back to say they love it, too.
Beloved critique group, now even more beloved, thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Sunday, August 12, 2012


One of my favorite hobbies is winnowing.  When my sister and I were growing up, we could spend hours deciding what to do that afternoon, working through an elaborate winnowing system.  We would begin by each compiling a list of ten possible activities, then we'd compare lists, then each generate a new list of eight possibilities (where we could draw from our own original list or from ideas generated by the other's list), then we'd compare lists, then each generate a new list of six possibilities. . . . We would spend longer deciding what to do than we would spend doing it, and we had at least as much fun deciding what to do as we had doing it.  Along these same lines, I love going through the fridge and consolidating partly used jars of olives, or eating up the last few olives in a jar so I can get rid of a jar altogether.  Winnowing is a passion for me.

So this is part of why I love judging contests so much.  Of course, I also love POWER - the ability to have my vision of what counts as a wonderful book expressed in the world.  But winnowing is definitely part of the fun.

This summer I'm judging a writing contest for the Utah Arts Council.  I'm judging the juvenile category, reading 42 manuscripts by previously unpublished authors, with the mandate of choosing a first place winner, a second place winner, and (if I want) an honorable mention.  So I need to winnow those 42 manuscripts down to three.  Perhaps a dozen of them are picture books, but the rest are full-length novels, some of them over three hundred pages in length.  Serious winnowing is in order.

I started by reading the first twenty or so pages of each manuscript to decide whether it was going to be a contender.  Here I eliminated manuscripts that had serious problems from the get-go: predictable plots, pedestrian prose, lots of back story crammed into the first chapter, lots of telling rather than showing, and so forth.  These were simply not going to win given that other manuscripts opened brilliantly.  After this first screening, I had reduced the list from 42 to 15.

Now each manuscript got a careful reading, where I made notes to myself on each one, its strengths and weaknesses.  These are not established authors, so I can't expect perfection (heck, I can't expect perfection in any book, even by a literary super-star).  But many of these manuscripts are impressive.  Now I was looking for manuscripts that I thought were not just worthy of a serious read (they were already getting a serious read), but worthy of a prize.  I ended up with four.  42 to 4!

My final task is to read those four once again, after letting a week or so go by, so I can come to them with fresher eyes, and pick my prize winners and also prepare to write the detailed comments each winner will receive.  At this point, it's more agonizing than enjoyable, for I'd like all four to win.  That can't be.  The fun of winnowing is behind me, and the rigors of final judging are upon me.  But oh, the winnowing was satisfying.

Now maybe I'll go eat those last few sweet gherkin pickles in the jar and combine the last two Eggo waffles, one blueberry and one homestyle, into one box, so I can recycle the other one...

Monday, August 6, 2012


In my forthcoming book, Annika Riz, Math Whiz, the book I was writing frantically during the month of July, Annika enters a city-wide Sudoku contest. Even though I'm not the kind of writer who does exhaustive research for a book before plunging in to write it (I'm more the kind who plunges in first and then does any needed research after the fact), I thought I should at least learn how to do a Sudoku puzzle. When I visited my sister in New Jersey at the end of June, she taught me how to do Sudoku online on my iPad. (She's a math whiz, too, the mathiest and whizziest imaginable.)

Now comes the sad part of this saga.  I became addicted to Sudoku almost immediately.

I should have known there was a danger of this happening, because in the not-so-distant past I became addicted to solitaire. I never played solitaire on a computer; I always played with a regular deck of cards, loving the tactile feeling of the cards in my hand, loving that satisfying thwack as I laid them down on the table. I loved everything about solitaire - the meditative rhythm of thumbing through the deck, that hope-spring-eternal optimism that despite how badly a game was going, it could get better simply by turning up one card that would make everything different. I became so addicted that I would give my deck of cards to Gregory to hide for me - and then I'd go into his room to look for them when he wasn't there. Finally, I realized that I could no longer keep a deck of cards in the house. And then one night I actually sunk so low that in desperation I tried making myself a deck of cards out of index cards, with the face value of the cards scribbled on in pen - totally unsatisfying!  I have now been solitaire-free for perhaps a decade.

So I might have guessed that Sudoku would not be a good idea.  Now I keep taking that app off my iPad and deleting all saved data, making the grim vow:  I will never play Sudoku ever again!  But, alas, it's only a matter of seconds to re-install it. Sometimes I do this several times in a day: off, on, off, on.  I start my to-do list for each day with the stern warning: Don't do Sudoku!  But then I tell myself, oh, maybe I'll just do ONE more game....

I'm writing this to go public with my addiction in the hope that by owning up to it - "My name is Claudia Mills, and I'm addicted to Sudoku" - I can face the problem fully and move past it.  I would lock up my iPad except that on it I have the 42 manuscripts I'm judging for the juvenile fiction contest sponsored by the Utah Arts Council, so I can't. 

All right, dear readers: I am NOT going to do any Sudoku today - any at all!  This is my pledge to you (not that you have any reason to care), and my pledge to myself.  I'm not even going to play one VERY last game before I give it up forever - no, I am not!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Small Change, Big Change

Yesterday I was indulging in the pleasure of reading this month's Oprah Magazine, the annual "makeover issue": "How to transform you luck, habits, stress level, friendships, health, style, attitude, and have fun doing it!"  This is exactly the kind of thing I cannot resist!  The entire issue was excellent.  And the best line in it?

Here's the marvelous truth about improving your life: You barely have to change anything to change everything.

Oh, that is so true!  It's true of revising a manuscript, and it's true of revising your life.

In revising a manuscript, I've made huge changes in the impact of a story simply by reworking the one paragraph in which I describe the character's epiphany moment, which alters the whole way the theme of the book is expressed - or by deleting one small incident that the set the reader up to dislike my character - or by adding one small incident that established a bond between two characters that resonated throughout the rest of the book.

In revising my life, I've spun huge amounts of gold out of teensy amounts of straw in the same way.  Once many years ago I was making myself miserable every day by having to serve as the editor of an academic book series.  I hated it so much that I couldn't make myself even open the envelopes in which the manuscripts arrived at my door.  My sister and I had always loved the poem by Richard Le Gallienne that begins "I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree."  Cheryl helped me rework the poem: "I meant to open those envelopes today. . . ."  So here's the tiny tiny thing I did to change the situation.  I spent two minutes - two! - sending an email of heartfelt apology saying that I couldn't serve as editor of the series any more.  And I never had to open one of those envelopes ever again.

I changed my life for the better this year in the one moment I took to sign up for the free online weight-loss website, My Fitness Pal, after I was feeling so pudgy and portly after eating all that free food on offer nonstop at DePauw.  I fell in love with tracking my calorie intake and outtake on their site and now since February I have lost a total of 19 pounds while eating ice cream sundaes, Snickers bars, and other treats I love, but all in moderation. I've actually learned how to eat half a Snickers bar on Monday and save the other half for Tuesday!

I changed my month vastly for the better when on August 1, in honor of the start of my new life for August, I got up at 4:30 a.m. and actually starting doing a few of the things on my seemingly endless and oppressive to-do list for the month.  Five days later, I find that I have really done most of them, fueled by the momentum of that one early start. What looked impossible turned out to be fairly easy, after all.

Now I'm casting around for other teensy changes I can make that will have enormous reverberations, given that I've found that a change can be as simple as saying no, or saying yes, or getting up two hours earlier on one August morning.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Writer's High

I'm in withdrawal now from two weeks where I was soaring every day on a writer's high, trying to finish up a good draft of my forthcoming chapter book, Annika Riz, Math Whiz.  I have come to realize that there is nothing I love better than when I have a tight deadline on a children's book writing project, so that I am actually required to spend hours a day writing, writing, writing. 

In my twenties, I had a brief period where I was a runner.  That is hard for me to believe now, but it's true.  At the time I was working in New York City for Four Winds Press/Scholastic, commuting fifty miles each way from my little rented room in Princeton, NJ, so I had to do my running early in the morning, and on weekends.  I started each day with a run, and as I progressed as a runner, the runs became longer and longer.  It became easy to run five miles, and once I could run five miles, I felt as if I could run forever, if only time permitted, though I never tested that theory by training for a marathon or any similarly grueling distance.  But once I got past the two- or three-mile mark, the endorphins kicked in, and I could ran and run and run.

That's how I felt writing during the last half of July.  Once I reached the midpoint of the book, and I knew I was on the right track, I felt as if I could write forever.  The day after I finished the book and sent it off to my editor at FSG, I wanted to start the next book, Izzy Barr, Running Star.  But I couldn't, as alas now I have to do every single other work-related project that I neglected while writing Annika's book. 

I still get some small high from every project crossed off my to-do list, and fortunately, the more I dread a project, the greater the surge of exhilaration when I finally face the darned thing and DO it.  But the high of crossing off a Loathsome Task (LT) isn't the same as the writing high, or the running high.  After crossing off an LT, I don't think, oh, wouldn't it be lovely if I could cross off LTs forever!

So note to self: start Izzy's book as soon as you can.  Izzy loves to run the way you love to write.  Won't it be fun for the two of you to share that high together?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

August New Life

As many of you know, I like to begin a new life on the first day of each month.  I need a clearly defined starting point for a new life; it doesn't seem possible to begin a new life, say, at 2:13 in the afternoon on July 17.  That would feel too random, too arbitrary, too haphazard.   A new life should begin on the first day of a new year, or on the first day of a new month, or at the very least, on a Monday (which is why Mondays are my favorite day of the week).  So I am beginning my new life today.

I have two weeks and a day until I return to Indiana.  My old life had a truly staggering amount of fun and games in it, all those Boulder summer pleasures that needed to be crammed into every single day.  So the new life is going to have to have work in it - massive amounts of grim toil!  Though of course I will try not to make it feel grim or toilsome.  But the hallmark of the new life is going to be productivity. 

I have to write a letter evaluating the research of a professor who is seeking promotion to full professor; I have to write comments to deliver on a paper on Kant's account of marriage for the Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress coming up next week; I have to write a batch of five book reviews for the website Children's Literature; I have to revise my China conference paper on Beverly Cleary for a September 1 deadline; I have to write an entire paper that I was asked to contribute to an edited collection on manipulation (I just found out that the deadline on that has been moved up from the end of the year to the end of the month); I have to organize my first-ever course on children's literature (the first day of classes is August 22); I need to read some forty full-length book manuscripts for a contest I'm judging for the Utah Original Writing Competition (some of them are picture books, but most of them are lengthy novels); I need to invite speakers for the Undergraduate Ethics Symposium at DePauw this coming spring; I need to proceed on arrangements for the Ethics and Children's Literature conference I'm organizing at DePauw that will take place mid-September.

Okay.  I can do this.  But, as Anthony Trollope wrote in his autobiography, when he explained how he planned to succeed as a novelist while working full time for the British Post Office: "There must be early hours, and I had not as yet learned to love early hours."  Well, I learned long ago to love early hours, though you would have not guessed this from my late-to-bed, late-to-rise antics of July.  This morning, I got up at 4:30.  Is that early enough, Mr. Trollope?  The book reviews are done.  The book manuscripts for the contest are loaded onto my iPad.  Two paragraphs have been written on the promotion letter.  That's a start.  And starting is always the hardest part.  I've read that the hardest step of a run is the step you take out the front door.  I'm out the front door now. My new life has begun!