Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday Feature

For this new feature, I'd like to do a weekly variation on the open thread: 20 Questions Friday. You post a writing- or industry-related question in comments, and I'd try to answer it, up to twenty questions max per Friday (any more than 20 and I'll never get any work done.)

I know more than 20 people visit here, so if you all can take turns that would be great. I'll also open the 20 Questions post at a different time each Friday so everyone gets a fair shot at posting theirs.

I also think your suggestions, like Doug Hoffman's Tales from the Trenches, are terrific, so I'll try to work those in on a revolving basis to serve as my Friday post.

Some things that I don't think I can do as a feature:

1. Authors Behaving Badly -- We had a lot of candidates for ABB show up this week, but unless you go to certain genre cons and hang out in the bar, it's not really a predictable thing.

2. Book recs -- I'm going to add some sidebar links for books I recommend in the genres I read, but I'm reluctant to start writing up any kind of regularly scheduled recommendations. Also, I really don't read much fiction these days outside of market analysis, which is not reading for enjoyment. I'd rather write a post about a great discovery when I make it; more spontaneous and fun that way.

3. Book reviews -- I am not a reviewer. See? I said it nicely.

4. The Process -- I don't know. When I talk about my own writing, I think my eyes glaze over. Here's something I wrote about my process last week for Jo Leigh's Uber Challenge group; you tell me if it's interesting:

I'm still waiting for some how-to books to arrive, but I started off on
my write-better-setting challenge by forcing myself to write a scene
with no characters and no dialogue. All I had to work with was a small
town, a quiet lake, an assortment of birds and Nature-related stuff.
For me, this equals writing agony.

I wrote of description of the town, lake, birds and Nature at large. I tried to make it sound interesting without that annoying, patronizing omnipotent narrator thing syrupy travel writers do. I admit, I was tempted to crash a gigantic meteor into the lake and flash-fry the town to cinders, but I didn't. Boring people need somewhere to live, right? Also, no birds or other defenseless fauna were harmed in the writing of this scene.

I printed out the scene, tagged it UC#1, and shoved it in a file. I'll
keep doing that until I write better setting, I'm kicked out of the
group, the filing cabinet collapses or my head explodes.


5. Way of the Cheetah -- I have an announcement to make about WotC, but I have to hold off on it until next week. For reasons which I will explain next week.

Floor's open -- any questions?

40 comments:

  1. You are so sweet.

    And here I am, first on the floor, and all I can think about is writing up my son's homework for tomorrow, taking a shower, and going to bed.

    I'm looking forward to the 20 Q&As, though.

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  2. Why isn't it okay to kiss a prostitute?



    Argh! I had my chance at a question, and that's all I could think of.

    Pardon me while I beat my head against the keyboard.

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  3. Anonymous6:30 AM

    Sorry, I think this is coming up as anonymous but I don't have a web page and don't blog, so can't have no choice but to be anonymous.

    This is a blog I read most days and the chance to ask a question is too good to pass up. My question is on:

    Convincing Dialogue.

    This is something I find very challenging. I'm prone to writing a lot of description to avoid dialogue. To cure myself of this tendency I have tried to write small pieces of (practice) dialogue and make each 'voice' different but I am finding it difficult. Even when writing with fully fleshed out characters I feel that my dialogue falls flat.

    Any suggestions on how to practice my dialogue writing skills?

    Thanks,
    Charlotte

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  4. Anonymous6:33 AM

    Charlotte again:

    I see I also have difficulty with basic sentence structure. It should read:

    "..., so have no choice but to be anonymous."

    Must proofread!

    Charlotte

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  5. Doug wrote: And here I am, first on the floor, and all I can think about is writing up my son's homework for tomorrow, taking a shower, and going to bed.

    Ah, but my psychic writer powers are telling me that you'd really like to know if I have a pill that can make you edit ten times faster.

    Since amphetamines are illegal, not to mention unhealthy and addictive, I'd suggest taking two ideas from one of these articles and call me in the morning.

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  6. Abby Taylor wrote: Why isn't it okay to kiss a prostitute?

    For the same reason you shouldn't kiss a reviewer on the mouth -- you already know where it's been.

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  7. Charlotte wrote: Any suggestions on how to practice my dialogue writing skills?

    I used to go around town and eavesdrop on people having conversations, writing down what I heard on a shorthand pad (I don't recommend using a recorder unless it's discreetly hidden somewhere; people might freak out.)

    After I collected enough conversations, I'd go home and type them out, and study them as to what was said, what words were used and how things were phrased.

    Some writers have told me they turn on the answering machine recorder and tape phone calls as practice. Another method is to study the dialogue from a movie you enjoy (screenwriters write some of the best dialogue in the world.)

    When I write dialogue, I have an idea what I want said in the scene, but I always write it fresh without planning it out or playing with the words too much. As I write, I try to put myself in the POV character's head and slip into their persona.

    To edit dialogue, my best advice is to read it out loud and hear how it sounds (and there are two camps on this; some writers like reading it aloud, other don't.) To me, lousy dialogue read out loud sounds forced, pretentious, drags, etc.

    Here's a pretty good article on what to avoid, and how to practice writing better dialogue.

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  8. I feel like I'm standing in front of the wizard trying to decide how to use my one wish. What to ask? Here goes.

    I don't have a lot of money to spend on things like travelling to do signings or mailing out zillions of book marks--I blow it on things like dentist visits, kiddie snow boots and milk. And I'm not convinced those things work. But I keep reading about how I should be doing all that promotional stuff and more. Yeah, I know I should just stay away from those blogs.

    How did you figure out what works for you and what do you suggest to help me figure out what works for me?

    Thanks.

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  9. Why didn't you mention that Private Demon hit the USA Today bestseller list, just like If Angels Burn?

    And if you did mention it, why did I miss it? Since I come here every day. And all.

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  10. What do you do when your characters don't want to behave? Do you force them into actions they 'should' be taking, or do you go with the flow and let them do what they want to do?

    Try as I might, I couldn't get one of my heros to stop sulking and being a jerk. I know this is all in my head, btw. Not completely off my nut yet!

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  11. I'm in a meta mood: What writing question do you never get asked, but wish you did?

    For reference, I found the above Process quote interesting. I'm a sucker for those things. But obviously you shouldn't force yourself to write stuff here that bores you.

    Can't wait to hear what you have planned for the Way of the Cheetah.

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  12. you tell me if it's interesting

    Yep. It's interesting. To me, at least.

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  13. Okay, another character question - How do you go about making sure your characters actually "grow" during the story? This is my biggest problem as I tend to write plot-driven. And the character gets beat up, messed up, kicked around etc, but is essentially the same person at the end of the story as she is at the beginning (minus some bruising).

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  14. No question today, I'll just start keeping a list as I think of them.

    Just a couple of comments:

    On the dialogue question, I like scripts for plays. That way, I can keep them around and go back and study some more as needed. It's more convenient for me. The "Best American Plays" series is really good for this.

    As far as recommendations go, I would rather see you rec stuff that you really like when it come up. Trying to force recs on a regular basis would not benefit any of us, I think.

    Thanks for the 20 Questions. It'll be a great help.

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  15. Darlene Ryan wrote: How did you figure out what works for you and what do you suggest to help me figure out what works for me?

    Unfortunately I know more about what doesn't work than what does, so I stopped self-promoting my books a few years ago and saved up to do a really big promo web site for a series I thought would break out. That was the best investment I ever made.

    You've got a solid web site, which I think is half the battle on internet promotion, and that will promote you 24/7, so I'd keep that updated.

    The trick with self-promotion is to think outside the bookmark/signing/postcard box. You also don't have to invest a lot of money in self-promo; you can talk about your new book as a guest author on topical discussion boards, at a weblog, or in interviews for sites that draw your primary market readers. All of these are free, and get the word out without you having to leave home or invest a lot of time and money.

    Also, use what you've got going for you. For example, your novel excerpt from Saving Grace on the website is wonderful -- wry, funny and just the right length. After reading it, I want to buy the book to read more and find out what happens. Your work sells itself, so I'd look for ways to get people over to the web site to read the excerpt -- as a link in interviews and discussions, in your sig block, etc. I'd also reference it in any trade/industry articles you may write (and online writing sites are always looking for these.)

    I would query women's magazines like Good Housekeeping with interesting, brief articles about your book and why you wrote it, the writing life, balancing motherhood and publishing, the secret life of a housewife/writer, or whatever appeals to you. Make it fun, put a humorous spin on it and you'll likely snag the editor's attention. Most mags will permit you to post a bio and possible a site link with the articles they buy. Advertisers pays $200K for a full-page ad in a national magazine because so many people read it; publish an article and you get that level of advertising for free and get paid for the article.

    Another slice of the mag market you might consider querying with articles are teen and parenting magazines (I'm assuming Saving Grace is YA, correct me if I'm wrong.)

    If you want to make effective public appearances, you might try putting together a book signing or booth at the next parenting or family convention in your area. Often authors only go for the book cons and neglect the other, terrific opportunities at topical cons that aren't part of the industry circuit but still relate to what they're writing.

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  16. Tam wrote: Why didn't you mention that Private Demon hit the USA Today bestseller list, just like If Angels Burn?

    It did? Lol.

    Honestly, I heard some deeply disturbing news that week about another bestseller list that upset me so much that I swore off talking about BSLs until I calmed down. I haven't calmed down yet. I also felt like talking about it the first time it happened was enough bragging for this lifetime.

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  17. What about all the ballyhoo J.A. Konrath has started on SASEs? Is what he advocates really the secret to getting published?

    http://www.blogger.com/publish-comment.do?blogID=11291165&postID=113695653993214447&r=ok

    M

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  18. Trace wrote: What do you do when your characters don't want to behave? Do you force them into actions they 'should' be taking, or do you go with the flow and let them do what they want to do?

    I never go with flow unless I feel (strongly) that it's better than what I had plotted. In the case of Squilyp from the StarDoc series, who was supposed to be only a secondary character in book two who died at the end, I went with the flow and let him develop beyond what I had planned for him, because it felt so right (and pissed me off to no end, because I don't like being railroaded from my plans by a character.)

    A good test method is to try to write the scene with different spins on the problem area. If your character is supposed to fight but only wants to whine, for example, change the circumstances around him, increase the pressure on him, and run him through his paces again. Facing a guy who wants to beat him up might not make him fight, but if the guy is blocking the only exit from a burning building, I bet he'll shut up and wade through him.

    If that character misbehaves no matter what, you may need to retune the plot to exercise more control over events and through them, give more motivation for the character to do what you want.

    Your subconscious may be fighting you via your character, too. I had a terrific ending planned for one book and the character involved in the hairy part absolutely would not do what I wanted on the page. I couldn't get it to work; he was like a mannequin. Finally I stepped back, took a hard look at the scene, and realized what I wanted him to do and what was in character for him to do were two completely different things. That's why I couldn't write it -- part of me knew the character would have handled it differently.

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  19. Oooooh, more Way of The Cheetah. That's some of my favorite writing advice ever. Hope the announcement means we get some more of it!

    Okay. I feel a bit dumb and embarassed about this question.

    I have a hard time finishing books and sending them out. I've published some non-fic articles, but my best friend (at the time) was very hurtful about my writing success and my writing in general. Ever since then, it's been hard to complete things.

    We aren't friends anymore, but I still can't seem to shake the problem.

    Is there any advice you can give me about getting negative feelings out of my head, so I can get those last words on the page, and submitted, etc etc.

    -Elizabeth

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  20. Dear PBW:

    first: I got the copy REBEL ICE you sent me!!! I am so thrilled! I read about 200 pages last night, and I'm hooked... can't wait to get back to it. :) Thank you so very much for it.

    How much do you plot out before you write? I once tried to do a novel with nearly every *page* planned out, and the writing was so flat it was scary (I lost interest in the story). OTOH, I don't know how it's possible to simply jump in and write...

    Let me make my question more specific: is the level of detail in your plotting such that notes for one chapter fit in one sentence? One paragraph? A notecard? Or a whole sheet of paper?

    As you can tell, I am flailing when it comes to plotting. The novel I have written now was a complete fluke - like managing a tightrope walk without preparation or practice. I know I couldn't do that again (the book was written on literally the whim of the moment... "I think this shoud happen next, and then *that*, and ooh, let's throw this in too!") - at least I'm too scared to. So your help is very much appreciated.

    Thanks!

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  21. Mark Siegal wrote: What writing question do you never get asked, but wish you did?

    "After nothing but years of rejections, why should a writer keep writing and pursuing publication?"

    And my answer: I believe the more you write, the better a writer you become, and the more chance you have at being published (and the rejection process also prepares you for the Season in Hell, aka your rookie year, and all the other gruesome delights waiting for yoy to discover in this industry.)

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  22. Dean wrote: Yep. It's interesting. To me, at least.

    Thank you, sir.

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  23. Anonymous12:15 PM

    What is the first step you would advise when beginning a fantasy novel- creating a character or world building?

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  24. I don't think you mentioned this, but that NaNoEdMo link you gave me (above) has some excellent dialogue advice, too. Thanks!

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  25. Sandra wrote: How do you go about making sure your characters actually "grow" during the story?

    I use the conflict in a novel as the catalyst of character change. Whatever stresses people the most is what we compensate through various forms of change to handle: falling in love, getting a divorce, giving birth, facing the death of a loved one, making an alliance, being betrayed, etc. Note that all conflict is not negative in nature (who doesn't want to fall in love?) but can still put as much stress on a person as the bad stuff.

    I think you have to draw on your own experiences with personal growth and those you've observed in real life to work out your characters' growth rates. I'm writing now about a character who over thirty years time period rises from being a dirt-poor farmer-type to become the ruler of a vast and powerful nation. My character has to go through enormous change, both with his life situation and maturation process as he moves from farmer to king, so it's slow going, but I know what it feels like to come from nothing and make something of yourself, so I can invest him with a little of what I've felt and experienced.

    Small, seemingly insignificant conflicts can trigger change within a character, too. For example, a middle-aged female character handles discovering she has an adulterous husband, going through a divorce, wrangling over child custody, etc. with a minimal amount of problems and without much personal change (denial, it's not just a river in Egypt.) Then one day she's introduced to the ex's 20 year old blonde girlfriend, who is gorgeous, glowing, nine months pregnant and wearing the ex-wife's old engagement ring, and suddenly everything hits our middle-aged dumpee all at once. This changes her like nothing else has, and the next day she sets out to seriously let go and change her life, the latter of which has been on hold since ex-hubby first cheated on her.

    Change in people is progressive; most of us don't all stop in our tracks one day and shout, "I've had enough and I'm not going to take it anymore." We adjust as we go along. When a character faces going through a conflict situation, major or minor, they may experience change and personal growth before they dive in, while dealing with the situation, and/or after it's over. This is the character arc, and it works just like a relationship arc in a romance, or a puzzle arc in a mystery. Keep in mind, too, that some characters won't grow but may regress in the face of conflict.

    Here's a good article on characters and the character arc.

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  26. Carter wrote: On the dialogue question, I like scripts for plays. That way, I can keep them around and go back and study some more as needed. It's more convenient for me. The "Best American Plays" series is really good for this.

    Thanks for the rec, Carter.

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  27. Demented M wrote: What about all the ballyhoo J.A. Konrath has started on SASEs? Is what he advocates really the secret to getting published?

    All due respect to J.A., but this sounds like that secret handshake thing. There is no secret handshake.

    I can only tell you what I do: if the guidelines say enclose a SASE, I do (and I still do, to this day.) Often I've gotten invitations from editors whom I've queried to send full manuscripts, and they always used my SASE to mail the letter requesting the full ms. So, no, editors in my experience don't view an SASE as the mark of a loser. I imagine they see it as a courtesy and a convenience.

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  28. I agree with Dean, I find the Process part interesting. You mustn't make it a weekly feature, but write about it, please. And share that snippet. *grin*

    Sandra, what helped me to get a better grip on my characters - I'm more a plot writer, too - was to give them biographies. I usually do that as freewriting, and I've discovered the most interesting things about the fellows. In one case, part of the biography made me decide to significantly alter the plot of a NiP and include that part because it's so friggin' interesting.

    And what PBW just said in her reply, of course.

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  29. Thank you. Everything you said makes so much sense to me. It's the best advice I've gotten on the subject of promotion in...well...ever.

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  30. I tried to keep track of the question count, but my head started to hurt (maybe it's this ponytail?).

    My question, should there still be an opening: Why was Rebel Ice published first in paperback after your previous three books in the StarDoc universe were published first in hardback?

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  31. Elizabeth wrote: Okay. I feel a bit dumb and embarassed about this question.

    There are no dumb questions, and yours may help someone else who doesn't feel comfortable posting.

    I have a hard time finishing books and sending them out. I've published some non-fic articles, but my best friend (at the time) was very hurtful about my writing success and my writing in general. Ever since then, it's been hard to complete things.

    I had a similar situation happen to me early on in my career. Nothing shakes your confidence more than someone you trust turning on you.

    Is there any advice you can give me about getting negative feelings out of my head, so I can get those last words on the page, and submitted, etc etc.

    Friends are important, and what they think of us counts a lot toward our self-image and self-esteem. We also trust them to tell us the truth. Yet when we surpass friends in achievement, or do anything that makes them feel inadequate, quite often they can't handle the blow to their self-esteem, and strike out at us to feel better about themselves. Then there are people who are simply insensitive and say things without thinking.

    When a friend damages our trust by being hurtful, whether it's accidental or deliberate, that's a blow we feel for a long time. Even more so when the friend is no longer a friend, because we usually can't resolve it by talking.

    After my friend damaged my trust through what turned out to be envy of my success, and destroyed a wonderful friendship in the process, I wrote down how I felt in my journal of sorrows (I keep journals for everything.) I said everything I wanted to say on paper instead of hurling more cruelty back at the friend. I let a couple of weeks go by so I could calm down, and then I talked to a friend who knew both of us in confidence about the situation. Her views probably helped more than anything.

    While the friendship didn't survive, I took the path of forgiveness. I said a rosary for the friend, and asked God to watch over and take care of the friend. I also never retaliated or spoke badly of this person, and I never will.

    I still miss that friend, but I know I'm better off having that person out of my life. I know I need friends who genuinely care about me, not people who pretend to as long as I'm convenient for them to use. I also think my former friend is possibly better off, too, as suffering in silence from envy and jealousy can eat away at people with low self-esteem even more.

    You might try talking about the situation to someone close to you now. Talking instead of keeping it inside can release a lot of negative emotions.

    As for the writing, it may be that you need to actually write out the final chapter of your friendship with this person to put it to rest and get that influence out of your head. I'd try writing the story of what happened, and channel your negative emotions into the story.

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  32. Wendelin wrote: How much do you plot out before you write? . . .
    Let me make my question more specific: is the level of detail in your plotting such that notes for one chapter fit in one sentence? One paragraph? A notecard? Or a whole sheet of paper?


    I plot out every novel completely, from page one the end, before I write the book. I talked a little about that process here. I also try to visualize the entire novel like a movie. The only thing I won't plan out is dialogue, which I think comes out fresher and better if you don't rehearse it first but write it spontaneously.

    As for my notes, I don't have a set length or style, as my needs for plotting fluctuate. Sometimes to write a chapter all I need to review before I sit down to write is a single sheet of paper with notes on characters, timeline, and research particulars. Sometimes the particulars of the chapter are so complicated that I first need to read through thirty or forty pages of research, study a map of terrain or buildings with movement flow and choreography notes, listen image promoting music, walk out the character's movements, draw sketches of the characters, etc.

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  33. Anonymous wrote: What is the first step you would advise when beginning a fantasy novel- creating a character or world building?

    Whatever genre I write, I start with characters. World building is serious fun, but if the characters aren't there first, I can't see their world through their eyes.

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  34. Kellie wrote: Why was Rebel Ice published first in paperback after your previous three books in the StarDoc universe were published first in hardback?

    When the contract was offered to me, I asked that Rebel Ice and ClanSon be brought out in mass market versus hardcover. The StarDoc series (books 1 through 5) has never been printed in hardcover, and the three standalones I wrote, while set in the StarDoc universe, are not part of the series.

    Unlike most novelists, I also dislike hardcover novels. Of course they're nice to look at, and its a big thrill when you get your first hardcover, and writers do make good money off them. However, they're also three times as expensive as paperbacks, and the average reader can't afford them. More people read my work when its released in paperback, which is the main reason I hope to stay a paperback writer for a lot longer.

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  35. Can you believe that up to here is only eleven questions, counting Doug and Abby?

    I'm getting too long-winded in my old age.

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  36. Can I tease and say I'm pretty sure I know what's happening with Way of the Cheetah? But my fat lips are sealed? :) (That's sorta a question!)

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  37. Alison Kent wrote: Can I tease and say I'm pretty sure I know what's happening with Way of the Cheetah? But my fat lips are sealed? :) (That's sorta a question!)

    Ah, I'm not the only one with psychic writer powers. :)

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  38. Can you believe that up to here is only eleven questions, counting Doug and Abby?

    Wanna make a bet you'll get 20 questions next Friday? I suspect other folks were like me -- they came here, discovered the offer, and had a brain seizure. And it would be unfair to ask you to answer, "Bdehehbebedehbedehbedeh bedeh?"

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  39. Doug wrote: Wanna make a bet you'll get 20 questions next Friday?

    I'm not giving you my money, Hoffman. Lol. We shall see (and I can always downsize it to the Friday 10.)

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  40. Well, Friday 10 does have a nice symmetry to it. Or you could call it Friday Q&A and stop whenever you please. :)

    Any thought of answering the questions in one separate post, rather than as comments? That would display your answers more prominently. Some answers would wait a little longer, but it might be worth the tradeoff.

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