Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Writer Wednesday - The Dreaded Opening

Openings! As readers, we love 'em. They suck us right into the story. As writers, we hate 'em because they're so hard to write! Well, we don't actually hate them, we love them too. Because, after all, we're readers as well.

If only we can get our own openings right!

Joining us as Featured Writer this week is Kristy Baxter, the recently-agented author of a YA/Contemporary Fantasy called Grim Light. Her agent is Marlene Stringer. I'm going to turn it over to Kristy as she gives us her take on openings. I am lucky enough to have Kristy as my critique partner, and I read an early draft of this novel. I only mention this because she refers to me quite a bit.


by Kristy Baxter

I love starting a new novel.

I hate starting a new novel.

On the one hand, you have this joyous new creation to begin, and you don't know what it'll look like when you're done...but you know the ride's going to be awesome and terrifying and awesome all over again.

But on the other hand...argh. Openings! That first sentence is so incredibly important that you could spend weeks trying to make it perfect. And then all you're doing is waiting in line as you imagine what fun that roller coaster will be.

For my most recently completed novel, Grim Light, I decided to dive right into the action. My heroine foresaw a sad event coming, and then a moment later she saw a boy who would be very important to her, although she didn't know it yet.

The problem, as Tia pointed out: the reader didn't have enough time to get to know my protagonist, even a little bit, before these things happened. I needed to develop a little bit of sympathy, give the reader at least a little bit more about my protagonist, before I enmeshed her in all this emotional turmoil.

I stared at my opening paragraph. I loved that paragraph! It had been there since the beginning, the one that started it all. Every time I got other ideas or tried to start other novels, I read that opening and was sucked back in. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized Tia was right. Who cares what happens to this girl if they don't know who she is?

And as much as writing a novel, a short story, or anything at all is a roller-coaster ride, it's also a tightrope walk. I wanted to give the reader interesting action, but I also wanted to give her a smidgen of character development. So I pulled on my sequined leotard and grabbed that long stick-thing for balancing, and I hopped on the tightrope.

In order to compromise, I made the first sentence foreshadow what was to come. Then I made my heroine happy, because if we see her happy then we know how hard that fall will be. And I made sure that fall came within the first page or so, in an effort not to bore the reader.

I won't deny that it was tough. I'd never imagined Grim Light opening any other way. But when I saw the end result, I was very satisfied. I felt like I knew my protagonist better, even after spending months in her head already.

How about you? How do you manage to walk the tightrope? Have your openings all been picture perfect? Did you start too soon, as many do, or start too late, as I did? And how does your opening shape your view of your protagonist or narrator?


It's Tia again. I'm blushing. Thanks, Kristy.

Personally, I start too soon, but I'm always prepared to delete with impunity. I'm also prepared to offer up one of my own openings for your critiquing pleasure. This is from a lighthearted spy fantasy, which I call a mashup of Jane Austen and James Bond.

I hurried up to the embassy as if I belonged there. A bakery coach had pulled up near the side entrance where the kitchen chimneys were, so I headed that way. I searched around for someone who looked like a butler. He soon emerged to direct the unloading. I went up to him and curtsied. I was careful to make it a quick bob, rather than the genteel swoop I had learned during my youth. It was difficult to unlearn what had once been drilled into me.

Kristy's take:
I like the pacing of your opening a lot. Most of your sentences are short and choppy, which conveys the urgency of the situation while staying true to how Tory [the protagonist] would think in that situation. The first sentence grabs you right off, because you wonder, "Why doesn't she belong there?" and that tension pulls you along. It also gives you a great idea of Tory's more analytical thought process.

The only thing I would change: sentences three through five are all roughly the same length, and while choppiness is great for that opening, you want to avoid establishing a lulling sort of rhythm. I would insert a longer sentence in there, or possibly combine parts of two sentences, just to avoid that. Read it aloud and you'll probably catch my meaning.

I guess I'll do that. What did you think? Feel brave enough to post your own opening for general feedback? Got any questions? Comment away!


A. Grey said...

First off, I liked your opening very much. I prefer obvious fantasy, so anything modern, or set in cities, is hard for me to latch onto. With your opening, however, I was enveloped in the moment, I could feel the bustle of the street and see folk moving around as I made my way to the embassy. Most importantly, now I REALLY want to know why Tory was going there and if she succeeded in what she was doing.
I do agree with Kristy on sentences 3-5. I admit, I didn't realize they were separate in several places because I rushed them together into a longer sentence. Now, my turn to get pickled... :)

This is from a WIP I've titled Evernow (also the main character's name). It's post-apocalyptic, with the catch being that there wasn't quite an apocalypse...

Life is so much easier without underwear. That was one of the last things I clung to. But Sal was right. Life's easier without underwear. I wonder, that I was ever so concerned about keeping the few pairs I still had when I met him. Sal taught me a long list of things, beyond the uselessness of underwear. Like how to pee while holding a partially drawn bow with an arrow notched in it.


That's the very first paragraph. Slice me, dice me!

Kristy Baxter said...

Oooh, A. That's one heck of an opening line! You didn't just hook me, you yanked me in. And you're right--underwear would probably be the last thing to go, in a post-apocalyptic situation.

One small thing, and this could just be me: I got a little confused between your first and second sentences. The structure of your first sentence leads into the second, and it makes me think that life being easier without underwear is the last thing she clings to, rather than underwear itself. But if you change it, make sure you keep that opening sentence as is--it's a killer!

And peeing while holding a bow, while it will probably never be useful to me, sounds like an awesome skill to have.

Dan said...

Oh, god...openings are the worst. It's drilled into writers that the opening few paragraphs of a book are so important. It's when you "grab the reader's attention." Personally, I don't know if I really believe that to be the case a lot of the time. I'll slog through a somewhat hum-drum first chapter if I think the book is something I really want to read (thank you, back cover/inside flap blurb!).

I approach the start of a story in one of three ways:

1. I'll ignore the first chapter and jump right to chapter two and swing back around after I've gotten a firm hold on the thing (which isn't easy with my OCD).

2. I'll use my first chapter like the teaser scene from a TV show...where something weird happens, leaving the audience saying "huh?" and, hopefully, ready to come back after the credits to see what's going on. Or, along these lines...

3. I write my first chapter like the opening of a Bond movie. The hero is doing something that doesn't have much to do with the overall story, but it gets the reader into the character's world.

That's pretty much my two cents.

Tia Nevitt said...

Grey, I LOVED your opening sentence. It's a great "huh?" moment. I think you don't need that comma after "I wonder". Maybe you can reword it as "I wonder why I was ever so"

And I guess if you're a sniper, having to pee while keeping your arrow trained on a potential target is a useful skill to have.

I love post-apocalyptic novels, so this was a powerful opening for me!

Tia Nevitt said...

Dan, I agree with you. After writing three novels, I know I'll be changing the opening anyway, so I now just jump save that worry for later. Very often, I have plot threads I need to weave back into the opening pages, anyway.

Kristy Baxter said...

Dan, I love that you reference your OCD in the middle of a numbered list. It's very meta.

Interestingly, I frequently approach openings in the first way you listed--but by accident, because I'm in such a hurry to get to the good part and to follow the ol' "start the story with conflict/action" rule. I wish I could claim it was intentional, hee!

A. Grey said...

Life is so much easier without underwear. That was one of the last scraps of civility I clung to, the concept of underdrawers.

How's that sound? Better? I agree, I needed something to define my train of thought in that line. I'm ridiculously happy that the opening works. The story landed in my head and refused to be ignored, and that first line came just as it is. But I was wary about trying my hand at something of that nature. And, of course, you were right Tia, I didn't need the comma. I'm a comma monger... :)

strugglingwriter said...

Well, I try to not to get too caught up in the opening in the first draft. For The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman has said he wrote Chapter 4 (!) before anything else.

I'll have to post my opening paragraph here when I get the chance.

jenniferestep said...

"My name is Gin, and I kill people."

That's the opening line of my next book. I think this is the best opening line I've ever written because it tells you everything you need to know about my main character in one sentence. :-)

Dan -- I totally do the Bond thing too! Especially since I'm working on a spy-themed book right now.

T.D. Newton said...

I don't like to put so much focus on openings, but I also don't ignore them entirely. The first few openings for The Ninth Avatar aren't even worth printing here, but when it came to Thomas Redpool Goes To Hell, the first sentence was easy:

Hell, literally.

When I started writing Scions of the Shade, I definitely tried to bring the reader into the tactile world of the main character:

Laurel picked over the stones to find the one that would hurt the most. She was selective, weighing each and pressing the grooves against her calluses before discarding them.

I won't even share the 9A prequel/sequel opening lines, as they're more like placeholders at this point. Placeholders that took a lot of thought.

Kristy Baxter said...

Strugglingwriter, that's an interesting tidbit about Gaiman. I had no idea! I wonder if it was because that was what popped into his head first, or because he thought the story started there when it really started three chapters before.

Kristy Baxter said...

A., I like that better. And "underdrawers" makes me giggle.

Jennifer, that sentence does a great job of giving the reader information about the character AND hooking them. That's another interesting aspect--how, especially in openings, our words have to be doing so many jobs at once.

T.D., I love that rare event when the opening sentence just comes to you and is indisputable. That one sounds pretty much perfect. And I like the tactility of your second opening, there--it pulls me right into her world.

Tia Nevitt said...

Now that I think about it, I took Dan's Bond approach for my spy fantasy, except the next chapter does build upon it. And I use it to introduce major villains.

Grey, I liked your first opening better, with the exception of my comment above. and I do realize that two opposing opinions will only befuddle you!

TD, I like your Laurel opening best. I'm wondering what kind of trap she is setting up for someone.

T.D. Newton said...

Thanks Kristy & Tia. It's definitely my best opening so far, I think. Here's hoping the rest of the book is as good.

A. Grey said...

It's funny that I've got two opposing opinions. I keep going back and looking at what I changed. I like both now. I LOVE the word underdrawers, I say it more often than underwear. But somehow I like how stark the original opening was. Oh well, I'd rather have two to shoose from than be pulling my hair out trying to come up with just one... :)

Kristy Baxter said...

A.: I guess then it would come down to whichever suits the voice of the story better. Stark, or a little bit of humor...or stark humor, in which case, I've probably just confused you more.

A. Grey said...

Stark humor! Exactly! There HAS to be a way of arranging it so that it retains what it had as the original and contains a little of the second ones humor. I shall think on it!

Raven said...

Here's the current opening of my contemporary fantasy set in Los Angeles:

"Sarah Gordon could feel the raging wildfire in her mind, feel it like an itch at the edges of her senses, something she couldn't scratch even if she wanted to."

All comments, negative and positive, gratefully accepted. :) Rereading it now, I wonder if "raging" is too strong an adjective for what I then describe as an itch.

A., I preferred the rhythm of underwear opening #1 (very grabby, btw), but at the same time I can see the point about the ambiguous "that." So I guess I can't vote wholeheartedly for either version...

T.D., the Laurel opening makes me wonder what this character is up to. I'd read on.

Tia Nevitt said...

Jennifer's opening line also does a great job establishing mood. Which is just as vital, and which I was trying to do with my own opening lines.

Raven, I'm having a hard time with your mixed metaphors. You are equating a raging wildfire to an itch. See what I mean?

What do you think of this opening for my ancient-world fantasy?

It took me many years to forgive her. For most of those years, I wanted only to kill her.

Then one day, she showed up at the doorstep of my hovel with that husband of hers behind her. Once, I lived in a castle on a cloud with a vista that seemed to encompass all the world. Now, because of her, I was here, forced to scrape an existence out of the stubborn earth.

(Technically two paragraphs, I know.)

Raven said...

Tia, yeah, I see your point (I think). I'm not sure if I conveyed what I meant to. It's a physical wildfire burning nearby, and she can sense it with her mind. Maybe this is better:

"Sarah Gordon could feel the raging wildfire. Not physically, but mentally. It felt like an itch at the edges of her senses, something she couldn't scratch even if she wanted to."

Or maybe I need to scrap this completely and open with something else.

Tia, at the beginning of your second paragraph I assume that something to do with the woman's showing up will make the narrator forgive her, but by the end of the paragraph the narrator seems to be hating her even more. I was expecting to see the forgiveness occur fairly quickly, so this confused me. The second paragraph might work better, IMO, with the current first sentence at the end.

Memory said...

I find openings tough because I'm not the sort of reader who instantly connects wit ha story. I can't imagine ditching a book just because the first page didn't grab me, so I stress out over my own openings. I almost always start in the wrong place, too. I originally began my current WIP a good fifteen years before I needed to - eek! I'm glad I came to my senses and hacked all the backstory stuff out.

Now, comments: Tia, yours gets me wondering who this woman is, what she's doing there, and why she has to struggle so hard against past habits.

A. Grey, I'm torn between your first version and the rewrite. I like them both more or less equally, but I think I'm leaning towards the first because the word "civility" kind of takes me out of the post-apocalyptic setting. Either way, I like the idea of starting with something like that. It's a little bit funny and a little bit tragic; one of my favourite combinations.

Jennifer, I love yours. It got my attention right away and made me want to know how Gin felt about that. Does she kill people for fun? Profit? Necessity? You can bet I'd keep reading.

Raven, I think you have some good imagery in yours, but I definitely prefer the rewrite. The full stops force the reader to slow down and really picture what Sarah's going through.

Here's the opening to ARVORE, my work in progress. It's a fantasy of manners. I've lost count of the number of times I've rewritten it, and I don't doubt I'll revise it again before I send the manuscript out:

"I hoped – prayed – it would be difficult to gain access to the Romatran ambassador. I’d have welcomed a small mountain of paperwork and a good, long wait. I was prepared to ease myself into this meeting one lengthy step at a time.

I should have known better. Nothing ever happens when you’re really prepared for it."

Chicory said...

Latecomer here.
Jenniferstep, if I was in a bookstore and read your opening line I would totally have to read on.
My method of writing is to jump in with characters and hope a plot eventually happens, so I usually have to scrap about fifty or so pages of useless stuff to get my story going. Here's a first line that I love and am trying desperately to figure out a way to keep at the beginning of the story:

Shawadi the Dark Dragon Speaker would have been wearing his mask when they came for him, but he had taken it off to go swimming.

Tia Nevitt said...

I like that much better. I'm just playing with it here:

Sarah Gordon didn't have to see the wildfire; she could feel it, like an itch at the edges of her senses. Something she couldn't scratch even if she wanted to.

Not sure how you feel about sentence fragments, but that was the rhythm that popped into my head.

As for mine, I think I'll do a little rearranging:

It took me many years to forgive her. For most of those years, I wanted only to kill her. Once, I lived in a castle on a cloud with a vista that seemed to encompass all the world. Now, because of her, I was here, in this hovel, forced to scrape an existence out of the stubborn earth.

Then one day, she showed up at the doorstep of my hovel with that husband of hers behind her.

Chicory said...

A fantasy of manners. That sounds cool.

Tia Nevitt said...

Memory, I love it! To pray for a bureaucratic mess really makes me wonder what she's facing.

Chicory, you sort of turn the reader on his ear in a good way. I think it could use some tweaking. By giving his entire name and title, you destroy some rhythm. Maybe you could drop his name and emphasize the turnaround a bit more? Also, what kind of mask? I'm going to play with it to show you what I mean, but the mood I've come up with may be entirely wrong:

The Dark Dragon Speaker would have been wearing his skeletal mask when they came for him, but he had doffed it--along with all his clothes--to go for a quick dip in the pond.

Chicory said...

Tia, Lol. I love that. It sounds so like a Regency rake. Actually, Shawadi is locked in an underground cavern, his mask is spiky black leather, he lives in a sort of quasi iron-age culture, and he's fourteen years old. (It's supposed to be a mid-grade fantasy. I always try to write mid-grade fantasies, but they tend to get too dark, and I have to bump them up to YA.) I'll think about trying to make my opening a little clearer.

Chicory said...

How's this?

`The face of the Dark Dragon Speaker was to be kept hidden. Shawadi knew that, but he had first felt the summons hours ago; the limestone all around him thrummed with surpressed power that vibrated in his teeth, made his ears pop, and lodged in a burning shard behind his eyes. The bone and leather mask he wore grew heavier and heavier, and still the draconi did not come.'

Kristy Baxter said...

Sorry for the little absence, had to do some running around!

Chicory: I definitely like how your 2nd opening uses powerful verbs, and we get a good sense of urgency. And you give us something to read on for ("and still, the draconi did not come"). Something bothers me, though, and I think it's that you give too much information at once. I had to read it a couple times to get the gist. Maybe try to slow down the flow of information?

Kristy Baxter said...

Memory, I'm very interested in how many pages it takes you to connect with a story, on average. That got me thinking of how long it takes me--which is generally about 2-5 pages. Looking at the first pages of the last few books I read, that seemed to be the norm.

I think, though, that as I get older, it takes me longer to get into a story world when reading. Anyone else have that experience?

Chicory said...

Hmmm... need something between `no info' of version one, and `infodump' of version two. Thanks for the advice, Kristy.

Kristy Baxter said...

Chicory: And the tightrope makes another appearance! You can borrow my balancing-stick-thingy, if you want.

Raven said...

Tia, I think your rewritten version reads better.

Memory, the idea of your character wanting to wait intrigues me, and I have no complaints until the final sentence, which I think could be phrased more clearly.

Chicory, I actually love your first version. You've got this guy who sounds big and important, and then he chucks his mask and goes swimming. I like the irony. That opening hooked me more than your second one.

Tia Nevitt said...

My internet connection was down all night! I hope everyone isn't gone!

Chicory, it looks like you're now starting at a different place. Did he decide not to go swimming? Or does that happen in the next paragraph?

Thanks for your comment, Raven, but I'm still thinking mine needs to be more grabby. It's just not measuring up to the ones I'm seeing here.

Kristy, I'll tackle your question. When I purchase a novel, I expect to be sucked in rather quickly. But I was not always that way. I used to read a lot of pondering classics. I have noticed that the older I get, the more valuable my time is, and it's hard for me to spend a lot of time on a novel I'm just not getting into.

A. Grey said...

"It took me many years to forgive her. For most of those years, I want only to kill her."

Tia, I would snatch this book up and bolt for the door of the bookstore like mouse with a crumb at just that one line! Nothing sucks me in like the promise in such complex character relationships!

I'm not as taken with the second paragraph. Something about it lessens how profound that opening sentence is. I assume it's important to quickly clarify that he's where he is (a much, much different place than where he was) because of her specifically, but something about the way it is sounds, almost whiny. I don't mean that offensively, I hope it doesn't come across that way.

"Then one day, she appeared on my doorstep, with that husband of hers trailing behind her. Appeared on the doorstep that, because of her, belonged to the dirt and stone of a meager hovel, where once I had lived in a cloud-borne castle with all the world at my feet."

I don't know, I'm just playing with it...

Tia Nevitt said...

"I don't know, I'm just playing with it..."

and wouldn't you know? This morning I woke up with a wonderful idea that just blew my old opening into the delete file. I don't have an opening line yet, but I'm thinking of something like,

"It took me two years to gather the pantheon. Once, it would have taken only a few well-placed thoughts."

I'm thrilled that you liked the old opening, though!

Chicory said...

Tia, I like your new opening. The word `pantheon' gives a kind of Greek feel that promises an unusual setting.

Kristy, thanks for the balancing stick. (I need it.)

Raven, thanks for the compliment. :)

Tia, I only sort of started in a different place. Mostly I mixed my second paragraph in with my first. The original opening was a sort of `thesis statement' for the chapter, and the next couple paragraphs explain why Shawadi decides to chuck his mask and go swimming instead of waiting for the draconi like a good Dragon Speaker. It's something I've seen Lloyed Alexander (my hero) do. One of the Westmark Trilogy (I forget which one) starts `Theo didn't believe in ghosts. That day he saw two.' Then the chapter goes on to explain his meeting with the ghosts. It's a great effect, but I haven't exactly mastered it yet.

Kristy Baxter said...

I like the new opening a lot too, Tia. There's a nice juxtaposition there of going from powerful to powerless.

You're quite welcome, Chicory. =)

Regarding the "sucked in" question...thinking about it, I wonder if that's why I don't read as many classics as I used to. They always took me forever to get sucked into, and nothing can quite hook me these days like a good YA. *Puts on disguise in case her college profs are lurking in shadows*.

And one more thing, Tia--I LOVE waking up with new ideas in my head. There is no better way to start the day!

Tia Nevitt said...

Thanks everyone!

The classics that I've gotten through are mostly the ones that sucked me in from the start. Classics are classics for a reason! I especially loved the openings to The Three Musketeers, Crime and Punishment (although the rest of the novel was tough to get through), The Old Curiosity Shop, and, of course, Pride and Prejudice.

Chicory said...

I had the dickens of a time getting through the opening of `Watership Down,' but once I hit Efrafia I was hooked, and the end made me cry (in a good way.) A lot of my favorite books are the ones where I had to keep plowing past the first chapter or so. `Les Mis,' `The Hobbit,' `Kidnapped,' `The Gamage Cup.' All beautiful books, but ones that depend more on atmosphere and character building than raw action.

Raven said...

Like Tia, I find that as I get older I'm less tolerant of slow writing. I'm also more liable to quit a book (or turn off a movie) if I feel it's wasting my time. Of course, sometimes if I stick with the book (or movie), I get rewarded before the end. But sometimes not.

For that reason I don't read too many classics anymore. I do remember galloping through Crime & Punishment a few years ago, though. It currently stands as my favorite book. But I do think it's different reading it in the original than in translation. After I finished it I glanced at an English translation or two out of curiosity, and I don't think they would have sucked me in the way the original Russian did.

Ah, waking up with new ideas. I love when that happens!

Tia Nevitt said...

You read it in the original Russian? I am so impressed! I'd love to read some of my favorite works in the original language, but I only speak English. One day, I want to learn Latin so I can read Virgil and Cicero in the original tongue. Maybe when my daughter is in high school.

I did enjoy Crime and Punishment, but as I recall, it took me an entire summer to read.

Raven said...

Well, I stupidly majored in Russian in college. I had to do something with it. :)

Note to anyone thinking of majoring in a foreign language: don't. Major in business. Minor in the language if you have to.

Tia Nevitt said...

Were you thinking of going into intelligence? ;)

Memory said...

I'm rather late getting back here, but here goes!

Chicory: I really like the second version you posted. It's got great atmosphere. I love the "burning shard behind his eyes;" it's so evocative.

Kristy: I often like books right off the bat - I'd never finish anything if I didn't! - but it usually takes me as long as 50-100 pages to get to the point where I'm truly involved with the characters and their world. I do think age may play a roll in that. I don't remember struggling to connect with books when I was younger, but nowadays I just can't seem to sink into the story without a long lead-in time. I never abandon a book before the 100-page mark, though; I read fairly quickly, and I figure the author needs at least that long to hook me. I gave my last few abandoned books 250+ pages before I ditched them.

Raven: the last sentence of my opening bothers me, too. I've been trying to think of a way to phrase it that still fits with the character's voice, and I'm having some trouble finding one. What do you think of, "Preparing for something is the best way to ensure it doesn't happen" or something similar? Everything I've tried feels really clunky, but it's an important part of the character's philosophy so I don't feel like I can leave it out entirely.

Tia: I like both openings. The first one sets the character up quite nicely and introduces some great tension. The second one isn't quite so tensiony, but it still gives us an instant picture of how far this person has fallen. When push comes to shove, I think I prefer it.

Raven said...

Memory, maybe I misread the sentence. Is the character saying he's prepared to wait and therefore he thinks he won't have to? I took the sentence to mean he wasn't prepared for the meeting yet, which was why he was hoping to wait, so I was going to suggest something like: "You always have to face the worst before you're really prepared for it."

But maybe it should be more like: "Whenever I prepare for something, it doesn't happen."

Tia, yes, I was actually. :D But I changed my mind. I did love my major, though. It was just impractical.

Memory said...

Raven: it's a superstition of the "if I think about this a lot, and plan for every eventuality, then I know that nothing I've planned for will come to pass because that's the way the world works" sort. "Whenever I prepare for something, it doesn't happen" works, but I want to make sure it's clear that he thinks of this as something that could happen to anyone, not just him. Hmmm.

CaroleMcDonnell said...

I thought my opening was fine and dandy until about a month before publication when Paula from Juno emailed me and said, "Know what? I really need a new beginning. Just a little something-something." I sat down and wrote it in about twenty minutes and sent it to two or three beta readers who helped me tweak it. Then I emailed it to Paula. I totally love the beginning. It was something I hadn't really thought of and it fitted in perfectly with the rest of the if all that time it had been waiting to be written. -C

Tia Nevitt said...

Carole, I love it how things work out over time. I am truly loving my new opening for my epic fantasy. Before, it was just a guy talking about the old days. Now it's a gang of fallen gods arguing about the old days. Much better! And I only wrote this thing four years ago!

superwench83 said...

What a lively and interesting discussion! I wish I could have participated. I'll be looking forward to next week's topic if I'm not at State Fair.