Practicing and Improving VOICE

This blog post is a compilation of a tweet thread I posted this morning. I’ve added a few thoughts here and there to the original thread and a few extra exercises at the end. Hope it helps!

Ok #pitchwars You’re going to hear this a lot over the next few weeks.

You need a killer voice.
Paired with…
I can’t teach voice.

Which is true, but can be so frustrating to hear.
So, while I can’t teach you how to write a killer voice, you CAN practice.

Here are a few thoughts on how to practice voice if you’re struggling.

1. Write the same scene but change who the MC is. Perhaps in one form, they’re a dudebro, and then write it again w/the MC as a scientist. Notice what this changes in the narration. While the events of your scene may stay the same, a change in narrator should change everything else. What your character notices, how they describe it, how they react to it physically and emotionally. These are all elements of an immersive voice.

But there are other more subtle things you can practice, too.

2. Make a word/phrase list. Make two columns, in one write several different emotions or reactions. In the other column, write the go to phrases for that. In our 2016 mentee’s, CALL ME ALASTAIR, her medically obsessed MC writes “OMGAD” when exclaiming. (GAD=general anxiety disorder) My friend (and fellow mentor) Julie Artz likes to add to this list details like which of the five senses her character is most sensitive to, which part of their body reacts to things most.

It’s little details, but it makes a huge difference.

3. Try meditating as your character. I mean it! Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and try to become one with your MC. It sounds crazy, but that’s what I do. What do they see? Think about their height and literally “get on their level.” That alone should change how they describe certain things. How do they move through their world? How do they feel it? Try to make all of that a part of your body. Then bring it out and into the words you type.

Okay, hippie dippie enough for you? Let’s move on.

4. Try writing in another authors voice. Choose someone with a REALLY strong voice. Write in the voice of CATCHER IN THE RYE. Write in the voice of Douglas Adams. Or JK Rowling. Or Lemony Snicket. This is a great way to notice what makes those strong voices.

5. If you’re still struggling, or feel like you only have one voice, try an out there, totally different kind of MC. I was worried about voice for my last WIP, so I decided to try out a wise, British narrator. Because, hey. Why not? It worked. So go crazy. Give your character an awesome hobby that can leak into their wording and way they describe things. Have them be a collector or something, obsessed with some historical or pop culture thing. Whatever it is, just let it infuse into every chapter of your book somehow. I like this post from my co-mentor Cindy on letting your character’s “freak flag” fly.

6. Always remember, voice isn’t just the words you use but what your MC notices and how they react physically and emotionally.

7. Read Aloud. First do this with published books with great voice. Notice what a great written voice does to the way you read a book aloud. With the best, you will notice yourself actually falling into a cadence. A rhythm to the words. Almost like, this book can only be read one way. THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON is like this for me. Also, WOLF HOLLOW. I read that one aloud and even though I didn’t mean to, found myself taking on a light accent. Cindy’s WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW is the same way. You should be able to do this with your own writing, too. Read it aloud and notice where the cadence feels off or where you find yourself sort of stumbling or falling out of that rhythm. Then fix it. After that, give your manuscript to a really good friend or your partner to read aloud. See if THEY fall into a cadence reading it. If they can’t help bringing it to life. Notice the boring or less alive patches in their voice. Fix those!

Some additional exercises that might help.

Like the first exercise above but a little different. Think of a family story or scene from a recent outing. Imagine how your mom would narrate. Then imagine how your dad would narrate it.

This one won’t work for everyone, but it will for some people. Write for your character in free verse. I don’t know what it is, but verse helps me get to the heart of a character and their voice in five minutes flat.

Try just being yourself. How would you describe this scene to your very closest friend? Don’t clean it up. Leave in all the little asides, snide remarks, inside jokes, fragmented sentences. All of it. Be free and easy and totally yourself. What you come up with should be really voicey. After all, you are an awesome MC, right?

To finish off, I just want to let you know that the very first draft of THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC had very little voice. And what it did have was basically the voice of my last MC. I knew it needed work. But there were a few times as I was writing, that a different voice snuck in. I literally stopped writing, marked those spots and left a note for myself saying, “This is Kate’s voice!” Then after I finished drafting, I went back to those moments, read them, and kind of pondered them for a couple weeks before sitting down and rewriting the entire manuscript in the RIGHT voice this time.

Maybe nobody can teach voice. But you CAN practice it, learn it, and improve it. Good luck!

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THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC

I’m so pleased to get to finally announce my book deal! THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC will be published by Boyds Mills Press in Fall 2018.

This is a dream come true. It was also a lot of work. Several big revisions, one on a crazy short timeline. But it was all worth it.

If you’re feeling like you’ll never make it and thinking about giving up, feel free to contact me. My story will give you hope. I promise.

Keep working. Keep learning. Keep writing. Keep believing and giving and trusting with all your heart. You’ll get there!

You can find the official announcement here. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/73623-rights-report-week-of-may-16-2017.html

And you can add my book on Goodreads here! https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35158167-the-three-rules-of-everyday-magic

Guardian of Secrets Cover Reveal!

guardian-of-secrets

Let us know what you think of the cover for Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers, #2) by Brenda Drake which releases February 7, 2017!

This cover reveal is brought to you by Entangled TEEN & YA Interrobang!

I love Brenda Drake! And I love Brenda’s books! Her cover for book 2 in her Library Jumpers series is STUNNING! Check it out (along with her thoughts on it!)

Brenda Drake’s thoughts on the cover:

I had an idea of what I wanted the cover of Guardian of Secrets to look like the entire time I was writing the story. I was delighted (I might have screamed) when the cover showed up in my email and it was EXACTLY what I’d imagined. I love that it’s blue since part of the setting of the book takes place in a cold climate. I’m thrilled the couple is on it, too. They resemble the characters I’ve created in my mind perfectly. The cover is so beautiful, and I’m beyond excited to share it with everyone!

 

 

 

 

guardian-of-secrets_updated500

About Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers, #2):

Being a Sentinel isn’t all fairytales and secret gardens.

Sure, jumping through books into the world’s most beautiful libraries to protect humans from mystical creatures is awesome. No one knows that better than Gia Kearns, but she could do without the part where people are always trying to kill her. Oh, and the fact that Pop and her had to move away from her friends and life as she knew it.

And if that isn’t enough, her boyfriend, Arik, is acting strangely. Like, maybe she should be calling him “ex,” since he’s so into another girl. But she doesn’t have time to be mad or even jealous, because someone has to save the world from the upcoming apocalypse, and it looks like that’s going to be Gia.

Maybe. If she survives.

Want to read more? Pre-order your copy of Guardian of Secrets (Library Jumpers, #2) by Brenda Drake today!

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A Sneak Peek and a Sale!

Touching Fate by Brenda Drake | JenHalliganPR.com

I’m so excited to take part in Brenda Drake’s Sale & Excerpt Blitz for TOUCHING FATE! Check out the excerpt below and grab it for just $0.99, peek at CURSING FATE (book 2), and be sure to enter the amazing giveaway!

Touching Fate by Brenda DrakeAster Layne believes in physics, not psychics. A tarot card reading on the Ocean City Boardwalk should have been a ridiculous, just-for-fun thing. It wasn’t. Aster discovers she has a very unscientific gift—with a simple touch of the cards, she can change a person’s fate.

Reese Van Buren is cursed. Like the kind of old-school, centuries-old curse that runs in royal families. Every firstborn son is doomed to die on his eighteenth birthday—and Reese’s is coming up fast. Bummer. He tries to distract himself from his inevitable death…only to find the one person who can save him.

Aster doesn’t know that the hot Dutch guy she’s just met needs her help–or that he’s about to die.

But worst of all…she doesn’t know that her new gift comes with dark, dark consequences that can harm everyone she loves.

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Excerpt from TOUCHING FATE

They spread a blanket on the sand and sat on top of it. Aster pulled her legs into a pretzel. “So what’s in the box?”

“You aren’t the patient type, are you?” He undid the ribbon holding the package closed and flipped open the top, then handed her a napkin.

The wind whipped Aster’s hair across her face and she tucked it behind her ears. “Nice thermos,” she said.

“My mother sent it to us. She has an addiction to online purchasing.” He lifted out a cream puff.

It was her favorite pastry at the shop. “I’m impressed. You did your research. I’ll have to thank Leah later.”

He chuckled, handing her the pastry. “You will. She was very specific.”

She took a bite, the creamy, sugary goodness tasting like heaven on her tongue.

“Good, huh?”

She nodded, not wanting to speak and spray powdered sugar at him or something.

He unscrewed the thermos and poured a brown liquid into the cap. “Hot cocoa?” he asked, and passed the cap to her.

“Obviously,” she said, taking a sip. Because cream puffs tasted best with hot chocolate. It was sweet that he’d taken the time to find out what she liked.

They ate in silence, but it wasn’t boring. It was more like…comfortable. When they finished, Reese screwed the cap back onto the thermos and placed the used napkins in the box. He scooted as close as he could get to her. She leaned her head on his shoulder, and he slid his arm behind her back. They watched the sun set on the ocean and listened to the waves clap against the beach.

“It’s beautiful here,” Reese said, finally.

She raised her head to look into his eyes. “This is the best date ever.”

He smiled, brushing crumbs away from the corner of her mouth. Her heart shivered as his fingers moved to her chin and lifted her mouth to his. The kiss was soft and gentle, and way too short for Aster. He pulled away, a serious expression on his face.

“Do you believe in fate?” he said softly.

Aster swallowed back her surprise.

“I think I do,” she said, recovering. It was a lame response. Before meeting Miri, she probably would have said she did right off. It used to be just a word without meaning. But now, it held a power beyond that of a simple definition in a dictionary. She had looked the word up. Fate was unavoidable. Something that couldn’t be measured. Yet she had the ability to shift it. She worried she didn’t have the maturity to know when to let sleeping fates lie.

“I believe in it,” Reese said with a nod. “We were to go straight to Florida, but I had an urge to stop in Ocean City. I felt you. Fate brought us together.”

“I thought it was an ice cream cone.” She giggled.

Oh God, Aster, stop giggling, already.

He touched her cheek. “I’m being serious here. I don’t want to hesitate anymore. There isn’t much time. I’ll only be here a few months.”

Grab your copy of TOUCHING FATE for $0.99 for a limited time only!

Touching Fate by Brenda Drake | JenHaliliganPR.com

Cursing Fate by Brenda DrakeCURSING FATE (The Fated #2) 

Release Date: November 21, 2016

Add to Goodreads | Pre-order on Amazon

Iris Layne has always been the sweet sister. She’s kind to everyone, including her best friend Wade… Until she makes a horrible mistake and breaks his heart. All she wants is to go back to before ‘the dumping’.

Of course, Wade would rather see her in hell first. But then Iris touches her sister’s tarot cards and unleashes an evil curse intent on playing a deadly game where no one Iris loves is safe, especially Wade.

Join the celebration for CURSING FATE’s release! Sign up to take part in the Release Day Launch on November 21st (open to everyone)!

Brenda DrakeAbout Brenda Drake

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Pinterest | Instagram

Brenda Drake grew up the youngest of three children, an Air Force brat, and the continual new kid at school. Her fondest memories growing up are of her eccentric, Irish grandmother’s animated tales, which gave her a strong love for storytelling.

So it was only fitting that she would choose to write stories with a bend toward the fantastical. When she’s not writing or hanging out with her family, she haunts libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops, or reads someplace quiet and not at all exotic (much to her disappointment).

Giveaway

One winner will receive a Touching Fate Prize Pack including: Mini Tarot Cards; Infinity Bracelet; Blackheart Choker Necklace; Pumpkin Spice Badgerface Lip Balm; signed Bookmarks; and signed stickers for bookplates!

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Writing a Verse Novel: An Interview With Shari Green

I’m so excited to be here today with Shari Green, author of ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES. I had the chance to read an advanced copy of this book and it is just one of those classic-feeling, lovely, and heartfelt middle-grade novels. I loved it.

So I asked Shari about her new book and writing in verse!

I know you don’t only write in verse. You have a previous YA novel out written in prose. But why did you write THIS book in verse?

I had several false starts with this book, struggling to find the voice and to figure out who Bailey was. Several things converged serendipitously, nudging me to try verse, and as soon as I started it was like “aha! there’s Bailey” and the words finally flowed. I should’ve clued in sooner, really, as my writing always tends to be lean and somewhat lyrical—the transition to verse felt like a natural one for me.

 

How did you feel when you first started writing in verse? Were you nervous? How did you get over that?

I felt great about it as long as I didn’t actually think about it! Verse does suit my natural writing voice, but when I think about “real poets” and “real poetry”, I’m likely to get hit with a serious case of imposter syndrome. I’ve never thought of myself as a poet—I’ve got no formal training and little experience. So, I try not to think about it, haha.

 

I love the conversations Bailey has with Our Lady of the Bay. How did you come up with that? Did it just come to you, or were you trying to fill a need that you saw?

I knew I needed something to build the relationship between Bailey and OLOTB. I imagined Bailey sitting in the sand, back against the driftwood, having some great heart-to-hearts with OLOTB, but I didn’t know if these times would be real or in her head or what. I wrote these conversations on a whim, then sat back and thought about them. Even though they were so different from the rest of the text (and I didn’t know then if they’d end up staying in the book), I liked them. By leaving them simply as dialogue, there’s an ambiguity that I quite like—are they real? magic? imaginary? (I know what I think…what do you think? heh.)

 

 

Now, I’m lucky enough to have read an early draft of another verse novel you’re working on. And I thought it was interesting that it was so different from this one. Your poems are much longer in ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES. Do you want to talk about why the different styles and how that happened?

Interesting! I didn’t realize that was the case, but I suspect some of the length of the RBCAOM poems came during revisions. I always have to expand during revisions. I think RBCAOM grew from 14k in early drafts to about 20k in the final draft. So maybe the new story has some growing to do, or maybe the scenes in the new one are just more vignette-ish, if that makes sense.

 

There aren’t any real “rules” for free verse. But do you have any personal rules or way of doing things when you write in verse?

My approach to writing in verse is still developing, for sure. I love that there are no official rules! I think personal rules that are emerging for me include: (1) story first, just as with prose—kill unneeded darlings, no matter how poetic they are; (2) include a strong image or emotion in every scene; (3) musicality is key—choose words and line breaks to create the sound, rhythm, and tempo I want; and (4) play—with shape, sound, structure, poetic forms.

 

How do you know how to split up the lines of your free verse?

I most often choose line breaks either for rhythm or emphasis—so, I often break where there would be a slight natural pause (reading it aloud is critical!), or where I want to put a bit of a spotlight on a word or phrase. I also choose line breaks according to white space—the visual aspect of the poem, which is sometimes a very intentional thing for me, and sometimes not.

 

What is your favorite verse novel? Which would you recommend to study for those wanting to write in verse?

I can’t (won’t?) narrow it down to a favorite, lol. There are so many wonderful verse novels! I definitely recommend reading lots of different ones, to open one’s mind to possibilities—there are novels completely in free verse, novels that use a wide variety of poetic forms, single POV, dual or multi POV, contemporary, historical, memoir, etc. I hadn’t read a lot of verse novels when I wrote ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES, but now I’m devouring them. So much to learn!

 

Thank you so much, Shari!

Thank you so much for the great questions, Amanda, and for hosting me on your blog. Cheers! *passes a stick of root beer candy to Amanda*

 

Do you want to win a copy of ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES? (Hint: You do!) Enter to win a copy and a swag pack. You can get three entries into this drawing. One entry for adding ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES to your Goodreads shelf and posting a link in the comments, one entry for following @sharigreen on Twitter and leaving your Twitter handle in the comments, and a third entry for writing a couplet about the beach…in the comments, of course! 

*Make sure you are following me on Twitter to find out who wins. I’ll pick a winner on October 17th and announce there..*

Writing a Verse Novel: An Interview with Laura Shovan (Part II)

Welcome to Part II of my interview with Laura Shovan, author of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Yesterday, this interview focused on the differences between prose and verse novels and getting started. Today, we’re going to focus more on poetic tools and techniques.

What are some of your favorite poetic tools?

Studying and learning from other poets. I love using Kay Ryan’s poems as a model. Her language is so economical, smart, and funny.

How do you know how to split up the lines of your free verse?

I spend a lot of my revision time on line breaks. Reading a poem aloud helps.

I’ve heard verse novelists talk about revising the “shape” of their poems. And I didn’t understand it until I started writing in verse. How do you revise the shape of your poems? Or, how do you decide to use an actual shape poem?

This is related to your previous question. When I’m revising, I’ll often try a poem out with long lines, then short lines. I’ll see what it looks like in tercets, then unrhymed quatrains. It’s trial and error until I find a balance between form and words that feels right for the poem.

Do you feel like verse novels have a little bit more leeway with plot structures?

I feel like novels written in poems don’t have to fill every space on the page with information. When the reader finishes a poem and turns the page to read the next one, I trust that she is going to make connections between the two texts. I love this dynamic! There are discoveries hidden or suggested in the poems for the reader to find and carry forward as the story moves along.

How do you handle dialogue in a verse novel? What are some of the favorite ways you’ve seen in other verse novels?

Three common options are: Use quotation marks as you would in prose. Italicize dialogue spoken by another character (who is not the speaker of the poem). Create a right-hand column of verse text for words spoken by the other character.

Transitioning between scenes or periods of time or setting is tricky in a verse novel. What are some ways you’ve done this?

This is where the title of a poem is your friend. Let’s say there is information you have to communicate, such as a new setting or a jump in time, but putting it in the text of the poem weighs the verse down. Put that information in the title. For instance, title the poem, “At Grandma’s House” or “Vacation is Over” and go on from there.

This is a great technique for poetry in general. Titles can do so many things! Create tension, set a tone, or communicate an important piece of information.

When I first started writing verse, someone told me to make use of “the white space.” Can you talk about what that means and how you do it?

That’s a complicated question. My guess is that the person who told you this wanted you to think about the page differently – not as something to be filled up with words, but as a visual, as well as a literary experience.

When I write for children, I’m aware that one function of white space on the page is to chunk information. “Chunking” is used in the elementary school classroom to break up information, so that it’s less overwhelming for students (especially those who have visual or language based learning differences). The stanzas of the poem work in much the same way, breaking up phrases and images with white space, so a young reader can absorb the poem a piece at a time. I think this is one reason why poetry is popular with emerging readers.

In your book, you had many different characters and each had their own voice. I was so impressed by that. How is voice different in verse than in prose? How do you nail it?

Thank you, Amanda. Personally, I find it easier to create a spare voice in a poem. In prose, my middle grade characters are very chatty and tend to over-share, at least in early drafts.

In your book, you used several different kinds of poems. What makes you decide what kind of poem to use? Do you use a certain style for only certain times?

The form of the poem is intentional. My favorite example of this in THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is the three sonnets. All three poems happen when one of the characters is feeling boxed in by the expectations of his or her peers. The strict rules of a sonnet reflect the constraint that the characters are feeling in those moments.

What is the importance of poetry in a child’s life?

In addition to the chunking mentioned above, I’ve seen how positively children respond to poetry’s playfulness with language. When we read and write poetry together, we’re showing children that they can be intentional with language. Poetry asks us to slow down and think carefully about what we say. The words we choose to use matter, not only in writing, but in how we speak to others as well.

Poetry is also a safe place to express hurt, grief, and love. I wrote about the importance of poetry in children’s emotional lives for the Baltimore Sun this spring. You can find the op-ed here: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-pocket-poem-20160421-story.html

 

Thank you so much to Laura Shovan for answering all my questions. If you want to win a copy of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary then comment with a line from your favorite poem to enter the drawing. And be sure to comment on yesterday’s post to be entered twice!

Writing a Verse Novel: An Interview with Laura Shovan

Back in October of last year, I began drafting a verse novel. It was really scary at first because there isn’t much out there about how to write a verse novel. There seem to be rules and no rules at the same time. Freedom but tools and techniques I should know. For the past year, I’ve stumbled along and learned a lot. Now I want to start a blog series to talk about “how” to write a verse novel.

Laura-Shovan1-209x300  last fifth grade

For my first post, I was able to interview the amazing Laura Shovan, author of the MG verse novel The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. I asked A LOT  of questions, so I’ll be splitting her interview up into two posts. Today we’ll be focusing on the idea of writing in verse and how it differs from writing in prose. Tomorrow we’ll focus on verse tools and techniques.

I hope you find Laura’s answers as helpful and insightful as I did.

Do you only write in verse?

I write in a variety of forms. When there’s something I feel compelled to write about, often the subject itself defines the form. A reaction to a news item might fill the small space of a poem, instead of developing into a short story (an example is my poem “Rattlesnake Bites Man in Walmart Garden Center” here: https://qarrtsiluni.com/2013/05/13/rattlesnake-bites-man-in-walmart-garden-center/). My current work-in-progress began as a series of poems and sketches. It has developed into a middle grade novel written in prose.

What makes you decide to write a story in verse rather than prose?

I don’t think I could have written THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY in prose. Poetry allowed me to differentiate the voices of the 18 characters. I used line breaks and white space in the poems to help readers hear the cadence and rhythm of each character’s style of speaking. Kwame Alexander’s book THE CROSSOVER, is a great example of this technique. He creates his main character’s voice not only in the words used, but also in the way they flow across the page.

What are the differences in drafting a verse novel rather than a prose novel?

In THE LAST FIFTH GRADE, developing a plot through the voices of Ms. Hill’s class was like putting together a jig-saw puzzle with moving pieces. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. Each character has many poems that didn’t make it into the book. Once I put everything together, I found holes in the story and character arcs, went back and filled them in with more poems. My CPs and my editor gave me wonderful guidance in this process.

My struggle with writing a prose novel is training myself to write from beginning to end. I want to focus on important scenes and set-pieces, put them in a loose order, and fill in the holes. I’m learning that this isn’t an efficient way to write fiction.

There aren’t any real “rules” for free verse. But do you have any personal rules or way of doing things when you write in verse?

When I visit students as a poet-in-the-schools, we talk about form poems and free verse. Children like playing with traditional forms, but they also like the idea that, in a free verse poem, it is the individual poet who makes the rules. Free verse poems do have structure and can use rhyme (often internal). That’s up to the poet.

One of my revision techniques for poetry is to rewrite a free verse poem in a traditional form, such as a triolet. Sometimes this helps me see extraneous phrases, or opportunities for rhythm that I’d missed.

Do you have a verse style? What is it?

I’m still uncovering my style as a poet an author. One of my favorite forms is the persona poem, where a character speaks in a poetic monologue. THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is a book of persona poems.

What sort of stories do you think are best served by verse?

My favorite novels in verse are voice-driven. LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech, THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander, and THE LANGUAGE INSIDE by Holly Thompson each take us inside the experiences and emotions of the main character. The model for THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is a 1915 verse novel, SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY, by Edgar Lee Masters.

 

Where did the idea for THE LAST FIFTH GRADE come from?

When my son was in fifth grade, I was struck by all of the in-jokes, traditions, and shared interests of his class. With their teacher, Jason Schoenhut, the children built a true community. One of my favorite books about how communities function is SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY, which is a series of persona poems spoken by the people who live in small town outside of Chicago. My inspiration came from the intersection of these two things.

 

Do you want to get your hands on a copy of Laura’s fabulous book? (It’s amazing!) She’s giving away a signed copy to a reader of this blog. Leave a comment with a haiku about writing in the comments to enter the drawing. You’ll get another chance to enter tomorrow with part 2 of the interview. Comment on both posts and double your chances!