NaNoWriMo is coming up fast!

Want to try National Novel Writing Month for the first time? Dooooo it! I’m here for you! What is NaNoWriMo you ask? It’s a chance for writers around the globe to try and write 50,000 words in one month. And if you didn’t know it, Seattle’s NaNoWriMo mascot is the Rubber Duck! I may have way too many ducks, and not enough all at the same time, so you’ll find me at write-ins around the city giving out ducks and competing in word sprints for new ones!

yellow duckies in line on a concrete floor
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In an effort to help folks get set for the big months, here is a page I wrote ages ago with some pointers for world-building, plotting, and character creation. And if you want to connect with folks, here are some events I’m teaching/facilitating leading up to and during the big month!

  • I’m teaching a workshop called “A Scream is worth a 1,000 Words” with the Continuing Ed department at Shoreline Community College in person on the 29th. While it bills itself as horror, it is really focusing a lot on metaphors and usage of emotion and message in your stories, so it’s pretty useful across the board.
  • The Shoreline CC Library and I are doing a free “PrepTober” session in person on 10/28 from 5-6 to talk about how to NaNoWriMo!
  • Through November, we’ll be doing free in-person Write In Wednesdays at the library where you can come work on your NaNo story! (there will be rubber ducks)
  • I’ll also be hosting virtual write-ins through the Neverending Bookshop on Saturdays and Thursdays. You can follow them on facebook for the links!

As always, I’ll be keeping you updated on my progress. I’ve got two big projects in the works for this month, one in cooperation with SETI (yes, alien searching SETI) and a sci-fi novel based around a delightful ship’s mechanic and a ring of unusual properties. (No. Not that kind of ring.)

Happy writing!

July Reading Update

So! Fun news first: for the first time in a year and a half, I have a day job again. Yay! Trust me, the nonprofit world is BRUTAL right now for trying to get a gig in Seattle specifically. Don’t bother. There were 600 applicants for every 1 position in some cases. So. I went back to the corporate world (boo!) but for a truly cutting edge sci-fi company (yay!) doing people-y things (I understand the first few sentences of the theory before my brain goes to mush.)

With that said, my writing may slow down a bit, I won’t be quite as available to teach or coach, but I think this is the right move for me in this time. It’s a great team, at a really darn cool place, and we’ll see how long I can ride that wave. I HAVE sold 6 new stories, have a bunch that are in second round reading right now, and at last count…2 plays, 8 novels, and 5 novellas in the works, so don’t count me out just yet!

But now you want to know what I’ve been reading over the long silence since my last post. Well:

I recently read all of Charlie Jane Anders’ work, even the ARC of the sequel of her YA, and let me tell you…I’m working on a whole post just about her. For now, the rest of what I’ve been reading and enjoying is below. As always, any books I read and can’t stand go quietly into the night…

Nonfiction

Spec Fic

New Story Published: Marinel

I know I owe you some book recommendations (and I have a LOT pending right now) but it still needs to wait as I have been dealing with house-hunting, starting a new job, my husband starting a new job, closing on a house, fixing said house so it’s not a fire trap, packing to move into said house, and keeping up with edits from the SIX, that’s right, six stories that have been purchased recently.

The first one out is “Marinel” with Starry-Eyed Press’ new anthology Cosmic Convocation.

To put a cherry on top, I’m first up in the collection! I’ve also got an interview on their blog talking about my writing process and a little bit about the story if you are so inclined to read.

I’ll keep you posted about the other stories and when they go up. And as soon as we’ve moved, I’ll get this next round of book suggestions posted!

More Reading!

Hello again, fellow readers! Welcome back to Rebecca Reads a Thing and Tells You To Read It, Too! It’s been a fun adventure the last few months and I haven’t been able to read quite as much as I might otherwise have liked, but here’s a selection of books I think you should add to your list.

First off, there is Oil and Dust: The Elemental Artist by Jami Fairleigh. I want to call this one out especially, as Jami is a good friend of mine and I had the chance to read the ARC of Oil and Dust before it hit the market. I have since purchased a copy, but want to lay my prejudice out right up front. I’ve known Jami for almost a year now, we met last NaNoWriMo when she attended the write-ins I was hosting on behalf of the Neverending Bookshop, and we just keep doing events together! Not only is she an incredibly pleasant human being, she is also a great writer, and it shows in this debut novel. Oil and Dust is a post-apocalypse story wherein the world (well, the American continent at least) has somewhat recovered into a society of loosely interconnected small towns. Our main character, Matthew Sugiyama, is an Artist, which, in this reality, means he can bend physics to his will with the stroke of his paintbrush. Freshly graduated from the Abbey where he was trained, he sets off into the world to figure out who his family is and find answers to the questions that have plagued him his whole life.

Fairleigh does a fantastic job in this novel with worldbuilding and description. She definitely has an artist’s eye and sensibility when it comes to scene-setting, and she makes the act of painting exciting and intriguing. The artistic bent of the magic system is unique, and very well executed. I get testy if magic systems aren’t fully fleshed out and internally consistent, but Fairleigh does a masterful job of creating and utilizing the art=magic equation. Matthew is a sympathetic character, and though he at times is as self-centered as any 19 year old young man would be, it only adds to the realistic portrait she paints. My only qualm with the protagonist is that he at times seems too aware of his own emotions and analyzes his mental state and motivations better than most therapists. I personally like a bit more of that left up to the reader. Regardless, the struggle and adventure Matthew and his compatriots embark upon is delightful, a true page-turner that left me asking what on alternaEarth was going to happen next. Definitely worth the read!

Now, on to the other books I’ve read recently…

  • Domesticating Dragons by Dan Koboldt was a hilarious novel where Jurassic Park meets West World. Definitely a popcorn read, but very enjoyable.
  • The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark was a fantastic novella in an alternate history New Orleans with a steampunk flair. Read this. Right now.
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir was a different read for me. Felt like Dune meets Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. Super far flung post-apocalyptic sci-fi with a predominant necromantic society.  It was weird, but awesome. At one point I told my husband it mostly just had the fun bits of Necromancy in it and his response was, “What the **** are the fun bits?!”
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune was the best darn middle-aged gay romance story I’ve ever read. I know there is a lot of discussion out there around how the author handled commenting on their inspiration for the story, but, regardless, it’s a gosh darn good book. I have no right to comment on the trauma of the folks who have the problem with book, but I will say that the situations which are fictionalized in the story were happening all over the world at various times, and not just in one place and time. Yes, Klune’s imagination was sparked off of a particularly horrid example of these institutions, but he was also informed by many, many more situations.
  • I picked up Banned by the BBC! by Arnold M.D. Levine as research for the new direction my radio play is taking, and was pleasantly surprised by how delightful this book is. I’m usually not one for memoirs, but Levine has a hilarious way with words that had me laughing out loud multiple times. This book takes a look at Levine’s experiences as a land-based pirate radio operator in 1970s London, and how Radio Concord was formed, functioned, and finally, dissipated, through the eyes of the people that loved and nurtured its illegal endeavors. It is clever, and witty, and eye-opening into a sub-culture of London that I was only peripherally aware of prior to reading. Definitely worth the time!
  • Blackwing War by K.B. Spangler is a sequel to Stoneskin the only two books Spangler has published that are outside their “Girl and her Fed” storyverse. And not gonna lie, I would read anything by Spangler, it’s always delightful, and I loved Blackwing War as much as all the rest of her writing!
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvie Moreno-Garcia is a supernatural romp with Mayan Gods through 1920s Mexico. The lens into Mayan mythology was fantastic, but I did find it a little slow. Could have used more agency on the part of the protagonist, but I still think it’s worth it.
  • Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor was great, I always love Okorafor’s work, but this was not her strongest story. Good, enjoyable, but she’s also done better. Start with Binti if you haven’t read her work yet.
  • The Ruthless Ladies Guide to Wizardry and Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner are Waggoner’s first two books. They are hilarious, and are in the same vein as Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. A fantastically tongue-in-cheek fantasy world that pokes at our culture’s beliefs and actions through the lens of trolls and magic. I can’t wait for the next!
  • Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes came to me by way of Ada Technical Books’ Feminist Science Fiction Book Subscription, which has been sending me amazing books all year. So worth the cost. But back to Chilling Effect. This is an absolutely hilarious romp in space, put me in mind a lot of Firefly/Serenity, if the captain was a Latinx woman who accidentally ends up with a ship full of psychic cats. Yeah. That. It’s a beaut.

But that’s all for now! Go get these books, give them a read, and let me know what you think!

More Pandemic Reading

Alright, here we are, back for more reading recommendations from the long months between last May and now. I may or may not have been reading a LOT. And writing a lot. NaNoWriMo was in there somewhere, along with a move, starting a new career as a full time writer and educator, and so so so much more. Who knew staying home during a pandemic could be this busy?!

If you can’t find these in a library and want to buy a copy, I highly recommend ordering through Bookshop.org to help support independent booksellers during this time. It’s where I’m getting most of my physical copies of books now, though I’m reading more and more virtually (easier to read laying down for bed).

All of these books I found riveting, inspiring, and/or nerve-wracking. I’ve grouped them into categories roughly around where you’d find them in a library, but don’t let that stop you from picking any of these up. I enjoyed all of them immensely. Presented in no particular order:

About Writing

  • Pocket Workshop from Clarion West edited by Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans – a series of essays from Clarion West instructors past
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont – About the writing life, and exactly what I needed in the moment
  • The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass – Talking about emotion in writing, beautifully done
  • Monster She Wrote by Lisa Kroger – the history of female horror/speculative fiction authors

Nonfiction

  • The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery – about working with octopuses and a lot of their biology; I may be on an octopus kick
  • Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty – about the cremation and funeral industry, absolutely fascinating

YA Speculative Fiction

  • Updraft by Fran Wilde – truly unique fantasy
  • Wilder Girls by Rory Power – fair warning, this is terrifying, at least for me
  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow – about Black sirens, super fun
  • A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney – a modern Black Alice in Wonderland gone punk
  • The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud and Andrew Donkin – If Robert Aspirin had written his MYTH series for kids

Other Speculative Fiction

  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – high fantasy, without the elves and Tolkien influence
  • Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb – and sequels, high fantasy
  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – Almost surreal modern high fantasy (?) Hard to describe other than excellent
  • Shadowrun Novellas by Jennifer Brozek – set in the TTRPG setting of Shadowrun and very fun
  • Ordinary Magic series by Devon Monk – Lovely, light hearted urban fantasy
  • Putting the Fun in Funeral by Diana Pharaoh Francis – slightly darker urban fantasy

Series I always return to

  • Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs – I always pre-order these urban fantasy shifter books
  • The Thief Knot and Bluecrowne by Kate Milford (of Greenglass House series) – I just adore these books set in the same magically-real smugglers town
  • Come Tumbling Down and Imaginary Numbers by Seanan McGuire – I never get tired of McGuire’s breadth and depth of skill; something for everyone in her various series
  • Most recent in the Lizzie Grace series by Keri Arthur – fluffy popcorn urban fantasy, the best kind!
  • Most recent in the Blood Trails series by Jennifer Blackstream – I am so invested in this witch urban fantasy series; I always preorder them
  • The most recent in the Miss Fortune Mysteries series by Jana DeLeon – Okay, so, EVERYONE I recommend these to adores the crap out of them. 18 strong and counting. If you don’t pick up any other books from this list, go get Louisiana Longshot. I cry laughing reading them, and they are universally excellent. My husband was super skeptical. It took him a grand total of two weeks to read the first 17. Fluffy, funny, exciting, sexy, all of it, with a main character I can really connect with and two old ladies who I wish were my neighbors. Well, maybe a street over so when Gertie burns down her shed, again, I can enjoy the amusement, but not worry about property damage.

That’s it for now folks! I’ll come back with a roundup again sometime when I have the wherewithal to catalog my reading again. TTFN!

Thanks for coming to and/or watching my Ignite talk!

And if you missed it, I’ll post the youtube link when it goes up! If you’re looking for some of the resources I talk about, there are links below. Hope you found it igniting!

When the research is fun!

So I was recently mugged by inspiration while touring Smith Tower here in Seattle (thanks for the tickets, Tiff!). For those of you who have no idea what Smith Tower is, it was once the tallest sky scraper west of the Mississippi (when it was build back in the 19-teens) and it has a lovely and eventful history, including housing an assortment of people associated with rumrunning and bootlegging back during prohibition. If you know much about prohibition in the west OR constitutional law, you probably know the name Roy Olmstead. He was a rumrunner up here in Seattle who was known for being anti-violence and being one of the area’s largest employers during that time period as well as being the first person to challenge wire tapping as a legal source of evidence at the supreme court. However, I am much more interested in his wife, Elise aka Elsie Caroline Parché aka Campbell who was a British WWI intelligence officer before marrying Roy. But when one goes to find information about the ladies of the time period, the research is thin on the ground.

As I was flailing around for resources, I ran across a book that is actually coming out next month: Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners, and Graft in the Queen City by Brad Holden. I promptly pre-ordered it, but didn’t want to wait a month to read it (oh the urgency of the muse /s) and instead reached out to Brad on his Instagram account where he posts Seattle relics. He happily agreed to send me over a PDF of his book which I promised to review in return for sending me the advance copy, so here we go! He did specify a completely HONEST review of the book, so I guess I’ll start with what I didn’t like.

I wish there was more on Elise, but considering he was covering all of prohibition in a concise and easy to read book, I can’t be too hard on him for that. I could have also wished for more precise dates on some events as I laid out the timeline my work will cover, but again, not sure those are even available. And that’s the end of what I can complain about.

Holden has put together a beautifully researched and written book about the nature of Prohibition and its criminal element with copious photographs to bring the laundry list of names and events to life. His writing is lively and engaging, which I personally have had difficulty finding in non-fiction works. If you look through my list of reviews here, you’ll see I tend to stick heavily to speculative fiction, so actually enjoying a non-fiction book is something of a departure for me. Most of the other works I’ve found about this era are deadly boring and I find myself skimming and just looking for mentions of the names I am concerned with. Not so with H0lden’s work. It’s a masterfully woven tale that explores all the major players and events in Seattle during the 1920’s and early 30’s and how Prohibition entered and exited the scene.

The book has provided me with a wealth of knowledge about the time period my story will be set in, and the events and people that will serve as a backdrop to the play. It was charming, eloquent, and had a rakish sense of humor, much like the people it featured. If you have a passing interest in Seattle, history, Prohibition, gentleman criminals, or a mix of the above, definitely pick this up for your to-read shelf. And this isn’t just me taking sugar from another local author, I whole-heartedly recommend this intriguing book.

Give me back my agency.

Today’s story is about fighting with health insurance, with way too much health details for the squeamish. You are warned.
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Scheduled my surgery two months ago. Six days ago I get a letter from my insurance saying I’ve never tried any other treatments for my condition so they won’t approve surgery. Um…whut? They have literally been paying for every kind of treatment possible over the last six years and they’ve all failed. So my doc sends a letter of contestation and I call the insurance who says my doc needs to call, not send a letter. So she calls. And talks to their approving doc who says, nope, HE knows better than a GYNECOLOGIST AND HER PATIENT and that all I need is a laprascopic DIAGNOSTIC surgery, not a treatment surgery at all, so he won’t approve it. But she’s free to send another letter if she wants. So I call, and yell at EVERYBODY and file an urgent appeal because at this point it’s less than a week to my surgery date, thanks to them dragging their feet. My gynecologist’s office is flabbergasted and never seen this kind of male bullshit privilege from an insurance before. And I call to check on the status and the woman tells me that calling to check is useless because by law they have 72 hours to respond. And, no, I can’t speak to anybody on the appeals team, members aren’t allowed to.
 
I am off half the medications I rely on to be functional in preparation for surgery and have been for a week. I’m in immense pain, and I should be preparing my house for a six week recovery, and staying calm and relaxed, and instead I am so incredibly stressed out because this is the only really feasible time to do this surgery, we’ve arranged out life around it, scheduled around it, and now there’s a strong chance it won’t happen. My stomach is wrecked, I have no appetite, I feel helpless because the decisions about my care have been taken away from me by a faceless corporation that doesn’t want to hear from me. I barely slept last night and when I did, it was full of nightmares.
 
For reference:
  • During my first period at 12 I passed out from the pain.
  • During high school, my 7 day periods regularly soaked through six pads a day.
  • During college I had to go on birth control because my cramps prevented me from going to class and my cycles would swing wildly between 15 and 45 days long.
  • During grad school, I collapsed in a crosswalk in the middle of Boston from the pain and had to make the decision between taking Lupron for six months or having surgery. Surgery wasn’t an option because of work and class, so Lupron it was. It helped with the pain, but it was also six months of hormonal agony and has left a really nasty imprint on my biological systems. Never again.
  • After going off Lupron we learned that estrogen was giving me heart arrhythmias, so I could no longer take birth control with any estrogen in.
  • Progesterone only treatments didn’t seem to be effective, so I went onto the Skyla IUD (designed for women who haven’t had children, and lasts for three years).
  • Two years into the Skyla, my cramps were so bad I was missing work and they were constant. No letup. I tried to keep it a few more months but ended up having it pulled six months early.
  • Went back to progesterone only treatments. The low dose normal birth control pills did nothing.
  • 5 mgs was hormonal agony.
  • 2.5 is barely tolerable. My last period I bled for a month and a half. And I’ve had cramps daily for the last two months.
 
And an anonymous man at the other end of my insurance says I don’t have endometriosis. At least, there’s no evidence for it. And I’ve tried nothing to treat it. There is literally NO OTHER TREATMENT LEFT. I do not make this decision lightly, but since I do not want to have biological children due to all of the health concerns in the rest of my body, I choose not to have multiple surgeries to “clean out” my abdomen that will need repeat visits and multiple surgeries. JUST TAKE IT OUT. One and done. Why is this so hard?
 
I don’t really need comfort, or assurances, I just need to share this. To vent it out into the atmosphere so it stops poisoning me inside. And I’m going to be uncomfortably honest right now, as if I haven’t been already: When talking about this last night with my husband, he saw how upset I was and checked in (rightly so) to make sure i wasn’t going to hurt myself. And as I checked in with myself, I realized the only reason I wasn’t is because I couldn’t think of anything that would help and not just make the situation worse. That’s how far I am at my wit’s end trying to deal with my health. Before you ask, yes, I am seeing a therapist. I have another appointment with him on Monday. He’s a good guy. I have a wonderful team of doctors who are still struggling to get a grasp on most of my malfunction. My primary care doctor, Dr. Nicola Hyde, is probably my favorite doctor ever, and I know I’m one of her favorite patients because I always bring her new and weird things to research. I’m just glad she takes me seriously. At least someone does.
 
TL;DR Fuck insurances taking away agency of care from patients and doctors. I’m a wreck, and praying to all that is holy that I still manage to get my surgery next week.

A Working Girl’s Hero Journey

My husband picked up a book from the library, Amber Dawn’s Sub Rosa, and on the way home I read the back out of curiosity. The title, given what I know of the phrase, intrigued me, and the synopsis even more so. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about magical prostitutes?

Little is the newest girl to become a Glory on Sub Rosa, a street that doesn’t exist, full of houses and businesses that cater to live ones (us normie city folks) who need a respite and an experience full of joy to relieve the humdrum life they lead. It’s a novel that explores a lot of interesting topics from love to the importance of memory, and how people experience life and sex. It was riveting, and though there were a lot of racy scenes, none of them felt gratuitous, which is definitely rare. They were all an important part of the plot, and were written with tact and finesse, leaving your experience of them much like what I would expect from a Sub Rosa Glory herself.

The part that stuck most in my mind, though, was the theme of names through the novel. This was the second novel that I’ve read, in a row, where we do not know the protagonist’s given name until nearly the end of the story. Names and naming things plays a huge role in both Alif the Unseen and Sub Rosa and it got me thinking about my own reticence around names. I find myself avoiding using people’s names almost always, unless there is no other way to get their attention in a crowd or something similar, and I wonder why that is. Something to ponder; thanks for the push, Dawn!

Anyway, I highly recommend picking this up to read. It’s a beautiful and glorious word romp through some difficult topics and leaves you different at the end, just like any good trip to Sub Rosa.

Determination and Resolve for the New Year

I’m awake way too early on New Years Eve, so I decided to spend the time contemplating the end of this year and the beginning of the next. Because that’s what people do, right? Shortly to be followed by angst-ridden resolutions and the fear of failure in living up to our own meager expectations of willpower. So, let’s not.

2017 was a dumpster fire of a year politically, climatologically, culturally, and yet, not everything was horrible. While 45 was setting the United States back fifty, nay, one hundred years in advancement in some areas, other humans were working their butts off for their fellow humans. There are the wonderful compilation videos of 2017’s best news bloopers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bD3DjN7i1Fg), but that’s not what I’m talking about (though those ARE funny). I’m talking scientific breakthroughs in water production or how we managed to make the first edit on a human embryo’s genome which will allow us to edit out disease before implantation. Or, going the other direction, scientists are one step closer to being able to effectively treat some forms of paralysis which brings hope to so many people who struggle in their daily lives in a world not suited to those differently-abled.

But for all the stunning new discoveries in science, the one thing they haven’t figured out is why humans are so terrible to each other so consistently. Every time I opened an internet browser this year, I was besieged by stories of another mass shooting, of another racially/gender/sexuality-based crime; of another march against the injustice of living while POC/female/immigrant/poor/sick. God forbid you are any combination of the afore-mentioned as it is nearly impossible for you to pull yourself up by your second-hand bootstraps. If you even have boots. And all the cis-het-white-males of the world get their panties in a bunch at the phrase white privilege, so maybe we should restyle it as white advantage and rebrand it as just that, an advantage on the game of life that allows us to have the luxury of making a difference. Our advantage is in being heard, in having weight and influence, and it should be used to help lift up our fellow human. Our worth as humans lies not in what we manage to acquire for ourselves but in how we treat and help our brethren with the losing tickets in life.

In response to this madness, I choose to take advice from Mr. Rogers: Look for the helpers. The heirs to fortunes who speak out against tax policy that would be greatly beneficial for them, but ruin the rest of the country. People turning out in record-breaking numbers to show their dissatisfaction of the government. And the few politicians standing up for the well-being of the entire American population, despite being verbally attacked and forced out of hearings whenever possible. (I’m pretty sure Senator Warren is fueled by the insensate screams of her opponents.)

With all of this weighing on our hearts as we head into the new year, it can be daunting to try and feel hope and optimism that things will be better. I’m not going to make false promises to you about the direction of politics or how the only direction is up. There are too many competing factors to even begin to make those sorts of observations. The only thing that is true is that at this time tomorrow the number on the calendar will have changed and its up to us to find our place in the dystopic America we are now mired in. Here’s what I can say, though:

It’s time to stop looking for the helper and instead become a helper yourself. You don’t need to become a national politician or an award-winning writer with death-threats from the conservative elite to make a difference. That’s where most people come up short, terrified of failing, certain there is no difference they can make in the world because they aren’t big enough. So start small.

First, you have to decide which issue you want to focus on. You can’t focus on them all, it’s too much pain, too much suffering, and you’ll become overwhelmed by it all and paralyzed into submission. So do you care about women’s issues? Or the struggles of POC in our country? Or the homeless epidemic? Or the opioid crisis? Pick one thing that you can connect with on a personal level and latch on. Now, pick a small way to make a difference. Maybe it’s a five dollar donation. If you can’t afford the money (let’s be honest, a lot of us in this country have empty pockets right now) what about an hour of your time? Can you help the local homeless shelter by volunteering one hour to clean the bunk room? Can you spend one afternoon tutoring kids at a local free educational center? Can you take ten short minutes to email your political representatives to express your concern for a particular subject in your area? Pick just one, do it tomorrow, while the sun comes up on a new number because nothing in this world will have magically changed for the better. We have to be the change we want to see, even if it’s one tiny step at a time, so small we think it’s insignificant. You never know where that one step will take you, or how grateful people will be when you take a step towards them and hold out your hand. So start the new year right, not with hope, but determination and resolve.