It’s All About Being Positive

Do you love what you do?

I mean, sure, some people jump out of bed every morning, a happy whistle on their lips, in anticipation of the day of joy and satisfaction ahead of them. I think we can all agree that most (normal) people don’t do that.

Most people drag themselves out of bed at the last possible moment and trudge off to 8+ hours of drudgery, hating every moment.

Or, well, hopefully not MOST people.

Chances are, you come in somewhere in the middle. I know I do. I LIKE my day job. I like what I do, I like the people I work with, and I’m blessed with a 10-minute commute. I admit the idea of staying home with my dog on snowy, rainy, whatever- days is appealing, but getting out of the house for eight hours a day isn’t the most dreadful thing in the world.

I can’t help but wonder, though, why so many of us put up with jobs we hate. It’s a challenging economy, of course, and you need food in the pantry, clothing, heat, somewhere to live–all that. You can’t afford to give up a regular paycheck for a pipe dream. But still.

That old cliche “Life is too short” is true.

Very few of us have the luxury of spending our days lolling around by a pool, or curled up with a book for hours at a time. Unless there’s a sugar daddy involved, or some handy inherited wealth, we can’t afford it. So work is necessary.

But, that doesn’t mean we have to hate it?

Spending most of your time doing something you hate is simply unhealthy. It drags you down, raises your blood-pressure, and sends all kinds of negative vibes into the universe. So, what can you do?

  • Find a new job. This seems the most obvious answer. Even dishwashers can presumably find nicer, friendlier places to clean if their current job is horrible. In this economy, though, finding any job may be difficult.
  • Smile. Sometimes all you need to do to improve your relations with people is to smile at them. If you look pleasant and approachable, they’re less likely to be nasty.
  • The glass is half full. If you look at things from the right perspective (“At least I have a job; it pays the bills; it could be worse”), your dreadful job may not seem so dreadful.
  • Get a better attitude. It can all come down to attitude. If you schlump around with a dark cloud over your head, expecting the worst, you’re going to find the worst. I’m not talking that new-age stuff about the Theory of Attraction, here, just … you tend to get what you expect out of life. If you expect that every person you meet is going to be nasty and selfish, that’s all you’re going to see. You’ll then act accordingly and be selfish yourself which will put them in a nasty mood (even if they weren’t to begin with) and it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Be positive. Like clicker-training for dogs, you can accent the good things just by acknowledging them. Did another driver let you merge in ahead of them? Did someone hold the door while your hands were full. Was the customer service rep on the phone helpful? Take note of the good things you see and ignore the bad ones.

What other suggestions have you got?

WWSD?*


I’ve been watching the BBC series of “Sherlock,” a modern update of the classic Holmes and Watson stories. (It’s fabulous, by the way.)

One of the hallmarks of the Sherlock Holmes character has always been his relative arrogance. He has such absolute confidence in his abilities and has such a hyper-observant way of viewing the world he simply notices things the rest of us miss–but can’t quite comprehend WHY we don’t see what he sees.

In one of the episodes, Sherlock makes a pronouncement to a room full of blank-faced stares and, in sheer disbelief that the solution is not obvious to everyone else, asks, “What must it be like in your funny little brains?”

I don’t know about you, but this is a question I’ve occasionally had myself. Not because I’m more brilliant than everyone else I know. (Quite the contrary!) But because nobody else THINKS in quite the same way I do, so there are things that are obvious to me that are mysteries to people I’m talking to.

We are all unique, of course, and while there are some things that are fairly obvious to everyone (“When you drop something, it falls to the floor.”), there’s a certain blend of brains, personality, experience, and awareness in each of us that cannot be exactly replicated.

I have a co-worker, who is a smart woman but clearly thinks in directions that are unique to her. As an example: a few years ago, one of our co-workers returned from paternity leave with a pile of photos of his newborn–you know the collection: baby with Mom, baby with Dad, baby with Grandma, and so on. Well, she looked at the pictures and asked, “How many babies were there?” She just assumed that each photo was of different kids. This is an intelligent woman, she just looks at the world in a unique way.

This is one of the things I love about writing.

If I’m writing fiction, I get the opportunity to (try to) explore the way other people think and react to situations–and sometimes the hardest part is dealing with a character fundamentally NOT like me. If being charged by a bull, I’d dive to the side and try to get out of the way, but what if my character would grab a chair and attack the bull? Clearly he doesn’t think like I do, but he’s going to be fun to get to know.

If I’m writing non-fiction, differently-thinking people provide a different challenge–that of getting my message across to people who may think more emotionally, less logically than I do.

Have you ever tried to explain something to a friend until you finally give up because, no matter how many times you try to say, “I turned right because it was the shortest route,” they keep saying things like, “But why wouldn’t you go straight?” Sometimes explaining things is the hardest thing in the world because what’s crystal clear to you is obscure to the other person.

So, the trick … and it’s a hard one … is to put yourself in their place.

  • Are you a super-genious to whom everything is clear? Slow yourself (or at least your explanations) down so the poor, normal folks can keep up.
  • Are you eminently logical but talking to a group beset with emotions (like, say, sleep-deprived new parents)? Force yourself to remember that all they want is to get some sleep–they don’t need to know the scientific reasons for the baby crying, they just want it to STOP.
  • Are you good at mechanics? Excellent–you can break those “how to” instructions down into individual steps, but don’t assume that your readers will know what a flange is if you don’t tell them.
  • Are you sympathetic and deeply compassionate? Just remember that the CEOs reading your brochure pay attention to the bottom line and stories about abandoned puppies might not have the same affect as a statistic about how much stray animals cost the town.

Nobody thinks exactly like you do.

This is both your challenge and your greatest gift.

*WWSD: What would Sherlock do?

Grammar Day!

It’s National Grammar Day. How are you going to celebrate?

  • Turn all the extra apostrophes you find into little winky emoticons.
  • Parrot back the word “like” whenever it gets misused in sentence (“like, you know, a Valley girl).
  • Carry your blue pencil with you so you can correct incorrect commas.
  • Say “Whom” with your most snooty, nose-up-in-the-air kind of voice everytime someones uses “who” instead.
  • Leave comments at all the blogs that incorrectly capitalize their post titles.
  • Wear your “It’s/Its, Your/You’re, There/Their/They’re” t-shirt everywhere you go.
  • Mentally correct all the radio and television commentators who speak badly during their broadcasts.
  • Curl up in a cozy chair with your favorite grammar book
  • Sing the song.
  • Link back to our Mangled Monday features to help out your grammatically-needy friends.

Or, do you have some other festivities planned?

And the winner is…

Thanks to the handy-dandy random number generator (known to my friend Jenny as “Randy”) … comment #10 wins!

sprite

I love reading interviews with people that actually make me feel like they’d be interesting to talk with. Thanks for asking great questions, Deb!

So, Sprite, come on down and claim your prize!

(Or, well, you know, you could just send me your name and address and I’ll send it to you.)

And, if you didn’t win, don’t forget you can buy your own copy of Sara’s “Learning to Swim” this week! In fact, I recommend it! I know I can’t wait for my own copy to arrive.

Sara, thanks for the interview and for offering the ARC of your book (that I got to read in advance).

And thank you all so much for playing. Now, hie you to your nearest bookstore-slash-website and get yourself a copy.

Interview with Sara J Henry–And a Chance to Win!

Welcome, Sara! I’m so excited to have you here—not least because I’ve been looking forward to your book for months, and I’m delighted for your sake that it’s finally here.

Q: If I’m this excited, how must you be feeling about your first book being published? Are you going to haunt your local bookstore on publication day? (February 22nd)

A: Nope, I’m going to be in New York, getting ready to launch at Partners & Crime in Greenwich Village on Feb. 23! (Anyone in New York, come on down.)

Q: The advance press has been almost overwhelmingly on the “we love it” side—does this make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, or is it somehow intimidating?

A: It is an indescribably odd feeling.

Q: How do you describe your book when people ask?

A: I see agents who emphasize learning to “pitch” and conferences with “pitch sessions” and I can tell you if my career depended on me pitching my book to someone, I’d be in trouble. Once a writer asked me what my logline was and I looked blankly at Janet Reid (the beloved Query Shark agent) sitting beside me, and she, having read the book a year earlier, promptly impressed the heck out of me by rattling off a cogent and coherent description. If I absolutely had to, I would mumble something about a woman on a big ferry on a huge lake seeing a small boy plummet off a deck of the opposite ferry, rescuing him, and discovering he speaks only French and was thrown off the ferry to drown. But honestly, Janet did it much better.

Q: Your main character, Troy Chance, is wonderful—independent, athletic, puzzle-solving—how much is she like you?

A: See, this is the question I can’t answer, because if I say she’s a lot like me, it seems I don’t have enough imagination to create a main character out of thin air. But if I say she isn’t at all like me – I’m lying.

Q: Was Troy your favorite character to write?

A: Oddly, I think Jameson was. He was the character who sprang fully formed on the page, and said just what he wanted to say when he said it. I seemed to have very little to do with it.

Q: I was impressed with how well Troy handles speaking French to a frightened little boy. (I’m guessing her high school was better at teaching it than mine was, or that she worked harder at it.) How well do you speak French?

A: Realistically, Troy’s French would have been clumsier (although she had been practicing with those Pimsleur CDs, which are marvelous), but the problem with writing faulty French is that readers who understand French will deluge you with emails complaining about mistakes. So while Troy may not have idioms right, her French is reasonably accurate. And I speak enough to bumble around France.

Q: Do you have a favorite scene or chapter in the book? One that was the most fun to write, maybe?

A: Yes, probably two – they both give me chills whenever I read them. Which I know seems odd, considering I wrote them. (When readers hit them, they’ll know: near the ends of Part 1 and Part 3.)

Q: One of the (stellar) blurbs at Amazon.com refers to this as “the first in a projected series.” Does that mean we’ll get more of Troy’s story? Or is your next book about something else altogether?

A: It’s a series, for sure – I’m finishing the sequel now, and have mentally roughed out books 3 and 4.

Q: I pretty much read the entire book in one, big gulp. As a writer, which do you prefer—a reader who devours the whole thing at once, or a reader who takes her time and savors every hard-written word? (And, no cheating and saying you’re happy just to have readers.)

A: I honestly don’t care how people like to read – of course it’s nice to hear back quickly from someone whom I know read the book.

Q: And the follow-up—when you read, which extreme do you lean toward? Devouring or savoring?

A: I read fast, even when I read slowly. My father showed me the basics of speed reading when I was small. I suppose I devour and savor at the same time.

Q: In general, what kind of books do you best like to read? Favorite authors? (I’m always looking for recommendations.)

A: I like books with realistic inner dialogue and strong characterization, and I tend to lean toward somewhat quirky books. Two favorites this year are by personal friends: A.S. King and Reed Farrel Coleman, PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ and INNOCENT MONSTER. I adored THE MEMORY OF RUNNING by Ron McLarty; I recently read and loved FALLING UNDER by Danielle Younge-Ullman; I’m mad about the new series by Jodi Compton, who shares an agent with me (clearly my agent has wonderful taste) and a book called BENIGHTED by Kit Whitfield, and I read everything by my Australian friend Michael Robotham. Oh, and Daniel Woodrell, who is simply brilliant. Start with WINTER’S BONE, and don’t stop.

Q: According to the book jacket, you’ve had a variety of different kinds of jobs. What has been the most interesting job you’ve had—and would you ever want to go back to it?

A: I loved being a sports editor. I did everything: interview Gordie Howe, photograph community softball games, watch Mike Tyson fight, cover Olympic kayakers, freeze my rear end off at ski jump events. What I loved most was the passion of the athletes and the community spirit of these small towns – but I’d never go back: it was exhausting and round-the-clock work. If I had time, I’d still be a bicycle mechanic part time – I do love working on bicycles.

Q: Your favorite part about being a writer?

A: Not having to sit in an office 9 to 5 all day or wear decent clothes.

Q: I love your living-in-Vermont stories on your blog. What’s your favorite part of living there? Least favorite?

A: My favorite part is probably that I can wear my torn overalls to the grocery store, and no one blinks – and of course going down to the river in the summer time. Least favorite is how often the power goes out – sometimes for days. I will probably always hoard food and water and batteries, and keep flashlights and lanterns scattered about, with the power company’s phone number inscribed near every phone. Although I’m hoping to put in a back-up generator.

Q: Pets? My dog Chappy always loves hearing about people’s pets and insisted I ask.

A: Emma, age 14, golden retriever/Lab/greyhound; Lucy, 12, Australian cattle dog/Australian shepherd; Bridget, 10, Australian cattle dog; Monty, age unknown, but maybe 6, an affectionate but somewhat OCD Newfie mix. Yes, this is far too many dogs. Yes, I think it’s ridiculous to allow dogs on furniture. Unfortunately, they don’t.

Q: Because I also write a knitting blog, I have to ask: Do you knit or do any kind of crafts?

A: Ha! I have a very crafty sister who can knit, crochet, weave, make jewelry – and who makes her own yarn and strips pieces of wood off trees and quills off porcupines (deceased ones only, as far as I know) to make intricate and lovely baskets. Me, I’d rather scrub a floor with a toothbrush. My dad showed me how to knit, and I like the rhythm of it and the click of the needles, but don’t have the interest to actually do it (sorry). I like painting walls, and I’m an ace with a spackling knife.

Q: What’s one skill you wish you had? Aeronautic ski-jumping? Perfect hair styling? Chandelier repair?

A: Wiring – I think I’d like to be able to do electrical work.

Q: What’s one thing you would say to a new writer?

A: Learn to rewrite and revise.

Q: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

A: To be able to stop people being mean to their children. Or spoiling them abysmally.

Q: Favorite breakfast food? (Hey, it’s the most important meal of the day.)

A: Rice and black beans.

Sara J. Henry has been a soil scientist, sports writer, correspondent writing school instructor, book editor, freelance writer, magazine editor, bicycle mechanic, and webmaster. Her first novel, Learning to Swim, has been called “emotional, intense, and engrossing” by Lisa Unger and “an auspicious debut” by Daniel Woodrell. It’s available for pre-order and will be in stores Feb. 22 – you can read the first chapter here.

To be eligible to win a signed copy of her book, just leave a comment on this post!

The deadline for entries will be in one week, so be sure to comment before next Wednesday!

Conversation with My Computer

(Scene opens to show Deb curled up in a red chair, eyes on the book in her lap.)

COMPUTER: Psst. Deb! Over here!

DEB: What? I’m reading.

COMPUTER: But you haven’t written anything in days.

DEB: Sure I have. Don’t you remember that email? And I wrote a couple posts on Ravelry. Now, be quiet. This is a good part.

COMPUTER: But what about your blog posts?

DEB: Oh, blog readers are patient. They don’t expect a post every day, or anything.

COMPUTER: No, but one a week isn’t too much to ask. And, what about your book?

DEB: Yes, I’m trying to read my book, and this is a crucial scene, so if you wouldn’t mind….

COMPUTER: Not that book. The one you’re writing. Sara and Adam trying to build an orphanage/school during WWI, all while Sara keeps a deep dark secret from Adam about his father?

DEB: I got stuck on the timeline and haven’t found the time to work it out. But it’s 1917, a gentler time. There’s really no rush. It’s not like I’ve found a publisher for the first book, after all, so nobody knows who Sara and Adam ARE yet, anyway.

COMPUTER: Yeah … that’s another thing. If you don’t send out queries and find an agent, how will anybody know about the widow and orphan who survived the Titanic disaster and decided they wanted to become their own family?

DEB: Nag, nag. You just want to torture me and make my eyes hurt looking at your screen for another several hours. Didn’t I just spend 8 hours on my computer at the day job? Don’t I deserve a break? My eyes are killing me and reading is just what they need.

COMPUTER: That’s what touch-typing is for, Deb. Now put the book down and get over here.

DEB: I suppose I could see what’s happening on Twitter….

COMPUTER: Oy.

Coming Soon–A Chance to Win!

Here’s a special opportunity for you!

I’ve got an ARC  (that’s Advanced Reader’s Copy) of Sara J. Henry’s new book, Learning to Swim and YOU COULD WIN IT!

Not only that, Sara is going to be coming here for an interview on her blog tour. I read her blog all the time and I couldn’t be more excited.

How about you? Excited yet?

Here are some of the quotes from Amazon:

  • Learning to Swim is a thriller of the most thrilling kinda smart and crafty story with whiffs of Rebecca that insists from the first sentence that you sit down and not stand up again until you’ve read the last word. Tell your loved ones to take care of themselves.” Quinn Cummings, author of Notes from the Underwire

  • “With a strong believable cast of characters and a breathtaking plot, it’s a non-stop thrilling ride that’s impossible to put down.”  Cat Connor, author of Killerbyte and Terrorbyte

  • “If The Usual Suspects and a Jodi Picoult novel had a love child, it would be Learning to Swim—a thought-provoking, evocative, and thrilling read.” Steph Bowe, author of Girl Saves Boy

  • “A mesmerizing confluence of mystery, intrigue, and suspense, with undercurrents of deep personal drama…Learning to Swim will hook you from the first page.” —Jamie Ford, bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
  • “From the grabber beginning to the heartfelt conclusion, Sara J. Henry’s Learning to Swim is an auspicious debut … Fresh setting, well-realized characters, cleanly written, with a mysterious and suspenseful story – just what I was looking for.”  – Daniel Woodrell, award-winning author of The Death of Sweet Mister and Winter’s Bone
  • “Impressive…Henry adroitly handles Troy’s exposure to new emotions as she re-examines her life and relationships.” - Publisher’s Weekly

  • “In her debut, the first in a projected series, Henry proves herself to be a smooth and compelling storyteller. And her lead is highly appealing: An athletic, fiercely independent young woman who, like crime-fiction author Gillian Flynn’s feisty females, is capable of making delightfully acerbic observations.” -Booklist

So much praise, and the book isn’t even out yet!

Stay tuned for Sara’s visit–and your opportunity to win this copy of her fantastic new book!

Writer’s Break

Well, I sat down at my keyboard today and blew the virtual dust off of my current manuscript. The time-stamp on the document is 10/22/2010 12:24 PM, which means it’s been seven weeks since I opened it.

Seven weeks.

I’m stunned, too. Every year I flirt with the idea of NaNoWriMo as a means of inspiring me to really sit and push through the pages, but I always skive off at the last minute because November’s such a busy month for me. I certainly didn’t plan on abandoning my manuscript altogether for the duration, though. It was like all those thousands of writers–aspiring or professional–sucked all the available words their way, leaving nothing to me. If the writing universe needs a certain number of words to be written each month, well, all those extra writers plugging away at their 50,000 words certainly took care of my share of the load.

The problem is that I’m feeling guilty about neglecting my book. I’ve left my characters in limbo and now that I’m edging my way back into their lives to help them along, I’m still stuck at the same detail I was pondering seven weeks ago.

You would think that if my conscious brain was going to take a 49-day vacation from writing, my subconscious would have the decency to plug away at plot directions and character development, but no. Apparently my entire brain took this time off and just left.

The problem is they forgot to turn my conscience off so that I felt guilty about doing nothing while stuck without the necessary equipment (i.e. my brain) to do anything about it.

I figure I have two choices.

I can either flog myself some more for being a neglectful, slothful writer who let her brain skitter off on a glittering vacation without arranging for the mail to be brought in, or I can just let it go and move on.

What do you do when you’ve had an unexpected break from writing?

Flogging yourself for neglect can be so unattractive, after all, but it’s hard to escape from an advertent conscience.

Shrugging it off is perhaps the wiser choice, but it encourages repeat performances. You don’t necessarily need to ground your kid the first time you find them sneaking out without permission, but you need to say something so they won’t do it again.

What do you think?

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go figure out how to get my character where she needs to be without her protesting too much.

SitStay

Okay, here’s a wonderful example of great marketing.

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This box from SitStay.com arrived at our house today.

They have the BEST shipping material.

Really.

Check out what it says on the top:

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“WARNING: For your own sake, please do not stand between this box and your dog. Dogs have been known to go through just about anything to get to their SitStay box. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”

Then, on the side:

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“NOTE TO DELIVERY PERSON FROM DOG: The humans that live at this house haven’t figured out that I can use the computer. I couldn’t wait any longer for my favorite treats from SitStay.com. Please place package where I can get at it. There will be an extra treat for you during the holidays if you follow these instructions. –The Dog.”

The marketer in me is in awe, really. I’ve bought goodies for my dog from these folks since 1999, and have always been happy with their service, and the cute confirmation emails “written” by their dogs. It shows a sense of fun for what they do.

I’d never noticed these notes on the delivery boxes, though. What a fantastic idea!

Not only do these clever, witty, funny, creative, entertaining messages make me, the buyer, want to order from them again–if only to encourage them to be this creative all the time–but think of all the people who see them? Delivery people, folks at the post office, neighbors who see your delivery outside your door, or waiting at the curb with the recycles.

  • This is the kind of eye-catching, smile-inducing thing that makes you want to tell your friends so that they’ll order from them, too.
  • It makes you want to support the business that is working so hard at providing not only good products, but an enjoyable experience.
  • And … it costs almost nothing. Specialty boxes with logos and websites aren’t exactly uncommon. (I can spot an Amazon.com box a mile away, how about you?) So, if you’re going to pay to have custom boxes made … why not have a little fun to make them memorable? To make yourself memorable?

It just makes my tail wag.

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And look how happy it made my dog, too!

Writing is like a Romance

It’s not writer’s block.


I’m not not-writing because I don’t know where the story needs to go, or because I’ve lost interest. It’s not because I’ve grown to hate my chair or my keyboard, or that I needed a change of scenery. The symptoms aren’t really in line with writer’s block.

No, what I’m suffering from, suffering with, is Writer’s Avoidance.

I can’t quite face my manuscript. Every time I try to look it in the eye to reread recent paragraphs or to add new ones, I find my eyes skimming away. You know, in the way you do when you’re trying to avoid a delicate conversation, when you’re about to lie to a friend.

Every time I look at my document, I find my eyes just automatlcally skipping past the monitor to look at the clock, the weather outside the window, or the really fascinating faux-woodgrain in the desk.

I can’t look my manuscript in the eye.

I find this an intriguing dilemma, really. Writing is like any other relationship—you need honest, open lines of communication for it to work, and apparently ours are blocked.

  • Maybe I’ve been doing so much reading lately that I’m feeling unfaithful.
    (“I know, darling, I read another novel, but it meant nothing to me! You’re the one I love!”)
  • Maybe my conscience is guilty.
    (“Really, I meant to get back to you sooner, but I’ve been busy. I had other things to type.”)
  • Maybe we’re growing apart.
    (“You said you’d always be there for me, but sometimes you feel so distant, I can’t reach you at all.”)
  • Maybe we know each other too well.
    (“I feel like I know you so well, there’s no excitement, no new surprises any more.”)
  • Maybe we’re bored with each other.
    (“I think we should see other manuscripts.…”)
  • Maybe we’re not popular enough.
    (“We got turned down by the cool kids again (aka literary agents) for the “After Titanic” book.”>
  • Maybe we don’t have a future.
    (“Why should we bother working on the sequel if we can’t get anyone interested in the first book? We should just stay home and wash our hair and pretend we don’t care.”)
  • Maybe the timing is bad.
    (“What? I said I’d be back and here I am, ready at the keyboard, and you won’t even look at me.”)
  • Maybe the past is getting in the way.
    (“It’s just that, there are so many things in the draft we’re going to have to get rid of, I can’t bear to move forward.”)

I suppose the take-away lesson here is that writing is like any other relationship.

There’s more to it than just showing up—you need to work at it, beguile it, woo it, coax it, flirt with it, flatter it … and when all that charm doesn’t work, sometimes you just have to really face what is and is not working in the relationship. Clear away the cobwebs of over-familiarity and do something different, something daring to bring the magic back.

Obviously, you can’t take your writing away for a romantic weekend of autumn leaf-peeping, but you can throw something expected and new into the mix. Shake your characters up. Take THEM someplace new. Work on an area you haven’t seen in a while—make the manuscript feel special and loved, as if it is the only one that matters to you.

And above all, don’t let its evasiveness beat you. If it won’t meet your eyes, just stare it down in a loving way until it gives in and says, “What?” That’s your opening to jump in with a burst of brilliant prose that will make it weak in the commas and fall in love with you all over again.

Using Grammar and Good Manners to Save Civilization, One Punctuation Mark at a Time.