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Happy Birthday, buymeaclue!

Belated and happy birthday wishes, Hannah. :-)

Writing About Awards

This year's Hugo Awards were presented during the night in Australia. Several friends and acquaintances were fortunate enough to win. Notably, Paolo Bacigalupi tied for best novel with The Windup Girl, which had won the Nebula and John W. Campbell for best novel earlier in the year.

Every year, I take inspiration from awards, especially when I recognize the winners from online exchanges. Seanan McGuire, for example, won the Campbell given to the best new writer, and we've talked off and on over on LiveJournal. Clarkesworld won for best semi-prozine. Great online magazine. The list of winners goes on and on.

Then there's Sarah Zettel, a member of my writing group here in Michigan, who won the Philip K. Dick for Bitter Angels. Last year, it was Elizabeth Bear, who took home a Hugo in the novelette category.

Congratulations to this year's winners. :-)

Writing About Style

Normally, I'm reading several different books at the same time, and the genres can range from mystery to horror to straight literary fiction. Sometimes it's like juggling bowling balls and chain saws, since the writing styles are so different.

The benefit to tackling books like The Passage by Justin Cronin at the same time I'm reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett or pulps like The Sea Magician by Lester Dent and The City of Doom by Walter B. Gibson is learning how each achieves the purpose of telling stories while maintaining its viability as a commercial product.

Because commercial viability is a factor when it comes to writing. You could sit down and pen the Holy Grail--the Great American Novel--but if it isn't commercially viable the only people who will read it are friends and relatives.

I'm not going to get into the question of self-publishing or artistic value. First, I don't think self-publishing works. Part of what you're doing as a writer is reaching out to other people. You're communicating with them by telling them a story. While the internet and desktop publishing allows every Tom, Dick and Harry to distribute their work, there isn't any stamp of approval along that route. Agents and editors make their living selling books. Someone pays them to do something really really cool. That payment implies value, and we're a consumer culture, folks. Have been for as far back as recorded history. Second, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Cliché, but true. If the public doesn't find your book readable and entertaining, it doesn't matter if it is the Great American Novel, because no one will know. No one except your friends and relatives, and they're not critics. I've got 56 days left until World Fantasy in Columbus, and more than a third of the novel left to right, and if I'm going to spend my time on a task like this, I'm going to at least make sure I'm having fun.

Books that I read and re-read are the ones where I'm entertained. Even mysteries, where you already know the identity of the killer. It's all a matter of the delivery in a re-read, because I am looking at the prose with a writer's eye, trying to find out how I can achieve the same effect using my own words.

Right now ... I don't know where I stand on the style question. That's another question for someone else to answer once I'm finished and the book is sold.

Writing About Snippets

I'm not sure how I feel about snippets.

One day I like them, and I'm happy to show them off. They're new and shiny and you know your muse is in the zone. Today's comes from the beginning of the next chapter in Sacrifices / Into Dust Descend, where the story returns to its creepy side.

Old ones within the pack knew obedience.

The previous chapter covered a dog attack. If that wasn't enough to give readers an idea this book is something different, the next few pages should make it plain. Think mashup: part murder mystery; part thriller; part eldritch horror. I know I'm setting a tough challenge for myself, but the only way to succeed is to push yourself. And to make sure the characters are front and center, because the books I love are the ones that focus on the people.

Snippets can't always convey that depth, however. If you read a sentence such as the one above, it sounds cool. It's short, it's focused. It even offers a little bit of mystery. What am I showing readers? How does this move the story forward? Snippets are like drive by shootings.

One of the snippets I presented in an earlier post, when I first started this novel-in-90, fell to the editing process as I corrected one chapter. I liked the snippet, my muse was on her game, but what I wrote didn't work.

Back when I started writing seriously, I read an essay by Orson Scott Card about beginnings, and the point I still take away from that piece is how a book evolves rather than how it's important to start your novel at the right place or in the right way. While the beginning is crucial--and I've struggled to find the right one for S/IDD, struggled and, I believe, succeeded--it's necessary to respect the process enough to acknowledge anything can change during rewrites. You're not going to write the perfect novel in the first draft.

Writing About Chapters

I'm still making progress on the book. Not as fast as I'd like, but that always seems to be the case. That I'm still making progress is the important point. Words make me happy these days. The characters and story continue to develop. They're donning complexities like clothes worn too long. Wrinkled and comfortable, all full of textures and smells to tweak your senses.

Starting with tomorrow, there are 70 days until World Fantasy. Finishing the novel is still within reach, especially if today's 1,250 words is any indication. I knocked out a transitional chapter and I've got a solid beginning with my first 50 pages.

The new chapter was necessary to smooth the story pacing. And as an indication that writer muses definitely do talk to each other, I'm going to point you at Tobias S. Buckell and his journal entry from today about chapters.

As for my statistics:

Project Sacrifices / Into Dust Descend
Total Word Count: 11,250
Target Word Count: 90,000 to 100,000
Deadline: October 27, 2010

11250 / 90000 words. 13% done!
Happy birthday. :-)

Hope you both have a good day. Hope to see you in October at World Fantasy.

Writing About The Real World

Today's post touches on one of the reasons I enjoy writing: I get to learn stuff.

People should always engage in the world around them. I studied karate back in high school, and we visited the instructor's parents one day for some reason I can't recall. The father was a philatelist, and remarked how the world is made up of lots of different smaller worlds. I think he was talking about spheres of reality, or perhaps spheres of knowledge. I didn't pin him down on what he meant (I was an awkward teenager still trying to find my way in the world), but the concept remains with me, and it's relevant to Sacrifices / Into Dust Descend because of the theory of social constructionism.

Essentially, what one person knows isn't the entire sum of the world. What they know is only their part. Certainly, that part is their entire world, because they can't know what someone else thinks or experiences. They can empathize, but it's impossible for them to truly know. Even if they were telepathic, their own experiences would filter what they see and hear.

However, learning about other "worlds" does change the person. If they're fortunate, their reality deepens. Consider Shakespeare. He wrote in Hamlet that "there are more things in heaven and earth ... than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

My philosophy gets a boost this afternoon when I pay a visit to the county medical examiner's office for research. Regular folks don't visit the morgue; writers might if their story takes them there.

Writing About The Past

One of the things I struggle with as a writer is how to handle flashbacks.

Part of my difficulty is balancing how much to show about a character's past or past events that inform who they are now as a character. New writers are told to start a story by dropping readers in medias res. Yet, writers are told to limit how much they use flashbacks, since it can interrupt the narrative flow.

You're always juggling as a writer. Setting, characters, plot. They're bowling balls and chain saws and balloons, and the best writers keep each moving through the air in beautiful arcs that defy gravity. One moment you're on page one and the next you're looking for the writer's next book because you can't get enough of their fluid prose.

Flashbacks came to my mind this morning because I'm working on critiques of my second chapter from Monday's writing group session. Some of the responses I received were good, other members in my group wanting to know why a character was in WITSEC, when I wasn't ready to show that yet. Other responses questioned how I attempted to maintain my narrative thread, believing the chapter too jumpy. I knew this might be a problem, and it's completely due to my opening line, which is a kick ass line--

Confession is good for the soul.

--but doesn't work when the chapter heads down the wrong path.

The new opening line and paragraph are perfect, since the chapter now progresses from a solid beginning in the character's past and follows him through to the present day.

A lack of conscience worked wonders when Nicco Esposito was a hit man, but it wasn’t helping him now. Not when it mattered.

My challenge with this construction is the writing needs to sing to carry the story established with the first chapter, which opened with a detective's appearance on a murder scene. Time and future rewrites will determine whether I got it correct.

Best part of today's observations is the story still works at its core. Moving paragraphs here and there, rewording a few, inserting one or two and clarifying character motivations ... that's just juggling.

Writing About Creativity

I wanted to start today's post starts with a snippet from Sacrifices / Into Dust Descend, but nothing I wrote last night or this morning was simple enough for me to extract.

I believe that's good. The days speed past faster than I want. My deadline seems so much nearer than I expected when I set this "novel in 90" into motion, but it's energized my muse. Which is what's supposed to happen whenever you feed them. Ideas come out of the left field for the oddest reasons because your brain is working overtime making connections it normally skips past in day-to-day life. You're no longer running on autopilot.

Today's case in point involves one of my coworkers. She stocks our drink supply cabinet now that our office moved to its new location and doesn't host a pop vending machine any longer. We work on an honor system, taking drinks from a fridge, a quarter for water or pop, 50¢ for flavored waters and teas. Every few days my coworker unloads a cart stacked with fresh supplies.

I joked with her that we should give her the nickname Bev, which bears no resemblance to her real name. Bev as in Beverage--and my muse/brain immediately jumped from that to how I could use this in fiction. Specifically, I thought Bev was a perfect name for a vampire to give a humans on which it feeds.

I can't use it just yet, and it's possible someone else will think of a similar connection (or already did). Muses seem to talk with each other, passing gossip back and forth along with idea. I like the idea, though, and I've filed it away for future reference. Even if I see it somewhere else in the future, the idea made me laugh this morning, and I know it's a decent one.

So, my deadline doesn't worry me. Creativity wins the day. Will continue winning. I produced two decent pages during lunch, and the words twist and turn, and lead back to other days and other words, illuminating this world that only exists as bytes for the moment.

One change I made was to expand the third chapter beyond its original length, using the new material to bring the viewpoint back to the original character who starts off the chapter. It eliminates a flashback that could have shown up in a later chapter, and lets the next chapter start at a logical point. It's now 3,000 words in length, and the work I'll put into the start of the fourth chapter should take me to 10,000 words before the day ends.

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Writing About Progress

Day 3 of 90 finds me on track with the current work-in-progress. Half of it was written longhand, as I didn't have ready access to electricity for most of Saturday. Then I spent Sunday transcribing my scribbles before knocking out new material while JFK played on AMC to provide background noise.

I'm not quite finished with the third chapter. I almost called it; there was a nice cliffhanger ending, but I found the next chapter starting off with a character flashing back to what they did at the end of the previous chapter as they dealt with the aftermath of the shooting. While that can work as a method for telling a story, or parts of a story, I think it would only frustrate readers after a cliffhanger ending to a chapter.

So, I'm either finished with the third chapter, and immediately starting the next chapter by picking up the action, and then adding a scene break for the move to the hospital and the shooting aftermath. Or I'm going to have my narrative jump character viewpoints at scene breaks rather than chapter breaks as the story pace accelerates. The book began with single-viewpoint chapters, each around 10-12 pages/2,500-3,000 words in length. The third chapter is 8 pages/2,000 words now, and the new material I wrote for the next scene amounts to another page.

Part of the creative process involves adaptation. Several members of my current writing group are at the "spec" stage, where they're able to provide agents or editors with proposals. Those serve as starting point for their next projects. Sometimes they're nothing more than a pitch. Other times it's an outline and the first three chapters. If the agent-editor doesn't bite, the project goes into the trunk, and they move onto the next proposal. It's an efficient process, and they don't waste time working on ideas that won't see publication (or won't see publication until the time-market is right for it). The ideas receiving the green light then move onto the next stage, where the pitch-outline-first three grows and changes into the actual book.

Even though I'm not at that level yet, the process is the same. Except mine involves a rewrite of more material--a novel's worth--sometimes during the actual writing stage itself. As long as I'm making progress, as long as I'm putting down the words and making my way to the end, I'm in good shape. The goal is to finish. Even my ending, which is the starting point for my books, can change. Making the book publishable is something that happens in rewrites.

Project Sacrifices / Into Dust Descend
Total Word Count: 8,500
Target Word Count: 90,000 to 100,000
Deadline: October 27, 2010

8500 / 90000 words. 9% done!

Snippet: He was always able to weigh possibilities in an instant, flashing forward from now to an unwritten future, asking “what if” questions where each answer had turned someone’s dreams into sharp-edged nightmares.

Writing A Novel In 90 Days

A while back, one of my friends, Elizabeth Bear, aka matociquala, started a community called Novel in 90 over on LiveJournal to help another writer get on task with a project. The goal was to write 3 pages a day for 90 days and complete ''a novel-length manuscript in a reasonable time, under real-life conditions."

There are now 90 days, counting today, until the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio. Ideally, I want to knock out more than 3 pages/750 words a day, which is a short novel of 67,500 words. So far, I'm two chapters and 25 pages into the current draft. I've mapped out the next several chapters and I have a pretty good idea on what's going to happen throughout the rest of the book after these set up the action/reaction between characters as they respond to events. I've got love and obsession, as well as murder and revenge to put into words. And then there's the resurrection of a death goddess. All of which should add up to more than 67k if I sit down and do the work. I can't think of better examples to follow than Bear or Charlie Finlay / ccfinlay (mentioned in my first WordPress post back on July 16) when I comes down to planting your butt in a chair.

Call this a death march. Call this novel in 90. Call it gorgonzola if that's how you want to describe the creative process. The name doesn't matter ... heck, the title doesn't matter, as the book has a new working title and I don't think of it as Sacrifices any longer. Names and titles are only boxes my mind uses to arrange my thoughts and ideas. As long as I keep moving forward, all is well.

Hopefully, all this musing about the writing process will help me write the next novel, though I agree with the notion that each novel is its own unique entity.

So, call this Day One of 90.

Project: Sacrifices / Into Dust Descend
Total Word Count: 6,250
Target Word Count: 90,000 to 100,000
Deadline: October 27, 2010

Snippet: Confession is good for the soul, but a lack of conscience works wonders.

Black Prism Color Quiz

I'm looking forward to this book. Great premise. :-)

I'm a orange magic drafter!

Take the quiz at Brent Weeks.com

Writing About Characterization

Yesterday was a good day, and I credit Mad Men on AMC.

I had tried watching the show when it originally aired several years ago, but for one reason or another I missed a few episodes. While most television shows today air clips before an episode to catch up new viewers, the story arc on Mad Men (and most good television shows today) suffers from infrequent viewing. Some writers are too good at building their worlds and the people who populate them, and if you're not a frequent viewer you're going to miss some of the emotional resonance offered.

There are lots of examples. Breaking Bad on AMC, Dexter on Showtime, Big Love on HBO.

A coworker hooked me on Mad Men last year, before season 3 aired, and he kindly lent me the first two seasons on DVD. I looked forward to season 4, which started Sunday, especially since several main characters were left at turning points: divorce, marriage, new jobs. The show did not disappoint--and I believe it succeeded because it placed characterization front and center. We see the main character, Don Draper, recently divorced, dealing with the aftermath of his divorce. He's sharing custody of his three children with his wife, struggling to make ends meet since he's letting her continue to live in their home with her new husband and his new ad agency is still clawing its way up Madison Avenue. It's Thanksgiving, and he's avoiding his wife, his kids, his friends and coworkers. Thanksgiving for Don Draper is an afternoon with a prostitute he asks to slap him over and over again. While those scenes hold up for new viewers within the context of this first episode, there are so many other layers underneath his actions for those who viewed the previous three seasons.

Which put me in the right frame of mind to finish chapter 2 in Sacrifices, which was a setup chapter that introduces one of my main characters. The juggling act within the chapter was determining how to keep a consistent narrative thread throughout, rather than just writing a flashback chapter. The line between showing and telling. And how much to show without snarling that thread.

You can get away with a lot in fiction--if you inoculate your readers. And the best way to do that is to get them to identify with your characters. If readers see themselves or someone they know in your fiction, they're more willing to climb on board for the ride.

So far I'm off to a better start than earlier attempts. I've got a character with some interesting character traits and faults he needs to try overcoming during the story's course. The words fell with the predictability of dominoes, and I saw the plot patterns emerging while I mowed the lawn yesterday afternoon. There's nothing like a good sweat to get my muse up and running; before I finished I'd mapped out the next three to four chapters. And everything bears relevance to this character--what he did in the past, what he's going to do in the future, how he reaches the story's climax, and how his actions affect other characters, for good and ill.

Definitely a good day. Thanks, again, Mad Men.

Writing About Time

It seems appropriate, since I haven't blogged in several days, to write about time. The concept strikes me as one that's essential to a writer.

Writers can't make time, since there are only 24 hours in a day and they need to take time to work, sleep, socialize, and all the other sundry activities that comprise someone's life. So, I believe organization is one of the keys to success. You can't be lazy. Writing isn't easy. It requires dedication to improve your craft, to write and rewrite, to publicize your work and get it out to editors and agents, to make deadlines.

That last is important. Probably the most important if you're serious about being a professional. You need a goal. There isn't any pressure to sit down every day and put down the words that make up your story if there isn't a deadline.

I started writing seriously back in late 1996. "Seriously" being a code word for finishing something that I started, because I'd never done that before. I was 33 and looking forward toward the millennium, and it killed me that I had not completed one piece of fiction in all that time even though I wanted to be a writer. I had gone to school and gotten a bachelor's in journalism,  I had worked at newspapers for a handful of years as a reporter and editor, but I wasn't a writer. I hadn't created anything, not in the way I looked at it.

My first novel took 18 months to complete. Four pages a day, five to seven days a week, writing late at night after everyone else had gone to bed. I finished the book on Easter Sunday, 1998. It's not the best novel, since it's a first novel, but it is the first, so it holds a special place in my thoughts. When I look back, I grow sad to think of all the time I've lost since then because I didn't set enough deadlines past that first one, which wasn't really a deadline at all as much as a goal.

Now, I could fall into the trap of bemoaning the past and what might have been, but the point here is to learn from my mistakes. Sure, I might have written four or five more novels. Perhaps even more than that if I had applied myself. That's the past, though. I can't go back and change things. I can only move forward--toward my deadlines.

The first being the one for Sacrifices. Right now I'm a little behind the pace I want to set. Technically, I started this latest draft back on July 16, the same date I started this blog. My four pages quota is OK, depending on the length the book requires. There are 111 days between July 16th and Halloween, but I know I won't be sitting down doing any writing the last week of October, as I'm attending the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus. Which leaves about 97 days between now and when I hop into my car for the four-hour drive. Four pages daily over the next 97, when added to what I've accomplished so far works out to 100,000 words. I won't know for a few weeks whether that is enough to reach the end point I've selected for this story.

Happy Birthday, czakbar!

Happy birthday, guy. :-)

Writing About Death

The last week or so I've experienced surreal dreams about death. Not sure why.

Perhaps the recent bout of sinus congestion from allergies cut off enough oxygen to send me into an altered state. I don't believe it's a health issue, though the doc who examined me last week for the "cold" recommended I have a physical later this month. "You're old enough you should get one a year," he said. "Last one was more than five years ago." So, a perfectly reasonable development.

Perhaps it's a psychological reaction to the idea of a physical. I started walking a few weeks back, I watch my calories and food intake; I'm a big fan of Jillian Michaels, here; I love her to death, always had a thing for strong women. Perhaps a physical reminds me of the doctor visits the families on Losing It With Jillian have at the start of the show; once I have my physical and get the news of where I stand with my health, there aren't any more illusions.

A lack of illusions isn't a bad thing. I don't believe I have a skewed view of reality. So what I think is happening here is that I'm mentally preparing myself for a paradigm shift.

I'm fairly certain I'll welcome the change. Primarily because it's fodder for writing. How often does  a person change their life? Graduation from high school, graduation from college, marriage, children, loss of loved ones. And those are the normal turning points in someone's life--if you're fortunate enough to lead what's called normal. Death, though, that's an experience a writer can only dream about, hopefully, either attempting to convey a sense of finality or continuation. Best-case scenario, I can empathize with my fellow men and women and their own experiences with mortality.

While my dreams of final moments may not hold any truth for the people who will read Sacrifices, know that the deaths I offer are as honest as I can make them. What you will see is what I saw, even if only in a dream.

Writing and Accumulation

We worked this morning and early afternoon on reclaiming our basement. It flooded a couple of weeks back (probably more like a month) when the sump pump broke.

We've spent the intervening days emptying out our garage of items we didn't need any longer, such as an old sectional sofa, mattresses damaged by the two inches of standing water we found, an old canopy bed. Stuff, basically, we had accumulated during the last thirteen years we've lived here, and didn't need any longer. We carried things up and out into the living room and garage, though the living room is mostly occupied by the possessions eldest daughter, Lindsey, brought home from her college apartment. Which was the original reason we were going down into the basement in the first place; we were going to store her possessions until she headed back to school this fall.

Some of the items we've found during this process are amusing. One was a collection of old pictures from my various sports teams. Baseball when I was a teenager, football in middle school and high school. Days when I had a full head of hair and sported a mustache (as a sign of rebellion against my mother). Days when I had my whole life ahead of me and the millennium, when I would turn 37, seemed impossibly distant and beyond imagining.

While I'm a decade past that mythical millennial turning point I envisioned back in my youth, I realize how all these possessions, as well as the memories associated with them, still belong to who I am as a person. I'm the sum of those parts. I'm an archaeologist, rediscovering his past.

Part of the trick in writing, especially when it comes to creating believable characters, involves exposing those historical layers to readers. Revealing them in such a way that a reader recognizes them without becoming overwhelmed. One of the problems I've dealt with in my writing involves info dumping, laying out a character's entire history in one pass as soon as they climb on the stage. What I accomplished (what I didn't accomplish actually) was creating readable prose. Sure, the language was good, the descriptions quite pretty, but it wasn't ... good enough. When I wrote my action scenes, my critters couldn't get enough. Events moved, they wanted more--and then I bogged them down with characterization.

This latest attempt on Sacrifices finally gets things right. I'm working on a chapter now where I'm introducing one of the main characters, and I've got to walk that line. I've a good opening, I'm setting him up as bit of a mystery (and hopefully an intriguing one), but I need to keep the story moving forward at the same time, keep the thread of what he's seeing/doing winding through the narrative. Because the story is pretty darn good; the critter reception was positive, even though there was some ick factor in the scene for some of them.

Time will tell whether I got it right.

Writing Toward Beginnings

One of the things I've learned during the last 14-15 years is that my when writing works, when my muse has the bit between her teeth, elements of a story seem to fall into place with relative ease.

First thing to take away from that statement is that I think of my muse as a separate entity. A mystical otherness that is temperamental at the best of times. Which is just another way of saying that I find inspiration in the idea. I'm not responsible if I don't write; it's the fault of my muse. That's a cop-out, of course. She isn't a metaphysical wild horse I saddle and break to my will. She isn't outside. She's me. She's how my genes wired my brain and my experiences in life established patterns in my consciousness.

So writing is part craft, part talent, and, definitely, part dedication. Different people need different measures of those ingredients to put stories together. Lately, I've come to believe the last is the most crucial, and that's why I know externalization of my muse is wrong as I move forward.

I recently read the introduction Dan Simmons wrote for Carrion Comfort for its twentieth anniversary edition. He noted how that book was the only one pulled from a dream, where he watched a woman chased through woods by helicopter. Only one dream out of his entire list of works. I find that amazing--except that I can only think of one myself, an unpublished short story I wrote called "The Poison of Fairies." Charlie/ccfinlay liked it when he read it back in the early OWW days, so I feel good about what I wrote, despite it languishing in my trunk; Charlie is a good writer, a guy who takes craft and dedication seriously, a guy I look up to when I sit down at my computer.

I believe part of my problem is that I don't outline. I drop down into the middle of the darkest jungle and start hacking away with my ABCs, attempting to create a virtual paradise where nothing existed before I arrived. This Bear Grylls approach isn't bad--as long as I keep hacking away. Kingdoms don't rise from the jungle overnight, not when you don't have a blueprint. Practice does make perfect, and the more I write, the more I refine what I've read throughout the years and tried to mimic as I find my own voice. The more I find the right balance between planning and improvisation, literary and pulp.

Outlines aren't bad. Right now I just see them as limiting. That's my fault, not its fault. An outline is a tool, and I'll need to learn how to properly use it along with pitches the closer I get to my goal.

For now, I work toward a final scene. I know where a story needs to go, and my job is to move from that end toward the beginning. Call it a Memento approach. There's a lot of rewriting and false starts to this method. Especially when you're part of a writing group, where your peers regularly let you know you've put a foot wrong.

Writing groups aren't bad. Feedback is essential if your goal is publication; you're writing for an audience of more than one. Now, that doesn't mean you need to write only what your audience likes. But if you're part of a group, you've elected to join it, you've decided their opinions merit consideration and bear weight. Ultimately, though, your opinion is the only one that matters. It doesn't hurt to receive the validation--it certainly helps--but it's not a requirement.

So, I know the ending of the current WIP. I've known it for quite a while. What I didn't know was where my Memento approach went. But I've got the players down now. They're not the same players I envisioned. Not exactly. But I believe you'll like them when you meet them.

And you will meet them.

Niagara Falls

Back from vacation to Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Fort Niagara near Youngstown, New York. A good weekend, capped by fireworks over the Falls on Sunday.

Highlights, not in any particular order: winning about $50 in the casino playing penny slots; father-in-law winning $6,000 in the casino; an up=close and personal view of the fireworks from the pedestrian esplanade behind the Galleria, overlooking the Falls. The fireworks went off directly in front of us, probably 50 to 100 yards away.

And I got a new hat, which is my souvenir from the trip. Black hat with Canada stitched across the front and Niagara Falls along the hat band on the left. There's a black, stylized maple leaf stitched into the front as well, beneath the Canada. Should last me quite a while.

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