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Enjoy Transatlantic by Colum McCann

Whilst book shopping in London, I came across a new-to-me book by Colum McCann. I enjoyed Let the Great World Spin, and a cursory glance at the book jacket enticed me to buy Transatlantic. I love Ireland and have a special connection to Belfast, so the description of the book appealed very much. The first chapter focuses on the first 2 man flight across the Atlantic and intrigued me very much. This introduced the character of Lilly and Lottie who then become the threads for the rest of the book.

One section imagines what it was like for Frederick Douglass to live in Ireland during the famine. Based on true events, this section contained my favorite passage:

He paused a moment, then stepped from the side of the lectern as if to show the full extent of himself. His polished shoes, his dark trousers, his jacket trimmed at the waist. His skin was lighter than she recalled. He spread his arms wide, allowed a silence. When the true history of the anti-slavery cause shall be written, women will occupy a large space in its pages. He spoke as if he were saying it for the first time, that he had just found these words in the last few steps across the stage, low now, almost a whisper, a secret to be imparted. The cause of the slave has been peculiarly Woman’s cause. Immediately there was a stir around the room. A stout lady stood and applauded. Several other women followed. There was a shout from a man in the front seat, thrusting a book in the air. Send the nigger home! A scuffle broke out. A flail of arms and legs. The protester was escorted out. Four women left alongside the man. Douglass held his hands in the air and extended the white of his palms. A hush descended. When a great truth gets abroad in the world, no power on earth can imprison it, or prescribe its limits, or suppress it. She could see an orchestra in him, a whole range of instruments and sound. His voice was loud and booming. It is bound to go on until it becomes the thought of the world. He paced the stage. In and out of a pool of light. His shoes clicking on the wooden floorboards. Such a truth is a woman’s right to equal liberty with man. She was born with it. It was hers before she comprehended it. The rational basis for proper government lies in the female soul. Lily could feel the grip of her daughter’s hand, growing tighter now with each moment. There were motes of dust round Douglass in the air, animate and twirling: it seemed as if the dusty itself might constitute something.

Quote from Transatlantic by Colum McCann p 185 writing of Frederick Douglass

Have a Great Publishing Idea? Test it by writing a book proposal.

Jane Friedman

I recently completed Jane Friedman’s on-line course: Write a Book Proposal. I signed up while I was still in France following Le Tour de France. I am writing a guidebook for avid fans and amateur cyclists who want to spectate live and in person. I hoped the course would motivate me to get cracking on the project. I have gleaned so much from Jane Friedman’s blog on publishing today I decided to spring for the class with Jane’s critique of my book proposal.

There are videos you watch on-line on a variety of topics. These step you through the stages of writing a proposal, especially research. Then there are two video calls live with Jane where you can ask any questions you have about writing, and publishing. (No one tested the boundaries—you could always ask for relationship or investing advice just recognize the limits of her expertise.) Finally, the written assignment is to draft your book proposal and submit it.

For $250 you get everything, except Jane gives you feedback on an outline of your proposal and for $750 she edits your full proposal.

The discipline of writing the book proposal was very helpful. At first it led me to decide to independently publish because I would have more control and a traditional publisher would not be able to distribute through typical channels and reach my target audience. However, Jane encouraged me to send the proposal to some specialty publishers, such as VeloPress. Why not? I can do this while I continue to work on the other unfinished chapters of the guidebook. If I do not stir interest with my letters of inquiry then I can revert back to independently publishing.

The biggest benefit was the external deadline to complete a draft coupled with the motivation to receive feedback from someone whose expertise I respect greatly. For others they realized that they needed to keep refining their concept, or abandon it all together, or hurry up and finish the proposal and press send!

I do not receive any remuneration or benefit from Jane Friedman if you take or do not take her course. If you are interested you can find out more by clicking here.

Chris Guillebeau's Unconventional Approach to Publishing

Chris Guillebeau addresses crowd at author event.

Chris Guillebeau offers an unconventional business model. He publishes books with traditional publishers, AND he offers so much more to his readers via his website and blog. He is shining the light down the path of the future of publishing. He does this by focusing on building a relationship with his readers. He calls it building a community. Because the first thing I think of when I hear community is the people who live near me whether I have anything in common with them or not (one perspective), I call what Chris is doing as calling together a tribe. He is inviting anyone who shares the thirst for an adventurous, meaningful life to join him in figuring out how.

His books and blogs feature lots of other people’s stories and experiences. This increases the inspiration factor and attracts more and more people to the community. The tribe has an annual gathering in Portland, Oregon every July known as the World Domination Summit.

All of this enhances his success in the traditional publishing world—his most recent book is Happiness of Pursuit and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list.

It is not a gimmick though. At least it feels very authentic. He even approached his book tour to promote his book in a fresh and unconventional way. As a blog follower I received an invitation to get a free ticket to one of his book events scheduled at independent bookstores in 40 cities across the United States. As a NorCal resident, I could choose between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. My friend Connie and I decided to go to the event in Santa Cruz and make it a girls weekend with lots of good food and shopping.

Some things I noticed as I RSVP’d for the event. I felt invited to the event. This is different than an announcement say for a concert or other event. I had to request a ticket and this gave me a greater sense of commitment to attend. While it did not cost anything, I felt like there was a spot reserved for me so I made plans to be sure to be there. I actually ended up selecting the bookstore further from my home because it became an excuse for a larger adventure. The staff at Book Shop Santa Cruz also had more information about how many people were coming and so could make sure they had plenty of books and chairs. The crowd was standing room only. This is a testament to Chris’ loyal readership; however, this method also makes the event more “sticky”. I have noted author events on other occasions and much more convenient to attend and then decided not to attend.

It also means if there is a low response Chris and the bookstore can do more outreach, adjust expectations or cancel. I have been to an author event at Borders with a much more popular author and I was one of just 5 people including the author and his wife. It was a memorable evening for me, but perhaps not worth the author's time.

Chris planned an hour long event, starting fashionably late, devoting the first 25 minutes to talking about the book, 25 minutes to “attempting to answer your questions” and the remainder to signing books. He encouraged people to meet someone new and make a connection. This part is inside the box, except Chris did not read from his book.

I also got a follow up email. Chris could do this because he collected my email when I requested the ticket. Even though it shamelessly asked me to help promote the book, it reconnected me with the event and motivated me to write this blog post.

So it worked.

Why are some books "stickier" than others?

Their Noble Lordships by Simon Winchester

I am reading three non-fiction books. Do you share my habit of starting several books at the same time? I do not do this with novels. Either I get sucked into the plot and I read it exclusively to the end (sometimes staying up until the wee hours), or I set it aside. Non-fiction books are easier to put aside when my mood changes and then I find myself picking the book up again a few days later. Meanwhile I may have started another book or read a novel.

While I am part way into three books, I am "glued" to Simon Winchester's Their Noble Lordships.When it was first published it had the subtitle: Hereditary Peerage Today. Well, not today, today. It was written in the late 1970s and finally published in 1981. I am reading the 2012 revised edition with the subtitle: How to tell a Duke from an Earl and other mysteries solved.

Why am I so captivated?

1. It is like a highbrow gossip session. There are lots of stories about actual Dukes and Marquesses and other British peers, living and dead. This actually caused the delay in publication because while it is a factual presentation, some people still sued to stop the book being published.

2. It helps to make sense of some of the mysteries of British society that no amount of reading Jane Austen or watching Downton Abbey can solve for an American. At the same time, some customs associated with peers, such as precedence (who outranks whom) is still mysterioso even after reading several chapters related to the topic. I cannot keep all the titles straight especially when you add in military honors.

3. Simon Winchester is a damn good writer. Maybe you've read his history of the Oxford dictionary or Krakatoa. He knows how to tell a great non-fiction story.

I am thoroughly enjoying this book. Even though legislation was passed in 1999 to reform the House of Lords, no legislation can get abolish a class system. Even taxation schemes level the playing field imperceptibly between, say, the Duke of Westminster and a well paid professional Briton. Plus it is generally easier to examine the idiosyncrasies of human preference in a culture outside our own.

The bottom line is this book is "sticky" or hard to put down because it is well-paced, beautifully written and chock full of stories about real people.

279 Days for Overnight Success

279 days

Chris Guillebeau is a role model for anyone who want to enjoy life. All of life: work, play, and making those two less distinguishable. I cannot remember how I originally discovered his website and the World Domination Conference.  Sometime last year I was ready to sign up for the annual conference in Portland, when I realized that it conflicted with my Tour de France adventure. I resolved to go in July, 2015.  

Meanwhile I am enrolled in Jane Friedman's video class "How to Write a Powerful Book Proposal Workshop" and she emphasizes the importance of having a strong author platform. Among the recommended resources is Chris" free downloadable PDF, "279 Days for Overnight Success."  

I have gleaned many useful ideas from his 79 page publication, including the goal to create 1,000 die hard fans who will read whatever I write. This obviously has implications for both my craft and my marketing strategy. 

I also love Chris' business model. It puts the emphasis on creativity and community over fame and fortune. 

Trading Books along Le Tour

Americanah

I am following the Tour de France and blogging about it on Adventures of American Julie. I brought a couple of books to read during the down times on trains and planes and while waiting for the racers. I reread The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz on the plane from LA to London. So Trek Travel guide Sam was willing to trade me his copy of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  

It is a heavy book for traveling and I just started it. I am already addicted. The writing is so compelling, like this passage: "She did not tell him this, because it would hurt him to know she had felt that way for a while, that her relationship with him was like being content in a house but always sitting by the window and looking out."

I also like that this particular book has history. There is a signature from the original owner, Sam's train ticket, and now I will add something before trading with someone else for a new book.

Harriet the Spy at 50

Classic paperback Harriet the Spy

Browsing the magazine racks at Newsbeat in Davis, I stopped in my tracks when I saw the Horn Book magazine May/June 2014 issue. I immediately recognized the ink drawing on the cover. It was Harriet the Spy, my all time favorite heroine.

During summer break, my best friend's mom would drive us to the Citrus Heights library every week and we would check out our maximum number of books. We would lie on the grass reading in the hot Sacramento sun until we saw spots and then retire to the house to play board games for awhile. Sometimes we used stories we read as inspiration for our imaginary play. We especially liked any books about pioneers (anything by Laura Ingalls Wilder was head and shoulders above the rest of the genre).

When we discovered Harriet the Spy we both fell in love with her. When I read the various articles about Harriet the Spy and Louise Fitzhugh I was surprised so many of the authors did not like Harriet, though they loved the book.

Horn Book Magazine

Maybe because my best friend was also named Harriet, I was inclined to like Harriet the Spy. Yes the same friend who swapped piles of library books mid-week with me enjoyed the enviable name Harriet. My mom who thought she did me a real favor by naming me the beautiful (incredibly common name) of Julie, could not understand the allure of the unique name Harriet. And then the best fictional heroine ever shared the name.

Loved this movie adaptation of Harriet the Spy!

I read the book several times as a youth. Then the movie, Harriet the Spy, came out when my children were the same age I was when I discovered the book. I reread the book and called Harriet to discuss her impressions of the film adaptation. We were surprised by some of the casting choices and thrilled with the overall movie.

This particular book helped me deal with the emotional impact of being ostracized by everyone in sixth grade and to cope with the fallout from my own blunt outbursts.

This book deserves the attention on her 50th birthday. Still subversive, still relevant.

Revisiting Remington Steele

Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan

Good 'ol Netflix. You can find a lot of movies and television shows that you remember enjoying. Sometimes they continue to entertain and sometimes they do not measure up to your fond memories. In the early 1980s when I was studying at University of Southern California, I regularly watched Remington Steele on television.

As a long time mystery fan, I liked the witty banter and the weekly whodunits, and of course Pierce Brosnan. This was his breakout roll. (A couple of years later Bruce Willis became popular in a similar detective series, Moonlighting.)

They sometimes filmed on campus and on several occasions I "studied" near the set. One of my friends brazenly knocked on Pierce's trailer door to say "hi". I also discovered how very tedious the process of making a television show or movie can be.

I recently rewatched a couple of episodes from the first season. Maybe it is all the Sue Grafton novels, but in 2014 it is hard to swallow the female detective who cannot land a job in a "man's" field.  It did not seem far-fetched at the time, so YEAH! for social progress. Storytelling has sped up and become more complicated in the last 30 years. We expect more to happen in 45 minutes and it makes Remington Steele feel a bit ploddy.

I only watched 2 of the 4 episodes on the disk. I would rather be reading Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings.

A Gush for Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

hryne Fisher and Jack Armstrong

I discovered Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, a television series from Australia, on Netflix. I watched every episode at least 3 times. Not since Foyle's War have I enjoyed a mystery series as much. It is stylish with great plots set in 1920s Melbourne. The characters share an entertaining chemistry.

I was desperate for more episodes and so I searched on IMDB for more information. There is a second season! Then I went on Amazon and discovered it is released yesterday. My DVDs are on their way. Meanwhile I received a set of Season 1 and it has bonus material.  Fascinating.

Hope the second season DVDs arrive before the weekend!

New Muse Joins Crew

Just returned from the Co-Active Summit 2014 in Napa with Mewe the hedgehog. She joins the trio of muses I have on my dresser. They remind me to keep it playful and to keep working on my penguin guide project and my kea story. Now Mewe the hedgehog will inspire me to keep my promise to be the agent who connects people with each other and groups to transform the world. The Co-Active Summit was hosted by CTI, a global network of co-active leaders and coaches. My three days reconnected me with some of my Panther tribe members and advanced my learning. And it was FUN!   For more thoughts on the Summit check out Redesigning49.com.

Mewe Hedgehog joins my trio of muses

Chairman of the Board and Chief of Security dies unexpectedly.

My dog Radar, the inspiration for On Your Radar Media Company, reached the end of his long (for a big dog) life yesterday. I had dogs before, some great dogs. None managed to be so central to my life and as dear to my heart as Radar. He had lots of quirks, like doing a Cujo imitation anytime anyone came over, even my Mom. Maybe this is why I loved him so much because our relationship was complicated and more work. I had to continually choose to love him, like the time he chewed a giant hole in the couch. All I know is he has left behind a lot of chewy toys and a giant hole in my life.

Rest in Peace Radar - April 2, 2014

Radar enjoying the blow dryer.
Sarah with Radar

Overcoming Resistance

The War of Art  

A good conference is like a good cookbook, if you take away a couple of good ideas/recipes that you actually implement/make, then it was worth it. Don Miller's Storyline conference was a good conference. A lot of the speakers offered inspiration that landed with butterfly brevity and flitted away. A couple of things stuck. First Don mentioned an author and I wrote in my journal (Steve Pressville-vale?) Later in the conference binder I found a quote in print and learned that it is Steven Pressfield. And the book I might want to start with is The War of Art. I downloaded it on my Kindle and then started reading it this morning, right after calling Verizon about my damn phone plan, taking a break only to hand my daughter resumes I printed for her before a job interview, then finished it under some pressure from my dog whose pleading eyes made it clear that it was time for a walk.

Wow! It is an amazing distillation of my experience with resistance to the work of creation.  Inspiration is just one small aspect of the process and a fun distraction. This book is much more practical. I also laughed because as I read The War of Art I recognized it is another act of resistance: reading about writing instead of writing.

The first evening of Storylines Anne Lamott said the same thing: you have to put in the time. Write the shitty first draft. Revise. Write more.  When so many people who have actually produced a lot of great stuff you like to read say the same thing, they may be speaking the truth.

Pressfield's message broke through and is already making a difference. I recently made two commitments to myself: 1) to ride my bike for at least 30 minutes a day for 30 days, and 2) to write 5 days a week in the month of March.  When I finished the book I started to get sucked into the world wide web. My daughter called to tell me how her job interview went and I practically shouted, "Got time to meet me at the Cloud Forest Cafe for a coffee?" I leaped on my bike and raced into town with my computer. She shared her interview experience and then left me with my decaf, my computer and free wifi.

I slayed two small dragons this morning with one fell swoop.  Thanks Steven.

Hemingway's Writing Tips

Paris Wife

I love, love, love reading intuitively. I brought a stack of books to read on my writing retreat. I picked up Paula McClain's The Paris Wife and dove into the story of Hadley Richardson Hemingway and the Paris years. Soon I was planning my day around reading until I reached the bittersweet end.

This awakened an appetite to read Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, his memoir of the same period. I left a holiday party early to find it in a used bookstore. First, I stopped at Blake's Books, one of my favorite small bookstores in McKinleyville that offers new and used books. It was not in stock; however, I did find two memoirs by Madeleine L'Engle and Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions.  I may have the opportunity for her to sign a book in February and I have permanently loaned out all of her books from my library. I moved on to Arcata to the Tin Can used bookstore and found a tattered copy of Feast.

I have not read much of Hemingway's work--just those novels and short stories assigned in high school English classes. Often when I revisit these books without the torture of reading as an assignment with banal class discussions, I discover I like them. I never returned to Hemingway though, because his persona is a turn-off. Reading why Hadley loved him so rehabilitated him for me. I am enjoying Feast.

Added bonus: writing tips from Hemingway: "I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day." (p. 12) "Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know." (p. 12) "...I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started the next day. That way my subconscious would be working on it and the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything."

Good advice from a disciplined writer.

Struggling with Focus on Writer's Retreat

snapping fingers

I have committed a significant chunk of time and money to create an envelope for writing.  I am excited to progress on several projects already underway. I drove 6 hours to Trinidad, California on Christmas Day so I could maximize my time. And I have not accomplished anything in the last two days.

I returned to an open internet page on my computer from Writer's Digest blog. A guest blogger, Danie Ware, explains how she makes "snap writing" work for her busy schedule. My problem is focus; however, these words got my attention: "DON’T get into a routine. Don’t fall into a habit. Don’t fall victim to your own behavior patterns – you can only write with a coffee, with a biscuit, at 4pm, at your desk, with your cat on your lap and your favorite music…"  Love this advice since I hate routine. Check out her post for other good advice.

I also remember the advice from Bicycling magazine to set small goals and build in rewards when met. My challenge is getting started and feeling overwhelmed with all I want to accomplish. I need to chip, chip, chip away at my goals and stop thinking I have failed  if I do not write all day.

My plan is to identify the projects that if finished will give the greatest satisfaction. Then I will break those into pieces and write, write, write, and reward myself when I have earned it.  I will report back on January 3 and let you know how well this plan worked.

Keep Christmas Weird

Penguins in a canoe

I enjoy how Christmas inspires people to new weird heights.  Move over Austin, TX. You do not have a monopoly on weird.

This picture of penguins in a canoe also fit in with the theme of my Christmas cards this year--penguins. I am writing a penguin viewing guide for New Zealand and it seems like suddenly I see penguins everywhere.  Some are completely silly and some are charming. The last box of cards I bought brings together Santa and penguins, thus subtly encouraging the misperception that penguins live in the northern hemisphere.

Meanwhile this huddle of penguins in the canoe show a highly adaptable spirit that I hope permeates your New Year in 2014.

Merry Christmas!

Telling My Story on Social Media

Jab Jab thumbnail

My daughter Sarah is very adept at writing pithy Tweets that are full of humor and pathos. She also uses Instagram and writes a stunning caption. I am crawling in Social Media while she is running. So when she told me about this book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, I knew I needed to read it and practice telling my story in the noisy social world.

It makes me think of my grandmother who was born into the horse and buggy world of 1900 and moved gracefully to the man-on-the-moon world of the 1980s without seeming to bat an eyelash. Then in 1982 we took her to the movie theater to see E.T. the Extraterrestrial with us. Her eyes transfixed on the screen, all she could say was "Oh my."  I feel that way reading Gary Vaynerchuk's book.  I have gracefully tackled values communications, and storytelling, but a team of people from Nabisco watching the Super Bowl looking for a chance to tweet about Oreos?? Oh my.

ET

I use Pinterest and Facebook only for personal stuff. I have 3 Twitter accounts, only one of which is personal.  I have 4 blogs, only one that is personal.  I cannot figure out Instagram, yet. Is it possible for a 51 year old to become adept at storytelling on these platforms? Yes, and I may never be as wonderful at it as my daughter is.. I will have fun trying.

"Delta Suicide" available in new Mystery Anthology

Snoopy Dance

A year ago I submitted a manuscript for consideration to the Capital Crime chapter of Sisters in Crime. They chose “Delta Suicide” for inclusion in their anthology. (Drum roll) …It is finally published!  I will be at my first book signing event at the Barnes and Noble in Roseville on November 22 from 6-8 p.m. (across from the Galleria).

All of you who have e-readers, it is available at AmazonBarnes and Noble andKobo at the “real deal” price of $2.99.  (Mom, you will get one for Christmas!)

Hard copies are also available for purchase for $15.

In pursuit of 50,000 words

Nanowrimo

Never one to do the same thing in the same way two days in a row, I do not excel at getting up every morning at 5:30 and working out from 6 to 7 a.m. then eating muesli and coffee for breakfast before getting to the office by 8:30 a.m. My subconscious works overtime to thwart routine.

This is not to say I am un undisciplined person. I manage to accomplish many goals. I have some good habits about writing down my goals, breaking them into their component parts and ticking those bits off.  I just like to feel inspired while I do it and routine dulls inspiration for me.

This is why this November with National Novel Writing Month I am struggling.  Some people criticize the challenge for valuing quantity over quality. And NaNoWriMo sets the goal for you: 50,000 words. This might be the right length for a novel, and it might not, depending on the story. How else do you set a goal that will work for most people, measure it, and create a way to hold people accountable (word count reporting)?

The real point of NaNoWriMo is not to finish a novel in November and publish by Christmas, rather it is to set a goal and to remind yourself that writing has its own rewards. It helps to set up new patterns in your life where writing is a priority.  It also really helps to get you towards your goal. Just as walking 30 minutes a day or riding my bike trainer 20 minutes a day helps me toward my fitness goals, writing every day helps me toward writing milestones.

I have not taken advantage of the the community aspect as much as my friend Max. He participates in on-line speed drills and goes to places where writers are gathered to write for long periods and drink lots of coffee.  My experience is more community-lite. I am part of a cohort that Michelle Knowlden put together and she sends out encouraging updates every day.  I can also go on the Nanowrimo website and find inspiration--although the redesign completely baffles me.  Plus they send me emails with encouragement.  It is too bad that this only goes on for one month out of the year, because it is lovely to be part of a host of writers from around the world.

Blogging does offer the opportunity for interaction that traditional fiction writing and other writing pursuits do not. Someone snidely commented after the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Alice Munro that an American is unlikely to win it again because the most popular literature in the USA is the memoir. Blogging is one long run-on memoir. So I am contributing to the demise of American literature! It does help you hone your craft. Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours of practice at something to become a master at it. There are still differences for natural talent--not everyone who plays 10,000 hours of golf will become Tiger Woods. However, there is no doubt in my mind that Bill Bryson only became a master storyteller by putting the hours in and writing, writing, writing.

I am not sure how he can be so prolific: Bill Bryson’s new book One Summer 1927 in America is astounding. He apparently rapaciously consumes historical information and then reorganizes it in his creative cranium before spewing it all back out on paper in the form a highly entertaining read.  Sometimes I read a paragraph that makes me chuckle and smile and I genuflect and hope that one day I can write something half as good.

In my pursuit of the elusive 50,000 words (in my case travel writing, not a novel), I discovered that there is also a similar challenge where you can blog every day for a month.  This challenge is not restricted to November. I am not sure that my blog subscribers would not cry “Uncle!” if I sent a blog into the ethernet everyday for 30 days. It would be a great way to create a supply for times when I know I going to be consulting very hard for awhile.

All of these challenges should serve my overall writing goals and not become goals in themselves. 717 words, in case you are wondering.

Sharpening the Saw

Nora Profit's book

Nora Profit, the writing coach from The Writing Loft, presented at Sisters in Crime (Capital Crimes Chapter) today. She gave us a crash course in the most common writing mistakes that beginners make.  You can see by the photo that I captured the "glare". I also related well to her advice, enough to buy her book.

Even though I am focused on travel writing now, I find the community of Sisters in Crime to be inspiring. I always come away with writing ideas and the desire to write. It is also informative, whether it is tips on craft, or publishing. Plus it is fun to ask what people are working on and to share what I am doing.