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  • In Pain. Here’s Why.

    *Originally posted by Frog Jones.

    For those of you who have met me at a con or otherwise, you’ll know that I am a somewhat sizeable fellow.

    I also consider the Hindenburg somewhat sizeable.  The fact of the matter is, I currently weigh somewhere around four hundred and sixty-five pounds.  This comes from a life in which I commute for three hours a day, live on fast food, and then sit at a desk to work.

    This is not an uncommon problem in America, and I am by no means unique.

    In order to further hold myself accountable, I am presenting now the Frog Tracker, which shall track progress I make towards my weight loss goals.
    weight loss weblog
    This is a humiliating step for me, but I think it’ll feel good to look at it in days to come when I’m hungry for a big, greasy burger and sore from working out in the mornings.  I’ll be doing a weekly post of my track, and hopefully you’ll see that little king slowly move his way over.

  • Where is our Max Yasgur?

    *Originally posted by Frog Jones.

    Why is it that every time I start to enjoy something, the media tells me that it is evil?


    I’m going off-topic from writing here, but not really.  More on that later.  I’m also not going to break down and analyze the one hour Katie Couric fear-o-thon that’s got me so riled; that has been done elsewhere.  I’m not even going to give the response to it, as my response mirrors the responses of justabout every other nerd out there.



    What I really want to do is address the overarching issue here.  The fact of the matter is, we’ve seen this moral panic before.  And the people panicking?  They caused their own moral panics.  We nerds write about how there’s no need for the panic, but as we have obviously been corrupted by our pastimes what we have to say doesn’t count.  To those who believe that we are evil, we cannot act as our own spokesperson.  What we need is a Jewish dairy farmer.


    In the town of Bethel, New York, in 1969, a town hall meeting was held.  You see, there was this middle-aged Jewish dairy farmer by the name of Max Yasgur who had agreed to rent out some of his property to some hippies who wanted to throw a party there.  The rest of the town fervently opposed this, because he was renting it out to kids who were members of an “inappropriate” movement.  Yasgur was a quiet, private man, who didn’t really like talking in front of crowds, but underneath the quiet Jewish-dairy-farmer facade was a man with some pretty strongly held beliefs.  His speech to the town council is one of the most poignant paragraphs I’ve read.  I’m putting it here, in its entirety.


    “I hear you are considering changing the zoning law to prevent the festival. I hear you don’t like the look of the kids who are working at the site. I hear you don’t like their lifestyle. I hear you don’t like they are against the war and that they say so very loudly. . . I don’t particularly like the looks of some of those kids either. I don’t particularly like their lifestyle, especially the drugs and free love. And I don’t like what some of them are saying about our government. However, if I know my American history, tens of thousands of Americans in uniform gave their lives in war after war just so those kids would have the freedom to do exactly what they are doing. That’s what this Country is all about and I am not going to let you throw them out of our Town just because you don’t like their dress or their hair or the way they live or what they believe. This is America and they are going to have their festival.”


    Read that bad boy from a modern perspective.  Max wasn’t a hippy, and he didn’t particularly like hippies.  He didn’t like their music, he didn’t like their attitudes, and he just wasn’t one of their fans.  But Max Yasgur loved freedom.  He loved it much, much more than he hated the hippies, and he got his way.  The zoning laws remained unchanged, and the party happened.

    At said party, Max was invited to give a speech.  Here’s what he had to say:


    That’s right folks; the biggest counterculture gathering on record happened on the farm of one of the most straight-laced men on earth.


    Since then, though, those of us who dwell beneath the surface of society have had a hard time being heard.  I’m a scifi/fantasy fan who works as an attorney.  I write under a pseudonym (What?  Frog isn’t really your name?!?) because I don’t want my rural clients thinking I’m less than one hundred percent devoted to their case, and if word got out that I write fantasy novels and play D&D, the stigma that would attach could hurt me professionally.

    Now video games are once again in the crossfire, added to the list of things that people want to blame for their own shortcomings as parents.  It should not come as a shock that I’m a gamer, and yet another piece of what I am and what I enjoy is being added to the pile of things that society considers disgraceful.

    So where is my Max Yasgur?  Where’s the guy who, even though he’s not really one of us, is going to stand up and tell the world that I have the right to be the way I am?  If I say it, my voice joins those of every other nerd I’ve linked to.  No, it needs to be someone from the same group of people, someone who disagrees with what I do and who I am.  But someone who loves freedom more than they hate me.  Not until we get our Max Yasgur will we start to see the things we love being accepted by the greater society out there.

  • Friday Indie Review: The Second Coming by John Dalmas

    *Originally Posted by Frog Jones

    OK, OK.  This wasn’t originally an indie book; when The Second Coming was first released in 2004, it was released by Baen, which isn’t onanyone’s list of what is and is not indie.  I take a lot of flak from some people simply for putting books up here that are done by small presses; I’m sure that having this up there is simply going to enrage some of you.

    It’s an indie book now, though.  Sky Warrior, my go-to small press, has obtained the rights from Dalmas and are doing their own release, complete with new cover art and everything. Furthermore, Sky Warrior is going to do something Baen didn’t:  release the rest of the series.

    It’s shaky, I know, but I really want to talk about this book, and so I’m using my ninja lawyer skills to work this one in.  It’s still got some New York stench on it, but it’s now indie press.  So there.  No need for comments or e-mails telling me I’m cheesing this one a little bit; I’m already aware.

    OK, having gotten that awkward preface out of the way, I’m now going to say something even more controversial:
    John Dalmas’ book is not a religious text.  But it should be.

    Dalmas’ work focuses on the character of Ngunda Aran, a half-Malawi half-New-Zealander who writes newspaper columns and puts forward his own philosophies.  Aran is the leader of the Millenium Group, a group of people on a mountaintop in Colorado.  The title of the book tells you what else Aran may be, though he does not simply profess himself to the public as Christ.

    Instead, Aran puts forward a lot of Christ’s way of life.  He also talks about the Tao, an originally Chinese concept.  Aran’s belief system is one of kindness and forgiveness, of turning the other cheek and of truly loving everyone and everything around him.  While he does not speak much on who is and is not the Son of God, he makes a profound statement on what it is to be a good person.  To Aran, being good is far more important than why one is being good.

    Now, Aran may be the central character of the book, but most of The Second Coming deals not directly with Aran, but rather with the public reaction to Aran.  Given that he does not talk about Christ being the only path to salvation, the majority of organized Christian religions see him as a heretic (the parallels here to the first time Christ kicked around this dirt ball are pretty profound).  While Aran is espousing what it is to be good, organized religion believes the most important thing iswhy one tries to be good, not whether or not one actually manages to.  Organized religion, in this book, relies on the Word of the Bible (and some religious theories they simply generate themselves), to tell us that Aran is evil.

    Meanwhile, the secular response to Aran is just as misguided.  Instead of looking at what Aran is teaching, secularists look at Aran and see yet another cult leader.  How he is teaching, to them, is more important than what.

    Thus, Aran is panned from every angle, by just about every facet of society.

    The really, truly fascinating thing about Dalmas’ work is this:  It rings true.  Assuming the existence of Christ, and the basic accuracy of the Gospels, Dalmas’ predictions about what would happen should Christ actually return to walk this earth are breathtakingly accurate.  We live in a culture today where “Judge not, that you not be judged” has turned into “God hates Fags.”  “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” has turned into “salvation is easy.“ 

    Turning temples into dens of thieves?  Perfectly acceptable, now.  And giving unto Caesar?  Right out.

    But the dichotomy most addressed by Dalmas is this passage, again from Matthew 7:
    “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

    Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

    Aran, in Dalmas’ books, cares only about producing good fruit.  The Christian religion, points out Dalmas, has become vastly concerned with a good appearance.  Talking about God has replaced listening to God; literal interpretations of arcane bits of scripture have replaced the feeling of love, kindness, and tolerance that (again, assuming the existence of Christ) He taught about.

    And so the religions of the world rise up and denounce someone who is acting an awful lot like Christ did when he came to earth. 

    Not everyone in the world, mind you; Dalmas does not attempt any tautologies.  But he does present a rather stunning indictment of how far from the teachings of Christ Christianity has gotten.

    Whether or not you are a person of faith, this is a worthwhile read.  It forces a person to contemplate the nature of faith, and to really drive at the heart of all religion and philosophy:  what does it meanto be good?

    So, Dalmas has created a work of fiction.  This is not a religious text, and it doesn’t purport to be. But it should be.  If you’re an agnostic like me, it helps to be reminded that Christ himself actually had some pretty good ideas.  If you’re a Christian, then I think it will help you to look at your beliefs, and make sure you haven’t been deceived by one of them false prophets Jesus talked about. 

    I felt like I was a better person for having read this book, and that’s something of an accomplishment.

    It helps that it was engaging and entertaining as hell, too.

  • Thoughts of a Newly Published Author


    I realize Frog and I have actually had a story out there since September of 2011, but we didn’t really feel like “authors.” Writers, sure. But our little piece was folded in with a collection of stories; we were just one very small part of the whole book. With the novel though, that is different. I look at our names on the cover, and now I feel like an author.

    And as an author there are some things I am rapidly discovering I suck at. Strangely enough, reading aloud is one of them. It may be the seven years since college, my dyslexia or whatever, but even I don’t want to listen to me. I either sound like Ben Stein, or my eyes get so far ahead of my mouth that I lose my place and stutter to a stop. I don’t remember having any issues with it before.

    Certainly no one in my honors English classes or creative writing classes earlier in life indicated to me that I, in fact, can’t read out loud worth a damn. And yet I am finding its true. I would much rather hand over whatever piece we are reading to Frog, so that our work doesn’t sound like it’s being filtered through a robotic zombie who sometimes has attention deficit disorder problems. I’m working on it. But I can’t say I sound good.

    Another thing I really struggle with is writing interesting biographies about myself. Of course, I think I’m a fun, quirky person, but doesn’t everyone? When asked to put it down on paper, especially if I can’t focus on our newly budding writing career, I put down something that is just as fun to read as the instruction manual that comes with cheap, paste-board furniture. Not the enigmatic no-hints or foreign language versions either, so you don’t even have a mystery to solve. This is a problem, because just about anywhere you contact about a novel, also wants to know who you are, and what your background is. I can’t imagine why. ;-)

    Like I said, I’m working on it.


  • Week Nine of The Next Big Thing

    Thank you to Angela Scott for tagging Frog and I in Week Eight of The Next Big Thing  The Next Big Thing is a weekly Blog post where tagged authors talk about one of their works in progress.  Here is the interview about our upcoming novel, Grace Under Fire which will be out from Skywarrior Books in November.

    What is the working title of your book? 

    Grace Under Fire, Book 1 in The Gift of Grace Trilogy

    Where did the idea come from for the book?

    The whole concept for the magic in the book came from a friend’s kids who wanted to know how summon spirits.  We started there, but ended up in a whole new place.  In our world certain individuals are born with the ability to summon things.  This includes spirits, objects and/or forces.  You can’t create them, but you can move them around from place to place.  Without Summoners, the barrier between the various worlds would fall apart.  Most of humanity doesn’t get this, though; that’s why summoning is also considered a felony.

    Our first short story in the world, entitled Blood and Spirit, won the League of Extraordinary Writer’s contest in 2011.   We had so much fun with that short, but we’d come up with so many ideas we weren’t able to use.  We decided to explore the world more with a full novel, and then when that wasn’t enough, a trilogy.

    What genre does your book fall under?

    It’s Urban Fantasy, mostly geared toward adults but it should also appeal to YA readers. Robert, one of the two main protagonists, is seventeen.

    Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

    Esther:  Kristin Chenoweth for Grace. Petite, fearless and just a tiny bit crazy.

    Frog:    Oh sure, I get to pick the teenager.  OK, give me a second.

    Here we go:  Jack Gleeson.  *ducks*  No, no; hear me out.  Robert starts off the book a snooty teenager, and grows from there.  We know Gleeson has the acting chops, and we know he can do snooty.  The fact that everyone hates the character he currently plays is a testament to his capability.

    What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

    When an entire Grove of Summoners is wiped out at once, Summoner Grace Moore and her accidental apprentice Robert struggle to deal with the demon that killed them, a threat from another dimension, the police and (worst of all) each other.

    Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

    It is published through  Sky Warrior Books.  They have a lot of talented authors and their site can be found here.

    How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

    It took us about four months to write the zero draft.  We did lots of revising, though!

    What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

    This is always a difficult question, since authors are so close to their own work.  According to our beta-readers it has a very Dresden-like feel.

    Who or What inspired you to write this book?

    Our friend Crystal inspired us to write. She literally pushed us down this road in the beginning. She believed we could write an awesome book way before we did.

    What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?  

    Written in first person, both Grace and Robert have a fun, somewhat snarky feel to them.  Underneath that all, they are two very different characters forced by circumstance to rely on each other.  In the beginning, neither trusts the other; Robert believes Grace has sold her soul for power (as this is the common myth about summoners), and Grace believes Robert is wild and unstable. 

    Despite this, the two characters must learn to work together if they’re going to survive their battles.

    The unique magic system, the multiple levels of conflict, the dynamic characters, and the fast-paced action will hook a reader in, then keep them there.

    Tag you’re it! You’re week number 10 (post next week)

    Deby Fredericks (Also writes as Lucy Ford)
    Fallon Jones
    Kaye Thornbrugh
    S. A. Bolich
    Rhiannon Held

    ***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (Work In Progress) ***

    Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them. It’s that simple.
    Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:

    What is the working title of your book?

    Where did the idea come from for the book?

    What genre does your book fall under?

    Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

    What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

    Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

    How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

    What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

    Who or What inspired you to write this book?

    What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

  • Eliminating Drag

    *Originally posted by Frog Jones

    I was just on a message board for writers over at Mythic Scribes, and I began noticing a common problem amongst new writers.

    I’m making this post so that I can simply refer people to it whenever I run into this problem.

    I open with a quote from “The West Wing,” a favorite show of mine.  This is a quote from Bruno, and he’s talking about political campaigns, but the words can be applied pretty universally:

    “I have difficulty sometimes talking to people who don’t race sailboats. When I was a teenager, I crewed Larchmont to Nassau on a 58-foot sloop called Cantice. There was a little piece of kelp that was stuck to the hull, and even though it was little, you don’t want anything stuck to the hull. So, I take a boat hook on a pole and I stick it in the water and I try to get the kelp off, when seven guys start screaming at me, right? ‘Cause now the pole is causing more drag than the kelp was. See, what you gotta do is you gotta drop it in and let the water lift it out in a windmill motion. Drop it in, and let the water take it by the kelp and lift it out. In, and out. In, and out, till you got it…..If you think that I’m going to miss even one opportunity to pick up half-a-mile boat speed, you’re absolutely out of your mind. When it costs us nothing, when we give up nothing?! You’re out of your mind.”


    So, why the hell am I posting that quote here?  Well, here’s a story’s opening sentence from one of these posts which I reference:

    “A wrenching moment of forbidden hope stabbed at her fearful heart.”

    And here was my response:

    This is your first line. Remember that, before your reader gets here, they do not know anything about your story. Here’s what I think you’re trying to convey:

    1. Your main character is female.

    2. Your main character has noticed something to make her hopeful

    3. Your main character has been beaten down so much during the course of events leading up to this that hope is a source of pain and fear rather than relief.

    To those ends, then, let us look at which words are accomplishing what. This is how a new reader goes through this sentence:

    A – an article, no real importance.
    wrenching – Now we’re getting somewhere. This is a gerund, and it tells us something is being torn from something else in a painful fashion.

    moment – Ok…the thing that is wrenching is a small period of time.

    of – Into the prepositional phrase! We know we’re going to use this phrase to tell us about this horrible moment.

    forbidden: Someone has ruled this moment off limits.

    hope: She’s not supposed to be hopeful, then? That’s off-limits? Is the moment wrenching because the hope is forbidden, or is it the hope forbidden because it would be wrenching?

    stabbed: Wait…I thought the moment was wrenching. Now it’s stabbing. Wrenching is a pulling, twisting word. Stabbing is straight, sharp, and an intrusion. Does this moment wrench, or does it stab?

    at Yes, of course

    her possessive, still waiting for a direct object here.

    fearful Fearful? Because of the wrenching, the forbidden, the stabbing, or something else?

    heart Physical? No, probably not physical. Moments can’t wrench or stab at the physical. This is the metaphorical use of “heart,” then.

    What’s the result? Well, all of that is easy enough to sort out. It means the sentence takes an extra fraction of a second to understand. I, the reader, have to mentally discard the extra info before cutting to the meaning of the sentence. A sentence that normally takes me a fifth of a second to understand now takes two fifths.

    That doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but let me put it another way; I have to spend twice as long reading that sentence as I do a clean one. This makes the sentence really tough to get through, like an overcooked piece of meat.

    You want to convey your meaning to the reader as smoothly as possible. Any time you are writing, from here on out, remember this one rule:

    Extra words create drag in the flow of your story.

    I have revised your first sentence, and I present my revised version of that sentence for your consideration:

    Hope stabbed her heart.

    I have taken your sentence, and cut from it “A wrenching moment of forbidden” and “fearful.” Why? Because the stabbing does it for you. Stabbing is never something that is wanted. We know what she thinks about the hope; it’s stabbing her heart. As soon as I understand that hope is stabbing her heart, the rest of the picture grows in my head.

    I also pulled “at.” “At” gave the chance for a miss. Hope hits. It doesn’t stab at someone’s heart, it just stabs their heart. Using “at” is an extra word that lessens the blow on the reader, and creates drag.

    I used to have this exact problem. I still do, from time to time. Here’s what was going on with me, and you can take what you will from it.

    I would have a very clear picture of what was going on in my head. I’d thought about the character, I’d thought about the scene until it burned its way clear through my mind. From my perspective, there was nothing about this scene that wasn’t completely obvious. I wanted to convey to the reader how I felt about the scene, and so I’d throw as many adjectives as I could. I was using them to express emotion.

    The problem I was having was that, somewhere in the midst of trying to convey the emotion directly, I forgot that the reader didn’t know what was going on. When reading something, you’re brand new to the scene. You’ve got to sort through all the words the author has given you in order to form a cohesive picture of what’s going on.

    The effect was this: my readers would know that they were supposed to be happy/sad/excited/whatever about something, but they had to work way too hard to figure out what that something was. I had forgotten to tell the story, and instead I was like the guy who stood there trying to tell his audience why a joke was funny. (See? Elephant…Eleph…’ell if….Rhino….ino….I know….’ell if I know? Huh? Huh?)
    When I started to revise, though, I would feel exactly like you did. I would feel like there was less emotion, less gravity to the piece.

    And there was. I had removed my emotions from the piece, and allowed the reader to feel their own. From my perspective, it was less. To a reader, though, it felt much more genuine.

    I take a moment to note the irony of this being my longest post.

    Anyways, if I’ve linked you here, it’s because your story has drag.  Never, ever miss an opportunity to pick up even half-a-mile boat speed.  If you’ve just come here on your own, then double-check your most recent piece of writing for drag, and make sure it contains nothing that doesn’t have to be there.

    I began with a quote, and I end with a quote.  This one is from Benjamin Franklin, and it was told to Thomas Jefferson when drafting the Declaration of Independence.  Jefferson was having this exact problem (and if that doesn’t put us all in good company I don’t know what can), and Franklin related to him the following story:

    When I was a journeyman printer, one of my companions, an apprentice hatter, having served out his time, was about to open shop for himself. His first concern was to have a handsome signboard, with a proper inscription. He composed it in these words, ‘John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money,’ with a figure of a hat subjoined. But thought he would submit it to his friends for their amendments. The first he showed it to thought the word ‘Hatter’ tautologous, because followed by the words ‘makes hats,’ which showed he was a hatter. It was struck out. The next observed that the word ‘makes’ might as well be omitted, because his customers would not care who made the hats. If good and to their mind, they would buy them, by whomsoever made. He struck it out. A third said he thought the words ‘for ready money’ were useless, as it was not the custom of the place to sell on credit. Every one who purchased expected to pay. They were parted with, and the inscription now stood, ‘John Thompson sells hats.’ ‘Sells hats!’ says the next friend. ‘Why, nobody will expect you to give them away. What then is the use of that word?’ It was stricken out, and ‘hats’ followed it, the rather as there was one painted on the board. So the inscription was reduced ultimately to ‘John Thompson,’ with the figure of a hat subjoined.”



  • The Future of Brick and Mortar Bookstores

    I read this really interesting article, by David Gaughran at the indie reader, on the digital wars between Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and why at least right now, Amazon is winning. But it got me thinking about something else.

    I love brick and mortar bookstores, especially big ones. I love the ambiance. No where else can I find the pervasive new book smell that seems to flow through those big stores’ shelves.  However, if I dig deeper, I love this literary smell because I love books.  That smell speaks to me of things yet to come and adventures waiting to be grabbed. It is an embodiment of my feeling of enjoyment for new authors or ideas formerly unknown to me.

    This is where the excitement of the big bookstore with its wonderful new book smell is letting me down recently.  When I visit my big local bookstores, they don’t carry the books I wanted to buy.   There is so much information on the internet it is really easy to find new books by your favorite author, or a new author that’s highly recommended by authors or readers you respect.  That’s where I get 99% of my book recommendations these days.  And my local book stores can’t deliver on those recommendations. Yes, they could order them in for me, but generally it takes longer and is more expensive than going online and doing it myself.   Also with gas prices soaring these days, I end up feeling guilty about spending the fuel to go all the way out to the bookstore for what turns out to be a completely worthless errand.

    I may have impulse bought some other random title, but that doesn’t make me feel better.  It makes me feel worse.  This impulse book is usually far and away inferior from the book I actually wanted, and it’s not like I won’t still buy the book I was originally looking for.  This might make the publishers of the random book feel better, but it certainly doesn’t make me feel better.   I end up with the uncomfortable realization I could have stayed at home and gotten the book I wanted, saved the gas money, and saved the money on this other book I won’t even finish.  I don’t have time for reading mediocre books all the way to the end.   My high school and college self would have a crisis of ideals if she could hear me say that, but it’s true.

    The money that stays in my pocket when I shop for books online is a very persuasive argument against physical bookstores for me.   I don’t have that much to begin with.  And so, those big physical book stores, with the ambiance and the new book smell I love, have come to represent wasted time and money to me.  I very rarely use them anymore.   And yet, I hate the idea that the physical bookstore is going the way of the dinosaur.  I would like to use them, but the outcome is plainly negative when I do.  I just can’t justify it.

    I believe large bookstores and libraries are still what get the next generation into books, way before they start blazing their own trail in the wide world of books online.  Seeing all physical bookstores close down would be the equivalent of closing down a major gateway into cultural and intellectual thought.  So what would it take to win back customers to the big bookstores?

    They logistically can’t compete with the number of books an online store can have at its beck and call.   They don’t have enough room.   And that is honestly my biggest complaint with them.  They require me to expend effort and cash just to get there, and then they never have what I need.

    Going off of that, if local bookstores could implement a system allowing me to pick out my books online ahead of time, place my order, and then send me a time for pick up, they would go a long way toward getting me back as a customer.  Honestly, I know many book stores are not even close to being set up in a way to let their customers do that.  But why not?  It wouldn’t have to be that different from the online hold system implemented by many libraries.

    One thing is clear though, physical bookstores will have to change to attract customers away from online stores somehow, if they want to stick around as viable and vibrant businesses in the future.