Great Review of The Memory Hunter over at Self Publishing Review

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Here’s another great review of The Memory Hunter over at Self Publishing Review:

http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/2014/09/review-the-memory-hunter-by-jon-konrath/

In the far-flung future of 2007, in a world that never quite recovered from a Cold War which didn’t stay cold, where Japan seized the global economy and the world went in the direction that novelists predicted decades ago, society now relies on commercial brain implants – artificial memories that afford skills and knowledge to the owner to give them immediate access to better standards of living. Some people bite off more than they can chew on payment, and that’s where recall comes in. John Bishop makes a meager living for himself on the edge of civilized society with these recalls, having lost everything on a burn job some time ago, but on a job he can’t refuse – as much as he’d prefer – he stumbles into a darker business than just recall. So begins the events of The Memory Hunter, a retro-futuristic science-fiction Noir by Jon Konrath.

As a send-up to an older genre gone quieter in recent years, the book is a cultural grab-bag of inspiration from classic cyberpunk/sci-fi like BladerunnerNeuromancer and – closer in tone – the more absurdist Snow Crash­. More importantly, the similarity to the story Repo Men (and several similarly-themed books and films since) is hard to overlook with its dry-wit Dystopian horror of bio-technology financing a better future at unsafe costs, and the grimy, ethically-nightmarish, but stable work of repossessing a life as a distinct, even run-of-the-mill career. Mega-corporations and hovercars, AI helpers and hand-held lasers, American virtues against the Japanese and the Soviets running in the background, it’s all there. It’s tried and tested – and a bit out of time, purposefully – but used as a good springboard for this particular novel that thankfully takes different turns to any before it. A jaded, alcoholic ex-mover-and-shaker takes the job of his life, and with help of a new friend, busts open the case for the good of humanity and his own sense of honor – it’s the genre trope, and part of its reason for the adherence to that outline is to take new turns and demonstrate some retrospective good humor about the entire thing. It’s a pleasant tribute to the old-school while doing new things as its own distinct piece that borrows only what it needs to tell an original, extremely thoughtful story, even if the big questions are kept from being too big.

Konrath is a proven author with several different books under his wing with a flair for absurdity running through titles such as Fistful of Pizza and a more somber tone in titles like Atmospheres and Summer Rain. It should be no surprise to followers of his work to know that he tackles a new genre of classic science-fiction with the right balance of the ridiculous and the thoughtful. The world Konrath creates is very believable and full of details and side-notes that mesh into the narrative perfectly. It really feels like the old novels, but with a better sense of self-awareness and tech-savvy, owing to Konrath’s experience in the real world as much as an author. It’s very successful in selling a sense of immersion that is often hard to strike with fiction with an absurdity about it, and makes it convincing as a satire as much as a realistic and serious story.

If old ’80s sci-fi Noir pulp-fic is a genre you feel is sorely lacking in the current Zeitgeist of literature, this is a blast from the past ready for importing to your personal storage chips. Dark, terrifying, and satirical, The Memory Hunter is an excellently crafted piece given life from a bygone era of literature. 5 stars.

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Some great Atmospheres reviews

I always forget to look at Goodreads reviews. I think part if it is they make them so damn hard to find. And I don’t think they have as much of a result on book sales as actual Amazon reviews, which is bad because they’re the same damn company now, and GR reviews are usually much better written.

Anyway, Atmospheres has been slowly seeing some good reviews over on Goodreads. I know I should be pushing the newer book, but Atmospheres is one of my favorites, and it’s much more “me.”  And the audio book is coming soon.

A couple of recent ones worth sharing.  I really like this one:

Kon·ra·thi·an adjective \ˈkän-rath-ēən\

: a sentence or phrase used, in caustic hyperbole, to describe the complete meaninglessness of American culture and its icons

Another good one from the always spot-on Arthur Graham:

By removing the tracks of linear narrative and allowing the totality of his twisted visions to coalesce into a more appropriate form, Konrath does not merely dump a clusterfuck of unrelated awfulness into a book, just because he’s too lazy to glue it all together in an orderly fashion, or just because he’s more interested in pissing off the average reader (although he may be up to a bit of the latter). Rather, by eschewing the traditional tracks in favor of more train, what paradoxically emerges are the tracks of a form reinforced by its own chaotic content, and let me tell you: Konrath’s train is in a perpetual state of wreck.

The author could be viewed as a depressive nihilist if he didn’t obviously believe in what he’s doing and enjoy doing it, even if half of what he does is more like a hopelessly insane nightmare than anything a normal person would want to read. He crosses the line and then he crosses it again a few more times, and the end result is usually nothing short of genius and hilarity.

What did you think?  If you got the book, I’d love to see your review.  And if you didn’t get it yet, you should go take care of that, pronto.

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Linklater, Benning

I’ve recently fallen down a frantic rabbit hole of youtube searches and article reading involving director James Benning, a pioneer in experimental, narrative-less film.  Richard Linklater mentioned him in the director’s commentary for It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, which is a movie I’ve been obsessed with for a bit.  That movie is an essentially narrative-less film, and I’ve written about it earlier, but I was interested in his influences, and if there were other similar films, which led me to Benning.

This searching has pulled me in deep, because interviews with Benning are fascinating.  And I’m also about 80% sure my father-in-law probably knows him, because they’re both from Milwaukee and both came up through the draft resistance and civil rights movements in the 60s, and my FiL worked at the Milwaukee Art Museum and seems to know everybody.  It’s been hard to actually track down any of Benning’s work, because it’s not really on DVD, and you pretty much have to catch it at a museum.  There are bits of it online, but not entire movies.  But there are lots of interviews knocking around, and they are all good reads.

Here’s a snippet from one that particularly moved me, at least from the standpoint of this no-plot windmill I’ve been chasing:

*** from http://www.moviemag.org/2014/06/interview-james-benning/
You work with very small budgets – what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?

A lot of people want to make narrative films and my advice would be to not do that. I don’t really like films very much. But I like using film as a way of saying things. I’m not interested in drama that’s contrived. I don’t like acting. My advice would be very strange – but just don’t make another “good” film, there are too many good films! Produce a film that’s going to make us question cinema itself and expand its language. Make us think about our own lives and the context of our lives in the world.
***

There’s a very good documentary that just came out called Double Play, about Linklater’s relationship with Benning, how they’re friends and it riffs off of both of their work a bit. It’s on Amazon and maybe iTunes.  I watched it last week, and it’s worth checking out, particularly as a retrospective of all of Linklater’s work and how it’s interconnected.

That said, I’m in the middle of plotting a book, so maybe it didn’t stick.  But I have about 40K words into the next iteration of Atmospheres, or whatever it may be, so there’s more in the pipeline.

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Review my book Thunderbird for free and win stuff

OK, here’s the deal: I have this book Thunderbird. It came out in 2013.  It’s a pretty good book. It did so-so and then fell off the radar.  I think more people should give it a read.

So, I’m doing a giveaway through Story Cartel. For the next three weeks, you can go there, sign up, and get a copy of the ebook for free.

Now, part of the reason I’m doing this is I hope you read it and like it and write a review.  I really need more reviews, because they are the only way you can sell books if you’re a self-published author.  And I don’t pull in huge audiences because I write weird books. So, I’d appreciate it if you went to Amazon or Goodreads and wrote a review.

Here’s the good part.  Story Cartel has a giveaway every month.  They give away ebook readers (Kindles and Nooks and whatnot) and gift cards to Amazon and Barnes and Noble. If you go and download the free book, you are entered into the monthly drawing. If you go write a review of my book, you are entered again.

(If you’ve already read the book, you can still sign up, and you’ll be entered into the contest. If you read the book and didn’t review it, you’re now motivated to write a review and you’re entered again.)

Here’s the link for the book: https://storycartel.com/books/thunderbird

I’d appreciate it if you went there and clicked those “share” buttons and spread the word on this one.  Thanks!

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Ode to a Mid-2010 MacBook Pro

My MacBook died yesterday. Shit.

It wasn’t a full-on, catastrophic death, the kind with no backup and fire and smoke and no hope. It was more of a long goodbye. I replaced the battery last fall, the third battery in its almost five years of heavy use. It looked like the battery was holding a full charge, an app saying it had low cycles and high milliamp-hours. But it would lose a few percent per minute, and then would get down to about 20% and power off with no warning.

I thought this was one of those background-process-sucking-power things, like some damn Adobe vampire lurking in the shadows, constantly pinging home and scanning every file on the hard drive. I tried killing everything imaginable, and then tried a fresh install, zapping the NVRAM, resetting the SMC. After a 24-hour marathon of file copying and reinstalling, it died on 90% battery.

I bought this computer in 2010, in the spring. I jumped on board right on the first day of the new model, when the first i7 Macs appeared. I remember this well, because it was right after I switched jobs and left Samsung, so I worked in Palo Alto. I was in a funk, writing-wise, trying to pull back out of a long stretch of not doing anything except writing every day about how I could not write.

I drove to the Apple store in Palo Alto on my lunch hour to buy the computer. They had them in stock, and $2500 later, I had the top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook Pro. I took it back to my cube, unboxed it, snapped photos, and took a quick look. Then it sat on my desk while I stared at it, waiting until the end of my shift for my long commute back to the house. Then I plugged it into my old Mac, and did the eternal wait for the migration assistant to slowly slurp all of the files from one hard drive to another.

This was both exciting and sad. I had an unusual attachment to my first Macbook, one of the 2007 white plastic not-Pro Macbooks. I wanted a new laptop bad, but wasn’t working that summer. I was sitting on a bunch of junk after we moved to Denver, though – things I could easily dump on eBay. There were years of bachelor-mode acquisitions ripe for the picking: collectible coins, old electronics, DVD and CD box sets, and a bunch of barely-used gadgets and trinkets. I spent the first part of the summer unloading all of this on eBay, making sales and watching auctions and driving to the Denver post office to ship off boxes and packages to far-off buyers around the country. The PayPal balance grew, and by the end of June, I got within target, and orderedd my new machine. I then watched the tracking number, as the machine left China, went to Anchorage, and then jetted down to Colorado. I loved that machine, and it went with me everywhere. It also represented that odd, brief period of 2007, a period of nostalgic landing I always want to visit again.

That machine got quickly retired for its more powerful aluminum unibody sibling. And by the fall of 2010, I started working from home, and got a lot more serious about writing. I can’t thank the machine or the schedule, but launched into a new mode of writing and publishing. And that machine was at the center of all of it. Since I got that MacBook Pro, I’ve published five books (plus republished another) and probably written a half-million words, easy. I also used it for a lot of photography, video, music, and other work. It’s been a real workhorse, and I’ve become very attached to it over the last four and a half years.

That Mac has held up well, all things considered. It did have the dreaded NVIDIA curse, though. That was the first model with a discrete video processor on the logic board, a second GPU that it could switch to for heavy processing, or shut back off for better power use. And a lot of the machines had bad failures. Mine started to crap out a few months in, and ended up getting two logic board replacements, along with a battery replacement because of a recall issue. I doubled the memory, and moved to an SSD. But otherwise, the machine ran well, and lasted longer than any other laptop I’ve had.

I managed to bring that thing everywhere, too. It went to Europe twice; the Midwest a bunch of times; work trips to New York; Hawaii; a bunch of trips all over California. I got a lot of writing done on the road, because I used it as both my desktop and portable. It got scratches and scuffs, but that aluminum case kept it together, and still looks decent.

The battery thing was the kicker, though. I don’t even know if the battery itself was bad, or if it’s another logic board flake-out. It’s still a decent machine, CPU-wise, although the lowest-end MacBook Air now benchmarks higher than the 2010 top-of-the-line. It didn’t have USB3 or Thunderbolt, and had the slower SATA bus, so the SSD drive didn’t work at full speed. I also could not increase the RAM any more than 8GB, and it would not mirror its display to an Apple TV. I seemed to get in at exactly the wrong time, when all of these technical innovations were showing up. It was a great machine, but it was starting to show its age.

After yesterday’s death, I gave up, ran to the Apple store, and bought the latest MacBook Pro Retina. I went down to the 13-inch model, which feels insanely light and small compared to the old one. I’ve spent the last day porting things over, and it’s such a huge improvement in speed. Plus it’s got USB and Thunderbolt, and gigabit ethernet, and the Retina display is insanely nice. Most importantly, I’ve been working for an hour now, and the battery is just down to 97%.

So, start of a new era.  And PSA: BACK UP YOUR MACHINE. Go get a CrashPlan account, drag your important stuff to Dropbox, and get an external drive.  Get two, they’re cheap.  Now, on to the next era of writing with this new toy.

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The Movies That Influenced The Memory Hunter

I wrote this new book, The Memory Hunter. It’s an absurdist cyberpunk book, a retro thing, and to make it absurd, I borrowed heavily from every imaginable trope in the cyberpunk genre. (You should go buy it.)

But to be honest, I haven’t read much cyberpunk. I mean, I love Snow Crash, and I’ve read a fair amount of Philip K. Dick’s work, which is sort of “granddaddy-of-cyberpunk” and predated the big 80s/90s movement headed by Gibson and others. What really moved me during the writing of this book was film. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, which was a time rich with high-concept science fiction blockbusters, the pre-CGI era of big-budget films about our inevitable near-future, which of course never happened.  But I loved that stuff, the action stars of the day, in a sound stage in Burbank done up to look like the surface of Mars.  I’d rent those movies from Blockbuster, and watch the VHS over and over in late-night marathons with my college buddies.

And I dreamed of a cyberpunk future, because I lived in what I thought was the start of it.  I used the Internet before there was a web, telnetting into BBSes and FTPing text zines like Phrack, reading all of the tales of hacking and connecting to faraway mainframes. I lusted after X Terminal workstations, and saw the GUI unix computers as the next step.  Soon, these graphical displays would become 3D, turn into headsets, and we’d all jack into this total immersion virtual reality.  The game Doom came out, and I knew it would happen soon. And then it didn’t.  The Web came out, and became commercial and dumb, and here we are, looking at stupid articles about 5 Ways To Lose Weight For The Holidays By Eating Blue Foods.

That’s why I wrote this book, so the dream would not be dead; it would be in an alternate reality.  And that reality is based on my memories of these old VHS classics.  Here’s my list.  I’ll try to keep it as spoiler-free as possible, so when you go buy my book the plot won’t be spoiled.

  • Blade Runner – The gold standard of noir-inspired cyberpunk. I honestly didn’t get into this PKD-based classic until much later. When I bought my first not-family-shared VCR right after college, this was one of the first VHS videos I purchased. I’ve read endless books on the making of it (Future Noir is the best one) and you can get wrapped up in the “Deckard is a replicant” thing.In this book, I borrowed a lot of the imagery of this movie, the futuristic yet beaten-up city, the constant rain, the neon lights and Japanese-inspired architecture.
    One of the tropes that Blade Runner used that I remember from the 80s was this idea that the Japanese were taking over the world, that they were flooding us with technology and buying up all of our real estate and would eventually run the planet.  It’s something prevalent in many 80s movies like Gung Ho, and almost every 80s comedy had a geeky Japanese guy who could barely speak English for humorous effect.  (Caddyshack, Revenge of the Nerds, etc.)There’s also a lot of plot borrowed from this movie, but in an indirect way.  Most noir movies follow a very similar Chandler-esque three-act plot, and use tropes like the fallen protagonist with a troubled past, the female love interest, the big switcharoo, and so on.Oh, and spinnercars.  You’ve gotta love a good hovercar.
  • Total Recall – “GET YOUR ASS TO MARS!”  Man, I loved this movie when it came out. I didn’t see it in theaters, but a friend had a copy recorded off of HBO, and after watching it once, I rented it and watched it constantly.  I popped in the DVD recently and wrote about it, and it didn’t hold up at all.  The technology was all wrong, the miniature models looked really bad, and the acting was super-corny.  But, I love all of that. I remember every little line that Ahnold said, the way the secondary characters acted. And you’ve got the PKD mojo again, with the script being (loosely) based on a story of his.I borrowed heavily from this movie.  The concept of memory implants is there, along with the idea of mining colonies on other planets worked by indentured servants who end up getting screwed up by their mega-corporate overlords.  I also stole the common PKD trope of robot-controlled cabs, and the evil Big Boss.  I also wanted to use some of the outdated technology in this movie, like video phones, CRT monitors, and dot matrix printers.
  • Johnny Mnemonic- This movie is so bad it’s good, even though it flopped so badly, it was the beginning of the end of the cyberpunk genre.  There were some capable actors that did poorly, some stunt-casting that didn’t work out (Henry Rollins, Ice T) and a bleak look at 2021 that’s now incredibly dated.The big trope I swiped from this movie was the visual look of The Net, the idea of putting on a headset and swiping your arms in the air to move around blocks of “data” or whatever, or travel down an Information Superhighway of vector graphics and neon grids.  I also borrowed the concept of memory couriering, carrying around data in an implant for later retrieval. And my book has IDES, a degenerative disease that slowly rots away implants, something similar to nerve attenuation syndrome in this movie.
  • Sneakers – I lovethis movie.  It’s probably one of my favorite films of all time, and I remember seeing it at least a half-dozen times in the theater. It’s not a cyberpunk movie, but it’s a good thriller with enough high-tech stuff in it that it really hit hard when I saw it back in 1992.I borrowed a lot of plot-based tropes from this. There’s once again the fallen hero scraping by in a bad job.  (“It’s a living” / “Not much of one”)  There’s the weirdo expert in the field.  The “calling the CIA and tracing the trace” bit, or at least the pacing and tension of that scene, is something I use in act three (and don’t want to spoil – go read the book.)  I also used a big switcheroo like they did.  And the concept of “who is the enemy, really?” is one I loved to use.
  • Honorable mentions – here are a few that either don’t have to do with cyberpunk or that weren’t something I watched back in the day, but that also inspired my plot:
    • The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep – I’m not a noir guy.  But after reading about Blade Runner, I knew I had to get back to the source, so I read and watched The Big Sleep, and then to figure out what Chandler ripped off, I read and watched The Maltese Falcon. My plot outline is so similar to Sleep, I probably shouldn’t publicly admit it. But almost any noir is.  I borrowed a lot of tropes here: detective in a crappy office, fallen from his old job; wise-ass secretary (but in my case, it’s an intelligent AI program); the case that’s too good to be true; the employer that turns on you; the damsel in distress; getting captured and beat up at the end of Act 2; it’s all there.  I prefer Chandler’s work because it’s a little more fuzzy around the edges and has some complexity.  (And don’t worry, this is the last genre book like this I’m writing, unless someone shows up with a huge check for the sequel.)
    • UHF – this Weird Al vehicle is a parody itself, but the evil boss is something I cribbed a bit.
    • RoboCop – A lot of people are going to see this one, and it’s a minor influence in the Prometheus story plot, which is totally different from what I’m doing.  Its near future is also a little more near than mine.  But the overarching OCP and a lot of the little sayings and slogans (“I’d buy that for a dollar!”) got their stink all over my novel.

Anyway, that’s a good starting list. Hope you get a chance to check out the book – I need to go fall down a rabbit hole of old movies.

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My new book, The Memory Hunter, is now out!

I’m happy to announce that my new book, The Memory Hunter, is now available!

This book is a bit of a departure for me.  I wanted to try writing a plotted novel with a conventional structure. The book is a retro cyberpunk book.  I know cyberpunk is supposed to be dead, but I had some fun getting around this. I wrote a book that appears to be penned in about 1981, with all of the usual futuristic predictions of that era’s great science fiction, which of course never happened.  So it’s chock full of flying cars, robots, intelligent computers, memory implants, and huge Japanese corporations that rule a world that has rebuilt after a nuclear war with the still-existing Soviet Union.  It’s a dark comedy, full of my usual brand of absurdism, but it’s also a solid noir thriller.

I’ve got a page with a description and all of the details here. Go grab your copy here:

A preview is available on the Kindle and on Smashwords.  I also sent out a slightly longer preview of the first chapters to my mailing list.  Didn’t get it?  Maybe you should subscribe.

Thanks to everyone who helped me with this, especially John Sheppard and Joseph Hirsch, who beta-read and edited for me.  I hope you enjoy this!  And if it’s not your cup of tea, don’t worry.  I’m already 30,000 words into another absurd and bizarre book that gets back to my usual brand of writing.

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More book stuff

Okay, so more details on The Memory Hunter:

  • See the last post about it.
  • The release date is 9/1/14
  • It is 320 pages.
  • The cover is amazing.  I said I wasn’t going to reveal it until the Facebook page got 100 likes, so go like it.
  • There is a preview of it, which consists of the first five chapters.  It’s absolutely free, but you have to be on my mailing list to get it, so you should join it.  I only mail out once a month at most, so it’s not a high-volume thing, and you find out first about my new books and stories, and get free stuff.
  • The book has a web site: http://rumored.com/thememoryhunter/ It is a work in progress, but it has the book description on it, and will be updated once the book goes live.
  • I’m waiting on a physical proof, which shows up tomorrow.  The interior layout is all done, the cover is done, the kindle version is done, and the Smashwords version will be done momentarily.  I pretty much just need to push a couple of buttons and the book will be live.

Very tired right now.  I haven’t slept well in weeks, worrying about getting this book done, trying to find places to tell more people about it.  There was an earthquake last night, which caused no damage, except to my sleep.  I’ve been burning all of my time with final edits and photoshop madness and submitting files and filling out forms.  And now it’s all about googling places that review books, and pondering ads, and trying to reach out to new people, and basically everything but writing.  It’s all part of the process, but I want to get back to actually creating.  Soon.

Anyway, get ready.  The next update will probably be that the book is out.  I will be leaking more things over at Facebook.  And please, sign up for the damn list.  Tell everyone you know.  This book is going to be huge, and you’ll want to check it out.

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Scrivener Tips, Redux

I am in the midst of production work for my next book, and this is the time I always learn new things about Scrivener.  Here are some random bits of info.  If this makes no sense to you, don’t worry; I’m mostly documenting this so that a year from now, I’ll google it again and find it here.  BTW all of this is in the latest version on the Mac.

Using a Code character style in Kindle output

Need to have a monospace font code style that shows up in your final Kindle output?

  1. Surround your text with the HTML <code> tag.  Like this
  2. Select the text, and select Format > Formatting > Preserve Formatting.  Your text gets surrounded by a little blue dotted outline.
  3. When you compile your book, under Compilation Options, select HTML Settings,  and under HTML, select Treat “Preserve Formatting” blocks as raw HTML.

Making first paragraphs in a chapter or section not indented

  1. When compiling, under Compilation Options, select Formatting.
  2. This gets a little squirrely, because it depends on how you break up your documents/scrivs/folders.  For this project, I had a scriv per chapter, and within them, I had blank lines for sections (where you’d normally have * * * or something in a print book.)  In that situation, select the Section Type of Level 1+ with just one document (the bottom item).
  3. Click Options.
  4. Select Remove first paragraph indents and the relevant option.  I used After empty lines and centered text, but yours might be something else.
  5. You might have to do this for different Section Type levels, depending on your structure.

My About the Author chapter is showing up as Chapter 32 in the Kindle TOC

  1. Make sure your scriv for the chapter has a properly-cased and human-readable title, like “About the Author” and not “WTF FFUUUCKCK FIX ME”.
  2. Under Compilation Options, go to Title Adjustments.
  3. There is a thing labeled Do not add title prefix or suffix to documents:.  It has a little gear next to it.  It’s not very OSX-ish and super easy to miss. Click the gear.
  4. Select the documents you want to not name “Chapter x”
  5. Click outside of this pop-up to close it, like on the dialog underneath it.  (It has no close button. I told you it was a junky piece of UI.)

I imported a Scrivener-generated Word doc into Pages and when I try to have different head/foot/page numbers in a section, it freaks the fuck out and I think my computer is possessed by Satan

Scrivener probably put a page break instead of a section break between a couple of chapters, and now the Pages “use previous section” heading/footing setting behaves wrong. Change the page breaks to section breaks.

Also, if you don’t use section breaks between chapters and your chapters start on even pages of your book, stop doing that.

The spell check isn’t catching things

That’s because it sucks.  You might want to check your spelling and grammar in another program.

Hope these help someone, or at least help me in six months when I do this again.

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