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>Life, Nanowrimo and Just Doing It

>After all the gremlins and goblins, princesses and pirates go home tonight and the Halloween decorations and candies are put away, NaNoWriMo begins. For those of you who aren’t familiar with NaNoWriMo , you agree to try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That sounds like a lot and the first time I tried it, I let my own insecurities psyche me out. About 10 days in, I decided there was no way I could do it. After all, it meant writing — gasp — a novel in just one month. What I didn’t take into account is that the rules say 50,000 words, not 100,000 or more (which is what I write now without batting an eye). So, I became my own worst enemy.

Instead of focusing on the end number of 50,000, look at the daily average you have to write. 1,667 words, give or take. That looks more manageable, right? Now, that might mean you only write a few hundred words a day during the week and then pound out more on weekends. You — and I because I am doing NaNoWriMo as well as taking up Sarah’s challenge. Yes, I’ve lost my mind. But you already knew that — simply have to do what works.

One of the biggest excuses I’ve heard — and I’ve used this more often than I care to admit — about taking part in NaNoWriMo is “I don’t have time”. It’s an easy excuse and, yes, real life does happen. But, if we were to look at our lives with a critical eye, I’d lay odds each one of us could find a few minutes a day when we are doing something — or nothing — that doesn’t have to be done. Some of us are gamers. Some of us are avid TV watchers or sports fans. Some of us don’t get up until we absolutely have to. So, instead of spending an hour or more a day playing Halo 3 or watching Dancing with the Stars or the World Series (oops, strike that. The Rangers are in the Series so we’ll say football) take half of the time you’d normally be gaming or watching TV and write. If you like to sleep in, start getting up half an hour or hour earlier. Give yourself time to write.

The issue really comes down to the question of “Are you a writer?”. It’s not, “Do you want to write?”. There are a lot of people out there who want to write, some who even think they can, but who will never be a writer. A writer is, in my opinion, someone who has to write. That’s right, HAS to write. I’m not talking about having to write to make a living or to please someone else. I mean you have to write because it is a part of you. It truly is something you have to do. For another author’s take on this, check out John Scalzi’s post here.

Another thing to beware of as you take up the challenge of NaNoWriMo or even Sarah’s challenge from a week ago: distractions. It is so easy as we hit that part in the book that seems hard to write to start looking for other things to do. Some of us suddenly need to clean house. Others just have to get that yard work done. There are any number of distractions — including, for me, deciding that it is the PERFECT time to learn something new. Sometimes a distraction is good. it lets your mind take a step back and, when you return to your writing project, you can look at it with fresh eyes. But these distractions are also insidious because they will keep you from writing if you let them. So, just as you set goals with your writing, you need to set limits on the distractions.

All this said, I’ll admit I haven’t written much this past week. But, after everyone left the house after the baseball game last night, I took time to write out the basic outline of a story that attacked me earlier. Then I finished the outline for another project I’ve been working on. Today, after a bit of work I have to do outside and which shouldn’t take more than an hour and after I finish prepping Kate’s prequel to Impaler, Born in Blood, to go up at Naked Reader Press, I’m spending the rest of the day writing. And, tomorrow, I’ll start getting up half an hour earlier than usual to write. That is my commitment to both Sarah’s challenge and nanowrimo. Now, the project for NaNoWriMo will not be complete at 50,000 words, but it will be halfway completed. That’s a good start.

So, how many of you are doing NaNoWriMo? How do you find time to write and, if you’re having trouble finding the time, is there anything you can do to carve out 30 minutes a day for it?

>Guest Blog — Amy Sterling Casil


Welcome to our guest blogger, Amy Sterling Casil. Amy’s short fiction has appeared in a number of magazines and venues ranging from The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy to Zoetrope. You can find her longer fiction works, as well as her non-fiction books, here. For more information about Amy, you can visit her blog here. — Amanda


Space Travel!

So where does space travel stand? Is Richard Branson the only person making travel to space a reality now, other than the Space Elevator student-scientist teams?

NASA’s approved budget for FY 2010/11 (the current government fiscal year) includes $1.6 billion for development of commercial space opportunities – i.e. similar to Virgin Galactic.

Virgin_enterprise Just about three weeks ago, the Virgin team completed the first piloted flight of SpaceShipTwo, also known as Virgin Enterprise – the planned spaceflight vehicle, for which 340 tickets have already been sold!

This is out at the “international Spaceport” in Mojave, California – which believe it or not is in Los Angeles County. This is the high desert north of Palmdale and Lancaster, which are the towns near Edwards AFB, the west coast landing site for the Space Shuttle. I think this picture shows how gorgeous the “high desert,” also known as the Mojave desert, can be. At its pretty times, it’s big sky country, and spectacular.

I have a charming neighbor who works for a major aerospace contractor (Northrop Grumman) and a while back, he shared with me a few of the amazing technologies just this one, admittedly important, company is working on. Just one among the technologies is a lab-version of “beam me up, Scotty.” That’s right – a matter transporter. One of Northrop’s teams working in Redondo Beach also just received Popular Mechanics’ 2010 “Breakthrough Award” for its work in developing the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) that was successfully launched last year. The award was given because the team developed commercial, affordable components that wouldn’t just be used for the LCROSS, but could also be used in numerous other space operations. Total cost to build and launch the LCROSS? $57 million. As a point of comparison, the Space Shuttle Endeavor cost $1.7 billion to build, and $450 million per launch.

I’m hardly the expert, but I think space science and technology has undergone a genuine revolution in the past two decades. My impression of the former programs is that they were almost 100% government-sponsored, very hierarchical, and once begun, very difficult to adjust or alter in light of changing world- and technology conditions. Now, the diversity of those working on space-related science and technology is staggering. It isn’t just different countries becoming fully-involved and engaged (Europe and Asia), it’s nearly every university around the world with at least a few projects in experimental fields – including community colleges! NASA just selected community college students to begin to work in space/technology centers to work – for real – on many different forms of space technology.

So, the answer is “no, it’s not just Richard Branson.” Check out the agenda for the Space Manufacturing Conference taking place this weekend! This conference deals with real work currently being performed leading to asteroid mining and space settlement – moon or orbiting stations.

Why am I learning all about this? Book, of course . . .

Now, as to why many people don’t hear more about these exciting technological developments occurring worldwide, is it that members of the media don’t understand, or don’t care? Or both?

>Roll Call

>I’m about to run out the door on my way to the local hardware store — don’t ask. It’s the weekend. It’s nice. It must mean repair-time for something, right?

Any way, it’s been more than a week since Sarah issued her challenge to us all so time to report in on how we’re doing. We’ll cheer one another on, give a judicious kick in the rear where needed.

Also, if you have any questions or comments, let us know.

>Don’t Get Mad – Get Therapy


Just thinking lately about the things that drive my own writing, I have been wondering how much of my drive actually qualifies as some sort of dysfunction. OK, so you are nodding your heads wondering why it’s taken me so long to figure this out for myself, and it’s just par for the course. Still . . .

How much is enough? The answer, arising from the voice of dysfunction, is of course that no amount is ever enough. And what is the goal? Well, for me it is a complex mix of love of story, the need to bring that thing into creation, to experience that flow of words – and some other elements that are more in the way of demons. There is something under the hood that drives me to reach for some sense of connection to fill a personal void. Is that healthy? Is it like functional drug addiction? I don’t know, who can judge it?

Not all writers are striving the fill the inner void like some crazy Japanese Kitsune armed with a word processor. But for those of us who are, my question is: are there other ways to fill that same need? Wouldn’t writing be a more enjoyable activity, wouldn’t the success that comes (how little or how much), the criticism, all be that much easier to deal with if there was not a desperate need that underpinned all the striving?

Sometimes it is worth stepping back and looking at it all – yourself, your goals, what your expectations are. And maybe, just maybe some therapy might help.

So what do you think? Can artistic achievement fill the psychological void? What drives your passion for writing, and how much of that verges on obsession?

>Alas, poor SF, it suffers from premature mourning

>Yes, yet again SF is on its virtual deathbed, diagnosis terminal – and yet, the shambling corpse keeps staggering on. And on. And… well, you get the idea. This latest case is part of a broader treatise on the nature, life, and death of genres by Daniel Abraham . He’s got some good ideas, although why he feels the need to wrap it all in academicese is something I’m not going to think about.

The basic argument this time is that modern life is so SFnal that there’s no room for the kind of “gosh-wow” optimism that was all over Golden Age and pre-Golden Age SF. Cloning is mainstream lit, vampires are sparkly (speaking of which, just so you can share my nightmares, go take a look at Freefall for today ( until Friday, then it should be at, and SF is so dystopian 1984 starts to look positively chipper.

I disagree. Yes, there’s a lot of modern life that looks a lot like SF, but there’s still plenty of places imagination can take us, and they don’t all look darker than the Pit of Despair. Oh, wait. That’s just Fezzik blocking the light. Sorry.

We’re right on the edge of self-replicating gadgetry – and affordable, too – that can make all sorts of useful stuff to spec. We’re not that far from figuring out how to stop age from killing us, or failing that, slow it down even more (and let’s face it, “old age” happens a lot later than it used to even 25 years ago). If we wanted, we probably could get a functional scientific base on the moon, although at current tech levels it wouldn’t be all that comfortable – but it would be there, and be usable for research and as a jump-off point to bigger and better things.

What’s missing? In my view the voices of PC have drowned out everything that doesn’t fit their view – and many of the loudest voices boil down to “all things about humans that aren’t straight from nature are evil”. So, those of us who’ve put a lot more distance between us and our poop are much more evil than those of us who haven’t. This, in the view of certain PC factions, is tied into skin color. Presumably distance from poop causes bleaching (ahem). Um. Sorry.

Anyway – what do you think? Where can SF go, why are people so keen to hold the funeral, and why did Westerns die and Romances get out of the back corner of the bookshop?

>The Spaces Between

So, in the very first week of throwing the gauntlet and promising to do a lot of writing, I didn’t do any.

I have tons of excuses – there was Mile Hi con which inexplicably tired me more than it should. Then again, it sounded like a consumptive ward, so perhaps there’s some bug going around. Then there was this trip, which I’m dreading because it involves – horrors – flying and I hate flying. Also, we haven’t been to World Fantasy Con in years, and as you know – or perhaps not – there is a “con cloud of acquaintance” (defined as the people you look forward to seeing at each particular con, also those you can count on to run interference for you, etc.) and in the years we’ve been absent, we probably don’t have our acquaintance comfort zone, anymore. So, it’s almost like a brand new con. (And yeah, hard as this is to believe, for those of you who only know me from cons, I’m not comfortable in public. I just put on a good show.)

But beyond the excuses there is something else. Oh, not on the shorts. I’ve been doing revisions on old ones of those, and it will take me a while to get back to the swing of things. At least two weeks. However, there is a reason nothing got written on the novel – I’m in one of my patches of silence. I hit these periodically. And yeah, sometimes it means I took a false step. But most of the time it just means it goes… silent.

Some of you know I can – and have – write a novel in two weeks. So, you ask, why don’t I write twenty novels a year? The answer is these patches of silence. I’ve fought them for years. It’s not that I don’t know what the next chapter is – I do. Or that the novels feels wrong – it doesn’t. It’s more like the next scene/chapter/whatever needs to ripen. Seems to be part of my process, as annoying as it is.

I expect to hit the ground running and after WFC, I want to finish two novels (both started) for NANOWRIMO (what? It surprises anyone I NANOWRIMO?) The Brave And The Free and A Fatal Stain.

Are you NANOWRIMOing? Have you done it before? How did it go? Are there periods of silence in your writing life? If so, what purpose do you think they serve?

For those who picked up the gauntlet and are having trouble coming up with ideas, here are a few suggestions.

1 – write a story with the following: character: gymnast; setting: a siege; problem: a feint

2- three words (feel free to discard one): brush, landmark, spoonful

3- start with: Being dead wasn’t the problem.

>Maps and other things Fantastical

Here is the map I came up with for the King Rolen’s Kin trilogy.

Making people look at the maps of your invented world is a bit like making them watch slides of your last holiday. Speaking of which, I once went to visit a friend of a friend who made us watch his collection of slides of steam trains. Only he put them in upside down and went through the whole lot, then turned them up the right way and made us sit through them again. My … that was a night I won’t forget in a hurry.

But back to maps. Over on the ROR blog MGC regular Chris Large has done the first part of a two part post on What does a Map bring to a Story. Part 2 will be up next Sunday. Thanks, Chris!

The map for King Rolen’s Kin was inspired by two things. I’d been reading the history of Japan and I was intrigued by the way the string of mountainous islands with little arable land shaped the island’s people. There was pressure to secure the arable land and hold it. And I also watched a documentary on volcanoes and what happens as they erode.

Being a writer, of course I saw how this would shape the people who lived there. And being an SF reader from way back, I thought why not have a planet with no moon, lots of stars, bright as a moon ( minimal tides due to planetary and solar gravitational pull)? Also, I set the islands on the equator so both north and south are cold, depending on where you are. Plus, I made the orbit elliptical, so they have intensely cold winters and hot summers.

All of which is embedded in the text, but I don’t actually spell it out. It’s enough for me to know. For a full explanation of the world building behind the KRK trilogy, see here.

So, tell me, do you like maps in fantasy books?
Do you ignore them until you get the narrative gets you lost and then you refer them to find out where things are?
Do you feel the map should be superfluous, that the narrative should carry enough information for you to make sense of it?
Are you like Chris, annoyed by illogical maps?

Confess now, do you have a map for your latest work-in-progress?

>Steam Punk, and my thoughts on marketing

>I thought I’d celebrate Sarah’s drive to make me work harder with a first snippet of the Steam Punk thing I’ve been intermittantly working at – which is aimed at 11-14 year olds. Any submarine experts willing to offer me advice… I’d be very grateful.

The Coal-fired Submarine
Book One of the Drowning Empire
Dave Freer

Chapter 1

It was after midnight, and London’s lights shimmered on the waters that had been her streets. Something dark moved down there in the depths of them. Bubbles of smoke belched up in its wake. No one was likely to notice. The still, warm air already reeked of coal smoke, and the rotting ooze overlying the drowned Landsdown Way bubbled anyway.

The dark shadow slipped onwards into Wandsworth canal, and down into Nine Elms and then through the rotting concrete teeth into the deep channel.

Like the rest of the crew, Tim Barnabas let out a sigh of relief. He knew all about the dangers of the Stockwell tube run — dead trees, fallen masonry, and, of course, the chance of detection in relatively shallow waters that had once been London’s streets.

“Up snuiver, Submariner,” said Captain Malkis. “Let’s breathe before we head down-channel.”

Tim worked the brass-crank with a will, sending the breathing pipe to the surface of the Thames Estuary.

He swallowed hard to sort out the effect of the pressure change on his ears.

And then an explosion rocked the Cuttlefish. Rang the sub like a bell. Tim could hear nothing. But he could see Captain Malkis push the dive levers to full.

A blast of water sprayed out of the snuiver outlet, soaking them all, before the cut-off valve took. The Cuttlefish settled onto the bottom of the dredged channel. No one moved or spoke. Tim’s ears still rang, but he could hear sounds again, and saw the Captain signal to the Marconi-man The radio-operator worked his spooler, sent an aerial wire up to the surface. Tim watched the man’s face in the dim glow of the battery-lights. His expression grew increasingly bleak. He flicked the dial expertly to another frequency. Then Sparky pulled the headphones off. “I got the Clapham Common sender first. Transmission cut out after an SOS. I picked up Parson’s Green. They weren’t even sending coded messages. Just reports that Stockwell’s been blown, and Clapham had reported that they were under attack by men of the Royal Iniskilling Fusiliers, Captain, before they went off air. And I picked up a signal on the Royal Navy calling channel. The HMS Mornington and the HMS Torquay are ordered to start laying dropping mines in the Thames channel from Blackfriars point to Rotherhithe bay. The Captain of the Mornington was getting mighty shirty about the operation not running to according to orders and him still being below Plumstead shoal and not on station.”


The subject of ebooks, self-publishing, new ebook publishers has come up rather a lot lately. So I thought I’d put my thoughts on this down in a coherent fashion. What do you mean, I’m never coherent? My therapist told me that and that I was obsessed with revenge. I told him we’d see about that in good time. Heh, only kidding, I might need a therapist but I believe they want stuff called money (of which I have heard) in exchange for their services. So as I am writer, you’ll just have to hope that I confine my vengeance to merely drowning London and New York in text as above.

Let’s assume that you, Joe, have written a novel, and like many tens of thousands of people have tried the trad. pubs, where, let’s be honest, they knock out 90% of the total unreadables… at the cost of dumping many great books. And of course, they also take some total drekk, and, oddly enough some books which you may wonder however got through first pass, do well.
You’ve decided that your book is one of the good ones that get missed. After all, they turned down DUNE. Quality will truimph!
So: you go to Kindle Direct. You get 70% of the money. And 5 people read it and 3 of them are related to you.
Or you go to a new startup. They offer you 50% of cover price, which is a lot better than the 12.5% you might see from Trad. Pub
And, with the benefit of a better cover, and maybe a little editing and proof input… you sell 25 copies.
At which point it may dawn on you that trad pub (at the bottom end) is rather like vanity publishing is supposed to be (and isn’t). You get to sell (if you’re lucky) 5000 copies, earn 5000 dollars – and the process earns 40 000 dollars (of which they give you 5K) for other people. Now you can’t take $40 000, print your book, and earn 5K ‘profit’- because you don’t have that access to physical retail space. If you want to do that, it’s possible (and been done), but you’ll need $400 000 or more.

However, if you were to take the same attitude to an ebook (where you can have the retail space) and spend the 40K wisely on a copy-editor, proof-reader, cover art, and the remaining $36 000 on a publicist and various marketing devices (the equivalent of your retail space for physical books), that you could sell 5000 copies – which might be enough to get word of mouth working for you (I think the real figure is probably higher – looking at trad pub – only really starting at 25K – if you can shift 100K, even if it is rubbish it’ll find a market)
If you don’t have (as I don’t) 4K let alone 40K…
Should you just give up? Well, I’ve never been much good at giving up. So let’s look at what I think I can do. YMMV. I’ve decided that a small Ebook publisher at least gives me a finished product and some less hassle, BTW.
1) I could just be lucky. That happens, you’re in the right place at the right time. Some people have the breaks. The bottom line however remains that the more often you try the more chance you have of being that 1:1 000 000.
2)I could get a lift from someone who is well-connected. Not likely, I don’t know Oprah and I don’t get out a lot in Hollyweird. But at the same time, the more you network and link, the more possible this is.
3)You could build yourself a web-presence, a la John Scalzi or Charlie Stross. Now, this is possible and you should try. But 3 caveats. a)they were in the right place at the right time b)You have to have the personality for it, consistantly. c)Barring right place at right time… this is HARD WORK that goes on for many years. And even then, if you don’t have (B) you won’t get there. It means posting every day (or damn near, or at least on a regular schedule (I post every day on Flinders Family Freer and once a week here.) I have a good friend who read FFF and said ‘I’m funnier than you, and our lives are weirder.’ She’s right. She also posts ad lib and months can go past. She has about 3 views a week. I’m less entertaining but I have 100 or so a day. And I accept I need to go on for years, that it builds slowly and saltationally and if I stop I’ll lose my readers.
4)You can network on facebook. You can also make a pain-in-the-nether end of yourself by advertising yourself relentlessly. 2 minor authors I know have made damned sure I never buy their books. People may like to hear and be curious – if you are entertaining and work hard (like Sarah).
5)You can consider tangible bait. I’m seriously looking at free giveaways – tangible, solid ones – books, corkscrews… with the purchase. Yes, it’ll cost me pretty much what I will earn.
6)You can look at intangible bait. Sample chapters, free stories. Not sure either work, but they’re low cost.
7)You can try to hitch yourself to star. That’s why I co-authored books. Because of name recognition.
8)You can come up with a crazy You-tube clip… working on this. “I said if they got me my author copies of dragon’s Ring before it actually came out, I’d walk naked up Strzlecki with nothing else or take a swim with a giant ray with it…”

Ok – more ideas? And how did you like the steampunk?

>Random Thoughts

>First, let me start by apologizing for being late this morning. I didn’t get the post written last night and, gasp, slept in some this morning.

Reading through the comments to yesterday’s open thread post started me thinking. Yes, I know, this is a dangerous thing. But I’m not to blame. Really, I’m not. You guys are the ones who did it. ;-p

What I’d like to do is talk publishing through Amazon’s DTP platform, Barnes & Noble’s PubIt program or even Smashwords as an independent author. More than that, I’d like to focus on doing it as an independent author who doesn’t have books already out through traditional routes.

The first things you need to remember is that not only do you have to read the book, but you have to make sure it is edited on a professional level. This isn’t so much because the platforms for digital self-publication require it and will check for it but because your readers will. Amazon et al, doesn’t offer editing services. However, they will yank an e-book if they receive enough complaints about the editing. (The same goes for formatting, but we’ll discuss that in a moment.) Worse, if your book is poorly edited — and this means copy edits as well as proofreading — it will be discussed at length not only in reviews that will be posted on the e-book’s sales page but in the various ebook fora where readers congregate to discuss their latest reads.

You also have to worry about layout and formatting. Working hand-in-hand with this is making sure you submit to each of these e-book outlets in the appropriate manner. Amazon DTP requires different files than B&N which requires slightly different from Apple’s iBookstore which is different from Smashwords. Also, Smashwords requires certain language be included on the title page showing that your e-book is being distributed through them. After each of your e-book outlets have done their conversions, you need to check EACH PAGE of your book or short story to make sure everything looks right.

This is important because your formatting can and will change at least once. A chapter title that was centered may no longer be. That special character or accent is no longer there and, in it’s place, is some strange mark. The spacing between paragraphs is missing and you don’t have indentions so it now looks like you have one great big paragraph.

Oh, and you can’t rely on their emulators to know how your e-book will look when opened on the appropriate e-book reader or pc version of their reader. You need to look at it on the reader or pc program. Again, more time.

And, again, if you have too many issues with formatting, the readers will complain in the fora and to the seller and the e-book may be pulled. Amazon, when they do this, will let you know so you can correct the problem.

Another factor to take into account is the fact that after you upload a file to any of these e-book sellers, it take time before it appears on their site. You need to generally allow a week from upload time to appearing in the catalog. Sometimes it will be less and sometimes it will be longer. It all depends on how many other e-books are in the queue ahead of you and how many “problems” their automated programs spot in your submission.

Other things you need to do that publishers would do for you — secure an isbn for your work. Not all retailers require this, but a number of them do. Cover art and the more professional it looks the more seriously your book will be taken. Most e-tailers do require covers for any e-book submitted to them. Accounting. This is a biggie. You need to keep track of who is selling your e-book for what. Remember, you set the ‘cover’ price, but they can price it below that at whim. And that may impact your royalties. You also need to make sure their payouts meet what your dashboard says you’ve sold and your returns. And yes, there are returns on e-books and they are charged back against you.

Finally, there is the elephant in the room that can’t be ignored. There are hundreds of thousands of for pay e-books out there (probably many more if you look at all the different outlets). Add to that the public domain e-books that are also being offered. You are in competition with all of them. Ask any author who has published through the traditional route about how their need to self-promote has changed over the years. Now, multiply that by 100 fold and you might be where you need to be as an indie e-book author. You don’t have a publisher’s name to bring readers to you. You don’t have a name yourself — unless you’ve been in the field for awhile and are releasing your back list now. So you are in the middle of the scrum with all the other writers trying to get readers’ attention. That means promotion. Lots and lots of promotion and that takes time and creativity.

One more qualifier to consider. Bookscan will soon begin tracking e-books. That groan you just heard came from every author who has lived in fear of Bookscan numbers for their print books. Bookscan is Nielson’s program a number of editors use to determine if an authors’ numbers are high enough to justify buying another book from them. It’s not perfect — far from it because it doesn’t track sales from Amazon (at least that’s my understanding at the moment) and a number of independents, etc. So how they will track e-books is something that will be interesting to see. It may also change how they track hard copy books. But, it means the numbers from your self-published e-books will also be available to these editors and will be something they can and will refer to when considering publishing you later down the road.

All this said, I’m not trying to discourage you. But I do want you to go into this with your eyes open. It really is a lot harder to put our a quality product than it first appears and there is a lot more to being successful at it than just putting the book up on Amazon or B&N or elsewhere and waiting for the readers to come.

So, how would you promote your new e-book? Are you already building your “platform”? Do you have any questions you want to throw out there for the hive mind?

>Open Thread

>Today, we’re throwing the blog open. This is your chance to tell us what’s on your mind, to ask any questions or to continue discussions begun in other entries this week. So, what’s on your mind?

While you’re here, check out this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Any thoughts?

The floor is now yours!