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That I Would Be Good

I saw this article floating around the Twittersphere, and for writers in all stages of their career I encourage you to read it. It was wonderful to see reflections like this from a writer who’s spent 10 years in the YA business. I feel like most of the community I interact with are new and upcoming authors.

To my perspective, the YA industry is overflowing with good news, big announcements, and new deals. Everything is new, new, new, and shiny, and exciting, and squee-worthy.

But it will end. And there will come a day, for all of us, that our books, once so shiny and new, will go out of print.

All we’ll be left with is the experience. And the writing itself.

The writing will never go away. And I realized in contemplating this that over the course of my lifetime it really doesn’t matter so much if I get published and have a stellar career, as I still strive for. Even if it never works out, I will have my stories. I will have the accomplishment of finishing my work and making it the best it can be.

There is a special joy to read something of yours you haven’t read in a few years. You surprise yourself. I look forward to the day when I can read my own work as a new reader would, delighted by this story that was so very personally built for my enjoyment.

That is important. Writing my whole life and loving what I do is important. Accepting that this thing I have in me that creates worlds will never go away, and will continue to overflow as long as I am alive and sane… that is important.

It puts me in mind of this song by Alanis Morissette, which I encourage you to listen to.

So often we judge ourselves by our career progress. Do I have an agent yet, do I  have a deal yet, am I a NYT best-seller, do I have a second deal… And sometimes we forget that we are Good even without those things.

I am Good. I hope you are, too.

<3, Savannah

~

Do you feel Good? Tell me what you think about the article above. Tell me about your moments of self-acceptance.

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On Criticism and Growing Out of Being Hurt by it

I have entered the next stage of writer-maturity. To be honest it’s a little weird; I can’t tell if this growth is a fluke or the true mark of internal change. It may also, I admit, be a sign of giving up. Let me explain:

Recently I received notes from my agent back on A Curse of Rose and Snow (the sleeping beauty story). You will remember that a revision of the story bumped it up to 100k words. I knew that was too many words, and I expressed that I needed help for where to cut. My agent got back to me with notes about a few small issues in the story (essentially I over-explain stuff), and said she felt we could cut around 15k easily just through working out these issues.

And I felt nothing.

Then we started digging into the ending, and if this big thing that happens contributes to a satisfying ending, or if the changes I’ve made have developed the story in such a way that this big thing is more heart-breaking than the last draft. If we move to the truly satisfying ending it completely eliminates the second book.

And I felt nothing.

Except maybe beaver-like. You know, eager-beaver? As in, I was ready to get to work.

I took my plans to Twitter, where the responses I received were usually cringes at the amount of words I’d have to cut. Writers offered sympathy, imagining how they’d feel if they had to cut that much from their stories.

But seriously, you guys… I felt no pain.

There have been times I cried at receiving notes. I am not the type of person who cries at the drop of a hat (or a plot line, heyo!). But sometimes trying over and over and getting it wrong or hearing it’s just not going to work absolutely takes it out of you. To be fair, the crying thing was with Nameless, and we all know what a saga that’s been. But even the first time I got notes back on ACORAS–even though it was very well-received!–I had to cringe through 15 minutes of feeling embarrassed or just plain bad at some of the stuff it was recommended I fix.

But, 15 minutes later I was over it and eager to make the story the best I could be. This time… it’s like I totally skipped over that 15-minute lag.

Here are my thoughts on why:

This was the year several acquaintances and friends debuted their first books. I have seen the novels of people I know at my local bookstore. I have read negative reviews–hundreds of them, and not just for my friends, but for all the books I’ve read.

I have considered how I will feel and react when my own books come out. If I’ll hide negative reviews from myself, or if I’ll spend days wallowing in misery. I have picked apart my manuscripts looking for things that might annoy reviewers. Not in an obsessive way, but more from a desire to anticipate the future, and prepare against it.

And somewhere along the way I internalized that no book is perfect. I’ve seen the reality of the publishing process, and I know that each book will go through multiple stages of editing, where changes will be made. And sometimes you have to make changes for the good of the book as a product.

Sometimes you have to consent to a cover you don’t like, because the marketing team feels, in their expert opinion, that it will help you sell better. Sometimes your summary on the back doesn’t hit on that point you felt was integral to the plot, but that same marketing team felt their version would get people interested more.

Sometimes you have to change endings, drop characters and plot lines, or even change beloved names. To sell better.

I want a career. I want to be true to myself and my stories, and write the best damn book I can, but I want a career, too. That means accepting that sometimes the things I prefer (Death to ALL the characters! Defiance of genre norms!) aren’t going to excel in the marketplace.

At least, not yet. I look at the careers of authors I admire, and in some cases see where they had to play it safe in order to write dangerously. That’s a future I want for myself.

Sometimes I worry about selling out, especially when I read a terrible book and wonder how on earth it got published (Answer: because there was a market for it, and that’s the simple truth). But I know that I could never do that to myself, my stories, or whatever magical force it is that compels me to write. I can’t not write the absolute best book that is in me.

But compromises do have to be made. And I guess this year I finally accepted that my manuscripts are not just deeply personal works of art, but products. I am proud of them, and they come from me, but I am also willing to modify them in order to get them out in the world, where I believe they belong. So criticism against them, especially from people I trust and rely on, isn’t criticism against me personally. My agent, my friends, my critique partners, and I are all in this together.

I was also deeply affected by this image of President Obama’s marked-up speech draft going around the internet, the caption of which is: You are never too important to be edited.

Even in my deepest thoughts, when I hope that this will be the time everyone comes back and says I’ve written the perfect manuscript with not a word to be changed, it is comforting to know there’s not a human on the planet that doesn’t need to be edited.

We are too close to our work. We have to be guided in the right direction, and told when our desires are too wacky. We must be challenged and pushed in order to make the best stories we can.

Maybe I’m in a good place right now, or it’s hormones, or I spent enough time away from the story, or I’ve read my rejections so many times they don’t hurt anymore. But I feel like I’ve finally accepted this.

And the edits? Painless.

~

I’ll be on Twitter each night giving updates on how many words I cut, if you want to see what losing 15k in a week looks like. Yes, a week. I’m trying to do it in a week. :-)

Tell me about the criticism you’ve received, or a time when even the most kindly-meant notes hurt your feelings. What did you learn from it? How do you handle rejection?

<3, Savannah

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Community Part 1: My Deepest Desire

This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on being part of the writing/publishing community – wanting it, finding it, what it taught me, and some brief commentary on how it affects the number of female vs. male YA writers.

~~~

I remember the moment I knew I was a writer.

I’d suspected for a while that there was something different about my approach to writing. My friends liked to create, and we all liked to read, but writing always seemed like my inevitable career choice. I’d been writing fan fiction for a year or so, and was just getting into my first, real novel. I had these feelings inside no one around me understood, a sort of magic that didn’t fit in with what my school said writing was like.

I thought for a long time I was just being pretentious, or crazy (growing up as the only INTJ I knew certainly made me feel broken a lot of the time). And yet these feelings existed, I knew they did! Was I the only one like this in the world? Wasn’t there another creature out there like me?

And then I found one.

In the back of a tiny little book called Fahrenheit 451, there was a scholarly interview with Ray Bradbury. In it, Ray mentioned feeling like he just followed his characters around and wrote down what they did.

It was a simple statement. I read it in a normal classroom, in a normal school. But everything had changed.

I stared at the words on the page, read them over and over. Here was someone who understood. Here was someone who had experienced what I had. I wasn’t alone. No, in fact one of my worst fears has been completely dissolved. Not only was there someone like me out there, but it turns out I was a real writer! These feelings inside, this weird craziness that made writing feel like talking to other people inside my brain, it was all normal, and beyond that, it was evidence that I was legit!

(And so I understand why it’s a cliche in querying that lots of writers talk about how much they feel they belong to writing, instead of telling the agent about the story. For someone with no publishing credits, often the only ‘proof’ they have that they’re the real deal is those feelings inside that whisper or shout that this is what they’re supposed to be doing with their life.)

It wasn’t until later I realized I was still alone. All throughout high school I never met another ‘real’ writer. Sometimes new friends would give me hope, but ultimately writing wasn’t their greatest talent or their passion, let alone their call in life. I felt like an endangered species – special and rare, and incredibly, incredibly lonely.

I tried to find companionship in books, which helped, obviously. I sought out writers’ autobiographies, just to feel connected. But you can’t ask a book your questions, and googling was hopeless. I couldn’t vocalize what I was looking for. I was a member of FictionPress and FanFiction.net, but those didn’t make me feel connected. Writing forums online were full of pleas to read badly-written first chapters and hard-and-fast rules I didn’t want to follow. Publishing was a vague, intimidating idea in the future someone; I’d never heard of a literary agent.

How do you find what you’re looking for when you don’t even know what it is? When there’s not a word in any language you know for that feeling you get? When all you want is someone to shriek with and say ‘OMG me too!’

Even when I eventually found out about literary agents and signed with one, the only guiding source I had was agentquery.com. My agency sisters didn’t write in my genre (at the time), and I still felt like an outsider. Imagine that; even signing with an agent didn’t give me the sense of home I desired.

But in the end, community found me.

It came in the form of an invitation to join Let The Words Flow. Over the course of a few days I became connected to girls my age who felt what I did, who were serious about their writing, and out there making it happen! It was mind-blowing! For the first time since Ray Bradbury I didn’t feel so alone.

As LTWF expanded so did my sense of community. I started to feel out its shape, learning the ins and outs of industry and where various sub-communities overlapped or pulled away from each other. I started to learn about the lives of other writers, and finally all my old questions were answered: What are your favorite books? Where do you work? What do you wear? Do you write like me? Do you use the same methods I do? Programs? Laptop brands?! What do you eat for breakfast?! 1% or 2%???

To this day I can’t get enough of writers and their lives. I guess I still haven’t gotten over those years when all I wanted was the companionship of other writers. And that’s also why I’m so open about my own writing and why I try to be open about my life (when it’s not incredibly boring). That’s why I love telling my stories and reaching out to young writers, because I remember that loneliness, and the desire to belong.

Even if I never got published, holding onto this sense of belonging would be enough. Because it validates my internal purpose. Because when I’m here I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. Because writing is home, and I am there.

<3, Savannah.

What about you? Where is your desire to belong? Where is the place, virtual or real, that you go when you want to feel home?

~~~

NEXT POST: How to plug into the writing community, and what being a part of it has taught me!

POST AFTER THAT: How community helps you succeed – and why it might be a contributor to the gender-gap in publishing.

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Who You Are

This is a post about accepting your personality. Not your race, creed, religion, or orientation, but your very basic programming.

Have you ever felt that somehow you were lacking? That who you are isn’t good enough; that you weren’t born with whatever it is that makes people likable? That all this social stuff was a conspiracy to make you feel like a bad or boring person for not liking it?

Or on the flip side, have you ever felt terrified to be alone, safe only in groups, alive only when interacting with others? Pannicked when people tell you they need their own time, completely baffled as to why being alone is somehow supposedly good for you when all it does is make you feel small and depressed?

Men and women face a lot of messages about how they’re supposed to be, and I think we focus on the looks side of that. But what about personality? Don’t you think we’re getting messages about that, too; that we should feel a certain way, enjoy certain things and dislike others? That we have to have a partner and a BFF and ‘the guys’ or ‘the girls’ and a super close childhood friend and ‘the one that got away’, and all of these different relationships that we’re told are part of a ‘normal’ (read: happy) life?

It took me a long time to be at peace with who I am. I always liked myself, I just worried often that who I am was going to cause me regret later in life because I didn’t have a ‘normal’ teenage experience. I haven’t really had a normal anything, in fact. And sometimes people made me feel bad about that, not because they wanted to bring me down, but because they genuinely felt I was ruining my youth by doing my own thing.

~~~

“Have you made any friends yet?”

My family was at a neighborhood party shortly after we’d moved from WA to IL. The woman asking me the question was our next-door neighbor.

“Well, I’m exploring several different opportunities at this time, but nothing’s really happened yet.”

Mom told me later the woman had come over to her immediately and told her what I’d said, laughing because it was so outrageous to her. Instead of “yes” or “no”, I’d talked about opportunities and exploration, as if this was a business decision and not something a teenager automatically did.

This is how I’ve always been. Stoic, robotic. People thought me emotionless or strange because I process with logic. Recently I took the Meyers-Briggs test (this one, actually) and got surprising results: INTJ. Surprising not because the results were bad or inaccurate, but because it was scarily accurate. That’s exactly who I am.

Suddenly it all made sense. Why I never had friends in elementary school, why I clashed with nearly everyone in high school, why people sometimes accused me of having selective memory loss, why I’d rather observe than participate, why I feel exhaustingly bored at social functions, and why I don’t have close friends IRL to this day.

And then I felt at peace. It re-affirmed what I had known internally but had no way to prove to anyone: I’m just this way, naturally. There’s nothing wrong with me. I like me.

And I’m not the only one.

INTJ’s are rare, but not the most rare. Which means there are millions more like me all around the world, living their own, solitary lives and being perfectly happy doing so.

I didn’t go to prom. I didn’t even want my driver’s license. I didn’t have a boyfriend in high school. I didn’t become a ‘college student’. I didn’t live in an apartment with roommates. I’ve never been to a club.

Instead, I got a professional job. I took online classes so I could teach myself, alone. I bought a house. I worked all day then came home and wrote all night. I settled down with my life partner. I was twenty.

“You act like you’re thirty. You’re only young once!”

And then I felt guilty. Had I ruined everything? Was I supposed to be out getting drunk at a frat house and dragging myself to class in the morning with a bow in my hair in my school’s colors? Were all the things I thought accomplishments instead symbols of the way I didn’t fit into society?

I felt bad because I didn’t really know what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing. Somehow I wasn’t good at being a young woman. I was a freak. Wasting my youth. Setting myself up for decades of regret.

Except the only thing I felt bad about was feeling bad.

Because here’s the thing, something I’ve always felt slightly guilty of because it seemed so abnormal: I like myself. I like what’s inside my head. It’s fun in here. I would rather be alone with my thoughts and my worlds than have to interact with the internal worlds of strangers.

(That doesn’t mean I don’t care about people; I do. I care very deeply. When I like you, everything about you fascinates me. I am delighted just watching you, smiling because you smile, laugh because you find something funny. I’m just more selective with the people I consider close to me, and if I don’t talk to them for weeks at a time I don’t feel incomplete.)

Seeing those test results finally proved to me that there was nothing wrong, I was just cut from a less mainstream cloth. And I’m okay.

If you’ve ever felt bad about who you are, I encourage you seek out information about your personality, and then embrace it. You can’t change your basic programming, so you might as well love yourself and be happy with who you are. You are your only guaranteed life partner. :-)

What about you? What personality traits do you have that have made you feel isolated or ‘wrong’ in the past? And if you take the Meyers Briggs test, tell me your results! Especially if you’re an INTJ ;-)

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Plethora – What if feels like to (finally!) have too many story ideas

I’ve never been the kind of writer that had a million story ideas and no clue which one to work on next. In fact, for two years I worked on nothing at all. During that time I’d fallen into many bad habits, the worst of which was not actively seeking inspiration. I started reading more, writing more, discovering that even just reading blogs and articles inspired me.

I’m the type of writer that is always brainstorming on my next project while working on my current one, so that when I’m finished I can transition smoothly to the next project. But one day recently I turned around and realized I had eight different stories I could be working on. I decided I liked the pace I was moving at: fast. And having soooo many story ideas felt like holding my arms around a giant bouquet of flowers. I had eight different rooms inside myself I could visit. Eight adorable kittens in my lap, all vying for attention.

It felt busy and wonderful. Where once I felt dead inside now I feel full of fruit. Where once I came home and had no direction, now I have purpose. I just wanted to take a moment and celebrate the hard journey. :-)

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Discovering Middle Grade Fiction and Fun Steampunk Pictures!

The Golden Compass, Ella Enchanted, Catherine Called Birdy, Dealing with Dragons, Wringer, and the Giver. These were some of my favorite books as I was growing up. And they’re all Middle Grade.

Until about a month ago, whenever I thought ‘Middle Grade Fiction’, I thought of dumbed-down, overly-simplistic YA. Boy was I wrong. Strange how growing up makes you forget some stuff about being a kid. Those stories I list above are the same stories that made me think, ‘I want to make stuff like this!’

In the past couple weeks I’ve read a lot of modern MG, and have become completely enamored. I’m not saying it’s my niche as a writer, but looking back now I think that writing MG is what I intended to do all along, I just wasn’t aware enough to realize it.

 

Click for more thoughts and awesome steampunk cartoon pics!

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A Theme of Dreams

I’ve been thinking a lot about themes, and their existence in novels, particularly the novels I’m trying to write. I read recently that themes cannot be planned, they must emerge. That you can only establish your theme after you finish the first draft.

As I talked about in Roses of Ash Deconstructed, the theme that emerged from ROA was resistance against secrecy for the intent to protect. I can’t stand it when someone keeps something from me because they think they’re protecting me. But I didn’t know I’d incorporated that into my novel until it was finished and editing it.

Now that I’m working on another project (which I briefly mention here), I’ve been thinking a lot about theme and what it might be for this book. I’ve also been reading a lot of MG in preparation of working on my own, and have been startled because it’s really just like YA, except pursuit of romance is replaced by pursuit of friendship and family. It’s taken me back to a more innocent time, where I was far more occupied with what I was doing and finding my place in the world than worrying about others and how they would influence me.

And now that the steampunk cinderella story is slowly coming together, I think the theme for it has already presented itself: the pursuit of your dreams even when everyone tells you that you can’t.

That you’re not allowed. That you’re the wrong age, or gender. That you come from the wrong family.

When I was growing up, there were things I was ‘supposed’ to do. Get a basketball scholarship. Get a 4.0. Go to college. Certain religious/social expectations. Get a career and make money. Have children.

Well, I don’t like sports. I did college for a while but having a typical experience wasn’t something that either worked out for me or was what I really wanted to do. I love kids, but they’re not for me at this point, perhaps ever. But worst of all, I didn’t want to get a ‘career’. I wanted to be a writer.

I was lucky. My family was supportive, but realistic. But I’ve had so many friends whose parents not only could not understand their dreams, but expressly forbade it. Wouldn’t let their children have friends. Wouldn’t let them have access to the internet. Wouldn’t let them go anywhere. Wouldn’t let them join extracurricular activities. It used to make me so mad and sad at the same time.

When you rip up your child’s sketchbooks, when you break their CDs, when you delete their accounts, when you make them transfer schools, and throw away things they’ve purchased, you kill your child’s spirit. You kill their dreams.

The main character of my steampunk retelling is a girl from a wealthy family who wants to be a Tinkerer. Her gender, age, and status make this nearly unthinkable. But she works in secret, sometimes taking on disguises and secret identities, just to be able to pursue her dream, despite her family trying to stop her at every turn. The secondary character is a boy from a high-status family who wants nothing more than to be a magician. He sneaks out and learns magic despite other Magicians pushing him away because of his age and the tattered Magician’s cloak he wears.

Internalizing the theme and remembering those feelings I had when I was a kid listening to my friends face the panic and depression of a life without the dreams they craved most, I feel compelled to write this story for future MG readers out there. Maybe for girls who want to grow up and enter ‘boy’ fields like science and math. Maybe for boys who want to abandon family tradition and pursue something silly, like magic, that makes them happy.

Mostly for anybody who ever had to hide their passion for fear of having it torn out of their hands.

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Your Hand in Magic

Last Valentine’s Day I posted about my own love story. A few short weeks later that story experienced what I thought was a horrible ending, but it turns out that chapter in my life was precisely that – just a chapter. While I still believed it was an ending, I felt cut off from my dreams, not only of a life with the person I love, but of a life with writing.

I couldn’t write. I couldn’t imagine. I couldn’t even read.

I started journaling again, trying to find a way back to myself, and eventually everything worked out. These days I’m flowing over with ideas and inspirations, and passing through the fire gave me the perspective to realize how awesome that is.

Today, in a fit of brainstorming that has become the norm again, I grabbed up a random notebook to scribble on and discovered it was the same one from this summer. Flipping through it, I found a note to my writing self, written during a time when I was still struggling to figure out if that part of me was even alive anymore.

My writing side was the first love of my life before any humans (though I did have a rather enthusiastic crush on Batman as a kid), and so I’d like to share an excerpt from that note as a late Valentine’s Day post, in honor of the bond we have with our creative selves:

I’m asking for your hand in magic.
I want you to make me fly again.
At least come and press the treadle in my mind;
cause little moments to flare
like the eyes of animals at night.
Teach me again to approach them at an angle
that sees the shimmer.
Shine me on to a better, more holy land.

If you didn’t have anyone for Valentine’s Day, you still have yourself, and your stories. Trust me, they’re a better gift that most earthly bonds you’ll create, though I admit there’s still some they can’t top ( ;-) ).

I hope you had a lovely day yesterday <3

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Knowing What Your Dreams Are in the First Place

I didn’t always want to be a writer. In fact, I think I might happily trade writing for my first love and obsession: unassisted flight.

To 9-year-old me, flight without the baggage of airplanes and jetpacks was the highest accomplishment a human being could achieve, and I pursued my obsession with the religious fervor of saints (as much as a 9-year-old could). I knew that if I believed strongly enough, if I could jump off the deck with my arms spread wide enough and my heart filled with the nine feet of air beneath my heels, that I would float magically and divinely about the backyard.

I always fell.

After battling through the depression of my age turning double digits for the first time, I accepted with grudging bitterness that I would never fly without the help of some clunky, man-made device. I resolved next, briefly, to be an astronaut so that I might have the privilege of floating (which is like flying), but failing math in fourth grade kind of killed that dream (I later went on to be quite proficient at mathematics, in case you were wondering).

I then settled down to my true destiny and focused on becoming an author. I didn’t start reading at a particularly young age (though I talked abnormally quickly and proceeded to tell everyone the storied I’d made up, so… basically the same thing) but I loved stories, and found in them the merging of the normal with the magical that I so despondently lacked in real life. After the dream of true flight, what else could there be but to disappear into worlds where all sorts of miracles were possible?

To her credit, my mother always believed in me, but everyone else looked upon my dreams with skepticism. Everyone was so afraid I’d end up a starving hippie artist that they tried to steer me into more practical career solutions.

“You like to write? Never mind with being a novelist, how about a journalist?”

So I tried my hand at that. I even won an award from the Journalism Education Association based on a contest I did at a convention while I was in high school. The only problem is that I truly despised journalism. The award wasn’t so much based on my investigative skills -it was a feature article!- as my instinct for rearranging sentences into pleasurable reading.

Journalism -that hateful beast- finally out of the way, advice talks turned to other forms of professional writing: contract, technical, copy, etc. Anything, ANYTHING but creative writing! A well-meaning relative once told me in no uncertain terms that if I liked and was good at writing then I should be a judge (yes, as in courts), because they wrote all the time (summaries of cases and stuff like that).

I was perplexed by the massive misunderstandings of the adults in my life. Was creative writing really such a dead-end career path that they were throwing me any lifesaver alternate they could think of? Or did they simply not understand the depth of passion and dedication I felt towards novel writing? I guess non-writers face a bit of a challenge in trying to understand why writers feel compelled to write.

Though I was willing to consider other suggestions, and might have expressed excited interest in a topic I really didn’t care for just in order to make a well-meaning adviser go away, I never wavered in the belief that what I really wanted to do was make books. If I had to work full time at a job I hated or become a trophy wife (if I was even eligible for such an occupation) in order to survive while I got my novelist career started, so be it. Writing was always inevitable, no matter what I had to do around the time I wasn’t actually writing.

And no one but other writers seemed to understand that.

I thought I’d put this out here tonight in case anyone was feeling the frustration that results when everyone around you is doubtful of what you are so certain. When you want something as bad as I wanted writing, you just want it, and no logic or scare tactics are going to keep you away. And that’s perfectly all right. :-)

~~~

Also, last weekend I went and hung out with my friend and fellow LTWF blog contributor, Susan Dennard. She was wonderful and I had a fabulous time just hanging out. I put some pics up on Facebook if you’re interested in seeing someone else’s pictures of animals at an aquarium ;-)