Tag Archives: March 2020

Issue #014: Tricking Readers

The more people read your story, the higher the probability that someone who knows more about your topic than you will be analyzing every little detail, judging it mercilessly for accuracy. What steps can you take to trick your readers into thinking that you know exactly what you’re talking about?

Check out “Tricking Readers” in this issue of The Writer’s Everything! #TWE @QJ_Author

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When To Trash The Outline

If you’ve read any of the previous issues of The Writer’s Everything, you’ll know that I am an avid plotter. I’ve tried plotting for one NaNoWriMo and pantsing for the next one. Can you guess which of the two found me reaching my word count goal and having a halfway decent story?

Yes, I’ll defend plotting to the day I die. However, even I am willing to admit that there come times when it’s necessary to either go off-script following a tangent or just trash the whole outline.

In fact, I believe this is the exact skill needed to bridge the two camps of writers, the pantsers and the plotters. The biggest complaint of pantsers is that outlines keep you from being able to discover the real story. If you’re stuck following a stringent roadmap, you can’t change direction when you discover a better, perhaps even outstandingly so, direction.

What we all need to realize is that this isn’t the case. Even plotters should understand that sometimes they will need to throw the outline into a metal garbage can and have a nice little bonfire.

But of course, we’ve put so much time and effort into our outlines. We front-loaded all of the hard work, answering countless questions and solving countless riddles ahead of time so that we could just sit down and write a well-developed story in one go.

So how do we take that dreaded step of going off-script? How do we know when it’s time to ignore all of our hard work and follow a hunch instead?

The short answer is that it all depends on you, your process, and your skill level. If you can, for example, throw away a complex and expertly crafted ending and weave together an even better one on the fly, then by all means make it happen. If attempting to do so would leave you with months of trying to piece together the tattered remains of your manuscript, on the other hand, it would no doubt be better to leave it the way it is.

Now, the long answer. In this article, we’re going to look at four reasons why you might choose to trash the outline and see where the wind takes you.

Adding Depth To The World

Sometimes we have the opportunity to add depth and intricacy to our stories. This can happen with novels that take place in real-life settings or those that take place in fantasy or sci-fi settings.

For example, the first draft of my upcoming sequel to Chronicles of the Infected: Those They Betrayed featured a character who would go out hunting with a crossbow every week.

Why? Because I thought it would be bad-ass to have a character with a crossbow in my story. Then my beta reader came along and asked me what the populations of animals would be like thirty years from now? Would they have lost their habitats? Would they be overhunted? What kinds of restrictions would the world of my story have on hunting?

Needless to say, that, along with several other comments from multiple awesome beta readers, allowed me to discover the potential depth of the story world I had created.

If you have the opportunity to add depth and layers to the world of your story, you should absolutely do it. That is also true if you come to discover more about the real-world settings your story takes place in. And that is even true when it means that you now have to come up with a different weapon for your bad-ass character to wield during the apocalypse, perhaps a much louder weapon that draws more attention and adds more urgency to her plight.

Discovering Your Characters

In the same way that it’s possible to come to discover more about the setting of your story for the betterment of your world-building, it’s also possible during the writing of a novel to discover aspects of your characters that you never would have thought of when writing the outline.

Perhaps you planned on your character being the brave, self-sacrificing type, but when it comes right down to it, he’s felt more like a pushover for the last hundred and fifty pages than a hero. At a point like that, you may have to reanalyze either your plot or your character and make some major changes to either…or even both.

Sometimes there are problems in the story that you never realized would come up until you started writing the first draft word by word. How did your main character (MC) get through the locked door if he doesn’t know how to pick locks? In that case, you might have to go back to the beginning and make sure you reference his lock-picking ability or go back a chapter or two and give him a hammer with which to bust out a window.

When The Plot Demands It

Of course, changes to the setting and changes to the characters can both demand a change to the story. Sometimes, though, the story itself demands the change.

It’s hard to differentiate these occasions, but let’s just use theme as an example.

If the theme of your story has to do with coping with death, then maybe you’ll realize by the midpoint that the story would be better served if you had the character’s husband die rather than have her car get in a fender bender.

If the theme of your story has to do with greed and ambition, then perhaps you might reconsider your inciting incident, choosing to present your character with the opportunity to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company rather than receive a mysterious two-hundred-year-old letter that was addressed to him.

As I said, it’s difficult to differentiate between characters and settings affecting and altering the plot of your story and plot itself altering the plot. They often inform each other, having a cumulative effect on your story, and that should more often than not be the case.

A Retroactive Stroke of Genius

Here we are. I chose to save the best for last. The reason that this one is the best is because it’s hands down the most enjoyable reason to change the outline of your story.

That reason is that you had an epic, amazing idea, and you want to add it to your story retroactively.

Trust me, it happens. As writers, we’re natural-born creatives, and we can’t help but continue to ponder the ideas of our stories long after the ink of the outline has dried.

Say you have a story about a medieval knight who is attempting to gather all of the lords under his rule. Originally, you might have thought that this would require a lot of talking, or maybe a lot of fighting.

But as you were writing the first draft, you had the idea. What if there was a legendary sword, say, for example, Excalibur, and if the knight was to find this sword, it would grant absolute legitimacy to his claim for the throne? Now you have something a little more interesting than debates, or even the tired sword fight that leads to mutual respect.

Then you have another idea. What if someone steals the sword? Now how will the king maintain his kingdom? What happens when the thief arrives with an army, brandishing the sword for all to see?

Of course, not all ideas have to have major effects on the plot, either. What if you had a sci-fi heist film where the antihero gets cornered. He could fight his way out. That would certainly be a reasonable enough course of action. But then you have the idea of a gun that shoots special “walk through walls” bubbles. Your character shoots under the guard’s feet. The guard falls to the floor below him. Then the character shoots the wall in front of him and makes it to safety.

There could be any number of reasons why you might choose to toss the outline and start writing in a different direction. The most important reason, though, should be the same one that applies to any change you choose to make. It should have a benefit, major or minor, to the story you’re writing.

By the time you’ve implemented your changes, you want your story to be all the better for it, and shine like the cut and polished gem it’s become, rather than the muddy hunk of rock that it was as an outline.

Ranking the Marvel End Battles, Part Two

While Disney still has several entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) planned for the next few years, it’s hard to imagine them ever building up to an event of such an epic scale as Avengers: Endgame.

The twenty-three films that make up the MCU, however, did not just contribute to an epic team-up adventure the likes of which we’ve never seen. They also provided us with a baseline by which to judge superhero films on a whole.

That is not to say, however, that every individual entry in the MCU is a complete and indisputable masterpiece. As I mentioned in last week’s issue of The Writer’s Everything, there is at least one problem in particular that almost every MCU film shares.

Nearly every one of them has the same climactic end battle. The hero has mastered his powers and must now face off against his mirror opposite, an individual with the same powers as himself, but evil.

Last week, I began analyzing all twenty-three films in the MCU in order, beginning with the least original end battle and going up from there.

So now let’s continue with part two of this analysis, beginning with the fifteenth entry in the list and going on through to the eighth. Then, in next week’s article, the final seven films in the list will be presented, with number one being the all-time most original end battle of the MCU.


The end battle of Thor starts out feeling typical. A super-powerful god fights against another super-powerful god, but evil. This end battle, however, excels in that it quickly takes things in a whole other direction. As Thor quickly and decisively disables Loki, we see the culmination of his character arc over the course of the film. We get to see if those couple days he spent on Earth managed to move him to greater heights than ever before, as his father hoped, or if they did not. As it turns out, Thor ends the battle by selflessly giving up the connection to the planet, and the woman, he loves. Then, he even goes as far as to talk some sense into his brother, reaching out to rescue him when Loki chooses a free-fall into the abyss of space instead. In an otherwise typical end battle, it’s those few moments that move Thor to its position above Iron Man on this list.


Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. A hero in an advanced shrinking suit fights against another character in an advanced shrinking suit, but evil. That’s old hat, as we’ve seen already. However, it still manages to keep things fresh with some fantastic set pieces the likes of which we’ve never seen before. After all, watching these two grown men desperately trying to defeat each other, all while riding on the back of a Thomas the Tank Engine, was just fantastic. It certainly captured the uniqueness of its premise in the end battle, if not that of the plot, and earned itself a position directly ahead of Thor.

13—Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The end battle of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, when judged based on the metric used for this list, is very similar to the end battle of the previous entry, Ant-Man. Once again, we have two characters with similar powers fighting each other. And once again, it’s the uniqueness of the premise that makes this battle stand out. Peter Quill’s crazy retro-imagination adds a great deal of fun to this end battle, and baby Groot is just enough to cause it to scrape past Ant-Man on the list.

12—Captain America: The Winter Soldier

A lot is going on during the ending of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The most important of the myriad events that transpire during this climactic end battle is, without a doubt, Captain America’s struggle to disable the deadly helicarriers before they take their position as the violent Big Brother of a new world. So of course, this end battle includes a super-soldier fighting another super-soldier, but evil. The Winter Soldier blows away all the entries in the list up to this point, however, the second Captain America disables the last helicarrier. His love for Bucky moves him to drop his shield, giving up the battle, and even his life, to save his friend. This is a highly rare case in which the victory of the end battle is an emotional one rather than a physical one, and that emotion certainly carries it past Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in my book.

11—Marvel’s The Avengers

Just like with Iron Man, I can’t fault this film for setting the standards that future sequels adhered to much too closely. There is certainly plenty to like in the end battle of Marvel’s The Avengers. The villains aren’t all the same, as they include ground troops, flying skiffs, and giant space snakes. And, even better, the goal of this end battle is not to simply beat someone to a pulp, although the Hulk took care of that in a moment of pure movie magic. The goal of the Avengers, closing the space portal, as well as the film’s status as the first of the Avengers movies, just barely place it ahead of Captain America: The Winter Soldier on this list.

10—Ant-Man and the Wasp

Let’s be honest. Ant-Man and the Wasp was not a memorable movie. I couldn’t even recall one thing about the end battle when writing this article. I had to search for it on YouTube and then scan through the clip to try to refresh my memory. I now am aware of three things that happen during the conclusion of this film. That being said, I should mention before I forget that the end battle of Ant-Man and the Wasp is unique in several ways, including alternate power sets for the heroes and villains, not to mention Ant-Man’s transformation into Giant-Man. All of this adds up to a more unique, if not better, end battle than Marvel’s The Avengers.

9—Captain America: Civil War

While the airport battle between the feuding groups of Avengers was certainly a highly enjoyable bit of superhero cinema, I’ve decided to consider the face-off with Steve and Bucky on one side and Tony on the other as the real end battle of this film. The way these two old friends team up against Iron Man, beating him with their hands and their skill, rather than any sort of advanced technology, and taking Stark down a notch in the process, is handled deftly and provides us with an enjoyable alternative to the hero vs. the evil twin scenario.

8—Avengers: Infinity War

I have to start by saying that there isn’t really anything special about the end battle of Avengers: Infinity War. It’s honestly par for the course when it comes to Avengers films. On one side you have the eponymous group of superheroes, and on the other side, a faceless alien army. There are several things, however, that really set this end battle apart from those of the previous team-up films. First was Doctor Strange’s confrontation with Thanos, which was absolutely epic and fantastic. Then there were the tragic results to both Iron Man and Thor’s personal struggles. And finally, the obvious thing that sets this end battle apart is the way it finishes, with the death of half the universe. We all knew they would be coming back, but it was still a welcome emotional gut punch.

How do you feel about the order of numbers 15-8 on this list? Do you think that these films deserved their rankings? Is there anything you would adjust or change up to this point? Let me know by sending me a message right here on Twitter. In next week’s issue of The Writer’s Everything, Issue #013, we will finish this analysis of the MCU end battles, before looking at the lessons for us as writers in Issue #014. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter by clicking right here to receive them directly in your inbox upon release.

Issue #013: When To Trash The Outline

You’ve put so much time and effort into preparing your novel. But sometimes you need to scrap your idea and start from scratch. How do you know when it’s time to take that step?

Check out “When To Trash The Outline” in this issue of The Writer’s Everything! #TWE @QJ_Author

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Four Steps to Revitalize Your Creativity

As writers, all of us know what creativity feels like. It’s that magical time where the sky is the limit. Anything is possible. That’s what caused most of us to become writers in the first place. The opportunity to create is just too enjoyable to pass up. Unfortunately, however, there are times where that creativity seems to dry up.

One problem that causes this tragic loss of creativity involves the day-to-day struggles of what we call life. Living is a complicated matter full of responsibilities that require both our time and energy. The older we get, the busier we are, and the less time we have for creativity.

Unfortunately, the loss of creativity can start at a very young age in an individual’s life. While growing up at home, and even in preschool and on through grade school, children are encouraged to, even rewarded for, being creative.

Then comes middle school, and even worse, high school. Rather than focusing on creativity, students begin to take essays, answer math problems, and work on multiple-choice quizzes. By the time they reach adulthood, their days are filled with uninspiring work at 9 to 5 jobs which leave absolutely no margin for creativity.

If you currently find yourself in this situation, then you know just how frustrating it is to be staring at the blank page, out of ideas, out of creativity, lacking that fundamental capacity to craft the sorts of epic adventures that your action figures would go on so many years ago.

The frustration of this situation is compounded for those who aspire to channel their creativity into the service of a full-time career. Imagine blocking out an afternoon to get a solid amount of writing done, only to find yourself staring at the keyboard, utterly out of ideas.

Is there anything that we as writers can do if we find that our creativity is waning? Can we revitalize our creativity, refresh our inner selves, and return to the page fully capable of crafting our beloved tales once more?

Luckily, there are things that we can do to build ourselves back up to creating. So, let’s take a look at four steps you can take to revitalize your creativity so that when you need to step up to the plate, you’ll be ready and raring to go.

1—Input Rather Than Output

Imagine that you are about to go on a car trip across the country, all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. Before you take off on a trip like that, you’d need to fill up your tank. You would go to the gas station and pump until it clicks off automatically.

The fuel, of course, propels your car forward further and further across the country. But eventually, your gas gauge is going to hit the big red E. At that point you’ll only be left with two options. You will either have to stop driving or you will have to refill the tank. You have to have fuel if you want to reach your destination.

Your writing career is a lot like a car on a cross-country journey. It’s your creativity that keeps you moving forward. Unfortunately, however, it is not an unlimited resource. So, to continue on your writing journey, it’s essential that you find ways to top off your creativity.

What is involved in this process? Is it as difficult as it sounds? The good news is that more than likely, you already have everything that you need to take in inspiration.

What I’m referring to is your entertainment. What is more inspiring to a storyteller looking to revitalize their career in the craft than to examine movies, television shows, books, and video games that they love? As you take in your favorites, you can’t help but be inspired. Your brain will use those different mediums as dots, with your imagination connecting them in new and amazing ways.

The important thing to remember, though, is that it’s not enough to just mindlessly watch the same old television show that you’ve seen two-dozen times before. Rather, you need to input your entertainment with an eye for creativity.

Take these different mediums in with the intent of identifying exactly what you enjoy about them. Then, give yourself the opportunity to build off of those elements. Put yourself in the story and imagine what you would choose to do when faced with the situations that the characters themselves are confronting.

2—Get All Artsy-Fartsy

All the various forms of storytelling in the world aren’t the only things that you can input for the sake of your creativity. There are plenty of other sources of inspiration available.

You could listen to podcasts. Try finding a few on the topic of writing, such as Helping Writers Become Authors and The Creative Penn, and allow them to expand your horizons on what you consider to be possible in your creative career.

You could take a trip to a local art museum. Drawings, paintings, and sculptures are so far from storytelling as a source of self-expression, yet they are just as inspiring, if not more. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

You could listen to your favorite genre of music. Open up Pandora and set your station to play the songs you love. Personally, if you’re looking for inspiration, I’d suggest movie themes. These epic sprawling symphonies were designed to guide you through the narrative of an amazing story, and they can be just as good, if not more, in jumpstarting your creativity.

What’s the ideal source of non-storytelling input to refill your creativity? Well, that’s for you, and you alone, to identify. Experiment. Take your time. Try new and different things. Over time, you’ll figure out what revitalizes your creativity.

3—Journal Like A Madman

To a certain degree, I don’t believe that any of us necessarily “lose” our creativity. Rather, we just become too busy to notice its existence. It gets put on the back burner while we focus on more pressing problems.

So how do you get back into the rhythm of creativity? By catching your ideas like one might catch a butterfly with a net.

Why is this so important?

Well, you could have a million ideas cross your mind every day, but if you just watch them flutter away without taking the opportunity to capture them and meditate on them, then they’ll just become more and more forgotten butterflies, lost forever to the winds of your subconscious.

So, what do we need to do to fix that?

It’s simple. Keep a notebook, or note-taking app, with you at all times. When even the slightest of ideas flutters past your conscious mind, write it down. It doesn’t matter if it’s just one sentence, an abstract thought, or something even less.

As you write these ideas down, you’ll find the process of notetaking itself will become easier and easier for you. Soon, you will train yourself to search out your creativity and force it to the front, rather than wait idly by on the sidelines for it to come to you.

4—Take A Time-Out

More often than not, the greatest step we can take to revitalize our creativity is not an action, but a lack thereof.

We are, as we’re well aware, inundated 24/7 with sensory input. Our eyes scan the screens of TVs and cell phones and the pages of books and magazines. Our ears listen to the conversation of others, the music playing in the background, and the podcast we’ve been binging for the last two weeks.

Sometimes the best choice we can make is to just turn it all off and take some time to let our subconscious minds silently and peacefully organize themselves. Taking a moment to sit and smell the roses is a great opportunity for this.

However, you can often foster this creativity-friendly environment by finding something mindless and rote to do. Painting, sewing, crafting, mowing, lifting weights, running…the options are nearly limitless. As you participate in these activities, you’ll be allowing yourself the chance to daydream, and even be establishing chemical balances in your brain that are favorable to revitalizing your creativity.

One final note to add to this discussion is the possibility of underlying problems hampering your creativity. Statistics say that one in five Americans will deal with mental illness at some point in their lives. Anxiety, depression, attention-deficit, and other conditions may all hurt your goal of telling terrific stories.

If you feel hopeless, if you don’t see the point of continuing on your projects, or if you feel like what you’ve already written is worthless, don’t despair. You’re not alone.

Thankfully, things can get better. There are all sorts of treatments available to help you overcome whatever difficulties you may face, as well as counseling and therapy. I can tell you from experience that you would not believe how far you could get in as little as a year with treatment. I never thought I could feel as good as I have these last couple of years, and you can have that same experience yourself.

Ranking the Marvel End Battles, Part One

There is no film series more popular than the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Starting with Iron Man in 2008, both the solo and team outings of the various Avengers have since exploded in popularity. After eleven years, Marvel has amassed a collection of successful, interconnected movies that few, if any, will be able to replicate any time soon.

Yes. Many, many people enjoy MCU films. At the same time, many others, especially storytellers, can’t help but notice the similarities between each new entry and the last. For them, it feels as though Marvel has discovered a formula for their films, sacrificing originality for the sake of success.

I’m not necessarily going to side one way or another on this debate. Marvel movies are hugely entertaining, and they rarely leave their comfort zone.

What I will criticize right here and now is the fact that nearly every end battle in Marvel’s history has been the same. The hero has mastered his powers and must now face off against his mirror opposite, an individual with the same powers as himself, but evil.

These battles have certainly had their low points, but there have been a few that managed to successfully reach for greater heights. What I want to do in this week’s Cinematic Storytelling is rate the Marvel end battles based on, primarily, originality. The quality of character development will also be taken into consideration, as will, in one case, the quality of the effects.

See if you can guess which film I’m referring to before I name it.

So, let’s analyze these twenty-three films, looking for lessons that we can learn and information that we can apply in our own stories. We’re going to start with the least original end battle and go up from there. This list will be divided into three parts, published over the next three weeks. Then the fourth part will analyze specific lessons we can learn from this list.

23—The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk had one of the worst end battles of the entire MCU. Although this was only the second film in the series in which a superhero faced his evil twin, it was all the more disappointing because of the tremendous waste of potential. There was so much depth to the story, so much depth to Edward Norton’s portrayal of Bruce Banner, and then it just devolved into a meaningless computer-generated fistfight. The film truly set the bar by containing the least interesting, most formulaic end battle possible.

22—Black Panther

It’s such a shame for a movie of this pedigree to end with such a disappointing slop of a battle. Once again, the potential for a glorious, deeply philosophical ending was there, but it was given up in favor of…a literal catfight. The worst part is how terrible the graphics looked.

Captain America: Civil War introduced Black Panther with fantastic, kinetic action scenes that looked amazing. It’s so hard to believe that the effects that brought the eponymous hero of Black Panther to life fell so far so quickly by its end battle.

The only redeeming feature that puts it ahead of The Incredible Hulk was the absolutely wonderful ending moment where the two of them watched the sunset as Killmonger died. If we could have gotten more of that and less of the poor CGI and un-cinematic framing, this film could have shot up to one of the top locations on the list.

21—Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World was, on a whole, utterly forgettable. There was quite literally nothing special about it. On top of that, unfortunately, the sequel to Thor placed its titular hero against the most generic, boring villain in the history of the MCU. Malekith had no character development and no real motivation. His goal was as generic as wanting to ‘make everything dark’. I chose to place this end battle above that of Black Panther, not because Thor: The Dark World was a higher quality film, but because the inclusion of portals added a fairly interesting dynamic to this end battle.

20—Iron Man 2

The goal of Iron Man 2 was fairly simple and straightforward. Do what Iron Man did, but bigger. Instead of one hero in an Iron Man suit fighting against one villain in an Iron Man suit, they did two heroes in Iron Man suits fighting against one villain in an Iron Man suit and a few dozen drones in Iron Man suits. It’s really difficult to place the films that are from 21-17 on this list, being that they’re so unfortunately similar to each other, but I chose to place Iron Man 2 above Thor: The Dark World simply because the villain had more depth and motivation. Of course, he certainly could have and should have been developed more.

19—Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron followed the same path that Iron Man 2 did, with the goal of doing the same as Marvel’s The Avengers, but bigger. It’s also par for the course when it comes to having a potentially interesting villain that failed to live up to his potential. Scarlet Witch’s inclusion in the end battle, as well as Cliff Barton’s expanded role, were both more than welcome, and all together managed to just barely push the film past Iron Man 2 in this list.

18—Spider-Man: Homecoming

Peter Parker’s climactic showdown with the Vulture was yet another case of tech vs. tech. In this case, however, Spider-Man’s tech in the final battle was limited to his web-shooters. Honestly, the end battle wasn’t about the fight itself, but rather about Peter’s character arc. It was about him learning to be a responsible superhero… by doing the exact opposite of what Tony Stark demanded of him. Yeah, the message was a little muddled. I think the strength of this end battle, though, lies in Peter’s relationship with Liz Allan. The shared history they had, the emotional baggage, and the significance of the end battle in their real life, no matter who won, were all things that made the end battle so much more significant than that of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

17—Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America’s first adventure ended exactly how you would expect. A super-powered main character faced off against his evil twin. It’s not that interesting, even if you consider it a necessary moment to forward the plot, but the dialogue between them is certainly a bit of a highlight at times. What makes the end battle so outstanding is what happened after Red Skull was transported away. Steve Rogers decided to sacrifice himself by crashing the plane into the arctic ocean rather than let it ravage an inhabited city. That was certainly an emotional highlight that stayed with us long after the credits rolled and earned this film its place above Spider-Man: Homecoming.

16—Iron Man

I’m going to cut Iron Man some slack. It started the whole ball that is the MCU rolling. That being the case, we honestly can’t accuse it of being formulaic. And it certainly wasn’t a rehash. Even so, we’re dealing with a superhero in an advanced suit fighting against an evil mirror image of himself in an advanced suit. What I love so much about this film is that, unlike with the weaker entries such as The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World, it’s obvious that this end battle was tied directly into Tony Stark’s character arc. Later on, this would be considered formulaic, but for this list, it stands out against films such as Captain America: The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk because it came first.

Come back next week to find the entries that place from fifteenth to eighth in this list. If you’re not already subscribed to my mailing list, then you can sign up at qjmartin.org/newsletter and have future issues sent directly to your inbox.