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Monday, February 28, 2011

Mini-Movie Review: The King's Speech

If you're a history buff, an anglophile, or someone who really enjoys brilliant acting, you'll want to see The King's Speech. Colin Firth was amazing. He had to get Best Actor at the Oscars. The man had no equal. 

Firth was sublime. He was so believable as the timid, self-conscious king that you couldn't help but mouth the words for him as he stammered his way through day to day conversations. That had to be one of the toughest roles any actor has ever been asked to play.

And Geoffrey Rush. My God. He cannot make a bad movie. The whole cast was impressive, but at its core, the movie belonged to Firth and Rush. You empathized completely with a man plagued by a disability that would crush a lesser soul. Colin Firth delivered such a stunning performance I will now watch him in anything. He's that good.

Here's the synopsis from the web site:  After the death of his father King George V and the abdication of King Edward VIII, Bertie (Colin Firth) who suffers from a debilitating speech impediment, is suddenly crowned King George VI of England. With his country on the brink of war and in desperate need of a leader, his wife, Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother, arranges for her husband to see an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Be forewarned that this is not an action movie. There are no explosions or chase scenes. It's a movie about subtlety and affliction and courage. The dialog is clever and witty. The characterizations are sharply drawn and the tension is palpable. It's a quiet film that examines character, peeling the layers from King George VI (and his family) like an onion. 

I have a passion for people with bull dog determination, and both Bertie and Colin Firth delivered in spades.

I can highly recommend this movie. Have you seen it--or plan to? What did you think? Any favorite parts?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Prudent Penny: Passive Couponing

This year, in response to rising prices, we'll be increasing the size of our garden. I'll concentrate on veggies I use most like tomatoes, peppers and potatoes, and those that store well like Brussels sprouts, soybeans and corn.

The other thing I'll do more of is stock up whenever I notice a loss-leader at the grocery store. It's a hard mindset to learn because storage space is usually at a premium and logic dictates not to buy something we won't use right away. But if I find toilet paper for pennies, I will make a place to store it.

But what makes a good buy? This is where price books come in handy. I have a fair recollection of what makes a good buy on any given product. But if you're still new at this, keep a little notebook and jot down the prices, sizes, and the store where you saw these products.

Price book illustration:


Unit Price

Also, bear in mind that some sales on staples are cyclical. They'll go back on sale about every 12-16 weeks, so if you do shop the sales, make sure you purchase in a 4-month quantity, so you won't have to pay full price in between sales.

Comparison shopping: Again, price books come in handy. Just because you shop a 'discount' store doesn't mean they'll have the lowest prices. Comparison shopping might seem like a lot of trouble at first, but once you set up your ledger, half your work is done.

I use Google a lot to do my comparisons on big ticket items, particularly electronics. Aside from using comparison sites like Pricegrabber or Shopzilla, I also use epionions and Amazon reviews to narrow my search too.

Coupons: Google to the rescue again. Since I no longer get a newspaper, I rely on digital coupons. 

Now here's the thing about coupons. They're time consuming and they're often for name brands of products I usually buy in generic. But partner that with your lowly price book and you'll start to notice a pattern. Coupons tend to appear a few weeks before these products go on sale. 

I have a long list of coupon sites that update daily. All of them feed through my Google Reader. It's passive couponing at its best. If I see something I need, want, or is very high dollar, I go to the site and print the coupon.

Many, many times, I get free products. In the past month, I've received pain relievers, cereal, shampoo, dog cookies and scads of year-long subscriptions to magazines. (Magazines like The Smithsonian, Taste Of Home, Organic Gardening, and Martha Stewart's Living.) And that's only the tip of the iceberg.

These products were all free. And they were either full-sized or generous samples. All I had to do was click on the link if it interested me. Otherwise, I deleted it.

I have scores of coupon and freebie sites I browse, but here are some of my favorites.

If you don't use a reader, put them on an RSS feed so you can get emailed updates. I get too much email which is why I use Google Reader, but use whatever is more convenient for you.

I apologize that these are geared for the states, but you'll find something similar for your regions if you do a little sleuthing with the keywords, 'coupons' or 'free samples' followed by your country's name. I tried it with Canada and the UK and both came up with lots of entries.

One word of caution: Many sites ask you to fill out a form in order to receive your freebie. I have an email address that I use specifically for this function. This way if they turn out to be spammers, they don't clog my regular channels of communication. FWIW, I've never been spammed, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.

Was this helpful? Are there any sites you use to save money? Please don't hesitate to share. I will update this post with a link back to you if you have more to add.

Has anyone made any "Great Buys" lately with or without coupons? Do tell.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fire & Steel

Presenting the cover to my latest novel, APOCALYPSE RISING, the sequel to Touch Of Fire. Expected release is May 9, 2011.

A cryptic passage from the book: The woman is fire. The man, steel.
I'd say the cover captures that sentiment nicely.   

The only place left to hide was in the past.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Who Do We Write For?

Renee Miller had an interesting post about writing to taboos and offending readers. I don't deliberately go out of my way to offend or shock people. But, if I did my job right, I am bound to offend someone.

Why do I know this?

Because I write to a specific audience. The people who like my work are a profoundly elite group. They are most likely well-educated, curious, and eclectic. They aren't afraid of new ideas or stabbing the heart of old ones.

It took me MANY years to understand who I was writing for. Readers who like their heroes slight and dewy-eyed will not care for my men. We are talking alphas here, confident, hard-loving, bold men. I don't apologize for that. Those are the kind of men that appeal to me. And obviously, I'm not the only one.

My women are not doormats. They are self-assured and proactive. They might even be unlikable until you learn why they put up the barriers they do, the same walls you and I might put up in dangerous situations. 

The men and women in my stories are partners, companions, and allies. I expect them to be equals in the eyes of each other, regardless of actual status.

My writing is very deliberate and confident. I know what I want to say, and I don't try to be everything to everybody.

I think the problem a lot of writers face is that they desperately want to be liked and admired by everyone. And that's just not possible. Better that you wow a loyal hard-core group of fans who appreciate and understand your work, than to try to please everyone.

So my best advice is to learn who your core audience is. Who do you write for? That's not as easy as it sounds. But the upshot of this is that once you know who your market is, the easier it will be for you to brand yourself.

The way I discovered my brand (and by extension, my audience) was by listing the books already published as well as those in the wings awaiting publication. What was the thread that ran through each of them?

At first, I didn't see it. I had written science fiction, post-apocalyptic, paranormal, and romance. What did they all have in common? How were they connected? The parallels seeped into my subconscious gradually. 

Mysticism, the preternatural, and mythology were the three things that made them similar. Even though the stories and the worlds were entirely unique, these elements remained constant.

The people I write for delight in the unusual, the sublime, and the unexplained. That in itself is a pretty vast scope of potential readers that can be refined even further.

My mission now is helping them find me, and allow them to decide if my work is worthy of taking up shelf space--virtual or otherwise.

Writers: Who do you write for? Can you identify your brand?

Readers: Are you an adventurous reader, or do you prefer to stay in genres that make you comfortable?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What a Difference a Week Makes

I normally don't post on the weekends, but I had to share this. Presented as proof, the Weather Babe. The temperature on the left (12 degrees) was from 2-11-11. The temperature on the right (80 degrees) was from yesterday, 2-18-11.

Notice Weather Babe's attire. That's why we call her Weather Babe.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Return of Prudent Penny

When I worked in corporate America, I made a great deal of money. I knew the day I walked away from my job that all that liquid asset, every fancy dinner, trip, and extravagance was going with it.

I didn't really mind. I have a spouse who could easily support me. Other than the new house, we owe nothing. And by my very nature, I'm a frugal person. BUT...I do feel pangs of guilt when Greg pays all the bills. Moreover, it's a little hard on my feminist ego. :grin: Even though we're a team, I've always been proud to foot my share of the bills. 

To compensate, I do everything in my power to keep our bills low and put a lot of effort into the garden and chickens. 

I ask for no money from Greg to supplement my daily expenses, and except for the last feed store trip (when he did the shopping during my unfortunate near-death experience), I also pay for chicken food and supplies. All this from my meager earnings as a writer.

Since Marian Perera reminded me I haven't done a Prudent Penny post in a while, I've made a list of some of the things I do to keep  my expenses down. Every Friday for the next six weeks, I'll break down how I work with each one of these items.


Week One
Coupons: I used to be a coupon clipper but I found I didn't often use the name brands they were discounting. In week one, I'll tell you how I browse coupons. I don't use many, but they're always high dollar or free products. I'll include Comparison Shopping here too.

Week Two (NEW)
Travel: Since you asked for it, we'll talk about how to save your wampum when traveling.

Week Three
Menu planning: I hate cooking. But a little menu planning not only saves my sanity on what to make, but moolah as well. I'll also include a list of my favorite cookbooks.

Week Four
Cheap landscaping: Landscaping is very expensive. I haven't yet found a way to make it free, but I have a few tricks so you don't have to open a vein.

Week Five
Garage Sales: If I could offer a live workshop on garage saling, I would. Shopping at garage sales have so much nuance to it, it's easier to demonstrate than explain it in words. --but I'll do the best I can. Though if you happen to be in my neck of the woods some Saturday, I will take you with me on my next jaunt.

Week Six
How to buy a car: Next to house buying, car buying is one of the most stressful things you will do in your life. I'll share our personal adventures in car buying and how not to get taken for a ride.

If you can think of any other topics you want to discuss, feel free to add them in the comments. If I have experience with it, I'll share it and if I don't, I'll see what I can find out.

Tell me, if you could save money on anything, what would it be?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nook or Kindle?

Sorry I disappeared all of a sudden like that. I was really sick--like emergency room sick. There were a couple of times over the last three days when I wasn't particularly lucid. I guess the body reaches a certain point where it shuts down all but the most essential functions. Coherence was the first to go. (Not that it was a stretch for me. :grin:)

I had a laugh when I kept hurrying Greg to throw out the garbage, afraid we would miss trash pick-up. But pick-ups are on Fridays and it was only Tuesday. Evidently, time is not linear when you're in la-la land.

I feel better today, weak but better than Monday anyway. I came down with a serious bronchitis infection. (never had one before) My fever spiked so high I couldn't get warm and Greg fed me hot water to keep me from dehydrating too quickly.

He was about to lug me to the emergency room, but I knew it would be daylight soon and I begged him to wait so I could see my doctor.

He made an appointment for me when her office opened. Unfortunately, the earliest was late afternoon, and I steadily kept going downhill. As soon as my doc listened to my lungs she put me on a breathing apparatus and gave me some meds with codeine in it for the pain. It was bad. Even worse than the flu. But all's well that ends well, and I think I turned the corner today.

Thanks for all your concern. It meant a lot to me.


Despite my scary jaunt through the Underworld, I did have some good luck on the weekend. LASR held a Valentine Weekend bash with a whole passel of authors. They held drawings throughout the weekend and I won the grand prize! (If I'd known I was going to be that lucky I would've played the lottery.)

I get my choice of a Kindle, Nook, or a gift certificate. But which do I choose? I am really torn. My first instinct was to go with the Nook, since I'd heard so many good things about it, but one thing keeps nagging me. After Border's bellyflop, is B&N in danger of going out of business too? Didn't they reorganize recently because of financial woes? What will happen to the Nook, if they ever file bankruptcy?

Nonetheless, deciding which machine is a pretty sweet problem to have. I can't believe I won. I've wanted an e-reader for so long. 

If you were to choose, which would you pick and why--Nook or Kindle? Will the Nook read Kindle books and vice versa? I'm so excited. I can't wait to have my very own e-reader.

I'm going to attempt to visit your blogs today. No guarantee I'll make them all in one sitting, but I'll try. I am still pretty weak, but at least I can read again.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What's On Your Desk?

I promise, after this post we'll get back to business and talk about writing, reading and roughing it on the homestead. 

Probably half the posts on the blogosphere today will gush about Valentine's Day, so let's talk about something else. 

First, I want to direct your attention to the FAQ page. Looky! I put some of your questions in there. (The least embarrassing ones anyway.) I'll leave those up for a few months and change them out to something new later on. 

If you'd like to embarrass me further, you can always ask a question here or email me. If I choose your question, I will link back to your blog.

Secondly, since this is a day of gifts and candy, I want to show off one of my oldest and fondest gifts from the husband. It has been the center of many a debate and was once held for ransom. It used to sit in my office at work and total strangers would threaten to steal him. (The cads!) He's the Robot from Lost In Space.

Through it all, the Robot survived to come home with me when I retired. He talks, he lights up, and he swings his body around. He even has a sensor that will turn him on (get your minds out of the gutter) when someone passes in front of him. I don't know where Greg got him, but he's one of my favorite toys. 

I keep a myriad of toys around my studio. You can see several of them in this photo. I collect dinosaurs, gargoyles, dogs (of course) and in this particular picture there's also a gruesome zombie woman that looks remarkably like me before caffeine.

I don't know how I started collecting these things, but I've never bought a single one. They've all been gifts from coworkers, loved ones, or friends. Each one has a story, but only the robot was ever kidnapped. 

Am I the only who collects these things? What sits on your computer desk?

UPDATE: Really sick. Will be back soon.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guest Blog: Marian Perera

Today, I'd like to introduce you to Marian Perera. I don't remember how Marian and I met, but I've been following her blog for quite a while. 

Marian is an amazing person, especially once you get to know her and realize how hard she worked to get where she is today. I love reading her blog because she's so articulate and thorough--which I suppose is second nature for someone studying medical laboratory technology.  :grin:

Please say hello to Marian, and do give her excerpt a read. I think you'll really enjoy it.


Slavery in fantasy

What does the word “slaves” make you think of right away?

For me, a movie and a book come to mind. The movie is Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments and the book is Alex Haley’s Roots. Both portray slavery vividly (if not exactly accurately in the case of the Biblical epic). For a long time, they shaped my view of the “peculiar institution”, so when I started writing fantasy, the slaveholding society was evil and the land to which my slaveborn protagonist escaped was naturally good.

But eventually I started wanting to do something different.

Slavery can take different forms. Many of these variations – chattel slavery, debt slavery and so on – are mentioned in this essay, but in fantasy there can be many more. For instance, what about a world where humans have enslaved elves? That would be a twist on traditional fantasy. And if the slaves were the usual antagonists – orcs, trolls and so on – it could present some questions of ethics.

Especially if the human characters take this as the natural and just order of things. They may not see too many moral differences between enslaving the orcs and slaughtering them by the hundreds in battle.

It’s more common to see humans as slaves, but if that’s done, their masters shouldn’t be automatically ugly or evil. I have plans for a world where a war between intelligent wolves and human colonists ends with the surviving humans becoming slaves to the wolves, who benefit even more from the access to opposable thumbs.

There’s also a science fiction story where a blind alien uses a human as a seeing-eye dog. And Isaac Asimov had a scenario where plants were the ones in charge, using animals under their control to defend them and carry out pollination.

That’s a good reason to keep slaves, because they perform a function that their masters can’t accomplish either on their own or with existing technology. It would also be a reason to keep the slaves in good condition, rather than whipping and starving them 24/7.

And slavery doesn’t always have to be a degrading, lifelong condition – if people have reasonable expectations of being released once they are naturalized into a new land and no longer foreigners, they might see slavery as just another rite of passage.

A few more caveats :

1. Broad sweeps of the morality paintbrush

Slavery is almost as much of a hot-button topic in speculative fiction as in the real world, so it has to be handled carefully no matter which side the characters are on. But masters don’t have to be clones of Simon Legree. I don’t think dogs have the same legal rights as I do, but if I owned one I would take good care of it. Someone who owns slaves might feel the same about their property.

2. I am Spartacus

One of my pet peeves in fantasy is the slave population which is utterly downtrodden until the protagonist either rescues them or gives them the idea that they can be free. Or where slaves in the past have twentieth-century attitudes about liberté, egalité and fraternité. Slaves who prefer the idea of being in charge and having slaves themselves may be more realistic for those times.

3. Slave revolt = happy ending

The slave revolt in George R. R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords led to some of the former slaves murdering their former owners. And the heroine, who freed the slaves, found herself responsible for a huge number of people in need of food and defense, people she couldn’t turn away even when her own resources were strained.

The vast majority of people would agree that freedom is a good thing. But the best things may have consequences and side-effects that are not welcome, and even freedom can come with a price. Let individual characters, rather than twentieth-century values, decide whether that’s worth it for them.


To my blog 

To my book

To the first chapter of my book

Bio :
Marian Perera studies medical laboratory technology (final year of college!) when she isn’t writing. Her first novel, a romantic fantasy called Before The Storm, was just released in paperback, and she blogs about writing, publication and every step between the two at Flights of Fantasy.

Blurb :
In Dagran society Alex is a "mare", a woman used by the nobility, until her owner gifts her to his greatest enemy, Robert Demeresna. Robert wins her trust, but this mare is a Trojan horse, her owner's weapon in the battle to come. A battle fought with steam engines on the fields of Dagre, and psychic magic in the arena of her mind.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Empty Shelves

If your grocery store shelves went empty right this minute, how long would you be able to feed your family comfortably?

I'm writing this after coming home from a shopping trip. A week will have past by the time this publishes, but I wanted to get my thoughts down while I could. Today, after nearly a week of ice and snow, people were out restocking their larders, including me.

The weather was nice, Super Bowl was hours away, and I needed fresh veggies. I walked into Walmart, the closest store to me, and was shocked by the near empty shelves. I don't mean kinda-sorta empty. I mean entire bins picked clean.

Several varieties of canned goods were depleted and three quarters of the meat department coolers were barren. I asked one of the clerks what happened and she said several of their trucks were running late, caught in the storms of the northeast. Compound that with the big game and more people venturing out than normal and all of a sudden I go without orange juice.

It was sobering. I never gave it much thought. Like everyone else, I always assumed food will be there when I want it. A few trucks fail to meet their delivery date and within hours shelves went empty. What if this happened to more than one little town? How long would people cope if it affected a large city, or a state?

Granted, this was an isolated instance, but it unnerved me. The store was packed and people were loading up their carts like piranhas stripping a carcass.



It was nice to take a week off. I got some serious writing done and I managed to visit more blogs than normal.

And I finally figured out what people meant by making a friends list on Facebook. I made a list but I couldn't find it again once I made it. I didn't realize it was within easy access in a pull down menu. D'oh! I told you I was a slow learner. So embarrassing. Maybe now I'll catch news in a more timely fashion.


Please come back Sunday and visit with Marian Perera. Promise, 'kay? She's releasing the print copy of her novel, Before The Storm. I asked if she would talk about the sensitive subject of slavery in fiction. As always, she tapped into the pulse of the topic.

Stop by Sunday and say hi.


So how is everyone? Has this winter weather thrown you any surprises?

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Hunker-Down Dance

Some weather, huh? Most of North America is cold--or at least far less delightful than the law allows. The snows had gotten so bad in Chicago that they closed down O'Hare Airport. Then they closed Lake Shore Drive due to accidents and blinding snow. They NEVER close the lake front, but people were stuck for up to 12 hours. They had to do something. Fortunately, they are beginning to recover.

Here in Texas, we braced for ice and got it in sheets. This is one of those days when I'm glad I no longer have a commute. ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) ordered controlled blackouts to compensate for the added consumption of electricity.

Knock on wood, I kept my electricity--but I kept losing my satellite, so computer connectivity was hit or miss. I don't think I got hammered near as badly as my friends west of me. But little things have kept me busy.

I have to visit the chickens more often, break up the ice in their water bowl then add a couple of liters of hot water. The other day I went out and when I tried to open my screen door to get back in, it had frozen shut.

Short of tearing off the screen (with my teeth since my fingers were numb from being in ice water), I was determined  to force my way in. It was touch and go for a while. I was beginning to look like a giant icicle. All the while, the dogs were laughing at me from the inside. Da bums! Never lifted a paw to help me.

Today, I thought I'd share some of my cold weather survival tips. You might have more options in the city, but these are the things I do in the event an Ice Age hits the boonies.

Before the storm

• Make sure all the laundry and dishes are done before the weather changes in case I lose my septic system.
• Go grocery shopping. I stocked up on veggies and fruits, things I'd miss during cabin fever week.
• Gather all my flashlights and place them in easy to reach places.
• If Greg were here, I'd make a few pre-cooked meals. Since he's not, I stock up on ready to eat canned foods in case I lose power.
• Keep my phone charged. It's my only reliable means of communication.
• Fill the gas tank in my car in case I have to evacuate.
• Get cash. Real cash. Not plastic. When power goes out you might not be able to complete a transaction, but they'll still take your paper money.

During Hunker-Down Week

• Fill as many jugs of water as I can--in case I lose my water. Water is not just for me, but all my animals. That's a lot of water.
• Have wood for the fireplace in case I lose all heat.
• Eat off paper plates and plastic utensils when I can to avoid overburdening the septic system with water for washing dishes.
• Engage a hunk to hunker down with me, but since that's not feasible, I'm prepared to read or write--a lot.

Any kind of emergency is always more bearable when you have family or friends about. I've been getting a lot of phone calls and emails lately and it makes me feel all warm and toasty knowing people are checking up on me. Either that or Google Maps posted a picture of a woman slowly freezing to death as she tried to get back into her house. (Yup, that was me.)

Update: Last night, the weatherman said my area might get half an inch of snow. Here's a shot from the front of my house. Sure looks more than a half inch to me. Oy. 

I've got a lot of deadlines to meet, so I'm taking a short hiatus until next week. I'll still be able to visit blogs and Facebook, so look for me to pop in from time to time.

Meanwhile, chip in. What tips do you have when you have to do the cabin fever rumba? I'm laying odds we're going to see a lot of babies in nine months. :wink:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The 2011 Plan

UPDATE: Feb 2, 2011  
I keep losing my connection so I'm going to hunker down for a few days and wait for this ice storm to pass.

I'll swing by your blogs if I have power. If I don't, I'll be swigging tequila shots and fighting the dogs for a piece of the covers.

maria-cicle, signing off


The year is off and running. Have you made any plans for 2011?

I've been offered some fascinating writing proposals, and I even had a well-known (and successful) agent query me for a change. How's that for a switch?

This is probably due to the fact that I am abysmal at sending queries out and she must have gotten tired of waiting. --I can write queries, but I loathe going through the process.

In the end, it didn't work out for either of us, but I was rightly chuffed by the conversation and her enthusiastic interest. Should I shift direction, she will be the first on my list.

This year, I am going to try for novellas. I've even started what might be a new series for me, involving angels and demons. Not the same stuff currently making the rounds, but something uniquely mine.

If you thought the world of the Nephilim was interesting in True Believers, you'll probably like this series too. This one will be a little more fun and sexy--at least that's the plan.

The sequel for Touch Of Fire (Apocalypse Rising) is awaiting its cover and after I finish the novellas, I will start edits for the sequel to True Believers. In this book, we go deep into how the Nephilim were created. This time, we go off-world.

:Subliminal message: Go buy my books. And if you have my books--tell your friends to buy my books, cuz you know I'm a nice person and I luvs my dogs. Thank you. :End subliminal message:

On the homestead, I am awaiting a little warmer weather so I can start incubating eggs for new chicks. I'm excited! I'll be sure to do several posts on incubation and hatching. 

We are still counting on goats in the spring, but for some reason the new goat pen has not magically appeared. Hmm...I better check with my djin, Greg, and see what the holdup is. (Oh Lord, I can already hear him muttering curses at me.)

Now that the greenhouse is in place, I will start my seedlings this week and get them out there in time for March planting. Last year, we had a freak snowstorm on the first day of Spring. Never mind that we got back in the 70s later that week. A frost can kill young plants, so I will wait until the very end of March before I plant outdoors.

Last week, my niece and her (shiny) new husband came down to visit us. We had a blast with them. It was so much fun to see them get excited about living out in the sticks. 

We visited the neighbors' alpacas, my chickens, and a host of woodland creatures that caught their citified eyes. Greg taught them to shoot. My niece made bread, and we had a big spread of munchies while we watched the Chicago Bears lose the playoffs.

Sadly, during their visit, there was blood involved and innocent dogs were molested. My nephew-in-law is very tall and smashed his head on the jutting edge of the chicken coop roof. And Iko...well, Iko doesn't bite, but he has other defenses to keep people from pawing at him. LOL.

All in all, this year is off to a great start. I hope it continues. And I hope my niece and her husband will come back--despite the injuries to flesh and pride.