Author Interview with Christopher Grant

Get to know Christopher…

Christopher Grant, a Stony Brook University graduate, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.  An insatiable reader, his influences range from Tom Clancy to Junot Diaz. Currently a professional equities trader, he lives in Harlem, New York and spends his free time traveling the world with his family. For more info, check out his website

Let the conversation begin!

Can you share a nugget of writing wisdom?

I don’t recall exactly where I read this, but an author was asked what bit of advice she would give aspiring novelists.  She said, “You may not be published if you do write, but you’ll never be published if you don’t.”  That bit of advice helped me to stop creating bull$h!t excuses that kept me from writing.  

What advice would you give a younger you?

I would tell a younger me to focus on writing earlier.  I always loved telling stories, but did very little to cultivate it.  I took one writing class in college, and that is something that I regret to this day.  I would have beaten the crap out of myself, and forced myself to take more writing classes.  Now that I think about it, I was 15lbs heavier and MUCH stronger back then.  Maybe the butt whoopin’ wouldn’t be the best approach. 

What is the worst part about writing? Best part?

One thing I enjoy about writing is seeing the finished product, a copy of my book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble.  Nothing can top that experience, except when someone tells you how much they enjoyed reading your book. 

On the flipside, I can’t tell you how many times someone has come up to me and said, “I have this great idea for a book,” as if me working my backside off has somehow cleared the way for their story to be told.  

What is your favorite quote?

“I know a thing or two about a thing or two.” –Robert Deniro, This Boy’s Life 

What is your biggest pet peeve?

It’s a toss-up between having to listen to ignorant people (like the genius that ran for Congress that coined the term “legitimate rape”, or folks that think global warming is a myth) and dealing with cab drivers that either won’t stop for me, or say, “Where are you going?” while their door is locked.  Mind you, in NYC, that is completely illegal, and totally discriminatory.  In retaliation I have sat on the hoods of taxis blocking up traffic.  “Now no one goes ANYWHERE!!!” 

Name a turning point in your life that makes you smile.

I signed my contract with Random House on November 4th 2008, while I watched Barack Obama win the election.  I will never forget that moment as long as I live.  

What is your worst personality characteristic?

I do my best writing on the subway or in the middle of the night, when my distractions are at a minimum.  I have very little discipline when it comes to carving out my writing time, so I need to put myself in environments where I am isolated from the world.

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Author Interview with Christopher Healy

Get to know Christopher…

Christopher Healy is the author of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (2012, Walden Pond Press), the first volume in a comedic fantasy adventure series. Book 2: The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle will be published in May 2013. For more information, visit his website.

Let the conversation begin!

Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life? Why?

Without doubt, my wife, Noelle Howey. I wanted to be a writer from pretty much the moment I could read, but by the time I hit college, I’d given up on it. And then I met Noelle, who is not only one of the best writers I’ve ever read, but an incredible role model when it comes to being a professional in the business — hard-working, dedicated, and endlessly creative. 

What was the first live concert you ever attended?

Cyndi Lauper! She forgot the words to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and Captain Lou Albano made an appearance. It was amazing. 

What cartoon character best represents your personal philosophy?

Winnie-the-Pooh says a lot about the way I try to live (not that I succeed, mind you): Take it slow and easy, but be ready to take on an adventure should one come your way. Also, enjoy your meals and do your best to avoid woozles.   

What is your favorite way to waste time without getting caught?

Having lengthy email conversations with friends about whatever TV show I’m obsessed with at the moment. Right now, at the start of summer, none of my obsession-worthy shows are on right now. Though soon it will be Breaking Bad time. 

If you couldn’t write books, what career would you pursue?

Is it cheating to say I would write something other than books? Probably. So I’ll say illustration. Although I’d have to put in a lot of time improving my art skills. 

Is it possible to lie without saying a word?

Certainly. You can type your lies. 

Biggest pet peeve? What do you do that annoys your friends and family?

Oh, there are so many pet peeves to choose from. I can’t pick just one. How about three? Drivers who won’t pull out into the intersection when waiting to make a left turn. Those times when you sharpen a pencil and the wood sticks out farther than the point. And impossible-to-open plastic clamshell packaging. The annoying thing that I do to drive my family crazy is crack my toe knuckles. 

Name a turning point in your life that makes you smile/cry.

The birth of my children. It’s a cheesy cliché, but it’s true. And I probably wouldn’t have the career I do today if I wasn’t a dad. 

If you had to lose one of your five senses, which one of them would you prefer to lose and why?

Taste — which would be absolutely awful. I thought about saying Smell, but if I lost Smell, I’d pretty much lose Taste with it, since they’re so connected. But if I kept my sense of smell, at least I could avoid drinking sour milk. 

Is there a story behind your name? What is it?

The story is that my parents weren’t very imaginative. Christopher was just about the most popular boy’s name in the country the year I was born. 

What was one of the most fun things you and your college roommate did together?

Road trip! We drove from New York down to Asheville, North Carolina and paddled down the French Broad River in funyaks (inflatable kayaks). We also pet some goats and ate a lot of fudge.

Is the glass half empty or half full? What is in the glass?

It’s a glass of ice coffee, so the half that looks empty is really just full of ice; and without the ice, the coffee would be lukewarm and wouldn’t taste half as good. 

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Sitting at my hover-desk, thought-typing my latest novel onto a holoscreen, happy to know that it will still be published in classic bound-paper format. 

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Heather Vogel Fredrick

Get to know Heather Vogel Fredrick…

Heather Vogel Frederick was born into a family of bookworms, and spent most of her childhood holed up at the library. When she wasn’t reading, she was writing, and she wrote her first novel at summer camp when she was 12. Fortunately for her literary reputation, it was never published. Equally fortunately for her literary reputation, she was given the chance to hone her writing chops a few years later when she launched a career as a journalist, an occupation that kept her happily occupied for two decades. A former staff reporter and children’s book review editor for The Christian Science Monitor, Heather has also written for The New York Times, Family LifeChild, and Publishers Weekly, where she was a contributing editor for many years.

Heather’s work spans many genres, from picture books (Hide and Squeak; Babyberry Pie) to historical fiction (The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed), fantasy (the Spy Mice adventures), fractured fairy tales (Once Upon a Toad), and contemporary fiction (the Mother-Daughter Book Club series). WISH YOU WERE EYRE, the final Mother-Daughter Book Club story, was published last month. For more info, please visit her website

Let the interview begin!

Describe your writing journey, from aspiring writer to published author.

L-o-n-g.  We’re talking decades.  I wanted to be a writer from the time I was about six, and I wasn’t published until nearly forty years later!  The last half of that stretch I was published (as a journalist) in newspapers and magazines, though, which was some consolation. 

Outliner or Seat-of-the-pantser?

Definitely a seat-of-the-pantser. I wouldn’t know an outline if it came up and bit me in the leg. 

What piece of advice would you give the younger you?

Relax.  Don’t be in such a hurry. It’s not a race; you’ll get there eventually. 

If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?

Hands down Jane Austen. Have you ever read the letters she wrote to her aspiring writer niece? Delightful stuff. 

Which celebrity do you get mistaken for?

Um, this has never happened to me.  Should I be worried?

When you have 30 minutes of free-time, how do you pass the time?

I wish I could say going for a run or doing something equally virtuous, but I’m usually guilty of frittering it away online… 

If you were reincarnated as an ice cream flavor, what would it be?  

Strawberry.  It’s the girl-next-door of ice cream – cheerful, reliable, upbeat.  Oh, and it’s pink.  Who doesn’t like strawberry? 

Ever written a book that never got published? Ever think you’ll give it a second chance? 

I have a drawer full.  I think most writers do.  And funny you should ask, because I was going through that drawer recently, and there were several stories that gave me pause.  “Hmmm.  This isn’t that bad—I might be able to rework it.”  Only time will tell.  But I never throw anything away. 

What mischief did you get into growing up?

My sister Lisa and I used to torment our younger sister Stefanie by concocting an “invisibility potion” – basically every spice we could find in the kitchen cupboard dissolved in water, plus blue food coloring – and make her drink it.  Then we’d pretend we couldn’t see her.  She’d go into hysterics and we’d get in trouble, but it was so worth it.  Plus, I got to use this prank years later in my book MUCH ADO ABOUT ANNE. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Turn the ringer on the phone off.  Today that would have to include Internet access as well, which I do with a nifty little computer program called “Freedom.” 

What’s your favorite outdoor activity?

Walking our dogs.  I can walk for hours.

Where’s Waldo?

Trapped inside the Waldo wand, of course!  My kids used to have one of those.  It kept them busy for hours. 

If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?

Keel over in a dead faint.  I’ve never bought a lottery ticket in my life.  

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Author Turf Interview with Kami Kinard

Getting to know Kami…

Kami Kinard is the author of The Boy Project: Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister (Scholastic, January 2012). Her poetry, stories, articles, and essays have appeared in periodicals for children and adults.  Nasty Bugs (Dial 2012) featured one of her poems. Kami also works as a teaching artist for SC schools, and teaches writing courses for continuing education programs. She lives with her family in balmy, buggy, and beautiful Beaufort, SC. For more info, check out Kami’s site, blogTwitter, and Facebook. Oh, and don’t forget to check out The Boy Project book trailer. 

Let the conversation begin! 

Anything you’d like to share with your readers?

Yes! Thank you, readers. I love the emails and letters I get from you and I appreciate you all! 

How did you choose the genre you write in? 

I guess it kind of chose me. I had the idea for writing The Boy Project after reading my old diaries from high school and middle school. Once I read them, it was easy to channel my middle school voice! 

What genre do you avoid writing?

Horror. I like happy endings. 

How do you recharge your creative batteries?

Reading recharges my creative batteries. So does tackling artistic projects outside of writing, like jewelry making, painting, or creating crafts with my daughter. 

Can you tell us about the book you’re working on? Is it coming easily or have you run into road blocks?

I’m working on another middle grade humor book with a girl protagonist. It involves a tuba, a rocker dad, and a boy.  Road blocks aplenty have been keeping me from finishing this novel, but they are physical road blocks, not mental ones, so I should be able to finish the book when things get less crazy at home. 

Is any material in your books based on real life experiences or purely imagination?

The Boy Project is based on the kind of person I was as a tween, so it is based on some real life experiences, but it has a very healthy dose of imagination thrown in! I think it is hugely important for writers to be able to stretch reality into fiction by using imagination. The emotional threads in your book, however, have to be real. 

Are you a person who makes the bed in the morning?

I wish I was. 

Best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“Go deeper.” — Patti Lee Gauch 

Are there certain characters you would like to return to?

I’d love to return to Kara and do another book about her someday, but I feel compelled to finish the other books I’m working on first. 

Ever participated in a parade? What did you do?

I have marched in parades, including parades at Disney World, wearing a polyester suit and carrying a mellophone. I have ridden on floats wearing a brownie uniform with other brownies, and I have been the mom riding in parades with groups of brownies. 

Any advice to share with aspiring writers?

Those who don’t give up, but who continue to grow and learn, will make it. The latter part of that statement is more important than the former. 

Would you rather plan a party or attend one?

I love planning parties, especially for my children. Parties are an excellent way to exercise creativity. My daughter recently had a party where everyone created a custom made hula-hoop. My son recently had a ping-pong party where we brought in an extra table. Of course we had a Harry Potter party before the final movie last summer. It involved pumpkin pasties, butter beer, and a magician. 

Do you collect anything?

I have a very small collection of art that will grow if I ever make lots and lots of money. Right now, we add about one piece a year. One of my favorite pieces is a fish made out of a recycled surf board. When I was younger, I collected doll house furniture and ornate bottles. 

When was the last time you went bowling? Was it fun or total disaster?

I took my children bowling last week. It was a lot of fun. Maybe because I didn’t bowl. (That’s cheating, isn’t it?) The last time I held a bowling ball was about two years ago. I don’t remember the score, but it was fun! 

What is the easiest part of the writing process? Hardest?

Coming up with ideas is the easiest part of writing. Executing them is the hardest! 

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Author Interview with Kristin Levine

Get to know Kristin…

Kristin Levine is the author of two middle-grade novels, The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had and The Lions of Little Rock.  She received her BA in German from Swarthmore College and an MFA in film from American University.  A former teacher, Kristin has taught everything from 3rd grade German immersion to college-level screenwriting.  Currently, she lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband and two daughters.  For more information, you can visit her website.

Let the conversation begin!

Can you share a nugget of writing wisdom?

My favorite quote about writing (especially for beginning writers) is Don’t get it right, get it written. Once it’s on the page, it’s so much easier to revise.  And you almost never get writer’s block if you give yourself permission to write something really, really bad. 

Tell us about the book you’re working on.

My first book, The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, was inspired by my grandfather’s life growing up in rural Alabama.  I got the idea for my second book, The Lions of Little Rock, because my mother was born in Little Rock.  When it was time for a third book, my dad kept hinting that he hoped it was his turn.  So I think my next book is going to be about a paper boy in Chicago in the early 1950s, who is kind of a bully, and how he learns to depend on the greater community around him, instead of his own, dysfunctional family.  I may throw a dash of McCarthyism in there too!  Hopefully, it will be out in early 2014. 

Do you keep a writing journal?

It’s not exactly a writing journal, but I have kept a diary ever since I was in the 8th grade.  I only write it by hand, and only when I feel like it, so it’s full of lots of highs and lows, and not much of the everyday stuff in between. 

Coffee or Tea?

I like both, but if I had to pick one, I’d say Earl Grey tea with rice milk. 

If you could live anywhere for one year, all expenses paid, where would you live?

Vienna, Austria.  I actually did live there for a year once.  Between high school and college I took a year off and lived in Vienna, working as an au pair.  It was fabulous!  I especially loved all the music.  When I was there (1992-93) standing room at the opera cost $1.50 and a movie ticket cost $9.  I’ve never since been able to afford so much live music! 

What did you want to be when you grew up?

First a teacher, then a screenwriter.  My first book actually started as a screenplay, but when it kept getting rejected by producers because the main characters were kids and it was a period piece, I realized it needed to be a novel instead.  Being a middle-grade author seems like a nice fit for me, because I get to do the creative writing I enjoy AND be a teacher when I do school visits. 

What is your favorite season? 

Summer – because there’s no school!  My husband is a teacher, and I really enjoy having a break from our usual routine.  We live in the Washington, DC, area, and even though it can get really hot and humid here in the summer, and everyone complains about it (including me), I still love it. 

What’s the best dinner you ever had?

When I was an au pair, I took a week off to go to Italy.  I was supposed to go with a friend, but she cancelled on me at the last minute, so I ended up going by myself.  One day, I was in this little town in Italy and there wasn’t much to do, so I decided to take a cable car to the top of a mountain to see the view.  On the way up, it suddenly got super-foggy, and you couldn’t see three feet in front of you, much less any view.  I felt kind of bad and sorry for myself, when some guys I had met in the cable car invited me to have lunch with them.  Turns out, they knew Italian and exactly what to order and the restaurant at the top of this fogged-in mountain was absolutely fabulous.  Expensive too, but I didn’t really care.  I loved how this experience I thought was going to be so disappointing, turned out so great.  I’m realizing now, I don’t have any memory of WHAT we actually ate, only that it was delicious. 

What was the first live concert you ever attended?

Huey Lewis and the News with my dad on my 13th birthday.  We had a great time! 

What specific thing have you done that impressed yourself?

Learned to speak German fluently.  The thing is, I am NOT naturally skilled at languages.  English, Math, Science – all those classes came easily to me, but I was completely flummoxed by German.  I almost gave up, but then through grit and determination and a whole lot of weird German movies, I got better and better at it.  Ten years and a semester abroad later, I realized I was actually fluent.  Notice I said fluent and not perfect.  I can understand and make myself understood in pretty much any situation, and occasionally fool people into not immediately realizing I’m an American, but I still make lots of mistakes.  I think learning to be willing to make mistakes was a really important life-lesson too.  I’m actually going back to Austria for the first time in six years this summer – let’s hope I haven’t forgotten everything I once knew!

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Author Interview with Emily Ecton

103684718Get to know Emily…

Emily Ecton is a writer and producer for NPR’s Peabody award-winning comedy news quiz, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! She is also the author of Boots and Pieces, The Curse of Cuddles McGee, and Night of the Living Lawn Ornaments, in which two kids and one well-dressed dog take on everything from swamp monsters to undead hamsters. Her most recent book, Project Jackalope, is about a boy who finds himself on the run from government agents after his neighbor entrusts him with a killer jackalope. She lives in Chicago with her dog, Binky. For more info, visit her website.  

Let the conversation begin!

What is your worst scar? How did you get it?

I have a scar on my lip from having stitches when I was 3 years old. I’d been jumping down one step successfully all morning, so I thought two steps would be just as easy. Turns out, not so easy.

Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

Mostly imagination, with little bits of real life things sprinkled here and there. In Project Jackalope, DARPA is a real life organization, and the weapons in there — the puke ray, the cybermoths — they’re actual things the government is working on. In the author’s note at the end of the book, I point out which things are real.

Day to day experiences have worked their way into my books too. I really heard the person in the next dentist chair offer to bring his own drugs, just like Arlie does in Boots & Pieces. The scene where Sheriff Shifflett loses it because the Happy Mart is out of Happy Dogs in The Curse of Cuddles McGee happened in real life too, except it was a town councilman at the local 7-11. And Fred the kangaroo toy, the Happy Hog and the Turtle footstool from Night of the Living Lawn Ornaments exist in real life too. (They’re less animated here though.)

Planner or procrastinator? Example?

I’m a huge planner now, but I used to be really opposed to outlines because I had the idea that they stifled the whole creative process. But when I went to grad school, one of my professors insisted that we outline, and I found it to be really helpful. I really hate revising, and outlining lets you work out the sticky plot issues beforehand so you don’t have to go back and figure them out afterward. (And just because I’ve decided to do something in the outline doesn’t mean I actually do it — I’m constantly reworking the outline as I go.) It’s just nice to have a map to help keep you on track. 

Are you a person who makes the bed in the morning?

I’m a person who sidestepped the whole making-the-bed issue by getting a duvet. 

Would you rather plan a party or attend one? Why?

Attend one! Because that way I can just relax and have fun instead of worrying about all the logistics. 

Of all your books, what was your favorite chapter to write?

I really enjoyed writing the scene in Project Jackalope where Jeremy gets to use the Puke Ray.  That, and the section in The Curse of Cuddles McGee where Mr. Boots the chihuahua is lounging around flaunting his nudie bits.

According to you, what is the easiest part of the writing process? Hardest?

The hardest thing for me is writing the beginning, because it sets the tone for the whole book. I don’t start writing until I’ve gotten everything basically mapped out, so I know where I’m supposed to be going, but if I don’t start out in the right direction, it messes everything up. I had to write the bulldozer scene in The Curse of Cuddles McGee a million times because it kept getting too complicated and draggy.

What is your greatest writing strength?

I think my strength is probably dialogue — I was a theatre major and a playwright, so I hear the characters in my head more than I see them. (Which means I sometimes have to go back and add descriptions later on.) 

If you were handed free opera tickets, would you go or sell them? 

Are you kidding? I would definitely go! (Wait, how much do opera tickets go for?) 

Are there certain characters you would like to go back to?

Who was the hardest character to develop? I love Mr. Boots, the sometimes snazzy dresser/sometimes nudist Chihuahua from my first three books. I would love to write about him again sometime. 

Any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Give yourself plenty of time to daydream and goof off, and make note of the things you come up with, no matter how silly they may seem. You never know when that weird thing you noticed about briefcases might come in handy. Also, make sure you have something to write with and on, because solutions to writing problems like to pop up at the most inconvenient times, like when you’re in the shower or at the dentist.

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Interview with Award-Winning Author Michelle Houts

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Get to know Michelle…

Michelle Houts lives and plays on a family farm in West Central Ohio. She shares her days with her three children, the farmer of her dreams, some cattle, hogs, a whole lot of barn cats, a golden retriever, and a goat who thinks he’s a golden retriever. She enjoys reading, cooking and hiking any place that has hills because where she lives it is very flat. An eternal student, Michelle has degrees in special education and speech-language pathology. The Beef Princess of Practical County (Random House Children’s Books) is Michelle’s first novel for middle grade readers. It received the 2010 International Reading Association Children’s Book Award for intermediate fiction and the 2011 Nebraska Agricultural Children’s Book of the Year. It was a finalist for the 2010 Buckeye Children’s Book Award and the 2011-12 Indiana Young Hoosier Book Award.  Michelle’s next middle grade novel, Winterfrost, will be released in 2014 from Candlewick Press. For more info, visit her website and her blog

Let the conversation begin!

Earliest childhood memory?

Love this question – no one ever asks and I’ve got a good one.  I was born in State College, Pennsylvania (No, I don’t remember being born… now, that would be a good one!)  We lived in a neat split-level house that I recall vividly even though we move toOhio when I was just four.  When you walked in the front door of the house onSylvan Drive, you faced two sets of stairs.  One went down to the basement living area and the other up, to the living room, dining room and kitchen areas.  I can very clearly recall standing at the top of the stairs near the kitchen and looking down to the front door as my parents entered, a bundle of blankets in my mother’s arms.  They were bringing my younger sister home, and as my mother grabbed my toddler-sized hand after a week in the hospital with an infant, she exclaimed, “Oh my, you’re so big!”  I was two years and two months old.

What’s the first item on your bucket list?

Aside from restoring the schoolhouse, I dream of taking my family to my second favorite country in the world, Denmark.  I am fortunate to have lived there for six months following college (that was a long time ago) and to go back once for a wedding a few years back.  I’m even more fortunate that the friends I made there have kept in touch and many have even visited ourOhiofarm.  So, someday, someday, someday… I want to take my husband and kids to see what’s so special aboutDenmark.

What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue? 

I guess there’s only one word to answer this question:  Restoration.

Here’s my (future) writing space. Our family acquired it a few years ago and it sits just one mile from my house.  Although it needs a little work – okay, a LOT of work, it’s in great shape for its age. Yep, that 1-8-9-4 in the slate on the roof is the year it was built.  I have all kinds of visions for making it my place to write. And not one of them includes an outhouse.  Yeah, I’ve got some work to do.

Easier to write before or after you were published?

I think it was easier to write before The Beef Princess of Practical County was published.  For a couple reasons.  First, there is so much to do now that goes along with being published that doesn’t have a thing to do with creating a new story.  Like book signings and school visits and keeping up a website and answering emails.  And doing interviews! All of those things are great fun and don’t at all begrudge that they are waiting for me! But they do take time, time that might be spent on the next book.  Another reason it’s a little harder now is because when I wasn’t published, I had hopes, but few expectations. After all, doesn’t everyone tell you how hard it is to get published? Don’t expect too much.  After the first book, I feel that my own expectations of myself grew. The pressure was on now to perform, to whip out another great book.  I’ve learned to balance those expectations with reality. Life is full, and there is time for the next great book to develop. 

Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?

Oh, seat-of-the-pantser for sure. My characters never reveal enough about their plans for me to outline!

How long do you take to write a book?

About a year for a MG novel.  3-4 months to get it down.  2-3 months to let it (and me!) breathe.  1 -2 on first revisions.  1-2 for more breathing.  1-2 on second revisions.  Then it’s ready to actually show to an editor or agent.  Anytime I’ve rushed the process, I’ve regretted it.

What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

Sunrise Over Gudhjem.  It ‘s a smoked fish dish with a raw egg broken over it (Hence the sunrise… get it?)  Named for a beautiful city in Denmark.

What is your secret talent?

I can pick up most anything with my toes.  Thanks for letting me know it is a talent!  All along I thought I was just too lazy to bend down!

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