Lilian Duval was born in New York City to French-speaking parents and went to public school with a French accent so thick that she was assigned to the slowest of four first-grade classes. “Thunder, not TUNDER!” the teacher scolded her in front of the class. “Mother, not MUDDER!”
“I got rid of my accent all right,” Lilian says in perfectly generic American English. “I also gained a lifetime habit of imitating people’s pronunciation. One of these days someone is going to punch me in the nose for that!”
She continues, “In those days, nobody worried about kids’ self-esteem. Medals for everybody? Forget about it! And those classrooms—they were labeled 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, and 1-4. You knew where you stood from Day One.”
Undeterred, her mother cajoled the principal into moving Lilian to class 1-1, where she spent her extra class time making up little stories in the margins of her schoolwork. The teacher in P.S. 89 was not happy about those marked-up papers and let her know it.
“Things got better in the third grade,” she remembers. There was a school-wide writing contest at her elementary school in North Bellmore, Long Island. The topic was libraries. “I was pretty hopeless at sports,” Lilian admits. “If someone threw a ball, I ducked. But I liked books.” In her essay, she wrote that books in the library were like houses on a street, and the rows of shelves were like roads. The rest of her metaphors were good enough to win her the first prize, presented at a school assembly: the book “A Child’s Garden of Verses” by Robert Louis Stevenson. “I read it over and over, but was disappointed because I’d really wanted a trophy, like the athletes got.”
That contest was the beginning of Lilian’s writing career. Along the way she has held an improbable array of jobs. Here are some of them, in chronological order: Nurse’s aide in a nursing home at age 16, where her specialty was emptying bedpans. Bookkeeper’s assistant at O. Henry Steak House in Greenwich Village. Suburban reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts, where a highlight was a report on the local pickle factory. Teacher of English as a second language to Indochinese refugees in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Instructor of computer programming at a professional school.
And, for 16 years, computer software developer for a long string of financial institutions in New York City, culminating with Lehman Brothers in the World Trade Center.
On September 11, 2001, Lilian was on a NJ Transit commuter train heading to New York when the terrorist attacks took place. Arriving at Hoboken Terminal, passengers were told to board trains and return home. All the PATH trains and ferries were carrying people one way only—west across the river to New Jersey.
Lilian’s husband, George, was already in his office at a brokerage firm on the 25th floor of One World Trade Center. “We couldn’t call him. He couldn’t call us. We panicked and couldn’t do anything.” Not until 2:00 p.m. did she and their three grown children learn that he’d escaped on foot across the Brooklyn Bridge while the towers were crumbling. Five days later, he revealed to his family that he’d been invited to a technology meeting at Windows on the World on the 107th floor that morning, but was so busy with administrative duties that he’d forgotten to attend.
“For two weeks after the attack, everyone at Lehman cried, hugged, and comforted one another,” she recalls. “We were installed across the Hudson River in Jersey City and crammed together into small cubicles. Our windows faced the Manhattan shoreline, where we watched smoke rising from the collapsed towers for weeks. It was devastating.”
Then the programmers were moved to midtown Manhattan and seated in the middle of a trading floor. It was chaotic. With 400 traders standing on their feet and yelling into their phones all day, writing a line of coherent software code was almost impossible. “So I went to Staples, bought a sheet of poster board, and set up a barrier between me and the guy opposite me at this long, narrow table. I could still hear him, but at least I couldn’t see him jumping and gesticulating.”
That act of defiance marked the end of her programming career. Fired from Lehman (“that was easy!”)—while there still was a Lehman—she became a technical writer for a software company and continued writing fiction on the side—lots of fiction. Her two books, You Never Know and the forthcoming Random Acts of Kindness, were inspired in part by those shattering events and a passion to capture what life means to us all.
Lilian Duval lives with her husband George, a native of Singapore, in a small house in New Jersey overlooking a large county park. They have two sons and a daughter, all independent and ambitious, and several cats. She’s an amateur classical guitarist and enjoys attending concerts and plays in New York City.
But writing has always been her calling. In her own words, “The most enjoyable activity I can imagine is to invent some characters, make them a little larger than life, set them bickering and thrashing against each other and their fates, and enact a fictional resolution that makes more sense than the chaos and unpredictability of our complicated lives.”
About You Never Know: Tales of Tobias, an Accidental Lottery Winner
What happens when an ordinary person becomes extraordinary?
Tobias starts out in life much the same as any of us—not rich, not poor, with imperfect parents and unlimited ambition. When he’s twenty years old, his future is altered in irreparable ways after a tragic car accident pushes him down a new path. The once-promising anthropology major is forced to abandon his dreams in order to care for his orphaned, brain-damaged younger brother.
In his late thirties, Tobias works in a bookstore, trying desperately to make ends meet to support his family. His daily grind only reinforces the sadness that broken dreams and bad luck bring in their wake.
How many times have you heard someone say, “If only I won the lottery?”
When Tobias finds he has won the Mega Millions lottery, his unimaginable bad luck seems to have changed into unimaginable good luck … or has it?
Over peaks and valleys, this uplifting journey will challenge the limits of luck, life, and what we value most.
Find out more about the complications of Tobias’s friendship and rivalry with his best friend, Martin; the effects of all this bad luck and good luck on his marriage; and the struggles of his brother, Simeon, once a talented cartoonist, in … You Never Know.
Read the Excerpt!
Saturday, December 23, 1989, was the kind of tepid winter day that made people ask, “What winter?” Dark by four in the afternoon, but no wind, no bite, a gray curtain over the sky for most of the day, just barely cold enough to freeze the slush into a treacherous skin of black ice that coated the streets like slime in a dirty shower stall. Tobias skidded on it when he stepped off the New Jersey Transit bus from Port Authority.
He was to call home from the bus station as soon as he arrived. He would wait in Amy’s Coffee House and pop out with his luggage when his father double-tapped the horn.
The bus had pulled into Woodrock, New Jersey, at four-thirty PM, half an hour late in Christmas trafﬁc. Tobias slung his overstuffed book bag over his shoulder and dragged his valise into the crowded restaurant. He bought a giant latte and sat on a bar stool at the end of the counter. Other college students were chatting about ski trips and courses and their current romances. Christmas carols played on an endless loop. The place smelled of cinnamon.
The location of home was debatable. The longer he stayed away, the more separate he became from the family still living in Woodrock, to the point where he could almost forget them. Home was where his life was: Abington College in Maryland and the off-campus apartment he shared with Martin, his tennis partner, a math major planning on business school, who called Tobias a “liberal arts lefty.” They got along ﬁne, were evenly matched on the courts, and took turns abandoning their apartment for a few hours when one or the other had a girlfriend over. They were both twenty, going on twenty-one, seesawing between adolescence and adulthood.
Tobias took a gulp of coffee and scalded his tongue. His father would be sitting in front of the TV now, doing nothing, waiting for the phone to ring. His mother would be delaying dinner preparations, sneaking another glass of wine. His brother, Simeon, would be upstairs in his room, sketching or drawing.
He sipped half the coffee and folded his arms over his book bag. Simeon, age ﬁfteen, was a cartoonist. His pictures had appeared in the high school newspaper, the town newspaper, and the state magazine. Their mother was an art teacher, but no one had taught him cartooning; he just drew all day long–in class, where he was warm in art and cold in every other subject; at home, where he holed up in his room, away from the ﬁghting; and anyplace he went where he had to wait in line. He didn’t talk much.
When Tobias was eleven, Simeon was six, and already attracting attention with his cartoons. He entered the school art contest with a drawing of his ﬁrst-grade teacher, emphasizing her long earrings and long face, a caricature that was otherwise ﬂattering. The school principal called and demanded to know who, in fact, had drawn a picture too advanced for a ﬁrst-grader. Their mother huffed off to school, carrying a Grand Union bag crammed with Simeon’s cartoons of the last year or so, mostly of family members, to back him up. Simeon won the prize: a drawing set containing colored pencils, chalk pastels, an eraser, a sharpener, and a blending stump, all in a tin box with compartments like a Swanson frozen dinner.
Watching him sketch at the kitchen table, Tobias told their mother, “He’s talented because he practices so much. He never does anything else.” Simeon went on drawing without seeming to listen.
“No,” their mother said. “He practices so much because he’s talented.”
Tobias ﬁrst saw his baby brother when he was two weeks old. He’d been sent alone at age ﬁve on a plane to his aunt Joyce in Encino, California, hovered over by ﬂight attendants, at the time called stewardesses. Joyce, accustomed to covering for her alcoholic sister, took care of Tobias competently and joylessly for a month. On his return home, his father showed him the baby, asleep in a crib. “Here’s your new brother,” he said. “Just like you, only smaller.”
By the time Tobias was twelve, his mother was drinking in the mornings, her coffee mug ﬁlled with wine, and couldn’t get Simeon off to elementary school. Tobias packed his brother’s lunch every day before he left for middle school, taught him to tell time, and made sure he got out the door on time, while their mother went back to bed.
Tobias ﬁnished his coffee and asked the girl next to him to watch his stuff while he went to the men’s room. Someone was on the pay phone at the back of the restaurant. He ordered another coffee the same size. He wouldn’t be able to sleep. But rather than making him jittery, the caffeine was calming him, and he cast around for something to look forward to after this visit. He was always thinking, When this or that happens, then I’ll be happy. It was never now; it was always later. Maybe happiness is forever anticipating being happy, he thought. Getting what you want doesn’t equal happiness. His was a life always heading somewhere but never arriving.
At the moment, he was looking forward to three things: One, seeing his brother, his only family member who was not stuck in time or moving backward. Two, perversely, for this visit to be over. And three, his undergraduate anthropology fellowship in the rainforests of the Peruvian Amazon and the Yanomami territories of Brazil and Venezuela.
His father had forbidden Simeon to draw or paint until he raised his grades in school, where he was making As in art and Cs and Ds in all his other tenth-grade subjects. Twice, Tobias had mediated on the phone long-distance, to no avail. Simeon could draw with a ﬁngernail in the dirt, but missed his art supplies, which their father had conﬁscated for the semester.
The phone at the back was free. Tobias felt in the front zippered ﬂap of his suitcase for his family’s presents, all bought at the last minute from the campus store: an Abington College scarf for his mother, an Abington coffee mug for his father, and the book Best Cartoonists of the 20th Century for his brother. He lugged everything to the phone corner and started ﬁshing for coins in his coat pocket, slowly. At the center table, students he had known in high school were staring at him. He turned his back and plunked a quarter into the phone.
“Toby!” a voice boomed from the open door. A man stepped into the coffee shop. “Tobias Hillyer.” The thirty or so customers all stopped talking at once. “Holly Jolly Christmas” warbled on the soundtrack.
Tobias grabbed his backpack and valise, scattering the coins from the phone shelf onto the ﬂoor. “Dad, I just got here. I was just calling you.” They hugged.
“An hour late,” his father said, grinning under his winter hat, the kind with ear ﬂaps. He cuffed Tobias on the head– only playfully. It hurt anyway.
“Thanks for coming, Dad. Come on; let’s go.” Murmurs of conversation sprang up as they shufﬂed to the door.
“Your mother wants us to stop and get Chinese food. No time to cook.” He put Tobias’s bags in the trunk. “So she said.”
“Dad, please don’t put anything on top of the suitcase.”
“Good, ﬁne, Dad. I got a work-study job tutoring. Doing all right. So I’d like to invite you all out to dinner.” Getting the family out in public would at least mitigate their initial meeting.
They got in the car. “You still going down there with those pygmies?”
“Dad, they’re Yanomami. Brazilian Indians, some in Venezuela. It’ll be all right.”
“Yo Mama, that what you call them?” He laughed.
Tobias ignored him the rest of the way to the house. He started to unlock the front door, which gave way before he turned the key. Still broken.
“Hi, sweetie!” His mother embraced him. She reeked of wine, and her enthusiasm alarmed him. There would be a confrontation; he could sense it.
“Good to see you, Mom.” He stepped into the kitchen, ostensibly to get a glass of water, but only to check the barrel of corks behind the kitchen door. The top of the barrel reached his waist, and it was full of corks, some still wet from the bottle.
His mother was following him. “Sorry, honey, I didn’t have time to cook.”
His father said, “Tobias has invited us out. He’s into money now.”
“Mom. Dad. Let’s make this a good one, OK? How about in twenty minutes, we all go out and celebrate the Christmas season?” His head was hurting. If it weren’t for Simeon, he would have stayed on campus with the foreign students who lived too far away to go home on a holiday. He went upstairs to the room he had shared with his brother, who still had not emerged to greet him. Their bedroom door was closed. He knocked and walked in without waiting for an answer.
“Toby!” Simeon grabbed him, laughing and jumping like a little kid.
Tobias hugged him hard and thumped him on the back. “What are you doing, kiddo?”
“Just gooﬁng around.” Simeon’s desk was covered with cartoons drawn on notebook paper with pencil, his other materials still under lock and key. There were caricatures of school friends; drawings of girls he favored, endowed with plus-size breasts and deep cleavage; and one picture of their mother, wine glass in hand, and their father, apparently scolding her.
Simeon was tall and thin like Tobias, but nearsighted. His rectangular glasses were always slipping down his narrow nose. “Toby. I got you something special. For your trip.” He opened his desk drawer. “Open it now.”
“Today’s only the twenty-third.”
“No, I have a regular present for you for Christmas. This is extra.”
“Aw, I feel bad, Simmy. All I have is one gift for you.”
“Doesn’t matter. This is for sticking up for me. Open it,”
Simeon said, handing him a wrapped box.
“Hey, you never know.”
The present was heavy and solid, the size of a book, but denser. Tobias undid the wrapping paper. “Oh, man, Simmy, these are expensive.” It was a pair of Swarovski binoculars, 10 x 50 power, good enough for ornithologists in the jungle. “Oh, my God, Simmy, how could you do this?”
Simeon took the box from his brother and spilled the accessories out on the bed. “They’re waterproof and fog-proof.” He took out the lens covers, eyepiece covers, carrying case, and neck strap. “I won some art contests.”
“Simmy. Thank you. Thank you so much. I need these.” Tobias ﬁngered the focusing knob. “These are great. Wow.”
Simeon laughed. Someone was starting to climb the stairs. They packed up the binoculars, hid the box under the pillows, and hurried downstairs.
Their father wanted to go to Vinny’s, their usual family restaurant. Tobias imagined the scene that would ensue. His mother would progress from tipsy to downright drunk. His parents would ﬁght over how much she was drinking. Vinny’s had low ceilings, and you could hear every word from table to table.
“Dad, in honor of this special occasion, I’d like to take you all somewhere fancy.” The town’s other Italian restaurant, the upscale one, had no liquor license and poor acoustics, where you could hardly hear a word across the table. “Come on, everybody. I’ll drive.”
His mother was carrying a bottle of wine in a canvas tote bag.
“No, Toby, you never drive at school. Sit in the back.” She opened the door of their Ford Escort.
“He can drive,” his father barked and handed the keys to Tobias, and then sat in the front seat. Tobias wanted his brother to sit with him but didn’t complain. One hurdle cleared, and ten more days to go. He didn’t know how he was going to make it; his head was already throbbing. Simeon sat in the back behind Tobias and kicked the driver’s seat three times. Tobias grinned at him in the rearview mirror.
All during dinner, Simeon drew. On a typewriter pad from his brother’s book bag, he sketched a detailed cartoon of Tobias. In the drawing, Tobias was wearing a safari hat and hip boots and carrying a butterﬂy net. A pair of binoculars hung from a strap around his neck.
Their father scowled. “Simeon, quit scribbling, and join the family.”
“He’s not scribbling; he’s drawing,” his mother said.
“He’s OK, Dad.”
Simeon was exaggerating his brother’s thick, dark hair in the cartoon, letting it droop over his forehead. In the picture, Tobias’s nose was pointy and slightly bent, but his real-life nose, though aquiline, was ﬁne and straight, its hook scarcely noticeable. His features were so symmetrical that you would have to compare his photo and its mirror image to spot any irregularities. Simeon’s own nose was ineffective in holding up his glasses, which he poked upward every now and then. He printed Toby at the bottom of the picture, signed it SIM, and turned to a new page.
“The food here is great,” Tobias said. He sprinkled some crushed red pepper on his spinach gnocchi in marinara sauce, which was delicious. He was ravenous, having skipped breakfast to catch the Greyhound bus from Baltimore to New York and having had nothing to eat all day but a bag of Fritos at a rest stop.
“Yeah, great,” his father said. “Try this.” He poked a meatball with his fork and dropped it onto Tobias’s plate.
“No thanks, Dad. This is ﬁne.” Tobias returned the meatball and wiped his fork on the side of his plate.
“He’s a vegetarian, remember?” his mother said.
“Oh, sure, I forgot. He’s one of those tree huggers,” his father said. “At least put some cheese on that.”
Tobias was about to explain about being a vegan when he had another idea. He reached out his hands to his father opposite him and his mother on his left. “Mom. Dad. Simmy. I love you all.” His mother clasped his left hand. “It’s Christmastime. We’re together. We’re doing OK.” His father clasped his right hand. “Let’s enjoy this meal and stop bickering.” Simeon stopped drawing and joined the circle of hands. Their mother’s eyes teared.
Tobias paid the bill in cash over the objections of his father, who left a 20 percent tip. Simeon helped his mother with her coat. They got into the car in the same seats as before: Tobias in the driver’s seat, his father next to him, his brother behind him, and their mother next to Simeon.
“Oh, rats! I forgot the sketch pad.” He started to undo his seat belt to run back in for Simeon’s cartoon, dreading the ﬁght that might erupt among the other three at close range.
“I’ll go, Toby. Stay there.” Simeon jumped out and ran into the restaurant before Tobias could open the door.
On the way home, his father asked him about his fellowship and the trip to South America. Tobias, happy to break the tension, explained he’d be living among the Yanomami Indians and sleeping under nets, learning their language, taking notes for his research.
“You’re distracting him,” his mother complained. “It’s icy.”
“Goddamn it, stop interrupting,” his father snarled. “This doesn’t concern you.”
Tobias approached the four-way intersection slowly and put on his left blinker. The light was red.
“Careful,” his father said.
“Let him be,” his mother said.
Tobias checked all the mirrors. The light turned green. In the back seat, his brother was smirking. As he went into the turn, out of nowhere, a larger vehicle ran the light, sped into the intersection, and skidded into the right side and back of the Hillyers’ car. Tobias heard the deafening crack, like a thunderclap in the mountains, before registering the impact.
The Ford spun around 180 degrees on the black ice. There were screams, splintering glass, scraping sounds, the sputtering motor. His hand turned the key and shut off the engine. His neck hurt.
He shouted, “Mom! Dad! Simmy!” No one answered. He jumped out of the car, tried to open the doors on the other side. The entire right side of the car was crushed. His parents weren’t moving. In the street lights, he could see blood oozing out of their mouths. He ran back to the driver’s side, opened the back door. “Simmy. Simeon. No, no!” he screamed.
“Somebody help, please!”
Sirens, police cars, ambulances appeared as if in a nightmare. Paramedics brought something called the jaws of life. By the time his parents had been extricated, they were both dead. They were wheeled to ambulances on covered stretchers.
Simeon was unconscious but alive. No injuries were apparent. They rushed him to the emergency room at Woodrock Hospital. A police ofﬁcer drove Tobias to the hospital with sirens on and lights ﬂashing.
The emergency room doctor came out of a white-curtained cubicle, holding a clipboard. “Mr. Hillyer?” he asked.
Tobias looked around. The doctor meant him. “Yes.”
“Who’s your next of kin?”
“My parents,” Tobias said. “My brother. Where’s my brother?”
“Your brother has a concussion and possibly some other head injuries. He’s unconscious. Any other family members nearby?”
“My aunt in California. Grandparents in Florida. Can I see my brother?” The pad with Simeon’s drawing was under his arm.
“We’re testing him now. Any other relatives? Other grandparents?”
“One in a nursing home. One dead. That’s all. Please take me to where my brother is. What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s in a coma. We suspect a diffuse axonal injury,” the doctor said. “It’s a type of traumatic brain damage.” He looked behind Tobias, but no one was there besides the police ofﬁcer who had brought him in. “How old is your brother? How old are you?” he asked.
“He’s ﬁfteen. I’m twenty. Twenty-one in March.”
The doctor put his arm around Tobias. “I’m sorry, son,” he said.
Watch the You Never Know Book Trailer Video
Read the Reviews!
“This story is a gentle reminder to live life simply from the inside out.”
– Book Belle
“I received this book compliments of Lilian Duval and Pump Up Your Book Tours for my honest review and LOVED it. Dreaming of winning the lottery always seems like it will solve our problems but through this story you can see that it isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever dreamed of a better life and give this one a 5 out of 5 stars.”
– Reviews From the Heart
“This book has been garnering great reviews, so I was anxious to see if others were right … and they are! I loved this story and I’m so glad I chose to take part in this blog tour.”
“For a long time, I’ve wondered why people who win gigantic lottery prizes never seem to live happily ever after. Over the years, I accumulated a thick folder filled with their sad stories about wasted money, carnivorous relatives, greedy friends and neighbors, and simple human weakness that brought them all down.”
“Everybody is creative—everybody. Every day you create, without realizing it. Just speaking is an act of creation—the way you say it and the words you choose are not exactly like the way anyone else speaks. Take your natural creativity to a higher level and create something with materials at hand.”
“I am a guitar nut and spend most of my free time practicing. It´s classical guitar, which is a very challenging instrument to conquer. On most days, I practice 2½ to 3 hours. But every Saturday night, my husband and I go out, usually to plays, concerts, or movies, and often with friends.”
Lilian Duval’s YOU NEVER KNOW: TALES OF TOBIAS, AN ACCIDENTAL LOTTERY WINNER VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR ‘10 will officially begin on September 5 and end on September 30 ’11. Please contact Dorothy Thompson at thewriterslife(at)gmail.com if you are interested in hosting and/or reviewing her book. Thank you!
If you would like to book your own virtual book tour with us, click here to find out how!
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"Blog tours have been the most effective promotion I’ve done. Dorothy Thompson and her company Pump Up Your Book are the greatest. I’ve spent money with other promotion companies that advertised packages then didn’t deliver the service they advertised, inflated their audience and reach and point blank falsely represented themselves. Dorothy has been a Godsend, and by far, her services are the best promotional endeavors I’ve invested in thus far." -- Alicia Singleton, DARK SIDE OF VALOR
"I didn't realize that there is a place on amazon that you can see your stats for foreign sales; mine are really good and I believe it is your tweeting service. I think I might have found the key to successful self-publishing when I found Pump Up Your Books." -- Suzanne Jenkins, PAM OF BABYLON SERIES
"Dorothy Thompson helped promote my book, Gringos in Paradise: Our Honduras Odyssey. Taking part in it was so much easier (and less expensive) than the travel schedule I was hving to keep doing on my own. She set up everything, coached me through my part, and I found my book and I promoted it all over the Internet. It definitely increased my book sales." -- Malana Ashlie, GRINGOS IN PARADISE
"Dorothy was not only a lot of fun to work with but she helped me get the word out about my book. I would recommend her to both debut and experienced authors." ---Deborah Woehr, PROSPERITY: A GHOST STORY
“Dorothy is a firecracker promoter. She is skilled at finding the most visible placements in promoting your book with unmatched enthusiasm.She is creatively talented and a wonderful person to have on your team.” --Kathy Holmes Eckardt, REAL WOMEN WEAR RED
“I invested in a three month virtual book tour with Pump Up Your Books promotions for my noir thriller, Moonlight Falls. Not only did the marketing campaign work wonders for spreading the word about the new novel, in the very last month, on the very last day of the tour, Moonlight Falls became an Amazon Kindle bestseller!” –Vincent Zandri, MOONLIGHT FALLS and THE REMAINS
“I’m so pleased every day when I look at Google Alerts and see our titles all around the blogosphere, so thanks for that!” –-World Ahead Media
“This has been a wonderful experience. Dorothy Thompson and her whole team are very committed to each author, take each author’s tour very seriously, and work towards maximum exposure in the right places. This is the best book promotion expenditure I’ve made in terms of return on investment. I highly recommend Pump Up Your Book Promotion.” --Phyllis Zimbler Miller, MRS: LIEUTENANT
"I used Pump Up Your Book promotions a few months ago for my novel, Nephilim. My publisher is a great person, but when it comes to promotions, she encourages authors to do that on their own. Enter Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book. I had 8 reviews of the book and was featured as a guest author every day of the week at various websites during the month that I used her company. Amazing! She secured everything for me which was really nice and I didn't have to do anything but write a few blogs or answer interview questions. I would use Pump Up Your Book again in a heart beat!" --Mary Ann Loesch, NEPHILIM