Wednesday, November 15, 2017

How essential is your writing life?

I'm taking a class this month, WRITE BETTER FASTER, taught by Becca Syme on So far, it focuses on the psychology of what keeps you from meeting your writing goals and helps to identify your distractions and the key ways to keep them from derailing you. It's a month-long class and this is only week 2, but yesterday's exercise really resonated with me and I have a feeling it's going to be an a-ha moment for you, too.

Becca has asked us this week to keep a notebook, detailing how we spend our time. She's broken it up into:
1) Essentials; 2) Priorities; 3) Desires; 4) Nonessentials. Basically, Essentials are things we have to do -- like day job, feed the dog, wash the dishes. Priorities are things we don't have to do, but probably should -- vacuuming up the dog hair, talking to our spouse/kid/mother, etc. Desires are things we love and want to do, like social obligations, coffee with friends. And Nonessentials are things we may or may not want to do, and the world won't end if we don't do them. Like Facebook and watching Netflix.

So, revelation. On day 1 of doing this. Aside from getting The Boy out the door to school (which is Essential), my entire morning today was taken up with Priority items -- running, dog walking, showering, vacuuming up dog hair. By the time I sat down to write, which I consider Essential, as it's my JOB, it was 11:45. I *could* argue that dog walking is essential -- and running, too, for that matter because it makes a massive difference to my mental and physical health -- but is it really? If I were reporting to work in an office, would 11:45 be an acceptable time to show up? Um, probably not.

So why is it acceptable when I'm working for myself, making my own hours? Add to that an inadvertent software update (Essential, but I didn't mean to click to start it when I did) and going to see The Boy play football/soccer for his school team (Priority. They won in a sudden death penalty shoot out. It was crazy intense.), my hours spent on my actual job today are about...3. And that's generous.

Again, would this be acceptable if I were working for someone else in an office? Definitely not. Would it be acceptable if I were the boss and my employee was only giving me 3 good hours/day? I'm lenient, but not that lenient. Part of my motivation for writing full-time is flexibility, but managing my time well within that flexibility needs some serious work.

I'm going to continue to track my time for the next week, at least, to see if I can identify a pattern. I suspect it won't be that different from what I've noted today, which means I need to work on making those writing hours count or making more writing hours in the day. Or maybe even both?

How would your day look if you were to break it down the same way? And where does your writing fall on the scale from Essential to Nonessential in your daily life? Writing it all down is an interesting exercise, especially if you struggle with productivity, because the reason becomes glaringly clear. And proves that the struggle, although real, is sometimes mostly with ourselves.

Monday, November 13, 2017

INTERVIEW: Karissa Laurel (author of the Stormbourne Chronicles)

Hi everyone! Mary here, and I today, I’m interviewing Karissa Laurel. She’s the author of the 
A post by Mary Fan
Stormbourne Chronicles, a YA steampunk fantasy trilogy about Evelyn “Evie” Stormbourne, a princess with powers over thunder who’s forced to go on the run after dark forces take over her kingdom. The first book, Heir of Thunder, was released last fall from Evolved Publishing. The sequel, Quest of Thunder, is releasing on December 4. I’ve read both (I got an advance copy of Quest of Thunder), and they’re fantastic! Adventures across a fantasyland inspired by 19th century Europe, magic powers and steampunk wonders… all narrated by an amazing protagonist who grows from damsel-in-distress to kickass heroine over the course of the books.

Karissa, welcome to Across the Board! What inspired you to write the Stormbourne Chronicles?

Hi Mary. Thanks for having me. So, the Stormbourne Chronicles were inspired by a song. When Coldplay's “Viva la Vida” came out years ago, I loved it right away. It gave me instant ideas about a character who once had a kingdom, but lost it. I asked myself: Who is this character and what could have happened to make her loose her kingdom? And what is she doing about it, now? Those questions eventually evolved into Heir of Thunder.

Evie is a fantastic protagonist who gets to develop significantly over the course of her journey. What inspired her character?

It was almost always my intent, from the start, to write a coming-of-age story. The goal was to create a young woman who has the capacity to be strong and independent, but she would have to grow and change a lot to get there. I think the teenage years are all about leaving behind childish things and discovering the kind of person you want to be as an adult, and that's one of the main themes throughout the trilogy and in Evie's character development.

The Stormbourne Chronicles takes the reader on a vast international journey along with Evie. How did you tackle the world-building?

Sort of like the multiverse theory, I've always imagined Evie's world is one that started out the same as ours, but somewhere along the way, reality branched off into a new dimension--one allowing for Magic. So, her world has many similarities to ours, including languages, technology, and geographical locations. I debated whether to make up languages or use ones that existed in our world. Ultimately, I decided that, at the point where Evie's world would have branched off from ours, that many of the same languages already existed. Over time, place names might have evolved as they often do in the real world (Is it St. Petersburg or Leningrad? Is it Istanbul or Constantinople?) or they'd be different based on where you come from (Is it Deutschland or Germany? Japan or Nippon?) So, what would the map of a one-off world evolve into? Something different, yes, but not that much different.

Let’s talk about boys. What can you tell us about Evie’s love interest, Gideon? How does he contrast the other boy in her life, Jackie? Were either inspired by the guys in your life?

Gideon and Jackie were not inspired by any guys in my real life, although, when I look back on my
dating history, it appears I tended to lean toward guys who embodied a pretty standard idea of masculinity. They've been soldiers or blue-collar workers and outdoors-men who like hunting and fishing and such. Maybe that was because my dad was a "man's man": A Vietnam vet, a police officer, and a backpacker who retired into the mountains of Virginia to get closer to nature. Gideon is definitely that kind of guy. But he's also a bit secretive and mysterious and he hates personal questions. Jackie, on the other hand, is a bit more cultured. He's got money, and he's careful about the way he dresses. His manners are elegant and refined. He's charming and chatty. He's almost too charming, if you know what I mean. Gideon needed a foil, and Jackie is his opposite in many ways. But to be clear, this story does not have a love triangle. It doesn't take Evie long to figure out which guy has her best interests at heart.

Steampunk is an interesting category, in that it’s more of an aesthetic than a true genre. You can have steampunk fantasies, steampunk sci-fi, steampunk mystery… What does steampunk mean to you, and how did you tackle incorporating it into the Stormbourne Chronicles?

To me, steampunk is what happens when magic and technology combine. Evie's world is just starting to explore those possibilities, so in the first book, the steampunk element is more like seasoning rather than the meat in the story--it hovers in the periphery with elements like the Fantazike's airships. However, that element increases throughout the series and becomes more prominent by the end of the trilogy. For example, book 2 includes some alchemy (magic combined with chemistry), which I tend to think goes hand-in-hand with steampunk, and there's also a mechanical circus. Why did I choose to include the steampunk? Mainly because I think the steampunk aesthetic just looks really, really cool. I also wanted to do something other than "medieval" which tends to be the standard default in epic fantasy stories.

What was it like narrating the story from the point of view of a teenager?

I often have a hard time remembering how old I am, and maybe I still have some teen living inside me. I also have a teen in my household, too, so I have a lot of reference points to work with. One thing that helped was that Evie is young, but not contemporary so I could put aside worrying about things like current fashion or fads and focus on things that are universal with teens (and with all people), such as friendship, love, a need for independence, and discovering one's passions and purpose in life.

You’re also the author of the Norse Chronicles, an urban fantasy trilogy. How is it different writing young adult versus grown-up fiction?

To be fair, the main character in the Norse Chronicles, Solina, is barely an adult herself. She's still on that path of self-discovery that most YA characters are travelling. She's lived a sheltered, naive life similar to Evie's. The biggest difference is that Evie is usually surrounded by other young people while Solina has to try to hold her own among a group of ancient demi-gods. In truth, the more I try to find differences between Evie and Solina, the more I realize they're a lot alike.

What’s your writing process like? Does it differ depending on which project you’re working on?

You and I have teased each other lots of times about our panting versus outlining differences. I tend to be a pantser. I don't like knowing too much before going into a story because I like the wonder of discovering the plots and characters as I work. However, I think this tends to make me a slower writer because often I hit walls where I have to stop and figure out what happens next. Yet, I still prefer to work that way. Too much fore-planning means risking that I'll lose interest in a project. I also write a lot of short stories and the process isn't much different for that. Generally, I start a story with a big idea-- a "What if?" question. I also like to have idea about what the main conflict will be, who the main character is, and I'll probably try to figure out the ending, but I don't try to hard to plot much more than that before I begin.

What’s it like working with Evolved Publishing?

My first book series (the Norse Chronicles) was published by a full-service small press, which means I gave them the book and they did the rest. Evolved Publishing is a slightly different model in that the publisher requires a little more involvement, investment, and input from it's authors. We work more as a collective than a standard full-service press. Even thought he business model differs, it's a professional publisher with a really strong support team. I've been able to grow and learn from other EP authors who've been doing this a lot longer than me and are great about sharing experience and advice.

What was your favorite scene to write in the Stormbourne Chronicles? What was the most challenging part?

I wrote the first Stormbourne book a long time ago, relatively speaking, before I wrote my adult urban fantasy series. I think it was easier then because I didn't know what I was doing. I just charged ahead, not worrying about rules or style or marketability. The second book, Quest of Thunder, I wrote last year, and it was much harder because I was a lot more self aware as a writer. I think it's a better book because of it, but I was more critical and careful, writing with less free-wheeling abandon, if that makes any sense. As far as a favorite scene goes,I knew book 2 was going to have a circus with some mechanical animals. I thought they would be background, world-building wallpaper, mostly. Then my cover artist came up with the cover design that prominently featured a big, mechanical lion, and I knew it would have to become a more integral character. So, I don't necessarily have a favorite scene, but anytime Sher-sah (the mechanical lion) shows up in the book, you know I was having fun writing him. He's my favorite part of Quest of Thunder.

Anything else you’d like to tell us, either about yourself or about the Stormbourne Chronicles?

I'm working on Book 3 right now, called Crown of Thunder. It's scheduled to come out next year some time, probably late in 2018. That book will conclude the series and hopefully see Evie living happily ever after because, to be honest, those are the kinds of stories I like to write. Will she be queen or won't she: that will be the question answered in Book 3.


Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky. Some of her favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. She loves to read and has a sweet tooth for fantasy, sci-fi, and anything in between. Sometimes her husband convinces her to put down the books and take the motorcycles out for a spin. When it snows, you'll find her on the slopes.

Find her online:


The Lord of Thunder has passed, leaving daughter Evelyn Stormbourne to overcome her kingdom’s greatest enemies, but first she must embrace her dominion over the sky.

The Lord of Thunder’s sudden death leaves his daughter, Evelyn Stormbourne, unprepared to rule Inselgrau in his place. Weeks before Evie’s ascension to the throne, revolutionaries attack and destroy her home. She conceals her identity and escapes under the protection of her father’s young horse master, Gideon Faust. Together they flee Inselgrau and set sail for the Continent, but they’re separated when a brutal storm washes Evie overboard.

In her efforts to reunite with her protector and reach allies on the Continent, Evie befriends a band of nomads who roam the world in airships fueled by lightning. She also confronts a cabal of dark Magicians plotting to use her powers to create a new divine being, and she clashes with an ancient family who insists her birthright belongs to them.

If she’s to prevail and defeat her enemies, Evie must claim her heritage, embrace her dominion over the sky, and define what it means to be Heir of Thunder.
Find it on Amazon


Evie must restore her divine abilities, or be enslaved by her enemy’s dark Magic.

Evelyn Stormbourne has overcome revolutionaries, pirates, devious relatives, and powerful Magicians to claim her birthright as Lady of Thunder, but before she can embrace her dominion over the skies, her powers falter, leaving her impotent and adrift. Under the protection of her stalwart companion, Gideon Faust, Evie hides in anonymity and searches for news of the Fantazikes who had once promised to help her master her divine abilities.

Without her capacity to control the storms, Evie wonders how she’ll ever reclaim her throne—a legacy she’s not convinced she deserves. But when a fearsome nemesis from her past reemerges, she embarks on desperate quest to find the Fantazikes and restore her powers. If she fails, her enemy’s dark Magic will enslave her, forcing her to destroy everything and everyone she loves.
Preorder on Amazon

Thursday, November 9, 2017

What's Your Writing Intensity Level?

A Post By Jonathan

I know it's NaNoWriMo and a lot of writing motivation has been flung around the internet lately, but I wanted to add a little more with a video I found on YouTube recently. It definitely gave me a shot in the arm, and helped me write for the first time in a while. Especially the "running after your destiny" part. I challenge you not to write a sentence or two after that, or get out of your desk chair and run a mile or two...

But after I was done writing, and thought about it for a little while, I wondered if something this intense would be needed for every writer out there, or is it just for those of us with low self esteem and bad writing habits...

I guess depending on where you are in your writing journey determines the intensity with which you approach the craft. I've been out of practice for a while, so it seems to take an act of God to get me to sit down and write a hundred words. But when I was pre-kid, pre-move, pre-new-job and writing on a weekly basis, I was banging out 1,000 words a night Monday through Thursday, then taking the weekends off unless I found some spare time. At that point in time, I don't remember feeling like I needed to go all Rocky Balboa on my writing sessions to get them started/finished. It was habit, so I didn't need a mountain of motivation. Now it seems like the longer I'm away from writing, the further my destiny is running away from me.

So now my writing intensity level is at an 11 on a one to ten scale (or a zero when I'm not writing at all...). But I imagine a lot of seasoned writers out there like to keep the intensity level around a 5 to 7. You don't want to turn it down too low because you're probably not getting much done, but you also don't want to be too high and start hanging on every sentence as make or break. And maybe you NaNoites out there are somewhere between 8 and 10? Gotta get those words in!

I'm hoping to bring the word count up and the intensity level down at some point, but it comes and goes I guess. So what is your writing intensity level set at lately, dear reader? Would love to hear from you in the comments.

Google Search: Which town has?....

I swear I spend the majority of my life Googling how old celebrities are just so I can either feel really good about myself or wallow in abject misery that I am biologically old enough to be Shawn Mendes's mother. So, yeah. Depends on the day. Anyway, I thought it would be funsies (I should never use that word again) to ask this question:

Being a Jersey girl myself, I am curious about that first question. The reason I no longer live in the Garden State is because the taxes are so freaking high. Apparently, according to this article on, the answer to this question is: Camden. Camden is one of the poorest, and most violent, cities in the country. And requires a thoughtful examination about poverty and institutional racism that I am not qualified to address. 

Next up, the smallest population: According to Roadside America, the answer is Buford, Wyoming. Population: 1.

I'm skipping a few of these and moving onto 'temple of the tooth' because I have no idea what the hell that is. Apparently, it's a Buddhist Temple in Kandy, Sri Lanka. Thanks, Wikipedia.

Which town has the area code 01392? Why that's Exeter and its surrounding areas in the United Kingdom. How charming. I love the UK. And its surrounding areas.

Keeping with the Great in Great Britain, which town has the most pubs? Why I'm quoting this delightful response from Rob Lines of Streatham on this Guardian website:  

"Two hundred years ago Gosport, the victualling town for Portsmouth ships of the line, was also the drinking and whoring base for visiting sailors. It boasted 123 pubs in one square mile."

And lastly, which town has the most Greggs? This raises two questions -- is Gregg a surname or a consonant-y first name? Nope, wait. I'm being a dumbass American. Greggs is a some kind of British Panera. Well, alright then. Apparently, the answer is Newcastle (which I say in a Mrs. Bennet Pride and Prejudice voice).

Well, this blog post certainly turned into a woman about the globe type thing, didn't it? I think my next book will be titled, 'Whoring Base for Visiting Sailors.' Really catchy.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Back Jacket Hack-Job #23 - The 5th Wave

And we’re back for another installment of our Back Jacket Hack-Job! Today I bring you . . .

Aliens invade the earth with a five-wave plan. Humanity realizes its best chance of survival lies in the hands of children. Why? Because the aliens made one fatal mistake when they took away the thing that mattered most to children across the world.

Wave 1 destroyed technology. Fear ensues.

Wave 2 took out most of the coastal populations. With no access to technology, the Midwest survivors are left with nothing but the sight of endless cornfields. Fear turns to irritation.

Wave 3 killed a large part of the survivors with a strange virus. Kids learned that real zombies weren’t as cool as what they saw on TV. Irritation turned to anger.

Wave 4 separated the kids from the adults. They were reminded of how the Others took away their homes. Their families. Their PHONES. Anger turned to hatred.

Wave 5 is a mystery. But one thing is clear—it’s do or die time, mother-f*ckers.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Horror Christmas!

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey kids!  It's the happ-happ-iest time of the year!  Horror Christmas (aka Halloween) is right around the corner!

Maybe I'm a little late to the party.  Maybe I'm a day late and a dollar short.  But you know what?  There's still a solid 26 hours of Halloween season joy remaining before November 1 hits and the horror love slams to a halt like a Pinto skidding into a lamppost and I'm going to make the best of it, dammit!

Now, it wouldn't be much of a Halloween season if I didn't tell you where you could purchase some fine horror literature, would it?  Well, if you swing by my Amazon store between now and November 1, you can pick up three of my novels for only $0.99 and the most recent (SLASHVIVOR!) for only $1.99!

But that's just an appetizer.  An amuse-bouche, if you will.  Everyone knows the real way to spend Halloween is not with your nose stuck in a book, but with your eyes stuck to a screen!  So I'm going to list a couple of classic movies you can spend tomorrow night watching.  But here's the catch: I know some of our readers (and even our fellow bloggers) are self-described horror wimps.  So how about if I list a few movies for marshmallows to enjoy, and a few for the gorehounds to enjoy, and a few for  (yes, I'm going to square this circle) both to enjoy together!  Without further ado, here we go.

For the marshmallow:

"The Nightmare Before Christmas"

A perennial favorite for both Halloween and Christmas, Tim Burton's stop-motion classic is spooky, creepy, and weird, but won't scare anyone who's much over ten.  With fun music, genuinely touching characters, and a staggeringly beautiful look, this is a decisively Halloween-themed movie anyone can enjoy

For the gorehound:

"Dead Alive"

"I kick ass...for the Lord!"

Why not take this Halloween to revisit the undisputed all-time champion of gore, "Dead Alive" aka "Braindead?"  While I won't disparage gore for it's own sake, this is also a ridiculously funny romp and a weirdly deep descent into an Oedipal nightmare straight out of Freud's most deranged fever dream.

For both:

"Night of the Living Dead"

Can't decide to board Mom's terror train or Dad's creepy caboose?  Why not split the difference with a classic of yesteryear?  There's genuine gore enough to please the maddest among us here in the progenitor of the zombie genre, and yet it was a film that kids watched almost fifty years ago.  The horror lover can get a genuine fright and the horror neophyte can enjoy a true classic of cinema.

For the marshmallow:

"It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!"

I re-watched (and live-tweeted) this Halloween classic when it was on ABC last week, as it has been for the last 51 (!) years.  I was ready to rip into some Baby Boomber nostalgia, but you know what?  Even a demented cynic such as myself can't find a whole lot of fault.  It's just so damned earnest.  Every moment of it rings so excruciatingly true, from Lucy busting Charlie Brown's balls by drawing on the back of his pumpkin-shaped head to that same miserable cuss wrapping her brother in a blanket and dragging him in out of the cold.  Sure, it's Boomer-era shlock.  So find yourself unable to not enjoy it with your parents.

For the gorehound:

"Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn"

"Army of Darkness" is funnier.  "Evil Dead" is scarier.  But for my money, the best of the series is the middle entry, sandwiched right in between those two points.  Geysers of blood, giggling game heads, and a veritable cornucopia of demons all recommend this one for the horror lover.  (For bonus points, check out the "Ash vs. Evil Dead" show on Starz, a more than worthy successor to all these movies.)

For both:

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

And here we come to the end, dear readers, and why not round it out with the grand-daddy (mommy?) of all Halloween viewing, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."  See it at home in comfort or see it in the theater for the whole ridiculous viewing experience.  It's wacky, hilarious, gory, and when it comes to the true meaning of Halloween - putting your weirdest foot forward - it still takes the cake.


What about you, dear readers?  What is some of your favorite Halloween viewing?  Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Writing in a Hostile Environment

By Cheryl Oreglia

Writing in a hostile environment is difficult at best and on occasion impossible. I'm talking about the unnecessary eye rolling, impatient pacing in front of my work space, audible sighing, words muttered under the breath, even enticements to the local wine bar (seems unusually cruel) while I attempt to polish up a new piece. It's maddening. I blog, what an atrocity, sue me. I consider it my work but that is not how everyone views my writing practices, especially since I don't make a dime, and I spend an astronomical amount of time honing my craft. I don't care one iota. 

The words quick blog is an oxymoron, although my posts may appear spontaneous, they are created with blood, sweat, and at times tears. I usually start with a "really, really, shitty first draft," as Anne Lamont would say, and then I work it over as if pulling toffee, until it is smooth, elastic, full bodied, imbued with interesting flavors. It has to have texture, bulk, leave the reader with something to chew on. That's the objective, not always the result. It's purely subjective and I'm leery of unwarranted opinions so let's not go there.

Simply put, writing takes an enormous about of time, and there is just no getting around it. I have been known to linger over a single word for an hour. I'm not a fanatic, but the right word is like pulling a hair-ball out of a clogged drain, it creates flow. When it's right it's right, when it's not, it's a hair-ball. You do not want to leave your reader with a gag reflex. It's counter productive.

Once a general idea begins to sprout, I pull together a few body paragraphs, and as if a miracle a summary starts to surface, then I go for the fill. I'll research some aspect of the writing, add a quote from a recent article I've come across (it is uncanny how often the perfect article, quotes, current event - finds me just in the nick of time), and if I bump into an applicable Seinfeld clip, that's just topping on the cake.

By the way, I have a real job too, one that deposits a pay check into my account every two weeks, one that lacks flexibility when it comes to my time. I teach high school, I absolutely love this work, but it is work. When I write it's like I'm suspended in some kind of time warp, I'll look up from my screen, and three hours have passed. I'm not kidding. I totally lose track of time, I don't feel a single pain in my body (at my age it's more like a collection), and the room around me kind of fades away. It's like taking a mini vacation from life.

Speaking of vacations, Jonathan wrote a great piece on writing while on the road, I can not possibly add to that masterpiece except for one notation, writing in a bathing suit, sipping a pina colada, poolside, adds a whole new dimension to my skill set. I'm not sure it's a good thing. I can't seem to put down the taco that some half naked woman delivered right to my lounge chair, the screaming children are distracting (miss my grand-babies), and the ocean to my right is more mesmerizing than the words trickling down to the keyboard. I'm in Hawaii this week, can you feel my pain? I didn't think so, but I'm scheduled for today, and carrying my computer all over the resort has not resulted in a post. See, you have to open it, sit down, and actually write. 

My sister says she has a hard time constructing a text message? Which reminds me of a passage in Anne Lamott's book Bird By Bird (I read it every year). In responding to a students inquiry about how you actually write Lamott says, "You turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind -- a scene, a locale, a character, whatever -- and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.” So poolside writing is not a total bust but the rocking part is concerning a few of the guests. Hostile decides to take a dip in the ocean. 

The other malady is the wicked "perfectionism, the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people," warns Lamott. It is the Felix to Oscar in writing (if you are too young to remember the Odd Couple, see clip below). It is why many aspiring authors quit, pull their hair out, and drink. Oh shit. Lamott says, "I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it.” 

So there you have it. Hostile is surfing the waves, I have free reign of my workspace/lounge chair, half naked serving staff, and my own tunes blaring from pandora. I ordered another pina colada, found a worthy Odd Couple clip, and I'm calling it a wrap.  I'm not going to worry about misspellings, poor word choices, or run on sentences. I'm going to die anyway. Cheers...

Where, how, and when do you enjoy writing? 

I'm Living in the Gap, drop in anytime.
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