Author, Editor, Media Tie-In Writer

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I am a duck right now. Smooth and serene on the top and paddling like mad underneath. It’s been a busy six weeks since I blogged—for good reason. It’s that whole you only see 10% of the iceberg thing.

An iceberg show a small portion of it above the waterline and a huge amount of it below the waterline.

First, there was Origins Game Fair. It was a good convention where I was a dealer and a panelist. Plus, I had many meetings where new projects were planned out. It’s one of my favorite things to do—meeting up with my editors and authors face-to-face. Unfortunately, long work conventions are exhausting. Also, we came home with an unwanted guest: Covid.

Despite masking and air purifiers and hand washing/sanitizers, I caught Covid. I’m not sure exactly where or when, but by Sunday evening of the convention, I felt like hell—which means I had to have been contagious for 1-3 days. Be it an errant button press or a handshake and then forgetting to sanitize, or being coughed on (there were a LOT of coughing people at Origins), after four years of diligence, my number was up.

A bunch of covid positive tests over a 3 week period.

I got Paxlovid on Tuesday after the convention, and we were hoping that it had passed the Husband by, but no such luck. By Thursday the 27th, he was sick. He got his Paxlovid on the same day. We had diametrically opposed reactions to Covid. I felt better as of the 2nd day of the meds and started testing negative as soon as the five days of Paxlovid was done. The Husband on the other hand, tested positive for Covid for almost two full weeks after he finished the meds and even had a rebound where he started feeling better, but then got much worse.

“A simple cold” my ass. We spent three full weeks living on separate levels of the house, running the air purifiers, and masking. It was like living with a roommate you barely tolerate. It sucked. Seriously. The Husband’s asthma is still acting up. Needless to say, we will be masked for Gen Con.

Leeloo in the catio. She is a singapura with fawn colored fur. The background is blue skies, green lawn and trees, and red-brown deck. Mena, a highlander lynx, is on the top shelf of the catio. The background is blue skies and green trees.

While we were suffering from Covid, life continued on. We’d contracted with Catio Spaces for a custom catio as our 16th wedding anniversary to us and our kitties. It’s lovely. Big enough for chairs for us to lounge in. Leeloo loves the catio. She demands it be opened in the morning and spends most of the day out there. Mena also likes it, but not like Leeloo. She’ll wander out there every other day or so.

Finally, the main reason there hasn’t been a blog post in six weeks is the fact that I have a brand new website. After 20+ years of hand coding my website with raw HTML, I decided it was time for a change and hired Caro from GoCreate.me, a terrifyingly competent and efficient web developer. Caro is amazing, and you should hire her if you want a new website with all the bells and whistles. There are so many new things to learn!

There’s more to do on the website, but the bulk of the fit and finish is done. Also, if you want to send me a postal letter or donate books to my TARDIS Little Free Library, I have a new PO Box address:

Jennifer Brozek
P.O. Box 121
Bothell, WA 98041

A TARDIS Little Free Library. It is TARDIS blue and books can be seen through the front glass.

So, what to you think? Do you like my new website?

Oh yeah. I’ve been nominated for two Scribe awards! One for Shadowrun: Auditions (YA/MG novel) and one for Valdemar: “Needs Must When Evil Bides” (Short story). I’m particularly pleased with the short story nomination. It’s been forever since one of my shorts has been nominated.

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Today we have one of my favorite people, voice actor Trendane Sparks. He talks about the value of human performance in book narration versus the lack of emotional context of AI “narrators.”

 

Tell Me - Trendane Sparks.

 

When you’re watching someone perform live music, sometimes they mess up. They miss notes or they forget lyrics and they have to recover with, hopefully, some measure of grace. Maybe with laughter. But it is those imperfections which make a performance really memorable, really endearing. While studio versions have been “perfected” with adjustments to pitch or tempo or whatever, it loses some of that aliveness and starts to feel very mechanical.

I guess I’d say that’s what makes voice acting the most enjoyable for me, including narration. The story contains the lines, the setting, the stage direction. All of it. And the ‘imperfections’ may not be written in the text at all, but are clearly implied by it. A character who is nervous or afraid might stammer, one who is crying may sniff or cough as they choke up. Voices may crack, breath may be ragged, huffing in frustration, or the gurgling in the throat as someone is dying. Even if they aren’t specifically noted in the letter of the story, they can be inferred from the context of the scene and they add a tremendous amount of character to the…well…characters.

Some might say that such thinking only applies to the characters. And, in many cases they would be correct. But when one of the characters is also the narrative voice, I feel like it works. Maybe not open sobbing or physically emotive stuff like that. But if they are happy, afraid, sad or any of that stuff, it should be detectable, even in their internal voice. In a scene like a chase or other, high tension moment, the pace should be faster. Not quite too fast for the listener to keep up with, but fast enough that they have to focus more so as not to miss anything.

There are some who feel that we should not deviate in any way from the words on the page; that the author’s words are sacrosanct. And I’m not saying that we should change them, per se. But as we bring the work into a new medium, some elements can be used to make the work even better. That’s why I feel it is so important to not simply read the text, but to perform the story as any actor worth their salt would.

When it comes right down to it, we are actors. As such, it is our job to bring our audience along on a compelling and fulfilling emotional journey. We have to make them feel, or at least relate to, joy, sadness, fear, anger and all the other emotions in a story. It is the ‘imperfections’, the deviations from or additions to the exact text on the page, which elevate our work from that of AI or a text-to-speech engine to the true human expression we call Art.


Trendane Sparks. Born in Texas when Unleaded gas was ‘fancy’ and still under 25¢ per gallon, Tren eventually wound up in California where he crawled through fiberglass insulation to run CAT-5 cable, did tech support for Netcom, had several jobs on a PBS children’s show, worked as a freelance mascot performer and did videogame QA. Then he became a voice actor and life became fun again! Now you can hear his voice in games, animations, and audiobooks. Most commonly, he narrates Catalyst Game Labs in the BattleTech and Shadowrun franchises as well as for the DrabbleCast, Escape Pod, and PseudoPod podcasts.

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Life is exciting and busy. After decades of hand-coding my website, I’ve hired a terrifyingly competent and efficient dev to revamp my website from the ground up. That means I’m not exactly certain when the website will be under construction as the dev works. Thus, I’m putting the blog on hiatus (excluding Tell Me blog posts) until things have been rebuilt and moved around. In the meantime, convention/event season has begun!

Local Event: Brick and Mortar Books Indie Author Night! Monday June 3rd, 6:00PM – 8:00PM, Redmond Town Center. I will be signing from 6:25-6:55 and then hanging out afterwards.

Interview: May 2024: HWA Seattle Chapter Member Interview with Aigner Loren Wilson: Jennifer Brozek.

Convention: Origins Game Fair (June). I will be in the Authors Alcove and on panels.

Convention: The Gen Con Writers Symposium schedule is up (August). I have three workshops and a bunch of panels this year. Sign up for my workshops sooner rather than later. They tend to sell out.

Convention: Can-Con (November). I will be the Editor GoH for Can-Con in Ottawa! I’m very excited about this one. I’ve never been to Ottawa.

Bookfair: Written in the Northwest (November). I will be at this new bookfair with a bunch of very cool local authors, just in time for the holiday season.

Kickstarter: Cthulhu FhCon anthology. I have a story in Cthulhu FhCon with (one of two) tuckerizations available (that means you give me a name to put in the story). FTR, I was at the convention where the idea of this anthology was born. Seriously, the smell was extraordinary…

Support: As always… if you appreciate my work and would like to support me, I love coffee. I am made of caffeine. This is the quickest way to brighten my day.

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Today, Cat Rambo talks about a stellar opportunity (sorry, not sorry); one that I would be partaking in if it weren’t for the small problem of me being in Canada at the time of the next Wayward Wormhole workshop. In all cases, I really want to experience a Dark Sky reserve at least once in my life.

Last year while in the inaugural Wayward Wormhole workshop, which took place in a castle in Spain, we used a telescope a lot, particularly to look at the moon as well as the surrounding mountaintops. This year, the skies will be even more telescope-worthy in our latest location.

One reason (among the many) I’m excited about this year’s Wayward Wormhole workshops (one for novels, one for short stories) happening in New Mexico, is that the area is part of a New Mexico Dark Skies reserve, where people are encouraged to use flashlights rather than larger lights. The elevation plus clear skies plus an absence of light means that the star-watching will be exceptional. (If you’d like to know more about the International Dark Sky Places program, here’s some details: https://darksky.org/what-we-do/international-dark-sky-places/)

* The succession of celestial events starts with a new moon on November 1. Surely a good omen for the Wormholers arriving to attend the novel workshop with Don Maass and C.C. Finlay.

  • November 4-5 is the South Taurid meteor shower. A minor shower, so maybe 5-10 per hour, but always fun to try to spot one. The North Taurids will peak a week or so later on November 12. Both are known for fireballs – extremely bright meteors and are not produced by a single comet but a group of asteroids called the Encke Complex.
  • November 15 is a Supermoon, and also the Beaver Moon, aka the Frosty Moon and the Dark Moon. We’ll be changing over from the novel workshop to the short story one, taught by Minister Faust and Arley Sorg.
  • November 17 Uranus will be its closest to Earth, and fully visible as the Earth transits in front of it.
  • November 17-18 is also another meteor shower, this time the Leonids, a slightly larger shower than the Taurids, with perhaps 10-15 meteors per hour at their peak. They will be competing with a waning gibbous (between half and full) moon that will make them harder to see. Their parent comet is Comet Tempel-Tuttle (named after its discoverers).

I know we will definitely get some star watching in, and a little sight-seeing as well, since Tombstone’s in driving distance. And imagine what kind of words one can write under a sky so bright you can see the Milky Way in all its glory! I can hardly wait.

If you’re curious about the workshop, the deadline for applying for the short story workshop is at the end of this month! Find more details here: https://www.kittywumpus.net/blog/the-wayward-wormhole-new-mexico-2024/

Cat Rambo’s 300+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov’sClarkesworld Magazine, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In 2020 they won the Nebula Award for fantasy novelette Carpe Glitter. They are a former two-term President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Their most recent works are space opera Devil’s Gun (Tor Macmillan, 2023) and anthology The Reinvented Detective (Arc Manor, 2023),  co-edited with Jennifer Brozek.

For more about Cat, as well as links to fiction and popular online school, The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, see their website. 

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This week is all about the edits. I have short story edits (multiple) and novel edits to get through. Also, I have two events coming up very soon. One is local. One is virtual. Both will be a lot of fun.

Local Event: Spring Scares: A Celebration of Horror with the HWA Seattle Chapter at Barnes & Noble on 11 May, 12-4pm.

Virtual Event: Can-Con – Level Up: The Business of Writing Virtual Workshops. Six amazing speakers to give you powerful workshops to help you level up, no matter where you are in your career! Starts May 14th.

Convention: Origins Game Fair. I will be in the Authors Alcove and on panels. That means I’ll have books to buy and to sign as well as seeing everyone.

Convention: The Gen Con Writers Symposium schedule is up. I have three workshops and a bunch of panels this year. Sign up/Wishlist now.

Shoutout: Azeem AKA Blackpurist on Instagram. This was something I needed to hear so damn bad when I first heard it. Now I use it as motivation. “Make them hate you.” #villainmonologue

Shoutout: Emma Shelford has a kickstarter campaign for her Forest Fae Complete Trilogy 10th Anniversary Hardcovers. Step through a portal into Celtic myth with faerie queens, magic realms, a mysterious magician, and a mortal discovering her powers.

Support: As always… if you appreciate my work and would like to support me, I love coffee. I am made of caffeine. This is the quickest way to brighten my day.

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Today J.W. Donley talks about how limits can give you the freedom you need to write. I know, personally, that I work better within guide rails. When I have too many options, I get stuck trying to create my own limitations.

Writer’s block sucks. As a writer, there is nothing more stressful than staring at the blank page and then the sense of self defeat when the page is still blank after hours and hours of mental strain.

Some writers claim that writer’s block does not exist. And I get that sentiment. You can always write something. Just start putting down pointless words until something useful pops out. While this is great to get going at times, I don’t find that sort of writing to be the most helpful. It usually leaves me with more of a mess than workable prose. But, if that’s your vibe, you do you.

And if you feel the same way or would like to explore another option, I have a different idea when it comes to the blank page.

What intimidates me most is the absolute scope of what I could write. So many options that I just shut down as my brain bounces from idea to idea without developing any of them enough to really get ink to paper.

How do you control your brain and help direct it down a workable path?

What works best for me is the limitation of scope.

I love limitations when it comes to starting a writing project. They help to scale down the universe to something manageable. Or at least manageable enough to squeeze out a story.

I’ve used prompts since the very beginning of my writing endeavors, but I really didn’t take them seriously until after I participated in the NYC Midnight Short Story contest a couple years back. The way their contest works is they assign you a random character, genre, and object each from a small list. For instance, I think I got a security guard with a stapler in a heist story. I had never written a heist story before, but after a quick bit of research I picked up the major tropes and then I was off to the races. The story ended up being my first professional sale. I’m still in slight shock that this story was my first pro sale. What made this story work is that I was able to limit the scope of possibilities enough to quiet my brain and get down a full story idea in a short amount of time.

Some might worry that limitations like this can water down your own creative voice, but I do not support that at all. My story was very much a J.W. Donley story after it was finished. It was of course a horror story in the end, but it was also still a heist. And I didn’t end up using a stapler, but I did put in a typewriter. It just worked! It was much shorter than what I usually end up with, and thus easier to find a market for.

Now, after you have that first draft and have a full story, you can let go of the limitations if you wish. Feel free to mold the story in any direction, let the universe speak to you and cajole new spice into the prose. But, do not let go of the reins of rules and limitations until you have that complete idea finished.

So, the next time you get stuck, find some way to limit your choices. Be it tarot cards to toy with your subconscious, randomized Wikipedia articles, or a good book of writing prompts, find something that works for you.

J.W. Donley—HWA and HOWL Society member—lives with his family in the Pacific Northwest where the Cascade Mountains meet the Salish Sea. J.W. is the author of the novelette Cats of the Pacific Northwest and the brand new 100 Unusual Prompts for Writers of Horror, Weird, and Bizarro Fiction with contributions from John Langan, Carlton Mellick III, Shane Hawk, and many more. His short stories have appeared in anthologies from Dim Shores, HOWL Society Press, PIT, Chuckanut Editions, and on Creepy, a Horror Podcast.

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We’re down to the FINAL 24 hours of the Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980 campaign, and what an incredible journey it has been! Thanks to your amazing support, we’ve reached $7200+ surpassing our initial goals and unlocking one stretch goal so far. I’m really happy we reached the coloring book goal.

Tomorrow, Thursday, April 25th from 11am – 12pm Eastern / 8am – 9am Pacific, I will be live on Twitch with Rem to celebrate and countdown to the final moments of my first Kickstarter campaign. Come join us at there: twitch.tv/masterofrem

Last Chance to Back Dear Penpal
With less than 24 hours left, now’s the perfect time to back Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980 or increase your pledge. Don’t miss out on some of our unique rewards and the chance to be part of the Dear Penpal community.

I am grateful for each and every one of you who has backed, shared, and cheered us on throughout this campaign.

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Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980 is in its last full week. The campaign ends at 9am (Pacific) on April 25th. We are funded, and the first stretch goal has been met. Coloring pages in every letter! I’m excited, and I know my artist, the talented Elizabeth Guizzetti, is excited as well. Other stretch goals include, a 25th letter from present-day me (and maybe my sister Shannon) and a 30-day emailed ghost story set to run in Oct 2024 called “The Old House on Highway 109” that will be free to Spooky Fun Pack tiers and above or available as an add-on for the lower tiers.

I thought I’d talk about some of the different packages and who they are for.

Paranormal Package – All 24 letters in a single package. This is for the person who prefers “one and done.” It is a single mailing, mailed when the 24th letter is mailed. You want the story. Then you’re good because you get to choose when to read each letter.

Bimonthly Phantom Post – 2 letters a month for 12 months. This is the core experience of Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980. You will receive two letters a month for a year and will experience the story as it was originally conceived. Plus, you get to come to the Zoom calls and find out what actually happened because a lot of the story is true.

Spooky Fun Pack – 2 letters a month for 12 months and all the extras. This includes the core experience, but if you are a curious person like me and want to know more esoteric details of life in Belgium, you get to hear the songs I listened to, see some of the photos and items I still have from Belgium. Plus, there are stickers! Who doesn’t love stickers? This tier will also get extra bits from the stretch goals we reach.

Haunted House Calls – This is the highest tier with limited spots available. At the time of the posting, 2 of 4 slots were still available. Backers get everything in the Spooky Fun Pack and this tier includes 24 one-on-one calls (2 a month). This one is for the backer who wants my full attention. Want me to be your mentor for a year? Or want to give the gift of a writing mentorship to a loved one? That could happen. Want me to teach a writing class for homeschoolers? I can do that. Run co-writing sessions for you and your writing group? Be your critique partner? All of these things are possible. We’ll talk about it and come to a happy accord. (Note: If this is a gift for a minor, their guardian/parent needs to be present for the opening discussion at a minimum.)

I hope this gives you a better idea of what you will receive when you back my passion project. I’m so happy to have this kickstarter funded. I’ve got so much to share with you. Won’t you be my penpal? Thank you.

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Interview: Over on Marie Bilodeau’s blog, A Coffee Break with Jennifer Brozek where I answer three simple questions.  

Interview: Roll with Rem Alternis on GenConTV. YT video. 3-53 minutes. We kind of talk all over the place. Rem is a great interviewer.  

Kickstarter: “Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980.” Looking for something unusual for you or a loved one? How about a cozy ghost story told by snail mail? It’s the gift of escape tunnels, ghosts, and adventure told over 24 letters that will ship worldwide. Appropriate for 8+. The campaign has funded and met its first stretch goal, so I added a new one! “The Old House on Highway 109” is a 30-day emailed ghost story to run in Oct 2024. Check it out! #ProjectWeLove #DearPenpal

Spotlight: Spring into Horror Author Spotlight: Jennifer Brozek. I will be at the HWA Seattle Chapter Barnes & Noble Event (Totem Lake) on May 11th, 2024 along with so many other awesome authors!

Shoutout: From Amazing Stories about “Dear Penpal, Belgium 1980.”  We’re funded and our first stretch goal is met!

Shoutout: Marie Bilodeau. There is no Church of Writing. Do not listen to the Evangelists. No truer words. All writing advice is just opinion based on the experience of the writer.  

Shoutout: E. A. Hendryx. Falling Through the Black, a no-spice, romantic YA Science Fantasy adventure. Funded! Kickstarter ends on 27 April.

Shoutout: Jason Matias, local PNW artist. I absolutely love his artwork. I really want to own one of his pictures: Ice Cave with a View.

Support: As always… if you appreciate my work and would like to support me, I love coffee. I am made of caffeine. This is the quickest way to brighten my day.

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Today, Emily Bell tells us why she and her publishing house stepped into the world of foreign language translations and what she learned in the process.

Hello – I’m Emily, a fantasy writer as well as an editor for Atthis Arts in Ferndale, Michigan. And of all the projects I ever saw myself taking on in a strange and uncertain future, I did not see Ukrainian translations. I’m not Ukrainian, or of Ukrainian culture or descent. So how did our little press in Ferndale get involved with Ukrainian translation? And what have I learned from it?

My spouse was pulled aside at Can*Con in 2022, to talk about a collection of stories hoping to raise money for Ukrainian charities. It had stories, it had a grant, but it had lost its publisher. We looked into it, knew the need for Ukrainian independence, and agreed to help.

I will not get into the details, but the more we learned, the more it unraveled. We lost the grant, we lost the editors, there were issues with the stories. Right as it was about to disintegrate, Chicago writer Valya Dudycz Lupescu, my spouse, Chris Bell, and I had a serious talk. This was too important, and we would not go back to the Ukrainian editors with the sound of explosions outside of their windows and tell them this wasn’t happening, after all their work, because it got too hard. We weren’t in a position to continue it as a direct fundraiser, but we would share these stories. We would make it work.

This is where the world stepped in. Ukrainian translators got us connected to the Ukrainian Book Institute, who offered us a grant. More than 1000 backers from over 30 countries helped fund the rest of the costs. Volunteers helped us get the book done on the grant schedule, reviewing, editing, proofreading. Embroidered Worlds: Fantastic Fiction from Ukraine and the Diaspora, edited by Valya Dudycz Lupescu, Olha Brylova, and Iryna Pasko was born. I sometimes lightly refer to this collection as “the book that made people fall asleep on their laptops all around the world.” But truly, it is a triumph; of  Ukrainian art, spirit, and culture—and the power of global solidarity.

What have I learned from all this? Human translations are vital. They cost money, yes, as they should, but they are vital. There are nuances and choices to translation, much more than right or wrong or literal meaning. Thoughtfully translated stories share culture, share hearts, connect us. They are always, always underfunded. The people who advocate for them exhaust themselves appealing to those with resources.

If you are reading this, I ask you: please advocate for translations. Read them. Fund them. Talk about them.

As a personal note, if I had life to do over again, I would have been a translator. I was taught I had to do something that “made money,” hence my two engineering degrees. But, now I can give back. Now I can do something I never expected. This experience (and other personal issues) have also revived my passion for language. I’m currently learning and practicing four languages other than my own, and it is making me a happier, fuller person. It is helping me connect with the world.

Once the book was done, we shelved our exhaustion and moved on to a now packed release schedule, and vowed: no more surprise projects. Then we learned, within a couple days of another grant timeline, that Ігор Мисяк, a poet, a writer, and a combat medic now volunteer solider, had recently published a novel, Завод, before being killed by Russia. And it was available for translation.

The project, which will be The Factory by Igor Mysiak translated by Hanna Leliv, spoke to me. In the language of poets, the language of sorrow, and the language of hope.

I hope it will speak to you, also.

To Igor, I see you. And I look forward to reading your words. They will stay with me.

To the world, keep writing. We will find ways to share our stories.

E.D.E. Bell (she/her or e/em) is a fantasy writer and small press editor. A passionate vegan and earnest progressive, she feels strongly about issues related to equality and compassion. Her works are quiet and queer and often explore conceptions of identity and community, including themes of friendship, family, and connection. She lives in Ferndale, Michigan, where she writes stories, revels in garlic, and manages the creative side of her indie press, Atthis Arts. You can follow eir adventures at edebell.com.

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Meet Jennifer Brozek

Jennifer Brozek is a multi-talented, award-winning author, editor, and media tie-in writer. She is the author of Never Let Me Sleep and The Last Days of Salton Academy, both of which were nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. Her BattleTech tie-in novel, The Nellus Academy Incident, won a Scribe Award. Her editing work has earned her nominations for the British Fantasy Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Hugo Award. She won the Australian Shadows Award for the Grants Pass anthology, co-edited with Amanda Pillar. Jennifer’s short form work has appeared in Apex Publications, Uncanny Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and in anthologies set in the worlds of Valdemar, Shadowrun, V-Wars, Masters of Orion, and Predator.

Jennifer has been a full-time freelance author and editor for over seventeen years, and she has never been happier. She keeps a tight schedule on her writing and editing projects and somehow manages to find time to teach writing classes and volunteer for several professional writing organizations such as SFWA, HWA, and IAMTW. She shares her husband, Jeff, with several cats and often uses him as a sounding board for her story ideas. Visit Jennifer’s worlds at jenniferbrozek.com or her social media accounts on LinkTree.

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