CELEBRATING DIVERSITY WITHIN SPECULATIVE FICTION IS NOT DIVISIVE OR SEPARATIST

WHAT WE CAN ALL LEARN FROM BLACK SPECULATIVE FICTION MONTH

 

Last month, I ran a series of blog posts spotlighting Black Speculative Fiction Month. BSFM was designed to acknowledge and spread the word about black authors and artists within the speculative fiction genre.
In and of itself, speculative fiction is mostly represented by whites and thus doesn’t usually have protagonists of color. That said, the readers of speculative fiction are mostly unaware of black authors in the genre.

One of the intentions of BSFM is to not only celebrate the achievements of black authors—which can be easily overlooked by the mainstream audience—but to also inform and educate the readers and potential reader of speculative fiction that diversity does exist and that various racial and cultural groups are being represented.

Many within the black community don’t read speculative fiction because they see it as either silly—too far removed from reality—or dominated by whites who often exclude any characters of color. So, most of the black community isn’t even aware that black speculative fiction authors exist. This is where BSFM comes into play.

The month long celebration informs those within the community and in the mainstream who don’t know, of the existence of black speculative fiction authors. This is an effort to not only inform readers of black authors, but to also bring new readers to the genre of speculative fiction as a whole.

I was confronted by an individual who felt that having BSFM was divisive and separatist. I attempted to explain that his interpretation of the celebration was not at all its intent. I tried to point out the goals I stated earlier, but unfortunately to no avail.

Sure, as you would expect most black speculative fiction writers have a predominately black cast of characters, whereas most white speculative fiction writers have a predominately white cast of characters. We write within our framework of experience and what comes natural and to me there’s nothing wrong with that. I have white characters, Asian characters, etc… in my work(s), as white authors have black characters within their work(s). But how I approach any character I create—regardless of race—is to make them human, first and foremost. I don’t get caught up in trying to make them conform to typical stereotypes in order to assert authenticity. To do this, creates a caricature of an ethnic group and does almost nothing to develop the character as an entity.

I have enjoyed books where the cast of characters were all white, but I never got particularly angry or disgruntled, nor did I urge those creators to include token blacks to make their work more balanced. I write stories with black protagonists and a predominately black cast, not in answer to my white counterparts, but because that’s what comes naturally to me. It’s not divisive or separatist to write what you know.

It wasn’t too long ago that the mainstream public refused to acknowledge, let alone publish or feature black speculative fiction authors. If we as a group wanted to be seen or heard, we had to do it for ourselves. Now, there is a slow movement to integrate black creators into the mainstream however, much more is yet to be done and  celebrations like BSFM only help to foster diversity within the world of genre fiction by spreading the word about those outside of the mainstream’s purview.

A lot of people I know within speculative fiction are coming together to explore our differences and learn something new about other people and to me that’s a good thing. It has always been my idea that when I’m reading speculative fiction, I’m looking for a bold new adventure. What could be more different than to step outside of the box you’re accustomed to and explore a more diverse take on genre fiction? I’m not sure how making people aware of diversity, exploring new cultural takes on genre fiction and authors writing within the scope of their experience is such a bad thing.

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THE NEW PULP ERA

WHY THIS FICTION FORMAT IS MAKING A COMEBACK IN A BIG WAY!

From the time I was a child I’ve loved Pulp Fiction. No, not the movie (although I enjoyed that as well), I’m talking about the Pulp Fiction genre! Whether it was in the form of Men’s Action/Adventure novels such as: Don Pendleton’s Executioner series (featuring Mack Bolan), Nick Carter, The Destroyer Series (featuring Nemo Williams) or magazines such as: Eerie, EC Comics, Savage Sword of Conan, Tomb of Dracula or Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.

Of course the ORIGINAL Pulp fiction icons like Doc Savage, The Shadow, Tarzan, etc…started it all! I discovered them a short time later and fell in love with them as well!

The_Executioner_(Don_Pendleton_novel_-_cover_art)Nick CarterDestroyer

250px-Eerie95tales-from-the-crypt-46SavageSwordOfConanTomb of DraculaDeadly Hands of Kung Fu

Some of my earliest reading experiences were with the above mentioned books and magazines, something that has had a definite impact and influence on my writing. I grew up in an era before the internet and when video games weren’t a standard fixtures in homes around the world. My friends and I would read comic books, adventure novels and then reenact those bold scenes outside in the backyard or at a nearby park. We fashioned weapons from sticks and boards, or any other materials we could get our hands on. Our greatest asset was our imaginations!

This is precisely why Pulp Fiction is making a comeback in a BIG way!

Reading those stories of whirlwind excitement, death defying feats and bold adventure sparked our imaginations like other forms of fiction never could. We could get lost in becoming our favorite heroes and escape to distant lands and exotic locales, be surrounded by beautiful women (or handsome men according to your fancy). You could make all of the troubles in your life melt away as you slipped into another world and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime!

With the dazzling special effects in movies and video games, it becomes easier than ever to escape reality. The problem is that unlike reading, movies and video games can only give you the visual and the audio. Those formats fail to engage your senses and ease you into another world where you can become the hero in your mind’s eye. The viewer or player, respectively, is relying upon the imagination/vision of the directors, writers and/or animators to do the heavy lifting for them, thus depriving them of developing their own imagination muscles.

Bearers of the Pulp Torch are bound and determined to carry on the traditions of their fore-bearers and bring to readers the imaginative and pulse pounding adventures that have all but gotten swallowed up in movies and video games.

Authors and Artists such as:

Derrick Ferguson

Adam Shaw

Tommy Hancock

Kimberly Richardson

Rob Davis

Nancy A. Hansen

Fuller Bumpers

Lee Houston Jr.

Ron Fortier

Andrea Judy

& Charles R. Saunders to name but a few.

They are the voices of The New Pulp Era!

Rising from the ashes of Pulp Fiction, they are spearheading a Pulp Renaissance.  Through modern innovations such as the internet, Print on Demand, and a steady growing interest, Pulp is re-surging more and more each passing year. This movement consists of quite a number of writers, artists and publishers who have dedicated themselves to creating GREAT Pulp Fiction!

Black-PulpTheir work is as diverse as the American Culture and yet readily recognizable, innovative, but not just a fresh coat of paint on previous stories. These works are bold, original and surreal, though they often take their inspiration and influence from the Pulp of yesteryear. This gives the stories a freshness born of new minds, yet spiced with the familiar flavors of the past. A GREAT example of this is an anthology titled, “BLACK PULP,” published by Pro Se Press.

This anthology features stories from several brilliant authors and Pulp supporters and features characters of African origin, or descent, in stories that cover various genres in fiction! The concept was developed by noted crime novelist Gary Phillips and this volume includes a forward by the legendary Walter Mosley himself!

(Click the book cover to purchase!)

As this phoenix called The New Pulp Era burns ever so brightly and hurls itself across the sky, many readers (including longtime fans and newly indoctrinated ones) are taking notice. Quite a few conventions and venues are recognizing the value and impact that Pulp has had in the shaping and molding of Pop Culture. Pulp never truly went away, as it has lived in the hearts of longtime fans and readers for decades. It is only now that a new generation of creators are producing material and new readers are being exposed to this Cult phenomena and apparently they can’t get enough!

I would like to take this opportunity to announce that “yours truly” is also throwing his hat into the Pulp Fiction ring. I only hope that I can live up to the legends of my fore-bearers and help to move Pulp forward alongside the talented men and women listed above.

STAY TUNED & REMEMBER TBIYTC!!!

Copyright © 2013 John F. Allen. All rights reserved.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A WRITER?

FIVE THINGS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU BEGIN A CAREER AS A WRITER

typewriter_1_lgMany people who aren’t writers or who aspire to one day write the “NEXT BEST THING” have absolutely no idea what a writing life entails.  It is because of their skewed and/or misguided ideas on what being a writer is about that they often suffer from severe delusions of granduer. It is the intent of this particular post to dispell the erroneous notions many have about the writing life and what it means to be a writer.

I’ve had people actually ask me when I got my book deal, “So now that you’re published I suppose you’re going to quit your job and move to a big house in the hills?”

I was astonished at first…did they know something I didn’t? Don’t get me wrong, every writer wants to reap the rewards of their work, but extreme changes in lifestyle, affluence and riches are not in the cards for the vast majority of us. The fact is that only 1% or less of (fiction) writers are able to live off of the revenue generated from the sales of their writing endeavors. This is further compounded by the fact that an even smaller group of that meager 1% are well off, let alone wealthy.

Some folks think that all published writers own some measure of noteriety and I suppose that’s true to some extent. However, very rarely does it result in an easy, carefree lifestyle like the allusions created in the minds of those who don’t know any better. Even those wealthy writers like Stephen King, James Patterson, Danielle Steel or JK Rowling, didn’t get their rewards overnight. Sure, there are a miniscule number of virtually overnight success stories, but believe me when I say those are very far and few in between and it didn’t exactly happen overnight.

The following is a favorite quote of mine from best selling fantasy author RA Salvatore and it happens to be in my opinion the best advice for an aspiring writer to consider when contemplating a career as a writer.

There’s way too much pain in this business (writing) for anyone who doesn’t have to write. I always tell beginning writers, “If you can quit, then quit. If you can’t quit, you’re a writer.”

~ R.A. Salvatore

_____________________________________________________

Five questions to ask yourself before embarking on a career as a writer.

1) Do you like to write?

I know that this seems like a given, but surprisingly there are a number of people who don’t like to write and still aspire to do so. These folks may have an idea that they think is great (and it might just be), but have absolutely NO PASSION for the craft. While I’m not one to discourage anyone from their dreams and/or goals, I think that folks who answer no or even “not really” to this question, should think long and hard about perhaps finding something more fulfilling and rewarding to do with their lives.

2) Can you quit writing?

This question is very much tied to the Salvatore quote and is a very legitimate question to ask yourself before pursuing a writing career. If you can go days, weeks, months, years without writing or at least thinking about it, then perhaps you should find a more attention grabbing and fulfilling vocation. But if you can’t (and you answered yes to question #1), then by all means I encourage you to proceed.

3) Do you want to write because you want an easy, carefree lifestyle with wealth and adoration aplenty?

If you answer “yes” to this question, PLEASE don’t continue to pursue a career as a writer…YOU WILL BE VERY DISAPPOINTED! Again I will acknowledge those rare overnight success stories, but the odds of becoming one of those fortunate few are very slim to none. Even if that sort of success eventually finds you, that shouldn’t be what drives your writing. This is a prime example of those delusions of grandeur I mentioned earlier.

4) Are you a storyteller?

For a fiction writer, this is essential. If you aren’t a storyteller then regardless of what your answers to the above questions are, it is my opinon that you might want to find something else to do with your life. The very essence of fiction writing is to convey a story and if you don’t have stories to tell, then what’s the point? Many people enter into writing (or at least attempt to do so) and have not one story to tell. They’re under the impression that stringing a few sentences into paragraphs and putting together some dialogue constitutes a story. Well, the sobering truth is that it takes a lot more than that to make a story, let alone a good one. Stories generally start with an idea, but an idea alone does not a story make!

5) Can you write only when inspired or in the mood?

Some may argue that it’s still possible to be a writer who writes only when inspired to do so and I’d have to respectfully disagree. I can assure you that if I only wrote when inspired, I’d never finish a damned thing! Being a writer (especially a novelist) is about writing whether you’re inspired or in the mood, because deadlines are deadlines and the story WILL NOT write itself.  The following quote from successful, best selling author Neil Gaiman, I think says it all.

“If you only write when you’re inspired you may be a fairly decent poet, but you’ll never be a novelist because you’re going to have to make your word count today and those words aren’t going to wait for you whether you’re inspired or not.
You …have to write when you’re not inspired. And you have to write the scenes that don’t inspire you. And the weird thing is that six months later, a year later, you’ll look back at them and you can’t remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you just wrote because they had to be written next.

The process of writing can be magical. Mostly it’s a process of putting one word after another.” ~ Neil Gaiman in conversation with Chris Hardwick. (via terribleminds)

_____________________________________________________

In closing, I want it to be clear that in writing this post I am not attempting to dash the dreams and goals of new and aspiring writers. My intent is to merely dispell the very problematic and misguided ideals that some pepole pursuing a career as a writer might have. I’m the first to be very encouraging to new and aspiring writers, but please consider the questions I’ve posed and answer them truthfully before you devote yourself to the writing life.

WRITE ON!

© 2013 John F. Allen

InConJunction 2013

MY VERY FIRST EXPERIENCES AS AN AUTHOR AT A CON!

Today’s blog post is a recount and sharing of my experiences as an author attending InConJunction 2013!

Eric Garrisson, RJ Sullivan and me!I had the opportunity to share a dealers table with my fellow IHW members and Seventh Star Press authors RJ Sullivan and Eric Garrison, two friends whom I greatly respect and admire! (picture provided by Banana Girl) I also got the opportunity to get acquainted with our vendor neighbor, fellow author Bryan O’Neill, who is a very nice guy and terrific talent!

July 2013  Book I InConJunction was my first convention of the summer and the first time I’ve ever been on the other side of the table, either on the dealer’s floor or in a panel. I won’t lie and say that I was slightly intimidated by this AWESOME opportunity!

I wasn’t really sure how well I would be received considering I am a first time author and my book isn’t due to officially drop until July 20th.The feeling of sitting before people and speaking doesn’t make me nervous normally; I’m told I’m a natural born speaker.

But this weekend was different.

Me and Cherie Priest!

Me and Cherie Priest!

I was sharing the table with writers like Cherie Priest, James O. Barnes of Loconeal Publishing, Nicole Cushing, Eric Garrison and my mentor RJ Sullivan (to name a few), addressing writing topics face to face with nearly a dozen people at a time, fielding questions and speaking as an expert on writing. Me? I couldn’t believe it! I had to pinch myself because it was only a year ago that I was in the opposite seating arrangement, dreaming of the chance to host a panel.As surreal as being a panelist was, in and of itself, and sharing the table with such other more seasoned and exceptionally talented writers, nothing could compare to the feeling I got when I hosted a panel on Urban Fantasy solo!

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I’d witnessed panels with obnoxious audience members who seemed ready to pounce on the author at a moment’s notice. Being a first time author without an actual book released, I just knew someone was going to question my credibility, I just knew it!

Me and James O. Barnes!

Me and James O. Barnes!

…but they didn’t.

In fact, the audience embraced what I said, asked very good questions and seemed to actually listen to what I had to say. I was pleasantly shocked and privately overjoyed! I have to say that my experiences as a panelist at InConJunction 2013 were VERY positive!

Me and Stuart Sayger!

Me and Stuart Sayger!

I saw old friends like renown artist Stuart Sayger and met a lot of people who were very interested in reading and learning more about my novel and complimented my promo material (I had beautifully made trading cards to hand out to InConJunction 2013 patrons).

I made plenty of connections with fellow authors, publishers and potential fans alike. I enjoyed myself and look forward to see what next year brings!!!

© 2013 John F. Allen

URBAN FANTASY AND PARANORMAL ROMANCE

What’s the difference?

If I were asked—as I often am—to name a genre which my forthcoming novel The God Killers fits in, it would be urban Fantasy. I suppose this is mainly because the city in which the protagonist currently resides and the one of her birth, play an integral part in the story and because the protagonist’s ultimate goal isn’t a romantic relationship. However, when it comes to the genres of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, I’ve given some thought as to what the main differences are. As I write, I also read, therefore I’ve read plenty of urban fantasy novels as well as paranormal romance.When I think of the differences between them, I first come to their one and only concrete commonality, PARANORMAL ENTITIES.

Every urban fantasy or paranormal romance I’ve ever read had some form of paranormal creature/being as main characters and/or supporting characters. Whether it is vampires, werewolves, zombies, wizards, angels, demons, mythological deities, etc… something of the sort was present. How they differ is a gray area to be sure, but I’ve thought about it for some time and I’ve come to certain conclusions.

PARANORMAL ROMANCE

PARANORMAL ROMANCE

PARANORMAL ROMANCE

By definition, a paranormal romance focuses on romance and includes paranormal elements. Usually—like in a contemporary romance—the story starts out with the eventual lovers meeting, acknowledging a powerful mutual attraction, yet something stands in their way.Whatever the reason their lives are complicated, midway through the story things change in some way or they decide to live dangerously. Eventually, our intrepid couple determines that they’re hopelessly in love.

Paranormal romances can contain action and also have some graphic scenes of horror, but at its core it is a romance. While many novels in this genre have plenty of action, horror, and suspense these things are not as of great importance as the love story.

Recently, Paranormal Romance has become one of the largest selling subgenres of science fiction and fantasy.

Also, unlike urban fantasies, a paranormal romance isn’t necessarily tied to a large, modern day city. (see below)

URBAN FANTASY

URBAN FANTASY

URBAN FANTASY

In my opinion, urban fantasy must contain something other than the love interest as the protagonist’s main goal. This subgenre is considered steroid addled cousin of paranormal romance. As I mentioned before, paranormal romance is fundamentally a romance, while urban fantasies are fundamentally fantasies.

A large portion of the tale must take place in a city. The urban fantasies I’ve read almost always take place in a large, modern day city where paranormal creatures exist.

That said, there’s no law that says it has to be a modern city, and the timeframe could be one from the past, the future, or possibly on another planet altogether.

Similar to the paranormal romance, urban fantasies must contain one or more characters that have abilities and/or origins far beyond those of mortal men. Vampires, witches, werewolves, oh my!

Unlike a paranormal romance, the urban fantasy can contain elements of romance, but romance is NOT the main focus and/or goal of the protagonist.

In conclusion, while I admit to enjoying both subgenres, there is a difference between them. Something to think about when writing a paranormal novel or choosing one to read!

© 2013 John F. Allen

THERE’S NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN

Sun_woodcutWhen I was a child, my grandmother told me one day, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” At first I didn’t understand what she meant. Later, as I got a little older I refused to believe her, and was determined to prove her wrong. Finally, when I began focusing on my career as a writer, I accepted her nugget of knowledge as fact, and learned to embrace it for the truth it is. However, if the above observation is true, then what makes any story different from the next?

The answer…

LIFE EXPERIENCE, IMAGINATION, VOICE AND STYLE.

As most fiction writers will agree, we are products of our environment and individual life experiences and therefore, it stands to reason that many of the seeds for our story plots originate from said life experiences. This can be from what we’ve dealt with on a personal level, what we’ve heard from others, or seen around us including—but, certainly not limited to—what we’ve watched on television, read in books or learned in school. These personal life experiences give our stories a unique flavor which cannot be exactly cloned due to the intricate variables in our individual lives.

I believe that there is a collective consciousness which extends to us all, as we tap into our imaginations and creativeness. We must also accept the fact that the possibilities for formulating scenarios involving larger than life creatures, myths, epic heroes and monsters is finite, just as our voices and styles are infinite. As writers, we sometimes find in the course of plotting a story that we read stories from someone else who came up with very similar ideas for their already published work(s). It is because of this, I continue to work against the truth stated in the title of this post, in order to produce unique stories. I feel in doing this, I can delve deeper into the recesses of my imagination, creativity and life experiences to produce my very own individual story. It is here that we begin to use our imagination to find a variation of the themes we draw from our life experiences and formulate creatively new and exciting takes on tried and true scenarios and themes. It is then that we brand our stories with distinctive twists and turns and imbue it with our own individual spirits and personalities.

As a writer, I’m constantly thinking up new story ideas and using my voice and style to tell the stories. All writers have their own unique voice and style, which separates them from other writers. When it comes to certain elements of storytelling, there are no new ideas. Often, writers of genre fiction ultimately come across elements in another author’s work that closely resembles their own. While this is a common phenomenon, it doesn’t mean that we can’t separate ourselves from other storytellers using similar scenarios and/or themes; it merely means we must work all the more harder at imparting our own essence into our work in order to make it exclusive to us.

Just as there are finite possibilities in regards to scenarios and themes, there is again something to be said for voice and style. I’ve read books that had such similar plots that if you broke it down to the bare essentials it could be the same book. However, what separated the books was the differences in how the authors delivered the story, developed the characters, and the language used to breathe life into the personalities of the characters. How we tell a story, and how much of ourselves we put into our works, is what sets us apart from other writers with similar ideas and themes.

Always remember the old Vulcan axiom from the Star Trek series, Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC), the philosophy which celebrates the vast array of possibilities and variables in the known universe. And while there are finite themes when stripped down to their essential cores, when we take into consideration the life experiences, imagination, voice and style of the storyteller, the possibilities are indeed infinite and quite fascinating.

 

© 2013 John F. Allen

THE REWARDS OF WRITING

GOLD STARWhen I first started seriously pursuing my writing goals some three years ago, my life changed in ways that at the time I could have never imagined. Over the years, relationships formed with some very amazing people, who I never would have had the honor of knowing otherwise. My writing skills have improved and I’m more confident in my voice. In general, my friends and family have supported my journey as a writer, for which I am immensely grateful. However, pursuing a career as a writer has not been without its detractors and malcontents.

From early on, what I’d read about being a writer and the pitfalls which came from it was discouraging to say the least. Many of the articles stated that writing was a solitary endeavor which caused introversion, apathy, madness, depression and eventually led to death. Many famous examples of this gave it a modicum of truth, that was unless you became published and garnered a healthy following, then you just ended up dying of a heart attack due to lack of exercise and/or poor diet. I also read that there was little to no money or reward in writing. A more highly compensated career path such as law or medicine was encouraged.

Unfortunately, there is merit to what I read and there are undeniable truths in much of it. I think that writing can lead to the above maladies—which can prove fatal—but, I know that those very same afflictions can arise from a multitude of other professions, some of which practically guarantee far more compensation and personal accolades. It’s also true that because writers are usually sedentary, most of us aren’t the most fit or health conscious people in the world. As far as making truckloads of money from writing, less than 1% makes more than four figures a year. Even ER doctors and small time dentists can do better monetarily. However, one thing—from the above mentioned pitfalls of writing—that I feel has absolutely no merit or truth, is that there is little to no reward from writing.

I have found that writing is rewarding on so many different levels that it is in itself invaluable. I cannot begin to tell you how many times that writing a blog post or a journal entry has saved the last remnant of my threadbare sanity. As an outlet for an emotional meltdown, the latest family crisis, or dealing with all of the voices of your characters in your head, I’ve found writing to be very therapeutic. Writing is also something which is a huge part of who I am as a person, which is rewarding in its own right. Having a high paying career and being unhappy would only go so far. Money can buy you a lot of things, however it can’t buy you fulfillment.

Writing can also serve as an obvious means of expressing one’s thoughts and ideas, in such a way as to inform, entertain, make a statement or create change. Yet, telling stories can also be a very selfish effort as well. I’ve found that my motivation for writing isn’t always altruistic.

If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.

~Toni Morrison

I have come to live by the above quote from Morrison, as it sums up the previous statement perfectly.

In all of the other examples of rewards one can gain from writing, I feel that this final one is most important. Not solely because it can serve to prevent the previously mentioned pitfalls of writing from becoming fatal, or because it can inspire and empower us to reach our fullest potential, not only as writer’s, but also as humans. I feel that this final example is most important because it has the power of giving us hope. Hope of learning from our past, hope of coping with our present and hope of brighter futures, just beyond the horizon. I’m talking about family.

I have been blessed to have entered into a very eclectic, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic family of writers dedicated to the craft and each other. I feel that the personal relationships that I have and continue to develop with fellow writers are crucial to my ability to persevere in the darkest of times we writers face. My college professor, Jim Powell once told me that without the human condition/connection, our writing would be without meaning, no matter the genre. That not only applies to the content of our work but how we live as a community. I believe in the truth of his statement and what it means for the millions of writers out there grinding out their work every day just as I do.

I have experienced the awesome comradery which being a part of a community of writers provides. How we share, how we laugh, how we cry, and I know that we are a very special group of people. I have had the honor of meeting and befriending a great group of writers who have helped to guide me, inspire me, and support me as a writer and as a person. I can only hope to repay their kindness with kindness of my own and an extended hand to others I meet along my journey. We as writers, have an obligation to continue moving the art of writing forward by remaining vigilant in our efforts to strengthen our collective community. We must take every opportunity to extend a hand to our brethren, helping them along on their journey as best we can. Although it’s impossible for us to know each and every one of our brothers and sisters on a personable level, I believe we are of a shared consciousness and linked by our call to write. We must always remember that when we reward each other, we reward ourselves, and the rewards are invaluable.

REMEMBER TBIYTC!!!