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Five Books from 2014 that I Can Remember

Hey, look, if I had even a hope of remembering all the books I read during 2014, I’d goddamn do an end of year best of 2014 style list. End of year lists are my jam – I unapologetically love them. I frequently go and read ‘best albums’ lists, and then spend the subsequent year really enjoying them, but being unable to discuss them in cool bars, because they are so last year. Anyway, I’ve decided to just fucking go with the flow and list five books that I read this year that spring to mind, because obviously they mean a lot to me.

1. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

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I love Amy Poehler, so it wasn’t really a surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed her book. What was the surprise was the method in which I enjoyed it. Yes, I laughed. I did this weird thing where I grinned really widely on public transport and just breathed through my nose a lot. It is goddamn funny. But it was also entirely genuine, and gave advice in the manner of someone you trust telling you something really relevant and truthful. This book came at a very good time for me – there’s all sorts of racks you flay yourself upon when you’re putting something as momentous as a book out into the world, even if it’s only a teeny-tiny book. Amy’s views on art making were refreshing and revitalising. And to be honest, her whole chapter about prize winning and ‘almost getting the pie’ was SUPER timely for me. God this book. I feel like I’ll be reading it once a year for sanity.

2. Dress, Memory by Lorelei Vashti

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I’ve been a fan of Lorelei’s for a while, having been introduced to her blog by my girlfriend, Bridget, who very rightly pointed out that it would be right down my alley. I enjoyed everything about this memoir – the tactile memories of the dresses themselves, the honesty, the humour, the style of writing. But this was also a very important book for me, because it helped confirm the direction I was going on with my own manuscript ‘Will You Look At All These Things?’. If you read this blog a lot, you’ve probably read some bits from it, but I’m basically writing a memoir, or as I describe it ‘a bunch of anecdotes from my life worth telling’. At various points while writing it, I’ve been filled with doubt about whether it’s worth writing – there’s no overarching narrative to adhere to, I’m not a celebrity, I’m relatively young and people are being mean to Lena Dunham about writing a memoir while young, and SHE’S a fucking celebrity with a TV show – what the fuck have I done? But the very description of this book salved some of those fears: ‘Dress, Memory is Lorelei Vashti’s piecemeal memoir of her twenties in dresses.’ Piecemeal memoir – I love that.

3. The Rook by Dan O’Malley

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Yep. Most fun had in book form. A really humorous yet still suspenseful urban fantasy, it just ticks all my boxes. Oh man. Basic plot: woman wakes up surrounded by creepily gloved dead bodies, has no memory of who she is, but finds letters to herself hidden in her clothing from before she lost her memory. Then basically has to play out a high placed role in a kind of Hogwarts style secret service. I didn’t want to stop reading this, it’s just so wonderful.

4. Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan

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Beautifully written, disturbing, playful, just absolutely excellent. I already talked a bit about this when I raved about how much I liked Scott McClanahanahanahan, but I can honestly say I haven’t stopped thinking about this book since I read it.

5. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

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I read this book as part of my Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge, and in doing so totally confirmed why I started doing this ridiculous challenge in the first place, and why I’ll probably be doing it for the rest of my life. But this book is breathtaking – and I don’t mean that in the trite, over-used way we’re used to hearing breathtaking. This book made me hold me breath in suspense, and release it in wonder. It was just gorgeous.

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A Man Made Entirely of Bats: LOOK AT THE COVER

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Jesus, Mary and Tim – I’m so frickin’ excited to reveal the cover of my collection A Man Made Entirely of Bats. Oh my goodness. Without further ado, here it is:

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I just love how in many ways it’s saying ‘I’m a decapitated head. I may not be able to form words through my severed vocal cords, but I still have something to say’. I love how there is a ‘man made entirely of bats’ in the background. The bat ground. I love how it says my name, like I’m a real person, and not a robot.

This is the work of the ultra-talented Daniel Lethlean Higson. Bronwyn, my publisher showed me his work right at the beginning of this process – ‘I’ve seen this guy and I think he’d be perfect for your writing’. And it is totally true – I absolutely adore this cover. He’s also done amazing interior illustrations in the book. Daniel’s work is colourful and weird and endlessly fascinating. You can check out more of his art at mountforeverest.tumblr.com

A Man Made Entirely of Bats is coming out on March 1st 2015, but we’re doing a super cool preorder drive at the moment, which means you’ll get it much earlier than everyone else. Also, you get it for the cheap-as-free price of $17.99 instead of $22.99, and it will include a personalised message/story/litany of insults from me, and a free 6 month’s subscription to the Spineless Wonders Bookclub – that’s a download every fortnight for 10 weeks starting in Feb 2015,  valued at $15.

It would be really, really great if you considered getting in on this pre-release offer, perhaps as some kind of Christmas present – what do you get the person who has everything? A really weird book. What do you get your weird nephew? A really weird book. What do you get your enemy? A really weird book, which will dismay and disorient them!

But what is it even about, you ask? Well, why don’t you listen to one of these handsome experts who wrote nice things, which is just such a lovely fucking thing to do.

‘Despite – or, perhaps, because of – a recurring preoccupation with the television show Friends, A Man Made Entirely of Bats is a consistent laugh-riot.’

SIAN CAMPBELL, Scum Mag

‘Featuring a colourful assortment of superheroes, mutants, zombies, bank robbers and boy bands – these stories are wonderfully bizarre, original and hilarious. A new and original voice, Patrick Lenton’s short stories bring qualities rare in Australian fiction; inventiveness, humour, and a fine sense of the absurd.’
RYAN O’NEILL, The Weight of a Human Heart

To order, you just need to go to the Spineless Wonders website: here. You’re so great.

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Urgh, Writing: Please read my horrible Frankenstein thing

I’ve been sending out a lot of horrible Frankenstein things to people and asking for them to pretend it’s a real boy! This has been for two main reasons: 1- I’ve been sending out ARCs of A Man Made Entirely of Bats to writers and editors that I respect and admire to see if they’ll provide a blurb or a fluff or that sentence that you see on the back of the book that says ‘well, this isn’t entirely awful’. And 2 – I recently sent out a manuscript that I eventually submitted to the Scribe Nonfiction Prize to a bunch of people for feedback, of which I have amazingly been shortlisted for, amongst some absolutely intimidating and genuinely lovely and talented writers.

The first emotion that swamps my brain like an upside down portaloo is fear and guilt, because here I am pushing this thing on somebody and I have no idea if they’ll like it. And the second emotion that I feel, and the one that I embrace after I’ve done the breathing exercises to get rid of the first, is gratitude. Gratitude because I have the immense privilege of knowing people who will go out on a limb and read my Frankenstein thing, who will take time out of their incredibly busy lives to give me feedback. What an amazing thing to do for someone. And in my case, an amazingly useful one – the feedback I got for my nonfic manuscript polished it to a level I believe I wouldn’t have been able to achieve normally.

My mate Daniel East wrote this great post about receiving criticism, in which he makes the point that ‘No book is perfectly written’. I think it helps if you consider your creation a thing that needs to be tended by a whole team of medical experts, rather than one lonely weirdo in his crumbling castle. If Dr Frankenstein had a couple of nurses, maybe his monster would’ve been known as Frankenstein’s Totally Normal Guy (you can’t even tell he’s had work!).

All criticism is useful – any issue that a reader has had is an issue that could be shared by any reader anywhere once the book is published. But, again as East points out, it means you just have to consider the info, see it as being highlighted. It might make you say ‘yes, correct, I will definitely change at least one name to something other than Billy Burpton in my manuscript’ or it might make you say ‘actually, Billy Burpton is a choice I’ve made, I’m obviously going to have to push the Billy Burpton issue so that the reader really gets what I’m going for.’

Because I am me, with my Scribe manuscript I couldn’t just settle on general feedback from my readers – I gave them a colour coded ranking system, so that each story in the book was either Green (yes, this is good, choose this) Orange (Not as good as another similar story, has a dud ending but a great beginning, just remove the paragraph with the gratuitous wank) or Red (no, hell no, not for me). This was meant to make the cutting down of a roughly 30,000 word manuscript to a lithe 10,000 word excerpt easy – which like most brilliant plans, mostly worked? There was only about six sections that were universally loved. For most Green, there was someone who gave it a Red. People who have never met provided amazing arguments and counter-arguments to why something was excellent/bad. It was amazing. It was extremely helpful. In some cases I rewrote things entirely to incorporate both perspectives. In other cases I decided that one side was a crazy person, who’s been huffing too much crazy gas.

As well as wandering around asking for feedback, I’ve been doing a bit of feedback myself. It’s a big responsibility. There is a lazy part of my personality that just wants to get along swimmingly with everyone and have tropical cocktails in a pool. That part of me whispers ‘just say it’s all amazing, it’s all perfect, c’mon they’re playing reggae-fusion in the dining hall!’ But writers don’t ask people for feedback to get lied to. I feel like you’re giving them a much bigger insult if you do that. I think the rule that people have to realise is that if someone cares enough about your piece to tell you the potentially upsetting truth about how you believe it can possibly be better, then you have succeeded in writing something that people care about.

The generosity of people who have spent time helping me out with my writing not only really makes me uncomfortably grateful, it also makes me really excited. I think if there’s one thing I’ve always wanted in my life, it’s to be a part of a vibrant, passionate, creative community, and I definitely feel connected at the moment, like there’s a big mob of people with pitchforks and torches marching up to my house, but you know, those pitchforks and torches are gifts perhaps? Maybe I’m digging a big garden and setting fire to it. I dunno. I let metaphors run way too long.

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Clitfingers

I read this story at The National Young Writers Festival this year, during the Late Night Reading event. It was such a super cool event. Clitfingers can also be found in my book A Man Made Entirely of Bats which is coming out in March 2015 through Spineless Wonders.

‘Seen her? Yeah, I seen her. That is to say, I saw her. Dame was six foot sexy, with legs all the way from her hips to the floor. Yeah, legs like a newborn deer, like Pinocchio on stilts, ya dig? What was she wearing? Little red number that clung to her like a thirty-year-old nerd to his parent’s basement. And shoes – stilettos you could trim cheese with. What? You know, trim some cheese to put on the little round salt plates? Crackers? I call them salt plates. Was she wearing gloves? Yeah, she was wearing gloves, black satin gloves from her fingers to her elbows, real classy. Why you asking? She owe you some money?’

No, she didn’t owe me money – more like the entire State of New York. But this latest clue means I’m getting closer, tracking her down, zeroing in. And when I find her, it will be time for her to pay the piper. And by the piper, I mean the First Bank of New York. She’ll also have to account for all the hours and gastric pain she’s personally cost me.

That last witness I talked to worked the 4 am shift at the local casino, meaning I that was trekking through the streets as the sun rose sluggishly over the city. I know how you feel, pal, I said to the sun, on the account of how tired I also felt. The sun didn’t answer – but does it ever?

By the time I got back to my shitty motel room, my mind was buzzing with everything I knew, buzzing like a swarm of bees who had been evicted from their box thing, the box where they made their honey, like bees that had been evicted from their honey box. Yeah, buzzing like that.

There was no point even pretending to sleep, and I felt that my relationship with the bedbugs had grown a little one-sided, so instead I sat at the desk looking at photos of her and chewing on coffee beans.

A few days later, I’ve left New York entirely. I’m standing in a bank somewhere in North Carolina, confused and whispering sweet nothings to my ulcer. ‘You be cool, ulcer,’ I murmur. ‘Just, calm down and I’ll buy you something nice.’

The bank manager, who looks like he would have had a pretty cool solo song about domestic duties in Mary Poppins is mopping his forehead with a big bunch of tissues. ‘It was her. It was Clitfingers. She’s the only one who could have cracked our safe so easily.’

I grimace, as I have to concede his point – the crime does entirely match her MO. But why here? Why this stupid little town in the middle of nowhere, NC? Frampton barely had enough people to warrant a bank, let alone the kind of trappings that Clitfingers was accustomed to. No penthouses, diamond shops, high society laundromats or fat pig livers delivered directly to your home. There wasn’t even any frozen yoghurt, only politely affluent suburbia complete with high schools and movie cinemas a decade out of date.

‘Don’t worry, sir,’ I mutter to the bank manager, straightening my tie. ‘The FBI has their best man on the case.’ I was talking about me.

Three weeks later and Clitfingers has disappeared off the face of the earth. I’m drunk in the kind of shitty bar that families bring their children to. There’s way too much light everywhere. People are giving me sidelong glances, even though I’m just sitting here, nursing my coconut rum. I’m thinking Clitfingers might have lured me to North Carolina on purpose. I’m thinking that my quest to bring her to justice was doomed to fail. I’m thinking that I don’t like the smirk on the bartender’s face every time I order another coconut rum.

‘Howdy,’ asks some open-faced, friendly guy who has taken a seat at the bar next to me. He is clean-shaven, and has wholesome wrinkles around his eyes – the kind you get when you smile at children or pick hay from a field. He is perusing the menu. ‘Jimmabel, darling, I’d like a … hmmm, I’ll have a small beer thanks. How’s your mama? Good, excellent.’

I rolled my eyes as he conspicuously enjoyed his tiny beer. I loudly swilled my rum.

‘Say, Jimmabel, you know who I saw the other day? Tina Fairchild, you know, old man Fairchild’s daughter. Didn’t you go to school with her?’

He looks across at me because I have just dropped my glass. Clitfinger’s real name is Tina Fairchild.

Later on, everyone is gathered around me, listening to the biggest gossip this town has ever had.

‘So you’re saying little Tina is a world renowned thief now?’ asks a local farmer called Teddison.

I’m sure that hearing about a former resident who’d become a notorious bank robber was making for a better story than whatever usually passed for news around here.

‘There more than that,’ I interrupted, tapping my glass lightly. ‘You see, we were once partners at the FBI together.’

‘The FBI has partners?’ questioned Jimmabel.

‘Yeah, like Mulder and Scully,’ I explained impatiently. ‘Anyway, we were the best, solving crimes left right and centre. But more than that – we fell in love. And love has a way of making things go twisty, twisty twirly. Anyway, long story short, there was an explosion that blew all the skin from her fingertips, making them one thousand times more sensitive, and now she uses her sensitive fingertips to break into safes. They’re so sensitive they can feel the minuscule clicking that the safe makes.’

The bar fell into a shocked silence, and I realised I’d done that thing where I’d told the story way too fast to make it seem plausible.

‘Umm, well yeah, anyway, that’s why she got the name Clitfingers, because her fingers are as sensitive as a clitoris.’

‘It sounds like you’re chasing her … because you’re in love, boy,’ said Teddison.

‘No, I’m chasing her because she betrayed me,’ I grumbled darkly. ‘It’s revenge.’

‘All love is revenge,‘ said Teddison sadly.

Later that evening, I stood atop the roof of the local school, my gun pointed at Clitfingers, aka Tina Fairchild’s, aka my wife who I hadn’t seen in over five years.

‘Tina, you bitch! You bitch, I hate you!’ I screamed into the wind. It was raining fitfully and only a nearby streetlight provided enough illumination to see her. Her face was shadowed and a long trench coat billowed around her. I’d practiced this speech so many times, developed the perfect pithy one liners, but now, here in the moment, all I could do was swear incoherently at her, screaming into the night sky. I wanted to tell her how unfair it was, that yeah, I might have cheated on her, one time, but that didn’t give her the right to ruin me, to get me fired from the FBI, to leave me without even saying goodbye. I didn’t care about the fact that she was an international jewel thief. All I cared about was the shame.

‘Tina, we’re going to talk about our relationship now,’ I said, motioning with the gun.

She sighed and languorously removed her gloves. Pink light glowed from her sensitive clitoris fingers as she levitated into the air and flew away with a sonic pop.

I didn’t know clitorises could do that.

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Story Town at Surry Hills Festival

HELLO! I am reading a story from my book ‘A MAN MADE ENTIRELY OF BATS’ at Surry Hills Festival in Sydney on Saturday with some absolute legends. I’d love to see you there, come and say hello why not. Also, I’ll be on 2SER ‘So Hot Right Now’ at 11.30am if you want to hear me talk about writing and NYWF and other stuff.

3:30 – 4:30 ★ LITERARY LOVE || Readings from some of Sydney’s best emerging and established writers. Listen as they muse on love, sex and relationships on the steps across from the Clock, featuring Justin Wolfers, Hannah Story, Patrick Lenton, Lily Mei and Sophie Hardcastle.

Urgh, Writing: The misunderstood task of describing your book, or how to pitch

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There are a billion trillion articles about ways to pitch your book. There are books on how to pitch your book (did someone have to pitch their book on how to pitch books?). There are people in bars who like to recount the story they heard of a person stuck in an elevator with a commissioning publisher from some kind of unnamed publishing house, who managed to speak so goodly about their book in the horrifying metal room that they immediately became a bestseller!

So, wisdom and laziness is telling me that I don’t need to add to the ocean of knowledge that lies on the other end of a quick Google – but experience working in publishing has shown me that PEOPLE STILL DON’T KNOW HOW TO PITCH AT ALL, OH MY GOD THEY ARE JUST SO BAD. I’m not going to go into details, because that would be unprofessional, but take my goddamn word for it. Luckily I work in digital publishing now, so at least I’m spared the envelopes full of glitter or (heard this one the other day from a romance imprint) rose petals. And attaching gifs to your submission email just isn’t as eye-catching. Or eye-cutting. Glitter will cut your eye up a treat. Not that I even take submissions. I’m marketing. Whatever.

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PUBLISH MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

I think the pitch is universal, but I suppose my experience as a writer is with small press and lit stuff. Author Steve P. Vincent wrote a great article about pitching his political thriller here, which you should read.

Let’s go into some quick basics:

What is a pitch -

The process of summarising the totality of your book, generally to a few sentences of text, sometimes even a single sentence. What it is not – recounting the story, talking about a thousand ‘themes’ or listing the characters.

For my book, A Man Made Entirely of Bats, I pitched it as a collection of short and micro-fictions which was ‘A  comedic, absurdist and entertaining literary interaction with the concept of super heroes and the super strange in our world.’ Short story collections are a difficult breed to pitch, in comparison to something more straightforward like a novel. If I was going to pitch my perennial hypothetical example of the typical Australian lit.novel that I’m never going to write, which I’ve named ‘ Dry Rural Secret Town’ I would say something like ‘In the tradition of Winton and Carey, a man returns to his hometown to discover the reasons why he left in the first place.’

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So bleak. So mysterious. So award winning.

That was a wee bit sarcastic, but you’ll see that there’s a hook there. I am only implying murder, but I think if there was a murder, I would say murder. The ‘name drop’ of Winton does so much – it established a genre for one – if we took that away, we might be looking at crime or even horror. But it also announces intention of marketplace. Winton is a literary writer, but he is also a bestselling literary writer. A publisher might definitely be looking to fill a gap in their selection that a new Winton might fill. They might need another book for November, they might be interested because that kind of book is definitely Aus award bait.

In my one line pitch, I include the words: ‘homage to Kurt Vonnegut, Etgar Keret and Tom Cho.’

Vonnegut, because it uses genre in the pursuit of the literary, Etgar Keret because of its absurdist message and Tom Cho due to its playful interaction with popular culture. All this seems WILDLY embarrassing to write outside of a pitch, btw. What I am really saying with those names is ‘yes, these are literary short stories, but they are accessible and fun and silly and other writers do something like this, and they are doing OK, I’m not a madman.’ I am a madman, but I learnt to stop saying that in resumes and the like a long time ago.

Why is a pitch important -

A pitch is more than just the cover letter to your manuscript. An author needs to be able to understand their book as more than the weird story that lived in their head until they let it out. They have to understand it as a transferrable concept, not just through the medium of human speech, but also as the idea of something a reader wants to read. A pitch is so, so, so important for that crucial first step – getting the book published. It’s the magic sentence that you’re using to communicate with a publisher, or an agent, or whatever. The romance writing community, which as as per usual, is several steps beyond any other writing community, have regular pitch sessions at their conferences and conventions. Publishers come to these and grab pitches their, because the system of communicating books (a pitch) is established and works. And romance writers involved in these communities generally have some education on HOW to do this. Sometimes they even turn their pitch sessions into insane gameshow like events, like deathmatch and survival modes. It sounds intense and horrifying.

But, even beyond that first step, but also linked with it, is communicating who will be reading this book, who your audience are, what the genre is, what the style. How you are going to reach those readers. I am very, very, carefully stepping around using words like ‘product’ or ‘sales’, because I know that idea is abhorrent to a lot of holier-than-thou writers. But the goal is to have people read your work, and because of commerce, that means buying them. Understanding your book as something you will be working hard with to reach readers is crucial, and something that is increasingly more important to communicate during your pitch. For me, I talked about some markets, in Australia and abroad, and I submitted a marketing plan with my manuscript of ways I plan to reach them. Keep in mind that this is a collection of comedy short stories – the only thing that I can think of that is more unpalatable to sell would be poetry. Or a collection of short plays maybe. Or a 200,000 word description of poo.

I sent my manuscript to five publishers, and received an answer from four, and three decided on the strength of my pitch that they wanted to read my manuscript, and Spineless Wonders bit fairly early, and I decided I liked their style a lot. But my publisher at Spineless said that the marketing report was the reason she actually decided to read the manuscript, because she wasn’t currently looking for more books. So, I feel like my first experience pitching my own book was fairly positive.

Anyway, there’s a lot more ‘specific’ articles I mentioned, which will tell you what to include in your actual pitch, but I think I’m done here. I am happy to answer questions. There’s a good chance that publishers, who actually RECEIVE pitches might think my whole stance is missing several important things. I’m ok with that. This is mostly about my experience, and that’s all we can ever really be sure of, you know? Deep. That’s probably the tagline of ‘Dry Rural Secret Town’.

 

 

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Urgh, Writing: A BOOK OF MINE IS GOING TO BE A REAL THING!!!!!

I’ve known about this for a few weeks now, but I haven’t felt like I can make it ‘blog post official’ yet. I’ve felt like maybe at some point someone will be like ‘no, we made a mistake, your short stories are godawful, we thought you had a cookbook?’ But I’ve spent the day working on the first round of edits on my manuscript, so I suppose it is now time for me to be Officially Excited.

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I am very excited to announce that next year, a collection of my short stories called ‘A Man Made Entirely of Bats’ will be published by Spineless Wonders. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

A Man Made Entirely of Bats is a collection of short and micro fictions that humorously swarm around the idea of superheroes in popular culture. It has stories in it called things like ‘Radioactive Jerk’ and ‘Guerilla Mum’ and ‘Infertility Man’. It also has some previously published stories in it, like ‘Mooncat’ and ‘Believe’ in it.

We don’t have a lot of small press in Australia, and we don’t have a lot of publishers who are actually devoted to short stories as a form, which is why I’m so excited to be accepted by Spineless Wonders. I’m inspired by Angela Meyer’s ‘Captives’ and I’m inspired by Tom Cho’s ‘Look Who’s Morphing’. Also, the entire concept for this book came from the Flaming Lips album ‘Soft Bulletin’. I’m inspired by like a thousand alt-lit people who are writing and publishing stuff which traditional publishers aren’t doing and stuff which is fun and awesome and experimental.

I just feel this whole collection is so dumb, so weird and like, devoted to being silly before ‘meaning’ anything, so I’m really excited that it is going to exist. I am excited to be able to hold it in my hands and i’m also excited that it is going to be available as an ebook for people who don’t want to have another physical book. Every day when I think about it, I’m like ‘yay, this is great’ but also ‘what, what are we thinking, this is such a dumb idea’.

I’m also going to be pretty transparent about the process, because obvs I’ve never had a book published before, so I’m pretty interested in the process. Sometime this week I’ll write a post about pitching? People interested in that? I dunno. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me. I also work in publishing, so you can just ask me stuff. I dunno.

When I found out that my pitch had been accepted, I got expansively drunk a the Pan Macmillan sales conference and kept yelling at people ‘I’m celebrating’ in between shots or dancing on my own to ‘Suffragette City’. “I’M CELEBRATING”

I’M SO EXCITED!