Q&A: Rick Bass On All the Land to Hold Us

123Today, we welcome award-winning author and environmental activist, Rick Bass, to our blog to talk about his book, All the Land to Hold Us. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, United States, Rick Bass worked for several years as a Petroleum geologist before starting his career as a writer. He received several awards including General Electric Younger Writers Award, a Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, a PEN/Nelson Algren Award Special Citation for fiction, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. His writing has also appeared in several periodicals including Esquire, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, New York Times Sunday Magazine, and many others. Moreover, he has been a contributing editor to On Earth, Big Sky Journal, Sports Afield, Audubon and many more. Rick has been living in Yaak Valley of northwestern Montana with his wife and two children for over 20 years.

In this interview with Rick Bass, we will get to know about the authors that influenced him to become a writer, his upcoming books along with his message for readers about preserving nature.

Let’s get started by asking how and when did you think of taking up writing us your career? When you were young and having the budding desire to be writer, which author(s) you think influenced you the most?

I came to writing when I lived in Mississippi in the 1980s, where I worked as an oil and gas geologist for a small independent company. On my lunch breaks I would visit the fantastic independent bookstores there—Lemuria, in Jackson, and, on weekends, Square Books, in Oxford—where the store owners would recommend great books to me. I’d had a couple of undergraduate classes in literature at Utah State (from the great Tom Lyon and Moyle Rice), where I studied wildlife science and geology—but the bookstores really continued stoking a passion for literature, simply through their keen recommendations, and old school hand-selling.

Writers they suggested were the great short story writers of the 1980s—Joy Williams, Amy Hempel, Ann Beattie, Lorrie Moore, Richard Ford, Annie Proulx, Tobias Wolf, Raymond Carver, Barry Hannah, Tom McGuane, Susan Minot, Alice Munro, James Salter—really, there is no end to the influences from that era—and writers like Barry Lopez and William Kittredge, and so many of the Western writers, and the Southern writers—O’Connor, Welty, Faulkner—John Graves and Good-Bye To A River—and Chekhov and Tolstoy. Lots of poetry—W.S. Merwin, Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Gary Snyder, Pattiann Rogers, Billy Collins, Charles Wright…There’s nothing like a great bookstore! I’ve also been fortunate to work with great editors, among them Carol Houck Smith, Gordon Lish, Tom Jenks, Harry Foster, Camille Hykes, Rust Hills, Michael Curtis, Jennifer Sahn, and Nicole Angeloro.

You have been writing in fiction, creative nonfiction, and journalism categories, which form of writing, you enjoy the most?

Fiction is far and away the most challenging for me, and for that, the most gratifying when it succeeds, though also of course the most excruciating when it does not yet reach the level you want it to. Fortunately, there is no limit on the amount of drafts you get to do, in that attempt to get it right.

You have been acclaimed as “One of this country’s most All the land to hold usintelligent and sensitive short story writers” by New York Times. How does it feel?

Sometimes I wonder what they mean by that—what they are seeing. It would be rude and ungenerous to argue. I suspect they may be talking about a different kind of intelligence than the sort we are most used to thinking of.

Teaching or writing, what do you like the most?

The latter! Though the former is extremely gratifying, particularly as I grow older. It’s nice to pass on one’s values.

If you have to pick top 5 best books written by you and from some other authors what would they be?

I wouldn’t say “best” but some of my durable favorites include Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, Larry Brown’s Joe, Robert Penn Warren’s All The King’s Men, Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge, Doug Peacock’s Grizzly Years, and Jim Harrison’s Legends Of The Fall. That’s five, right?

Is there any fiction work which you read and wish if you had written that?

I don’t mean to sound boring, but no, not that I can think of. There are books that blow the top of my mind away, but maybe I’m too much of a lightweight to want to be that person who wrote it. Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain, Annie Dillard’s Teaching A Stone To Talk, Peter Matthiessen’s In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse, John Berger’s To The Wedding—I would much rather read their books, or anyone’s, than write them.

It’s been almost a year now for the book All the Land to Hold Us being published. Can you throw some light on the response you got from your readers and fans for this novel?

A lot of my readers have said it’s their favorite book. And folks like Marie, and like the elephant, a lot.

Our readers would be very much interested in knowing about the storyline and characters of this novel, can you please throw some light on it.

That’s a tough one. It took 16 years and tens of thousands of pages of drafts. To boil it down is almost impossible for me. The influence of landscape and history, the nature of desire and yearning in human (and other) species, the luminosity of the brief condition of life…I don’t know quite how to answer this. It’s a big novel. McGuane says Shakespeare said all literature is about loss or the recognition of loss—though the other side of that same coin is of course the celebration of what is in the here-and-now. It’s safe to say that landscape and its influence on the nature of human imagination is a theme that inhabits much of the novel.

What are you currently working on? Is there anything to be published in near future?

Two big projects: a New & Selected story collection, to be published in 2016, and a big nonfiction project. Eating My Heroes, in which I travel around the world visiting my literary heroes, preparing a nice meal for them in their kitchen and telling them thank you in person: thanking them for their influence on me as a writer, and often for their support, when I was a younger writer. I take my youngest daughter with me to meet them, and sometimes one of my best fiction or nonfiction writing students, to introduce the generation before me to the writers of a generation or more older than me. To help resuscitate gratitude and mentorship. It’s an amazing journey. The writers—my heroes—have all been so generous. I want to celebrate them while they are living. And I find that even mid-career—especially mid-career—I still have much to learn from them. That book will probably be out in 2017.

Can you please let us all know a few best lines from All the Land to Hold Us?

None really come to mind—I worked hard on every sentence in the novel, beginning back in 1997 or 1998. Ideally I’d be able to open a page and point to any sentence and say, “I like that one.” That’s the goal, anyway! Scanning through it, though, I open to page 84, and find one that makes me laugh, not for its precision—it’s windy, for sure—but for its ambition and enthusiasm. It’s probably a pretty typical sentence, indicative of my tendency to want it all:

“She knew the love of her family and of the community, and then, as a young woman in the first year of courtship, she had known the love of a hardworking young man, Max Omo, whom she married at the end of that same first year, with the wedding held late in the breezy springtime, out in the orchards, while the blossoms blew loose from the trees, flashing through the sky like the scales of fish and catching in the hair of the wedding guests.”

Since you are so close to nature and environment do you want to give any message to your readers about preserving nature?

You bet! Get involved with groups—it’s vital, these days, to be part of larger movements. Global warming is obviously a game changer for the life of every living creature—groups such as 350.org are doing tremendous work—but please support small local grassroots groups, who work at the community and watershed level, as well. I’m affiliated with one such group, the Yaak Valley Forest Council (www.yaakvalley.org). They do heroic work, seeking to protect the last roadless areas on the public lands in northwest Montana’s Yaak Valley, and would love your support!

Thank you so much, Rick, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today. Wish you good luck for your upcoming projects.

A Different Home: A Time of Trauma and Loss for Children in Foster Care

Guest Author: Dr. John DeGarmo

profile pic for newspaper I have had the wonderful opportunity to be a foster parent for 13 years, now, and in that time, I have had over 45 children come to live in my home. For me, one of the most difficult challenges of being a foster parent is the evening the children arrive. After all, these children are ripped from their parents and family, many times suddenly without warning, and placed into a strange home; the foster parent’s home. These children are taken from their family, their sibling, their stuffed animals, their pets, their house, their friends, their relatives, and from all they know.  Before they know it, they are living with strangers, living with people they simply don’t know.  They are confused, anxious, and frightened. For most children, it is a time of fear, a time of uncertainty, a time where even the bravest of children become scared.

What has been difficult for me, though, is the moment when my wife and I say goodnight to these children on their first few nights. Despite all our attempts at making the children feel as comfortable, as safe, and as welcome as possible into our new home, it is during the night time when their anxieties often overwhelm them. When their heads hit the pillow those first few nights, children in foster care often realize that they are not going back home, that they will not be seeing their family soon, that they will not feel the hug and love of the parents. Sadly, it is not uncommon for newly placed foster children to cry themselves to sleep during the first fewa different home nights. 

For more times than I can count, I have held a crying child in my arms those first few nights when they were placed into my home. I have struggled with answers to the same questions, from several children. Questions such as; “When will I go home?” “When will I see my mommy?”  “How long am I here?” Despite all my training and experience as a foster parent, I simply do not have the right answers for these children; answers that will make those first few nights a little easier for them. I do not have the answers that will reassure them that all will be okay. I do not have the answers that will allow them to sleep peacefully at night.

It is for this very reason that I wrote the children’s book, A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story. It is my hope that A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story is a book that foster parents and caseworkers can pull off the book shelves, and read it to their foster children during those first few nights of placement, those first few nights of anxiety and tears. It is my hope that the book is one that you can turn to as you help children in need face a time of anxiety and fear.

About Author:

Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 12 years, now, and he and his wife have had over 45 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic, and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of several books, including the new book  Keeping Foster Children Safe Online, The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home, and the foster care children’s book A Different Home: A New Foster Child’s Story. Dr. DeGarmo is the host of the weekly radio program Foster Talk with Dr. John, He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website, http://drjohndegarmofostercare.weebly.com.

Creating Mayhem

Guest Author: Sarah Pinborough

640x170 - CopySometimes the best stories can be found just sitting there the dust of years gone by rather than in our own imaginations. Since I was a kid reading Jean Plaidy novels, I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction, but as I grew up to become an author I always vowed I’d never write it. The research terrified me and I am nowhere near a historian. Well, as the old saying goes, never say never, and after reading Dan Simmons’ The Terror when I was coming to the end of writing the Dog-Faced Gods trilogy, I was inspired to try something different. I loved the way he’d blended fact with fiction to create his own take on the fate of those doomed ships, and I really wanted to attempt something similar myself.

Given that my fiction leans towards crime and the darker side of life, the first thing I did was a Google search on unsolved crimes in London in the nineteenth century. (I wasn’t stupid – if I was going to dip my toes into history then I wanted to pick a period I at least knew a little about from films and Dickens’ novels). This very quickly took me to the Thames Torso murders, and from there I was hooked and the seeds for Mayhem and the follow up, Murder, were sowed. For those who don’t know, these gruesome murders took place in London at the same time as Jack the Ripper, and like the Ripper case, the killer was never found. Several of the same people were involved in both cases – Dr Thomas Bond the police surgeon (the first man to ever write a criminal profile), Inspector Henry Moore who would end up leading the Ripper investigation, and several others, who all would become my cast of characters.

The great thing about writing fiction based on real events anddf people is that you have a skeleton already prepared to put the flesh onto. Researching the lives of my main characters fed into how the story would go, and I had a fixed timeline of the murders and the investigation to work with. There is a real satisfaction to weaving your own elements on to those that already exist. I was lucky in that there was a huge amount of information available on the Internet as many of the Ripperologists cover some of the torso murders and could provide detail on instances where the police and Dr Bond overlapped with those (the Mary Jane Kelly crime scene for example), and there were two very good books on the Thames Torso case itself which were invaluable for me. However, I did learn a few useful tips for non-historian diving into historical writing which may or may not be useful but I thought I’d share them anyway. So, here they are:

1. Always do a quick search for important events happening in the year/s you’re covering before you start. I almost missed a dock workers’ strike which would have been terrible given that the docks feature in Mayhem. As with today, important events in the news impact on your characters’ behaviour.

2. Old newspapers are invaluable. Littered between chapters in Mayhem and Murder are real newspaper articles from the time. I got completely absorbed in The Times Archive, keyword searching dates and my characters’ names. You may have to pay for access to some of these, but it’s well worth it.

3. Research as you go! This tip was passed on to me and it’s a great one. Yes, it’s also good to read up on the era you intend to write in (and read other novels set in that period), but if you try and take in too much before you start, you’ll have forgotten it by the time you need it and you can easily feel overwhelmed. Is your character hosting a dinner party? Figure out what food they’d eat when you get to that chapter, not a month before.

4. And finally – and perhaps most painfully – just because you’ve spent hours researching something, it doesn’t mean it all needs to go in the book. Ultimately, people are reading for the story. Don’t bog them down in the detail of getting from A to B simply because you spent two hours pulling your hair out as you researched transport, for example. Add enough flavour to make it realistic, but then get back to the meat of the book.

Anyway, that’s all from me…I have to get back to the 16th Century and ‘The Cunning Man’. Sadly, there are no Times Archives for this one!

 About Author:

Sarah Pinborough is a critically acclaimed horror, thriller and YA author. In the UK she is published by both Gollancz and Jo Fletcher Books at Quercus and by Ace, Penguin and Titan in the US. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies and she has a horror film Cracked currently in development and another original screenplay under option. She has recently branched out into television writing and has written for New Tricks on the BBC and has an original series in development with World Productions and ITV Global.

Sarah was the 2009 winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, and has three times been short-listed for Best Novel. She has also been short-listed for a World Fantasy Award. Her novella, The Language of Dying was short-listed for the Shirley Jackson Award and won the 2010 British Fantasy Award for Best Novella.

My Kind of Risky Business: Curiosity

Guest Author: Michael J. Rosen

nnnI’m a homebody. I’ve spent all my life, save a few years during post-graduate educations, in Central Ohio. I’m not much of a risk-taker, adrenaline junkie, frequent traveler, or lover of extreme…anything, really. So how it is that I am fascinated by others who are? How it is I’ve written a series of books on the most exotic, peculiar, and eccentric “creations” that might be found on earth?

     Indeed, No Way! is a series for young readers that pretty much includes subjects I wouldn’t consider doing or tasting or enduring. For examples: Weird Jobs: Me? An expert at blowing up skyscrapers? Odd Medical Cures: Like I’m going to lie on a train track to see if some electroconvulsive therapy might cure what ails me? Wacky Sports: You’ll find me pumping my legs on a 25- or even a 10-foot-high swing, in an effort to sail 360 degrees up and over the bar? Crazy Buildings: You’ll join me in my 13-story tree fort rising 144 feet into the Russian sky? Strange Foods: Sure, I’m enjoying the Sicilian delicacy, Casu Marzu—a gluey, ammoniated sheep’s milk cheese with live maggots pinging from the surface. And Bizarre Vehicles: No way I’m skysurfing—jumping from a plane with a snowboard in order to twirl, twist, barrel roll, and puke.

      But my armchair curiosity is insatiable. Two things that I devoured as a young reader clearly feed this.

    The first was a book club: The National Audubon Society Nature Program. Each month, our mailbox brought a book featuring one environment (the tundra, the rainforest), or one sort creature (big cats, desert creatures). Most pages featured empty boxes— no, the highlighted animal hadn’t left its cage for a little fresh air. Each volume came with a fold-out sheet of the missing species as stamps: gummed, perforated, and full-color. It was my responsibility as a subscriber and a one-day-I-might-be-a-naturalist, to join in the creation of that book. I had to locate each elusive animal and place it on its rightful page—its niche! (Of course, it never occurred to me that printing full-color stickers separately allowed the book to be printed less expensively in just black ink.)

       Life in the Everglades, Wildlife of Australia, Birds of Prey—I acquired one set after another as if I were traveling the world. I wasn’t just pasting stamps. Slip-cased in a box, these books showcased all the species I’d encountered on my safaris and expeditions and dives…by the age of eight.

        The second: National Geographic maps. This was in the early 1960s. It’s hard to imagine this now, but for a child then, those maps—one in each month’s magazine—possessed the same WOW factor of a witnessing a next-generation videogame or a new 3D movie at the cinema. Each map was overwhelming: vivid, super-shiny colors; chock-a-block with boxes and captions and words with letter combination I’d never seen in English; and even larger than the road maps folded into impossible horizontals in the glove compartment.

      done

  So each month, I’d gently remove the map, unfold it carefully on the floor (the creases were so crisp on that coated paper that they were precariously easy to tear), and then, on all fours, set off on my journey around the border of the map. The map was a hole in the floor through which I could tunnel across the planet.

      Then I’d tape it to my bedroom wall stand before it, my nose touching whatever appeared in that center point where the folds’ creases crossed. I was so close up my eyes had nothing but darkness on which to focus. But then I’d slowly lean backwards telling my eyes not to move, just to see what came into view. And so I’d see just a blur of green, then the outline of a mountain range or a state with border lines. Then I’d take a baby step backwards, and a cluster of countries, a continent, or the edge of an ocean would appear. It was like changing lenses on my microscope! Going from 10x to 100x to 1000x. And a few seconds and steps later, the rest of the map’s universe would gather around from all sides, and I’d find myself in the air above Central America or the Arctic Circle.

      From over 30 years of working with children in hundreds of elementary schools, I know that third and forth and fifth graders, by nature, love armchair “participation” often more than actually trying something new. They share my curiosity about a world that’s still foreign to them in most every realm. My hope is that No Way! can be a way, a real way for young readers to recognize the vast differences that lie just outside their school or city. To respect other cultures and pursuits. I hope they’ll be humbled, as I am, by an appreciation of what others have enjoyed and accomplished—however strange, odd, wacky, bizarre, crazy, or weird—and inspired by that as they make their own way in the world.

About Author:

Michael J. Rosen is the creator of a wide variety of more than 100 books for both adults and children including the recently published NO WAY! series, and a picture book, THE FOREVER FLOWERS. A poet, fiction- and non-fiction writer, humorist, illustrator, and editor, he lives on a 50-acre farm in the foothills of Appalachia, east of Columbus, Ohio. Michael’s Website is www.fidosopher.com.

An Interview with Edward Kelsey Moore on His Debut Novel, “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat”

Guest Author: Edward Kelsey Moore

ed moore by Laura Hamm photo 2 hi res - Copy It’s no wonder that Edward Kelsey’s Moore debut, The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, has been well-received by critics and readers. It’s an extremely terrific and intriguing story of three powerful women and their deep friendship. Published in more than eight languages, this debut novel was also praised by Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. Moreover, the novel has also been optioned for the film adaptation, in association of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Edward Kelsey Moore resides and writes in Chicago, where he has also enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a cellist. He has contributed to several literary magazines, including African American Review, Indiana Review, and Inkwell. Today, we are pleased to feature an interview with Edward Kelsey Moore. In this interview, we will get behind-the-scenes look at how much work went into making The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat, such an amazing novel and who inspires him to write this book, and many other interesting questions. Here are the excerpts:

First of all, congratulations to you for being in the list of NY Times bestselling authors, and winning the 2014 “First Novelist Award” by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA). What does it mean to you?

Thank you. I never imagined that I would have a book on the NYTimes Bestseller list. And I was especially thrilled by the award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.  Like many authors, I spent many hours in libraries during my childhood, and the librarians I met growing up introduced me to books that changed my life. It was a real honor to know that librarians thought highly of my novel. There is really no way for writers to know if their work will be embraced or ignored by readers. So the success of The Supremes At Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat has been a wonderful surprise.

Your debut novel, “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat” embraces the lives of three devoted allies in small-town Indiana. How did you first get the idea for this book? What was the inspiration? Is there anything in your book based on real life experiences, or is it all fiction?

The first idea for the novel came from a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. While we both had great fathers who provided strong male role models for us, we each felt that the bravest person we knew was a woman. That made me think about how courageous men and courageous women are often judged very differently. The same trait that is praised in a man is often criticized in a woman. I imagined what life might be like for a woman who had no fear at all. What kind of friendships, love relationships, and life would she have? That fearless woman I wondered about became Odette, the main character of the book.

The characters and events in the book are all fictional, but I did draw upon my own life from time to time. The relationships between the women in my novel are based upon my memories of how the women in my family interacted with each other and with their friends. The best storytellers I knew as a child were women and I was definitely influenced by them.

Can you tell us a little about your journey to publication, and perhaps the most memorable part of that journey?

I began writing short stories about twelve years ago. Several of my stories were published in literary magazines and I later put them together in a collection. I quickly learned that agents and publishers were not interested in story collections from unknown writers. The agents who were nice enough to respond to me all said that I should write a novel, so I gave it a try. My first attempt was a terrible mystery novel that no one will ever see. Then I wrote The Supremes

I submitted the novel to several agents and each of them rejected it. After each rejection, I revised the book and tried to make it better.  When my current agent read it, he was very enthusiastic and he found the right publisher for it very quickly.

My favorite moment of my writing career is walking from my home to put zczcmy first completed story in the mailbox. I had spent many years starting writing projects and not finishing them, so I was incredibly proud of myself that day. I think of that moment as the official start of my writing career.  Even with all of the wonderful things that have happened since the publication of The Supremes, that walk to the corner mailbox with my first story in my hand is still the most memorable experience.

How did you come up with such an attention grabbing title?

I borrowed the title from a short story that I wrote about a woman sharing gossip with her friends in a diner. I used some of that story in the novel and the title came along with it. To be honest, when I was writing the book I assumed that the title would change eventually. I always felt that I would find a better title for it one day, but I never thought of one.

What is the central theme of the book?

I think it is a book about friendship and how friendships, especially very long-lasting ones, are as important in shaping our lives as any other relationships we might have. 

The book has been highly successful and released in several other countries. How does it feel to know that your work will be read around the world?

The positive reception to the book outside of the United States has been very exciting. The best part of it has been that people have written me from all around the world telling me that characters from this fictional small-town community are just like members of their families. It is a reminder that people really are the same everywhere.

How has your life changed since the book came out?

My life has changed in so many ways that it’s hard to describe how different my life is now. The main change is that I now see myself as a writer. For many years, I thought of myself as a musician with a writing hobby. After the book came out, I began to see myself as a writer who also happened to be a musician. That was a major psychological shift and I’m still getting used to it. 

Your book came out a couple of months ago and it’s been getting really good reviews. What has been the best criticism given to you as an author?

I have read very few of the reviews. The only reviews I’ve read have been the ones that have been sent directly to me in letters and emails. I listened carefully to criticism during the revision process and I used that criticism to make the work better. But after the writing was finished, I didn’t look at reviews. I feel that if I allow myself to be happy about the good reviews, I also have to feel bad about the negative reviews. So I ignore all of them.

What did you hope to educate readers on or achieve by writing The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat?

My goal is more to entertain than to educate. But I am pleased that many readers have come away from reading the book with images of black people, especially black women, that are different from the very limited and often stereotypical images that are so common in American culture.

What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?

Because I am very extroverted and I tend to be the last person to leave a party, people might be surprised to know that I am happiest when I’m alone in my garden. I’m not an especially good gardener, but I love it. Also, I think people might be surprised to learn that, even though I have worked as a classical musician for many years, I always listen to folk music when I am writing, never classical. Folk music is so direct and emotional that it puts me in the perfect frame of mind for writing. 

Do you read in your spare time? What’s your favorite genre to read? 

I read all the time. I don’t really have a favorite genre. What I read depends upon my mood. I enjoy comic writing when I am stressed out. I enjoy mysteries when I’m traveling. When I am writing a lot, I try to read books with denser and more descriptive language because it reminds me of new ways to depict the world.

Can you tell us about what you are working on currently? What books can we look forward to seeing from you in the next year or two?

I am currently writing a book that continues the story of The Supremes At Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat. I hope to finish it within the next few months. After that, I would like to return to working on a play that I began some time ago. I’ve also outlined a novel about two suburban American families—one black, one white—in the 1970s that I’m eager to begin writing.

Any parting words of wisdom for aspiring authors?

Read as many good books as you can. And never give up. If you keep with a project until the end, fantastic things can happen.

Thank you so much for such a wonderful interview.

For more info about Edward Kelsey Moore, Kindly visit his website: http://www.edwardkelseymoore.com/

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