Comfy Chair Interview with Elliott Mackle

My guest in the Comfy Chair today is Elliott Mackle, author of “Captain Harding’s Six-Day War” [Speak Its Name’s 2011 Best Book of the Year and voted Best Romance in TLA’s Gaybies competition], the sequel “Captain Harding and His Men,” “It Takes Two” and “Only Make Believe.” Thank you so much, Elliott, for agreeing to answer my questions.


Elin: All your available stories are set in the past. What is the big draw that has led you to write historical rather than contemporary novels?

Elliott: For people like me, descendants of the American Southern gentry class, the past is always with us. My maternal great grandmother was born in slavery times. Her father served in the Army of Tennessee and she remembered and wrote about our Civil War. When she died in Nashville in 1950, I was in the house, the ten-year-old doorkeeper. I was told later that in her dying hours she mourned not two dead husbands (one by his own hand), not friends and family but the five Confederate generals killed in the Battle of Franklin in 1864. Her mother’s oil portrait hangs over the fireplace in my living room; I inherited and use some of their furniture and china; they’re with me a dozen times a day.

I was given fairly classy children’s lit––A. A. Milne, Doctor Doolittle, the Oz books, Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series plus non-fiction like V. M. Hillyer’s “A Child’s History of the World” and a very sexy illustrated classics coverall from National Geographic entitled “Everyday Life in Ancient Times.” My mother and grandmother also fed me innocently racist, song-of-the-South children’s books set during the “Reconstruction” years that followed the Civil War. I soon moved up to bigger game, “Gone with the Wind” in particular. By the time I was thirteen I’d read “GWTW,” “The Egyptian” and “Desirée” – all sprawling historical novels – twice each. Since then I’ve read “Moby-Dick” five or six times, “Brideshead Revisited” at least three times. Same for Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories” (which were historical by the time I found them) and Ensan Case’s World War II m/m classic “Wingmen,” published in 1979 and reissued this year (see my appreciation-review here on SIN). I’ve just finished “Bring Up the Bodies,” Hilary Mantel’s follow-on to the Man Booker prize winner, “Wolf Hall.” Both are stunning historical novels set at the court of Henry VIII. Mantel takes enormous risks in these books and is teaching me quite a bit about narrative voice and POV.
I’ve also read and lined my bookshelves with wartime histories, biographies and serious studies of naval intelligence, starting with the romantic propaganda memoir “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” by Ted W. Lawson when I was still in short pants and continuing to the present. William Manchester’s “Goodbye, Darkness,” an account of fighting and almost dying as an enlisted Marine in the Pacific, was enormously helpful in envisioning the backstories of several characters in the Dan-and-Bud books, “It Takes Two” and “Only Make Believe.”
That said, it was my good luck to have become a heavy reader before television came to Miami, in 1949 or 1950. I watched it, of course, but was seldom as moved by any of it as I was by books or film. The huge exceptions would be the much later Australian and British series productions of “A Town Like Alice” and “The Jewel in the Crown.” Continue reading

Author Interview: Dorien Grey

A few day’s late, here is March’s author interview – Dorien Grey, interviewed by the truly inimitable Chris Smith.  I hope you enjoy what Dorien has to say.

Chris Smith: Welcome all, to my interview with the inestimable Dorien Grey, author of Calico, the Dick Hardesty Series, and the Elliot Smith Series.

Continue reading

Author Interview: Charlie Cochrane

February’s Interview is Charlie Cochrane, interviewed by Chris Smith. Enjoy!

Chris Smith: So, today I’m interviewing the inestimable (take that as you will) Charlie Cochrane. Charlie, back in the mists of time, when you were once a young Cochrane, did you ever expect to be writing gay romance, let alone one of the most loved series out there?

Charlie Cochrane: No.  Or perhaps maybe. Like many teenagers I wrote bad slash (mine was vaguely Lord of the Rings influenced)  that got put away until I was grown up enough to be able to make a reasonable attempt at it.

Chris Smith: I’m feeling rather a late developer — only got into slash in my 20s. So, when did you decide you were “grown up enough” to attack writing again?

Charlie Cochrane: When I’d read all the Archie/Horatio (Hornblower) fanfic that was available that was good enough to read, and decided to try my hand at producing my own. So I started with fanfic (still dabble sometimes) and then began to play around with my own characters

Chris Smith: And from thence Jonty and Orlando sprang fully formed like whatsit and thingammy from the head of Zeus?

Charlie Cochrane: Absolutely.  Artemis.  No. Athene.  Her. They did. Like they’d always lived in my head and wanted to emerge.

Chris Smith: Was it messy? Who cleaned up afterwards?

Charlie Cochrane:  Not as messy as childbirth,  and I have cleaners who come in fortnightly so I left it for them.

Chris Smith: I’ll keep that in mind (crosses childbirth off of list of things to do). So, suddenly you have two blokes living in your head, and pretty disparate blokes at that. What on earth made you think that not only should they get it on like Viagra based bunnies (note to people who have not read Charlie’s work — Viagra is anachronistic and bunnies hardly feature) but solve mysteries on the side?

Charlie Cochrane: Ah well.  Wish fulfilment of what I wanted to read, maybe?  I’m a great fan of classic mysteries — Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Ngaio Marsh —  and I’d have loved to see a duo like Wimsey and Vane or Alleyn and Troy but gay, so I had to invent them myself. And I love Cambridge so that seemed to be the right location.

Chris Smith: Oh I’m glad you explained that — I’ve always loved how Jonty and Orlando are not a horrible pastiche of Holmes and Watson. They are so very much their own characters. So, where did your love of Cambridge spring from?

Charlie Cochrane: Ah,  well.  Back in 1976 New Hall college decided they’d be mad enough to allow me to come and take my degree there. New Hall is modern but I spent a lot of time in the older parts of the University and the older colleges.  These became the models for St Bride’s.

Chris Smith: Somehow a young Cochrane stalking the talent in the other colleges is not entirely beyond imagining. But how does someone go from studying (mathematics?) at New Hall to being both one of the busiest real life people and most prolific M/M authors out there? It seems like you’ve a new ebook coming out every month or so!

Charlie Cochrane: Not beyond imagining and entirely accurate –  you weren’t stalking me were you? You weren’t born I guess. I studied science, not maths. Not clever enough for maths. LOL About the business,  yes, I sort of had this mad idea that life might get slower at 50 but it just expanded in all directions. Don’t forget I did a lot of writing before I was ever published. A lot of these stories were half finished in my files, waiting to be taken out and used at the right time.

Chris Smith: I was born in 1981 — so you figure! And I’m pretty sure you’re damn clever enough. Am pleased you did not turn out to be a mathematician. They scare Chris Smith. And I’ve seen a photo of you. YOU LIE about the expansion in all directions. Widthways I am most definitely envious! You mean there is a TROVE OF COCHRANE LURKING ON YOUR HARD DRIVE?

Charlie Cochrane: It’s the expansion of activities that keeps me so thin.  And the hummingbird metabolism. You should see the middle Cochrane; eats like an elephant, built like a racing snake. There’s a fair amount in my hard drive – half written things and little ideas mainly. Less than there was – a lot of it has already escaped. Nothing too worrying though.

Chris Smith: I’m now imagining these files fleeing into the air, screaming FREE! FREE! I’m not going to ask if you’ve the denouement to the Cambridge Fellows Mysteries on there, because I’d be damn sad knowing THAT it was going end, let alone how you’d got there, so let’s wander along to your other short stories. How do you make these so brilliant? It’s most unfair.

Charlie Cochrane: I think that’s starting off in fanfic, you have to make a short piece interesting. Like me. I’m a short piece. LOL. Vertically challenged. I love writing short stories, so easy to make them flow. More than 25000 words is hard work.

Chris Smith: The grounding of fanfic is great isn’t it? But what would you say is the biggest difference between professional fiction (by which I mean you’re contracted to a publisher with external editors) and fan-fiction?

Charlie Cochrane: For a lot of people it’s quality of finished product.  Not for everyone – some people write fanfic that’s as well presented and checked, etc as pro fic.

Chris Smith: As in, because of publishers there is a built in filter in pro-fic that prevents one from having to go through in search of gems. There are gems there, but they’re not always easily visible.

Charlie Cochrane: The main difference for an author is that you can’t use ‘shorthand’. By which I mean you could start a story saying ‘Hi Ianto. Where’s the rest of them?’ Jack looked around the hub. ‘Gwen’s gone off with Owen somewhere and I’ve no idea where Tosh has got to’. Everyone reading the fanfic would know who you meant.  No need to set up character etc. If you started a story ‘Hi John. Where’s the rest of them?’ Freddie looked around the Strom. ‘Clare’s gone off with Terry somewhere and I’ve no idea where Lola has got to’ everyone would have lost interest by then.

Chris Smith: Well said! So, what’s next on Cochrane’s calendar?

Charlie Cochrane: Depends when you post this interview. LOL.  Feb 14th I Do Two is due out. 16th Feb Lessons in Seduction comes out.  Cambridge books out in print this summer. I’ve  got a couple of WWI things I’m working on which don’t have a home yet.

Chris Smith: And I’m sure you can teach us a bit or two about seduction! And I’m so pleased to hear about print — I’ve got a few books in e-books and print, and I have to say I much prefer the real feel of a book in my hands!

Charlie Cochrane: I prefer real books too.  I’m a great ‘bath-time reader’.

Chris Smith: Me too. There is something quite horrible about the thought of a kindle in the water. Horrible, slightly tingly, and very expensive.

Charlie Cochrane: And very predictable given my innate clumsiness.

Chris Smith: So, oh great Cochrane, I have one last, horrible, and completely unpredictable question to ask. Who is your favourite referee?

Charlie Cochrane: Is this a trick question? The one and only Nigel Owens, whose boots I am not fit to lick.

Chris Smith: Would you, if given the opportunity?

Charlie Cochrane: Lick his boots? Maybe. Clean them — definitely.

Chris Smith: Anything else you want to proclaim to the world before I leave you in peace to watch 30 men in short shorts grope each other in the name of sport?

Charlie Cochrane: I don’t think so. Except to say thank you for being such a good interviewer

Chris Smith: No, thank you for being such a good interviewee. The cookie is in the post!


Charlie’s website

Author Interview: Donald L Hardy

Today’s interviewee is author, actor and general Good Egg, Donald L Hardy, who has recently had his first novel – LOVER’S KNOT – published by Running Press, set around the turn of the century Cornwall.

Speak Its Name: Tell us a little bit about Donald L Hardy and your writing career to date.

Donald L Hardy: I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and when I turned forty had a midlife crisis of Biblical proportions.  I got rid of everything, moved to California, moved onto a sailboat and lived on it for 11 years. Continue reading

Author Interview: Hayden Thorne

Today’s victim in the hot seat is Hayden Thorne, writer of young adult fiction, specializing in historical, folk, and gothic themes though modern fantasy themes finds their way into some of her stories, too. Her debut with Prizm Books includes three novels, all aimed at gay teens (and everyone else, for that matter) who enjoy historical fiction as well as contemporary fantasy.

Welcome to our interview spot, Hayden. How long have you been writing? What made you begin?

I was in a writing club for a couple of years in grade school, and we did mostly stuff for the school newsletter. I didn’t write fiction till I was a graduate student at Cal State Hayward. I wish I could give you a clearer account of what, exactly, made me go for fiction. It’s one of those weird, dreamlike sequences that just happen. Something just clicks, an epiphany takes place, and you simply go with the flow.

In short, I was watching the animated movie, The Nutcracker Prince, and decided that the ending was a bit…meh. So I decided to write an “alternate” ending that was – wait for it – all tears and heartbreak and swoony romance till the deus ex machina moment when Hans and Clara were finally reunited.

icarusinflightI’d go over my first attempts at writing fanfiction for Sailor Moon involving a terrible, terrible Mary Sue character, but I think it’s best to quit while I’m ahead. My first attempt at writing GLBT fiction was after I saw the BBC presentation of Clarissa, and heaven help me, I got inspired to attempt my own sentimental epistolary novel, this time involving a young man who moves in with his richer relations, and, Clarissa-like, is seduced by the Byronic friend of his cousin. I never finished it, thank God. Then I was introduced to fandoms and fanfiction, and it all snowballed from there.

Describe something great and something not so great that has happened to you in the writing career to date.

The great thing was seeing my novels published to help launch a new GLBT YA imprint of an e-publisher. I’d had a few (read: about four) short stories published under their adult fiction imprint as well as half a dozen others picked up elsewhere. However, I found that I wasn’t very comfortable writing adult romances or sensual romances, so my submissions stopped, and I couldn’t sell another short story to other publishers if my life depended on it. Receiving an email from Prizm, though, asking me if I were interested in submitting a YA novel to help launch their new imprint, was a godsend. It came at a time when I was really down about my writing and was wondering if I should just quit altogether. As it turned out, I was writing in the wrong genre all that time.

The not-so-great moments? Oh, dear. Let me say that my expectations regarding networking were sadly newbie-ish. People don’t cross over easily, depending on the genre, or at least it seems to be easier for YA readers to cross over to adult fiction than it is for adult fiction readers to cross over to YA. To what extent common misconceptions about YA have anything to do with some people’s dismissal, I can’t say. Even within the YA community as well as the GLBT YA community, genre GLBT YA fiction is still a tiny, ghettoized niche. If I want to see this market expand, I need to work doubly hard to get attention for my books. M/M fiction, at least, enjoys the benefit of slash fans moving on to published works for reading material. There’s a ready audience, and there’s a wealth of published stories in different formats to attract more readers with. I’ve only got three mainstream books that I can claim for my corner of the fiction market: Perry Moore’s Hero (superhero fantasy), Steve Berman’s Vintage (ghost fiction), and David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy (romantic fantasy). Prizm Books, bless ’em, encourages genre submissions, but being a small indie outfit, they get lost in the big, bad world of book sales, with larger publishers enjoying greater marketing clout.

Do you have any particular writing routine? What about superstitions?

My writing days are usually Mondays and Fridays. In between them, I kick back and read. As far as my routine goes, I’ve become a devotee of Write or Die, which I use to freewrite each new chapter. I do this the night before my main writing day. I save the gibberish I manage to spew out in an hour, then open the file the next day, and sift through the drunken jumble of words, which I transfer to my WIP and then spend the rest of the time expanding and polishing everything into a brand spankin’ new chapter. I find that approach very, very helpful in forcing me to ignore my inner editor, which I blame largely for my recent string of false starts and blocks. Freewriting also raises all sorts of new plot directions that I’ve never considered before, and so far it’s done my story a world of good, turning a pretty straightforward narrative into something more complicated.

I go crazy if I don’t write an average of two chapters a week, but that’s not superstition. It’s fact. Just ask my husband.

You’ve often blogged about being unsure about which particular genre you’d like to write – are you still undecided? Do you think it’s necessary to stick to one genre? If so, why?

I’ve wibbled over that for a while, yeah. I read articles and blog posts regarding authors’ brands, i.e., that authors need to settle into one genre in order to make it easier for the publisher to market the books as well as to help define audience expectations.

To be honest with you, I chafe at being limited to one genre (or, rather, subgenre). Creatively, alternating between contemporary fantasy and historical fiction really helps keep me on my toes. I don’t feel burned out, and I’m always fresh with new ideas whenever I switch back and forth. However, I also understand the need for an author’s brand. If I want to find a larger publisher through whom I can release my future books, I do need to play by their rules. Right now, being published by a small indie press allows me more freedom, but down the road, I certainly would like to see my books picked up by a mainstream press.

In the end, I’ve decided to pursue historical fantasy. It’s a good compromise for me, melding two genres I enjoy writing, and it also allows me wider berth when it comes to addressing issues pertinent to young readers, while also offering some crossover appeal to adult readers. I’m not done with superheroes, though, and I will write sequels to my trilogy when I get inspired. Those books will be submitted to Prizm since my superhero series is contracted with them.

What’s your publishing history?

I wrote short stories, mostly romance (some erotic), under another pseudonym, and they were published by Harrington Gay Men’s Literary Quarterly and Atria, among others. That lasted less than two years. Unfortunately, burnout came hard and fast. I was contacted by Prizm in the late spring, I think, of 2007. They contracted three books with me, (Masks:Rise of Heroes, Banshee and Icarus in Flight) in addition to the secoAdd an Imagend and third books of my superhero trilogy. Masks: Evolution, the second book, was released on Christmas Eve, and Masks: Ordinary Champions, the third book, is set to be released in the spring of 2009.

Which of your story characters do you like best and why?

I enjoyed writing those characters that challenge me or catch me by surprise in some way or other without driving me crazy. Most of them ended up more complex than what I first planned, and it was because their stories demanded that I let loose and allow the characters to “guide” the writing. I ended up taking so many different directions with them, which all turned out well in the end.

My ultimate favorite is Eric Plath, the 16-year-old hero of my Masks trilogy. Since the entire series is told from his POV, thinking like a teenager proved to be a pretty fun experience (not to mention cathartic). Frederick Wakeman, Nathaniel’s father in Banshee is another character I enjoyed writing. His story resonated with me, and while I first wrote him out to be a bully of a father, his character resisted the mold, and he ended up being a somewhat tragic figure. I’d go on and on about other characters, but there isn’t enough time. You’re certainly free to wander off to my blog and check out my ongoing “alphabiography” on my books, in which I discuss, in quite a bit of detail, my current published works, including my favorite and least favorite characters.

Who inspires you?

Fringe artists (writers, musicians, etc.) inspire me the most. Anyone who believes in his vision so strongly and who’s passionate enough to go against the grain and continue to hold his ground despite small sales, little exposure, or outright condescension and dismissal from the mainstream or status quo. I admire their guts and their grit, and I always wish I had the balls when it comes to my own challenges in publishing and marketing. There’s quite a bit of negativity toward small publishers as well as YA fiction coming from many writers, agents, and reviewers. It’s pretty frustrating functioning in that environment for anyone who hopes to see his or her writing career move forward and up. Maybe I’m biased because I live in the Bay Area and work in Berkeley, which is a haven for fringe culture. At any rate, I tend to look to them when my confidence wavers, which tends to be fairly often.

masks2You are writing a series of books, your Masks trilogy – Are you nervous over reader reaction for the sequel to Masks Evolution?

It hasn’t come to that yet, but I’m sure it will soon, especially when the books get posted at larger online bookstores. I certainly hope that they enjoy reading the series as much as I enjoyed writing it.

How much does reader response mean to you over your books? What do you hope readers get from your books after they read them?

My books are my babies, so reader response is pretty important to me. On the whole, I find that I can weather criticism pretty well (then again, I braced for it even before my books were released, so I guess I was mentally prepared). I try to take into account any objections alongside praise, so I can work on my weaknesses next time around. I’m sort of in the unique position of having three different books published simultaneously, so it’s been a pretty interesting (not to mention surprising) experience seeing which book sells well, which receives more good reviews, which appears to be better received among a certain group of readers, etc.

On the whole, I write to escape, and I hope that readers find themselves completely transported for a while when they read any of my books. I like writing in shades of gray, in a manner of speaking. I want readers – especially young readers – to see that nothing’s ever black and white. Good intentions fail, and innocents suffer for it. Even villains turn out that way because of parents’ misguided ambitions, or they suffer from plain bad luck, like Katherine Ellsworth in Icarus in Flight.

How long does it take to write a book for you?

It really depends. Romance is a genre that I tend to have a very difficult time writing, so it took me about a year, maybe a little more, to finish Icarus in Flight. The end result was around 120,000 words that I ended up cutting down to 75,000 to meet the publisher’s length requirements. I was high on inspiration when I began Masks, so the first book in that trilogy took me about a month and a half of non-stop writing, though the editing bit tripled the time. Banshee was more of the slow-and-steady project for me, and that took at least a couple of months to write. I’m trying to remind myself not to rush through any given project now, so I’m taking my time with my WIP, though from the looks of things, I can see it done by the end of January. This one is taking me roughly four months to write, which is a good pace for me.

Do you outline, or just make it up as you go?

I always start off with a very general outline of a new story. I’ve learned early on not to depend too much on it, though, and my ongoing use of Write or Die has taught me to just let go and trust what comes out when the inner editor is temporarily shut off. On the whole, I try to stick to the outline, no matter what happens throughout the story. As long as the characters reach Point B from Point A, everything else in between is fair game.

How do you research? As you go, or doing it all before you start?

I tend to research as I go, but I got into historical fiction with a basic knowledge of 19th century English culture, etc. The day-to-day details kill me all the time, and I always end up spending way more time researching on, say, a certain rug pattern common in Victorian households, when all I need is a quick reference to it in one sentence. It’s insane. Historical fiction writers are born masochists with our own personal floggers hot glued to our clammy hands.

Are you in control of your characters or do they control you?

It’s half and half, by and large. Those characters I pretty much “know” right off the bat tend to keep within the lines I draw for them. Those who start off pretty vaguely shaped in my head usually “rebel” or evolve till I’m forced to go back and revise earlier scenes to accommodate the changes they need. I certainly know better than to ignore them or fight back, though.

Can you tell us anything surprising you’ve found in your researches?

When I first found out about it a long time ago, I got pretty depressed. It was about how clothes among Victorians were passed down and recycled from rich to poor till the clothes literally fell apart on someone’s body after so many alterations and uses. By the time the poor got their hands on them, they were in tatters. It depressed me in the sense that it said so much about people’s circumstances back then, from the desperate wish for respectability to plain, brain-numbing poverty.

What particular challenges do you find writing GLBT YA Historicals?

Finding more information about Victorian teenagers other than school and hard work, depending on social class. Even then, whatever information I can find regarding teens in schools is pretty limited to curricula and what comes after, i.e., university. Nothing about behavior or expectations or anything that can give me a good idea of how teens lived back then. Even the non-fiction books I have barely have anything to say about Victorian children and absolutely nothing about Victorian teens. Maybe this is part of the reason why most teen historical romance fiction tends to focus on the upper-class. The idle rich are easier to keep track of, and they feed us all sorts of romantic fantasies about their lifestyles. These YA books pretty much mirror their adult historical romance counterparts, especially if you’re looking at non-GLBT Regency romances. Not that I blame them. If that were one of the reasons for the skewed preferences toward the rich, I can see why. I’ve been tearing my hair out looking for simple, basic information for teenage middle-class characters and keep coming up short.

What I know about anything relating to day-to-day life of Victorian teens comes from schoolboy fiction published during that century. Even then, I’m quite aware that much of what I read has been embellished by the authors, so I can’t even rely on them for purely factual stuff.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about YA fiction?

That it is, by and large, dumbed-down, teenybopper EMOlit. Just like all other genres, YA is represented by a wide range of books, many bad, many good. Some fit the EMOlit description I gave, but many don’t. There are a number of crossover titles (think Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman, Peter Cameron, Cory Doctorow, among others) that appeal to both adult and young readers. Recent articles posted at different online publications illustrate those misconceptions pretty clearly: I’m YA, and I’m OK, What Girls Want, and Book Bench Reads. I read an article written by a sci-fi fan months ago in which she talks about how she despises YA and that it should never be a part of the Sci-Fi market. I’d try to go and look it up, but I’ve already taken too many heart pills.

Tell us why you are passionate about GLBT YA fiction.

I can only lead you to a great article that Cory Doctorow wrote some months ago regarding YA and science fiction. That article accurately sums up why I love writing YA fiction: Nature’s Daredevils: Writing for Young Audiences. The gay angle comes from my very unpleasant (and much-needed) kick up the pants with regard to GLBT issues: Matthew Shepherd’s murder. The more I read up on hate crimes against members of the GLBT community, the more I also learned about teenagers and their experiences in school or with their families. I recently enjoyed a very nice chat with an editor of an online gay publication, and he’s very passionate about homeless/runaway queer teens. He showed me links to one local place he supports and even organizes charity shows to raise money for shelter. It was eye-opening and plain gut-wrenching.

Because I’m straight, I honestly don’t consider myself the best person to write coming-out stories for queer teens. Considering how vulnerable these young folks are, coming to terms with their identities during a pretty crazy period of their lives, I can’t write about something I’ve never experienced before. The issues are too delicate and too important for me to try to handle. I leave it to better-qualified writers, i.e., queer writers who’ve been there before and can share their stories with the next generation, to offer these kids the kind of wisdom that I don’t have.

I’m the outsider looking in. The best thing I can offer them is an escape, writing stories with characters who’re their age and who are also gay, fighting costumed bad guys or falling in love in victorian England or being haunted by a ghost in the Isle of Wight. They might not offer kids struggling with the fear of rejection or homophobia the comfort they need or the answers to their questions, but my stories, hopefully, give them a chance to forget about their problems for a little while.

What are you working on now? What plans do you have after that?

I’m currently working on a new novel (currently titled The Twilight Gods but may change to Penelope’s Web), which is a historical fantasy. It’s a reinterpretation of a Native American folktale called “The Girl Who Married a Ghost”, which I set in Victorian England during the Great Exhibition. It started out as a novelette, with my focus being nothing more than the main character falling in love with a shadow-person type, which was a different angle to take with regard to his coming to terms with his homosexuality. The novel version is more complicated than that, and I decided to make use of the current debate about gay marriage to help shape the plot.

Another book that I’m working on – or, rather, it’s been set aside for the time being – is called Minstrel, which is set in 19th century Germany during Christmas. It’s currently the proverbial albatross around my neck as I’ve had so many problems with it since the get-go, but I just need to go back and rethink things and then see where that takes me.

I’ve got a rough outline for a novel that’s set in the Spanish-colonized Philippines, and it takes place during the last days of Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero. I’m not sure when I’ll be working on it, but it’s at least crudely laid out in my journal.

I’m no longer writing short stories, and I’m definitely hoping to submit my WIP, once it’s nice and ready, to agents for represenation.

Can you please give us a sneak peek at any of your upcoming books?

My most recent release, Masks: Evolution, is currently listed only at the publisher’s site, and it should be available elsewhere in a few weeks (hopefully!). More information can be found here. The third book of my trilogy, Masks: Ordinary Champions, is set for a spring release.

What five books would you have to have with you on a desert island?

Oscar Wilde: Complete Short Fiction, Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James, Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman, Shamela by Henry Fielding, and The Carnivorous Lamb by Augustin Gomez-Arcos.

If there was one thing you could tell the publishing industry and have them take notice, what would it be?

Am I cheating if I lift something straight from one of my posts?

If big, mainstream publishers of GLBT young adult fiction would recognize this – the fact that a queer kid’s experiences or identity-shaping can go well beyond modern high school borders – then we’ll see this minority group better represented in genres outside contemporary realistic fiction. Homophobia, bullying, rejection, first love, first sexual experiences, peer acceptance, etc. – these can be just as easily and effectively explored in a fantasy world or a space colony or a pirate ship or Bath in Georgian England.

Adjust the rules and the parameters accordingly as dictated by each specific genre, of course. A gay teen in Victorian England will have less freedom than, say, a gay teen in the Kingdom of Ballantyria (unless the fantasy writer decides to make Ballantyria a police state of some kind, but by and large, he’s still got much more elbow room to dictate rules compared to us historical fiction writers, who have to adhere to facts). But in the end, the reading experience can be just as amazing and rewarding as finding oneself in a lonely teenager’s high school ordeals.

Where can the readers find out more about you?

I’ll be gorging on chocolate over here:

Thanks, Hayden. Your blog is unmissable, as far as I’m concerned.

Author Interview: Mark R Probst, author of “The Filly”

Alex Beecroft interviews Mark R Probst.

Mark R. Probst lives in Washington, works in the computer industry, and writes in his spare time. He is an avid movie buff, and has a special admiration for the western films of the classic era. He’s had a life-long interest in writing, though The Filly is his first published novel. He is currently at work on a second novel.

SiN: Who has been the biggest influence upon your work?

MRP: This is going to sound rather odd, but I’d have to say John Ford, because I was trying to emulate a John Ford Western in The Filly. But I’m sure you actually meant what writers influenced my work, so I’d just have to list a few of my favorites, Margaret Mitchell, Jane Austen, Dodie Smith, J.R.R. Tolkien, and E. M. Forster. But of course not to imply that The Filly could come anywhere near touching the brilliance of some of their works. You probably would have expected my influences to come from Western writers such as Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, or Max Brand. But to be honest, I had never read any of their works before starting on my novel. All my knowledge of the Old West came from the movies and that is the sort of golden, glamorous world I wanted to recreate. I started reading some of Zane Grey’s early works during the writing process because I wanted to get a feel for how a literary Western was structured. I was actually rather surprised to learn that Grey’s books weren’t quite so much the shoot-em-ups I was expecting, but rather romantic in nature. Unlike the movies, Grey’s cowboy heroes were somewhat tender and gooey in love with the damsels.

SiN: Who is your own favorite character?

MRP: It’s hard to pick between the two. So much of who I am, or was at a younger age, is Ethan, but Travis is the shining knight, the salvation I always longed for. In fact in the first draft of the story, he was too perfect. I realized he needed a few dents and scratches to bring him down to earth, so in subsequent drafts I allowed him more flaws. Both of them are very real to me and I imagine that in some ways I am both of them. I should also mention that Josh holds a special place in my heart as well. He started out as nothing but a minor side character, a sort of fun-loving, prankster cowboy, but grew and grew until he was real to me as well.

SiN: You say there’s a lot of you in Ethan. Just how much? Do you care to elaborate on that?

MRP: First of all, Ethan is a lot more mature than I was at seventeen. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 25 – or even date, for that matter. I was just so socially awkward and introverted that even though I knew I was gay at 17, there’s no way I was ready to take it on. Me at 25 is probably the equivalent of Ethan at 17. I chose to make Ethan younger because I felt that in the Old West when boys grew up a lot faster, if I presented Ethan as a 25 year old virgin, it just wouldn’t be believable.

SiN: Who is your favorite fictional character created by someone other than yourself?

MRP: It’s really hard to pick favorites for me, but I’ll mention a few that stand out in my mind because there is a little something extra that gives them real depth. Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, Cassandra in I Capture the Castle,and Jo March in Little Women.

SiN: What was your first book and what was it about?

MRP: Oh God, must I answer that? Can’t The Filly just be my first as it is the first published? Okay, when I was a little kid I wrote picture books with all my favorite cartoon characters: The Flintstones, Winnie the Pooh, Peanuts and so forth. I guess you could call it a kid’s version of fan fiction. Then I started creating my own characters in stories. Looking back at it now, they were really pretty awful and one would certainly not detect a shred of literary talent in any of it. When I was an older teenager, I attempted a short novel about a mortal girl who gets romantically involved with a warlock, sort of the reverse of Bewitched. It’s crap too and I would never allow anybody to read it. So I basically gave up writing at 19 and didn’t take it up again for another 20 years.

SiN: Do you do anything to summon up inspiration – write to music, have a special writing hat etc?

MRP: Generally, I have to pound everything out in my head before I ever set anything down on paper. I do this by pacing around the house and sometimes talking aloud to myself. Obviously I have to be alone when I do this, otherwise my partner would be calling to have them cart me off to a mental institution. When I’ve finally brainstormed enough to have some semblance of a story, I’ll set to work typing it out on the computer.

SiN: What works in progress have you got on the go at the moment?

MRP: I’ve written the first three chapters of a pre-quel to The Filly. InThe Filly Travis briefly tells Ethan about a girl from his past, a childhood sweetheart with whom he lost his virginity and who was deeply in love with him and wanted to marry him. I was thinking about writing some short stories about some of the events in my characters’ pasts to help flesh out the present, and when I thought about this girl, I realized she had an entire story to tell and, damn it if she wasn’t going to be the star of my next book. So I rolled back four years to 1874 to begin the story of Violet Foster, the 19 year-old daughter of a wealthy, widowed San Antonio businessman. She has all her hopes and dreams wrapped up in one soul, none other than Travis Cain. It’s less of a Western, and more of a post Civil War story, and deals with issues such as ex-slaves who are free in name only, but continue to live in complete servitude to their white employers. Now since Travis is yet again not the main character, but secondary, and he has yet to deal with the truth of his sexual desires, I don’t think it will qualify as “gay fiction,” so I may be letting down readers of The Filly who want more gay western lore. But it’s a story I need to tell, and I intend to visit Travis again in a sequel where he will finally get to be the star. It will be set circa 1905 when he will be about 50. Sorry, I’ve got no details figured out yet on that one.

I’d also like to write a fictional biography of a real-life historical character of my own choosing. But of course that takes a tremendous amount of research because you don’t want your fictional counterparts to contradict any known facts about your historical character. There are plenty of gay historical characters to choose from: Oscar Wilde, Alexander the Great, Edward II, Kynaston, Michaelangelo, to name a few.

SiN: If your book became a big Hollywood film, who would you cast to play your characters?

MRP: Oh good, a question that caters to my little fantasy. “Hello? Mr. Spielberg? You loved The Filly and want to make a movie of it?!!!” But seriously, it’s a hard question to answer because I didn’t visualize any famous actors when writing it. I think I’d prefer unknowns to play the parts.

SiN: How did you feel the day you first held a copy of The Filly in your hands?

MRP: There were three goals I set up in my mind that I thought would be a thrilling experience. The first was to see the Amazon listing of my book, the second to hold a finished printed and bound copy in my hands, and the third hasn’t happened yet – to walk into a bookstore and see it sitting on a shelf. I think I built it up so much in my mind that when the first two actually happened, it was sort of anti-climatic and I wasn’t as thrilled as I expected I would be. I know that’s not a very good answer, but I’m being truthful about it. I have gotten praise from different people, some of whom I was a fan, and others who were just readers that stumbled upon my book and I can honestly say, I was tickled from my head to my toes over that.

And by the way, my book did make it into three real-life brick and mortar LGBT bookstores. So if you live in Philadelphia, Northampton MA, or Milwaukee, go in, take a picture of my book on the shelf and email it to me. It really will give me a thrill!

SiN: Who is your favorite current author and what is your favorite genre to read?

MRP: I’ll limit my answer to mainstream authors since I don’t want to hurt the feelings of some of the other small-press authors with whom I’ve networked by not picking them. I’ll probably take some flack for this, but I’d have to say J. K. Rowling. The Harry Potter series has really been a delight and it’s done a lot to get kids back to reading again. Before Harry Potter, when have you ever seen kids willingly reading 800-page books and begging for more?

As for my favorite genre, I like anything that takes me out of the present day. So historical fiction is a biggie, even if it is just 20 or 30 years past. I also occasionally like the diversion of other-worldly stuff, like fantasy, sci-fi, or futuristic. Even though contemporary fiction is my least favorite, a good book is a good book and I’m not about to exclude an excellent read just because it may not be written in my favorite genre.

SiN: You started your own publishing company, didn’t you? What prompted you to make that decision? Would you recommend it?

MRP: Yes, I started Cheyenne Publishing for the sole purpose of publishing my own books. I tried the traditional route first, querying agents and receiving rejection letters. Unless you have a contact in the publishing business, it’s pretty much a dead end. And as I researched more and more about the publishing business, I realized that even if by some miracle I managed to get traditionally published by a big name, it was unlikely that the publisher would really get behind me and promote my book. Unless you are a name-brand author or your book is one of the very few that they really have faith in, they leave it to you to promote anyway. And if they don’t see really big numbers really soon, BAM you’re out of print. So publishing myself under my own imprint was all about me having control. Yes it means a lot of hard work to get even a small niche of readers to find you or know who you are, but you don’t have to worry about the axe dropping and you also have the final say in a lot of things such as cover design, and editorial content. Yes you need to get a lot of advice and weigh it, but ultimately, you decide. I also recommend that you hire a really good editor. That’s the one area where you don’t want to cheap out. Would I recommend it? That depends. If you have to max out your credit cards and have no means of paying off the bills should your book not sell well, then of course I would say no. But if you have the means and go in with the expectation that you may not get a return on your investment, but you’ll have the satisfaction that people will be reading and enjoying your book, then yes!

SiN: Why cowboys – and why historical?

MRP: That’s easy. Because I love the genre. With gay stories popping up all over the place in so many different genres, it seemed to me at the time that the Western was one place where homosexuality was still devoid. Of course I started writing my book before Brokeback Mountain came out as a movie. I thought it was unique when I first dreamed it up, but then once I started digging I found there were actually quite a few gay Westerns already out there, so even though I had to concede that it wasn’t a unique idea, I still tried to make it the best I could.

SiN: Some reviewers are touting your book as YA. Was that what you had in mind when you wrote it?

MRP: Absolutely. I wanted to write a book that I would have enjoyed and that would have helped me to come to terms with my homosexuality when I was a teenager. There weren’t any books like that 25-30 years ago and the gay books that did exist back then, if I’d had access to them, would have embarrassed me and would have filled me with guilt, due to their very adult nature. If even one gay teen reads The Filly and feels better about himself because of it, I will feel that I have been a great success.

Thanks a lot Mark, great interview.

The Filly can be purchased HERE. A review of the book can be found HERE.

World’s longest pub crawl: An Interview with Alex Beecroft

Back in midwinter, I asked Alex Beecroft for an interview. We agreed to meet over virtual pints and spent the rest of the winter happily trading rounds along with questions and answers. Now that the lilacs and azaleas are blooming (in my corner of the world, anyway) it’s time to share our adventure with all of you. So belly up to the bar, the next round’s on us!

Lee Benoit: What inspired you to undertake Captain’s Surrender?

Alex Beecroft:The honest answer would be ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl’. While everyone in the world was swooning over Jack Sparrow, I was transfixed right from the beginning with the lads of the Navy. That fabulous great ship (which I now know was a twin of HMS Victory) emerging out of the fog. Those gorgeous young men in wigs and stockings, looking well scrubbed and well pleased with themselves in their fancy coats and their gold braid. I forgot about pirates in an instant and went away and bought ‘Master and Commander’ on DVD. After which I had to read the book.

Except that it turned out there were twenty books in Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring series about Captain Jack Aubrey. I went through them at a rate of two a week, feeling utterly transported. When I’d finished I found I had to move on to even harder stuff – text books about the 18th Century Navy, biographies of Admiral Lord Rodney, Lord Cochrane, Anson, Nelson and Collingwood, non-fiction about 18th Century society, etc. I had ended up with an 18th Century fixation. After that it was inevitable to want to tell a story in that setting, and as my mind naturally comes up with m/m love stories, it ended up as a m/m love story in the Age of Sail.

I’d also stumbled across Rictor Norton’s website about homosexuality in 18th Century England and was pondering what it would be like to be a fairly sensitive young man, living amid so much hatred. That’s why my character Josh turned out so angsty and so conflicted!

LB:Can you tell us a bit about how Captain’s Surrender came to be published by Linden Bay Romance?

AB: Oh, that’s one of those amazing flukes where you feel that someone up there is looking after you. I had known for a long time that what I really wanted to write was m/m fiction, but I thought there was no market for it at all. So I’d been writing a series of short stories for my friends just for our own enjoyment, when one day one of them discovered Ransom by Lee Rowan.

She reviewed it, saying how much she’d enjoyed it and how delighted she was to find that there were actual published books of the kind of fiction we enjoyed. And then Lee dropped by to say thank you for the review. I mentioned to her how exciting it was to find this new genre, and how I hoped one day to get involved myself. Then she said, “Well, my publisher is running their annual competition to select a new writer. If you can get something together in the next month, why not try entering it?”

At that point I didn’t have a book at all, I had a linked series of short stories. But I thought “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, and spent the next month sitting up to all hours writing the bridging material needed to turn the stories into a novel. I entered it into the competition one day before the deadline. And it won! Unbelievable! I was sure that such things didn’t happen to me. But this time they did.

LB: That’s not unbelievable at all to those of us who’ve read and relished Captain’s Surrender. It sounds like your involvement — coming to the genre first as a reader, then as a writer — reflects the experience of many, including writers, who crave rich plots and fully-realized characters with their smex. Could you tell me more of your thoughts on this?

AB: Thank you! And yes, I know that there’s an initial rush when you discover m/m fiction or slash fic or whatever, and you read whatever you can get your hands on, the smuttier the better. It doesn’t really matter at that point about good writing, because it’s all so new and you’ve been starving for so long — and for the first time in your life there is enough of the stuff. But once that initial rush wears off, I think you start to want the same things you want in mainstream fiction too — namely good storytelling. There’s no reason why we can’t have m/m fiction *and smut* and quality writing too.

LB: You clearly know your era well. You mentioned Rictor Norton’s web site as a reliable source for information; can you tell us more about how you conducted your research? What advice would you offer someone who’s considering writing historical fiction? Any special advice for those writing gay historicals?

AB: My advice would be to set your book in a time that you love. When I fell in love with the 18th Century Navy I knew nothing about it other than that the uniforms were gorgeous and the cannons sounded cool (if the films could be believed). But it was sheer enthusiasm that drove me to read every book I could lay my hands on about the time. Because I was powered by an infatuation with the historical period, I emptied libraries and read textbooks for fun, going ‘oh wow, that’s so cool!’ all the time. As a result, I learned an awful lot, while enjoying myself at the same time. But I can’t imagine what it would be like to dispassionately decide on a period and to research out of obligation. I think that would make the research feel too much like work, and you would be tempted to skip it in order to get on with the story.

Because I loved the world first, it became fun for me to drop in little details like Emily’s fashionable ‘sack’ dress, or the ostentatious meal Captain Walker gives to Reverend Jenson. But if it had been miserable labour to look up the menus of the time, the proper set of a toga or whatever, I think the detail would be sparser.

As for advice on writing gay historicals — I think it’s important to check the specific shape of the prejudice at the time. For example, the later 18th Century was fairly modern in that there was already a dawning understanding that it might be an innate trait, whereas earlier it was seen as entirely a matter of choice. In Biblical times it was disliked because it was seen as a waste of seed (which was regarded as killing a potential child), whereas in Roman times it was all about status. No one cared if a Roman citizen buggered a boy or a foreigner, but it was an enormous shame for a Roman to allow himself to be buggered. So check which form the prejudice takes!

Also, try to keep away from the two extremes of ‘oh, everyone knows and they’re ok with it, despite the fact that it’s a crime that warrants the death penalty’ and ‘oh, it’s so dreadful, their lives are not worth living.’ Gay people seem to have managed to live full and defiantly happy lives under the worst conditions. As an author it’s a fine balancing act to keep both the dread and the happiness of gay love in a time when it could get you killed.

LB: Tell us about your writing process. Where and when do you work? Do you outline? Write each scene in order? Work on projects one at a time or concurrently? Have any special rituals or idiosyncrasies?

AB: I have a computer desk tucked in the corner of the dining room. (At least, the estate agent called the room a dining room. We have two computers, three bookshelves and no table in there). It’s not organized enough to be an office, though. It’s true that an office doesn’t need to be organized, but this isn’t even organized enough to contain useful books. I have to wander all over the house to find my research.

I try and write between 10am and 2.30pm (when I have to get the children from school) each day, though I’ll admit that I procrastinate a lot.

My process is to fly by the seat of my pants for the first 5 chapters or so, by which time things will have sorted themselves out in my mind enough for me to outline the whole thing. After that I do write each scene in order until I get to the end — and only start revising and editing when the first draft is finished. I prefer to work on one thing until it’s finished, not to do multiple things at once.

Heh, and I will admit that I have a special writing hat. I email and netsurf and so forth on the same computer I write on, so putting on the writing hat is a way to signal to myself that it’s time to stop all that and concentrate on the writing now.

LB: A special writing hat? What’s yours like and where do I get one?

AB: I bought myself a special beanie with scratchy glittery bits, so that I would be able to tell by feel that it was not a normal hat (I wear hats quite a lot, and didn’t want my subconscious to get confused).

LB: What’s surprised you the most about your own writing?

AB: I don’t know if I’m allowed to say so, but it still surprises me that anyone thinks it’s anything special. I look at Patrick O’Brian or Ursula Le Guin, and I still have a very long way to go!

LB:What has surprised you the most about being published?

AB:I never imagined it would be so much work! If I’m lucky I spend four hours a day writing, but now the rest of my life has gone under in trying to promote, keep up with chats, write reviews, deal with Facebook, MySpace, etc., write to Amazon, sort out tax etc., etc. If I do four hours writing a day, I then do another 10 hours trying to keep up with my various groups. It’s insane – but kind of fun.

I save up reviews or interviews or excerpts for a Monday (which is promo day on most of my lists) and then send the same thing simultaneously to five or six lists. I can’t keep up with commenting on everyone else’s promo, though I try to say something nice once in a while, whenever I have five minutes to spare. That’s about as much as I can manage. But then I don’t expect anyone to comment on mine – and very few people do, so that’s OK!

LB: If you had the opportunity to travel back in time, where would you go and why? If you could bring one item or idea from the present to the past with assurances that your action wouldn’t disrupt space-time, what would it be? And, if you could nick something from your historical destination, what would that be?

AB: It’s quite boring, I’m afraid. I probably would go to mid 18th Century London, just to see how it really was. If I had to go as a woman, I’d take sanitary towels with me (oh and pants — is that underpants in America? Because they didn’t wear underwear in those days, and I think I’d feel a bit uncomfortable with that.)

I think the best thing to bring back would just be the experiences; no matter how you try to imagine things, really living them brings it home like nothing else. However, I wouldn’t mind bringing one of these fantastic coffee-percolators home with me.

LB: Not boring at all. Underthings are an inspired choice!

I’ve just picked up The Witch’s Boy, though I haven’t read it yet. It looks to be very different in theme and structure (as well as plot and genre) from Captain’s Surrender. I’d love to know how working on the new fantasy novel was different from working on your first, historical piece. Did you have any trepidation about shifting genres?

AB: Ah, well, curiously enough, The Witch’s Boy is the earlier written of the two books. I wrote it when I was first at home with my newborn daughter. She would sleep for an hour and a half a day, and I seized that chance to write. It took me two years to finish the book, but because it was slow and steady work I had plenty of time to think about the plot when I wasn’t actually writing it. It allowed me to make the plot quite complex — I was able to work out where all those loose ends could be sewn back in to achieve an effect that seemed inevitable.

I’ve always been a big fan of Fantasy; I grew up on Tolkien, and it seemed natural for my first book to be a fantasy. I have to admit that I love what I think of as ‘the appeal of the strange’. I like to open a book and be caught up in a different world, where everything makes sense, but it’s not the same sense as our ordinary, commonplace life. I like to take a holiday in a book, so that when I come back my own life is more welcome and homely — as it would be when you’ve just returned from somewhere exotic.

And that’s the link, I think, between Fantasy and Historical. Both are books about other worlds; strange, exotic places where people think and act differently. It’s just that in the historical that world was once a real part of our past. The only real difficulty with Captain’s Surrender was that it had a strict word-limit of 60,000 words, which I found a little too short. I wanted to pay more attention to Josh’s time with the Anishinabe, but I couldn’t manage to cram more than the bare minimum into the word count.

And thematically, they’re both about the triumph of love, whether that’s Sulien’s attempt to save Tancred from the consequences of his own evil actions, or Peter’s refusal to bow to the expectations of society and condemn Josh. So I didn’t really perceive much of a difference in any basic technique in writing them. I tend to feel that a story’s a story, no matter the genre. Though having said that I am a bit intimidated by the demands of the strict murder mystery. I haven’t tried one of them, but I’m keen to try at some point just to see if I can do it.

LB:Now I really can’t wait to read it! What’s next for you (besides a cab home)? I meant, what’s next on your writing agenda?

AB: I’m just entering the home stretch on the second draft/rewrite of another m/m Age of Sail novel, currently under the working title of ‘False Colors’. It’s 80k words at the moment, but needs a couple of extra scenes and a bit of expanding at the end, so it may end up 85-90,000. And I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel with it! It’s exciting, but of course external forces are now conspiring to stop me doing that final twenty pages. Still, I should have a new novel to hawk around by August, touch wood!

LB: That certainly is exciting! What can you tell us about False Colors? Is it a sequel to Captain’s Surrender?

AB: It isn’t a sequel to Captain’s Surrender, as it has different characters, but it will be similar in tone — lots more nautical action, heroism and forbidden love.

LB: Something for us all to look forward to, then. What else is on your horizon?

AB: I have a short story called ‘90% Proof’ (when I say ‘short’ I mean 10,000 words) which is due out fairly soon from Freya’s Bower in a m/m anthology called ‘Inherently Sexual’. I’m looking forward to that one coming out because, from the summaries I’ve seen of the other stories included, it should be a really good read.

I’m also busily writing another m/m short of about the same length, tentatively called ‘Away With The Faeries’, and when that’s finished I’m going to settle down and write a short, lighthearted contemporary novel, just for a bit of a break.

LB: I’m sure I have lots of company is wishing you best of luck with your new projects. It’s been a real pleasure, Alex. Thank you.

Alex Beecroft is the author of the novels Captain’s Surrender and The Witch’s Boy, along with several stories. She is currently at work on False Colours, a new Age of Sail novel. She’s also the founder of The Macaronis, a blog dedicated to writing gay historical fiction.

Lee Benoit reviews fiction at Uniquely Pleasurable and Rainbow Reviews, and Speak Its Name, and is the author of several stories published through Torquere Press.

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