RectorWriter

Adventures in storytelling by Bob Rector


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MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR NORM CLARK

Joining me today is Norm Clark, author of the spy thriller The Saladin Strategy. While reading his book, hints of who he is as a person seeped from the undertone of his writing style, and much of it I could identify with. For good reason as I learned after communicating with him.

We were both born in the midwest and our careers have taken us to many colorful places both in the U.S. and abroad. We were both military brats, him as a youth, me as an adult (long story). We’ve both done gigs in Yokosuka, Japan, though not at the same time. And we both wrote our first novels in ‘later years.’

I was so taken with The Saladin Strategy that I wanted to get to know more about what makes Norm Clark tick and share it with you on my RectorWriter’s Blog. To read my review, click here.

Norm Clark's slam-bang thriller 'The Saladin Strategy.' Click on image for Amazon page.

Norm Clark’s slam-bang thriller ‘The Saladin Strategy.’ Click on image for Amazon page.

RECTORWRITER: Norm, thank you for participating in my version of ’21.’ We’ve corresponded over the past year or so through various social media venues and have established a rapport as writers. In my review of your novel The Saladin Strategy I described it as “a slam-bang adventure story that moves at the speed of a Hellfire missile.” What’s the genesis of this fine book?

NORM: The storyline was born from an actual incident of a missing nuclear warhead six years ago and the resulting cover-up. I did take literary liberties with the end result for the benefit of the story. A major underlying premise for the book series is the importance of re-election to incumbents as opposed to our national security, which is a major component of the story.

RECTORWRITER: After reading Saladin, I assumed you must have had some experience in intelligence work because the labyrinth twists and turns woven into the plot and characters have a distinct ring of truth. How did you go about researching the inner workings of the spy world?

NORM: Growing up a Navy brat in San Diego created a military mindset that allowed me to become friends with several special-ops people in my adult life—Navy Seals, a Force-Recon Marine, and a Viet Nam era pilot for the CIA’s Air America. Their anecdotes and mission stories shared over many sessions of liquid refreshment provided untold hours of entertainment. Years later, at the onset of my writing career, the details from those conversations surfaced and became solid input for my books. The research came from a variety of sources: the headlines, Internet, local library, and television documentaries.

Author Norm Clark

Author Norm Clark

RECTORWRITER: Tell us a little about how you created the main character Jack McDuff.

NORM: The protagonist needs to be the focal point of the necessary conflict in fiction. Therefore, when I created Jack’s bio at the start of the series, it set the stage to force Jack into unsanctioned, rogue missions, which carries an underlying conflict theme throughout the stories.

RECTORWRITER: Tell us a little about how you formulate your plots.

NORM: For me, a factual event or scenario provides the most realistic seed to build a story around. Once decided, I create a minimal outline—start, turning points, and end. All are subject to change throughout the manuscript construction. When writing, I tend to outline one to three chapters ahead to stay in touch with my characters, their interaction, and the plot directions.

RECTORWRITER: Talk to us a little about writing good dialogue.

NORM: We’ve all heard the ‘Show don’t tell’ advice a thousand times. While a small amount of tell can be needed at times, I try to keep it to a minimum. Proper dialogue is a key element in fiction. It moves the story along to keep it from bogging down, introduces new information, escalates conflict and tension, and can give the reader a ‘cliffhanger’ to turn the page to the next chapter.

RECTORWRITER: What did you enjoy most about writing The Saladin Strategy?

NORM: The entire creative process was fun, but the times the story seemed to write itself was the most interesting for me. When I read what I input at those times, it was new to me, which seems crazy. It still needed editing however.

RECTORWRITER: Yes, when you reach the point where auto-writing occurs, that’s the best. What did you enjoy least?

NORM: The tedium of self-editing shared by many writers, and I am certain your name belongs on that list Bob, can be a painful process. For example, all writers can relate to that once perfect sentence in the draft that no longer works due to a rewrite and must be deleted for the quality of the finished product. Ouch!

RECTORWRITER: In film editing it’s called the face on the cutting room floor. In writing I guess it’s the words on the cutting floor. What attracted you to writing?

NORM: L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz turned me into a voracious reader at about the age of eight, but the writing bug surfaced in my mid-twenties when Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett planted the writing seed and prompted me to buy my first ‘How to Write Fiction’ book.

Norm and his wife Pamela vacationing at Mt. Rushmore.

Norm and his wife Pamela vacationing at Mt. Rushmore.

RECTORWRITER: I was inspired by Follett too. What other writers have inspired or influenced you most and why?

NORM: My early-adult reading was consumed by Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler who planted my head squarely in the mystery genre. The epic phase followed with Leon Uris’s Exodus and The Godfather by Mario Puzo, which thrust me into a lost weekend and prompted the purchase of another ‘How to Write Fiction’ book. More recent authors include Lee Child, Daniel Silva, and Brad Thor, who write in a similar genre to mine and serve as successful examples for me. I would be remiss if I did not mention your great book Bob, Unthinkable Consequences, which is a great example of an outstanding indie publication.

RECTORWRITER: Describe Norm Clark to us when he is writing.

NORM: His world is arm’s length when in the writing zone. Distractions are a death knell to the creative process.

RECTORWRITER: I hear you. What person has influenced your life most and why?

NORM: Unquestionably, my wife Pamela has impacted my life more than anyone else. She supports and understands my need to write, and prods me forward when I get lazy. So, hats off to the great lady in my life.

RECTORWRITER: Are your characters drawn from life, fabricated from the needs of the story, or developed in some other manner?

NORM: Fiction characters are created from a writer’s total experience with people in their lives. We draw on past friends and associates, family members, and total strangers encountered and observed for our character’s appearance, personality, and demeanor. There are times, however, we just make them up to fit the plot situation—whatever it takes.

RECTORWRITER: Well said. What other fields or professions did you work in before becoming a writer?

NORM: Most of my working career was spent in the ceramic installation field, with a notable exception. I spent three-and-a-half years doing wine and liquor promotion for a topnotch importer in New York, which was great fun and allowed much desired travel.

RECTORWRITER: How do you feel about the world of indie writing/publishing in its current state?

NORM: The indie business has realized exceptional progress from the growth of the electronic age with no end in sight. Major publishers denigrate the quality control of indie products on one hand and have jumped on the digital bandwagon on the other. They cite their expertise as necessary to improve the industry, but, in my opinion, their overall print output through the years disproves that claim. I’m convinced their interest in the ebook market is purely from a profit perspective with the price to be paid by indie-writers and the reading public. There may be a battle, but we have some big guns on our side too.

RECTORWRITER: How do you think it can be improved?

NORM: To my thinking, the 80/20 rule applies, where eighty percent of the sales are generated by twenty percent of the available product. Perhaps, the creation of truly, independent and unbiased reviewing companies to rate the indie products could be of benefit.

RECTORWRITER: Many indie writers share your sentiments. If money was no object, what would you do with your life other than write?

NORM: This is a no-brainer for me. I would resume my traveling days. There is however, a caveat here—the new sights, people observed, and cultures learned, would stir my writing blood and drive me back to the keyboard.

RECTORWRITER: What has been your most disappointing experience as a writer?

NORM: My first publication received a review with the header ‘Could be better’ and drove a dagger in my heart. However, when I read it, I realized it was a positive three-star review with great constructive criticism, and I derived much benefit from the input. No author, regardless their last name (ie: King, Grisham, Patterson, etc.) will publish a book loved by every reader. They receive their share of negative reviews. The most frustrating thing for all authors are the cruel, mean-spirited reviews received for no apparent reason, but they are part of the life we choose to live.

RECTORWRITER: What has been your most satisfying experience?

NORM: The host of unsolicited, unbiased reviews received from readers (many of them peers) that validate my choice to be an author. Quality reviews are the lifeblood of all authors.

RECTORWRITER: What do you think are the biggest pitfalls for aspiring writers?

NORM: Fledgling writers have no concept of the commitment required for even a modicum of success for their masterpiece. The learning curve is steep and infinite, but it is a reachable goal if they remain dedicated to their dream. Most do not realize they need to write a good book, properly edited, with a great cover for any chance at a successful publication. It is a long, hard road to a rewarding conclusion. If any would-be writers are reading this, do not be discouraged, it is a wonderful trip with many good friends made on the journey. Make up your mind to commit to your dream and start writing.

RECTORWRITER: How do you define success as an indie-writer?

NORM: Your peers and readers judge your validity as an author in many ways. The aforementioned review process with continued and growing sales issues the verdict on your success in the marketplace. My peer’s acceptance is of equal importance for me. Their interaction demonstrates acceptance in the writing community. This interview invitation from you Bob is a perfect example of the support rendered, and I thank you very much.

RECTORWRITER: My pleasure, Norm. Any other books in the works?

NORM: Book three of The Jack McDuff series, though untitled as of yet, is officially a work in progress. I hope to start writing very soon.

RECTORWRITER: In that case, I’ll let you get back to your keyboard. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you better. Thanks Norm.


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LETTERS FROM THE FRONT NOW AVAILABLE IN PRINT & KINDLE

For years it was only available as a script on 8-1/2 x ll 3-hole punched paper, and only to those who actually worked on the show. This is better.

For years it was only available as a script on 8-1/2 x ll 3-hole punched paper, and only to those who actually worked on the show. This is better.

What’s the difference between writing novels and writing plays? Both involve the ancient craft of storytelling. Both use words as the essential building blocks. Beyond that, well . . . Having done both, here’s what a play means to me.

Standing Os. Cheers. People coming up to me and shaking my hand, saying thank you, telling me what my play meant to them. Face to face. Night after night.

Wouldn't it be nice if this was happening when people read our books?

Wouldn’t it be nice if this was happening when people read our books?

We seldom get that response with our books. Perhaps at a book signing. Or when somebody writes a particularly flattering review. With my play Letters From The Front, I got it after every performance, year after year, all over the world.

I wish every writer was able to experience that.

MargueeHutchinson

After releasing my one (and so far, only) novel Unthinkable Consequences, I’ve often wondered how people responded when they read it. A few have been kind enough to leave enthusiastic reviews, but that was after they’d read the entire book and had time to analyze their feelings toward the work.

It’s very different with a play. The reaction is spontaneous and continuous. Night after night I sat in the dark with hundreds of others and watched and listened to their reaction while the performance was in progress. A laugh here, a tear there, a gasp, a groan, shuffling in their seats when their attention wasn’t being held completely, leaning forward when it was.

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Do people react that way while they read our books? No doubt they do. We’re just not there to see it. Its been hard for me to get used to that.

That little observation aside, what is Letters From The Front about?

It’s been called an emotional roller coaster. I’ve watched audiences ride that roller coaster enough times to know that there’s evidently some truth to the statement. CBS Evening News called Letters From The Front “A patriotic tribute to the men and women who so bravely serve.” NBC’s Today called it: “A wonderful show.” The Shreveport Times said it was “A tear-jerking, hand-clapping, mind-blowing stroll through history.”

I guess it’s all those things.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Melanie Collup) reminisces about the war years in an opening letter to her grandson in Vietnam.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Melanie Collup) reminisces about the war years in an opening letter to her grandson in Vietnam.

Here’s the official blurb: This play weaves actual letters to and from soldiers and their loved ones going as far back as Valley Forge, into a story set during the waning days of WWII. The personal themes in the letters are honestly reflected, as is the commitment of everyday Americans to preserve freedom.

Popular essayist Katharine Hartgrove, whose son is fighting in Northern Italy, has been commissioned to write a play based on these letters. She enlists boyfriend, Johnny Chastain, America’s favorite radio wise guy, to assist her. He provides an unseen twist to the story, along with plenty of comic relief. When the laughter and tears subside, Johnny is the most unlikely of heroes and Katharine is healed from emotional scars that have haunted her for 20 years.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Della Cole) gets the phone call she's been hoping for. Beside her is boyfriend Johnny Chastain (Bob Curren).

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Della Cole) gets the phone call she’s been hoping for. Beside her is boyfriend Johnny Chastain (Bob Curren).

Letters From The Front is a heartfelt and surprisingly humorous story of heroism, hope, and redemption.

Okay, but to me what the play is about is better summed up by a statement made by Katharine Hartgrove midway through the show:

“To me, this play isn’t about individual wars or the politics behind them or who was right or who was wrong. It’s about the fragile and precious nature of life. It’s about everyday people who suddenly came face to face with their own mortality, or the prospect of losing a loved one. It’s about people reaching out to each other, maybe for the last time. Each of these letters was affirmation on the part of the writer that at their darkest moment they were not alone.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s about people, what’s in their hearts, who they love, how they deal with life’s adversities. At the core is a conflict of massive proportions – World War II. Millions are thrown into the conflagration.

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Michele Rosen) shares a poignant war letter with Johnny Chastain (Neal Matthews).

A scene from the show. Katharine Hartgrove (Michele Rosen) shares a poignant war letter with Johnny Chastain (Neal Matthews).

But Letters From the Front focuses on just two people as they struggle to understand, adjust, put events into some sort of meaningful perspective, and discover the depth of their love for each other.

Maybe the song As Time Goes By captures the sentiment best: “It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory.”

Inside the playbill handed out as people enter the theater there is a comment card. Over the years we’ve collected tens of thousands of them. Here are examples of comments from people who have seen the show.

Inside the playbills are comment cards

Inside the playbills are comment cards

~~ “I was touched beyond belief. I am a better person for having seen your show.”

~~ “I have never been so deeply touched as I have been with this production. You have brought the reality of the home front to light with such clarity and tenderness.”

~~ “You broke my heart and brightened my day. Fantastic!!”

~~ “Some of the best theater I have seen. Better than most from Boston and New York. Impressed!”

~~ “Uniquely heartwarming, tearjerking, hits home hard. Thanks.”

~~ “At the base of every conflict is the men and women who have fought it. The wants, needs, desires, and fears never change no matter the time or place. Your group presented this in a truly memorable way. P.S. I cried about ten times.”

~~ “It was without a doubt one of the most touching and patriotic shows I have experienced. It was filled with humor, tears, laughter, sadness, and a wonderful sense of being an American.”

~~ “Hits close to home, close to the heart.”

Della Cole originated the role of Katharine Hartgrove and was an audience pleaser for many years.

Della Cole originated the role of Katharine Hartgrove and was an audience pleaser for many years.

I hope you’ll take the time to read Letters From The Front. Being a play, it’s a fast read. It’s available both in print and Kindle at http://goo.gl/ZQQGqN at a special introductory price of $2.99 for Kindle and $8.95 for print. You can learn more about the play itself at the blog https://lettersfromthefronttheater.wordpress.com/


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IMPAKTER EZINE FEATURES MY ARTICLE ON “THE JOURNEY DOWN THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD”

10 September, 2014 at 09:32

IMPAKTER is a classy new international Ezine about culture, style, society, and philanthropy. Here is my article as it appears in Impakter.

Scene from The Long and Winding Road starring Alva Sanders (maiden name)

Scene from The Long and Winding Road starring Alva Sanders (maiden name)

My previous Impakter article ‘The Birth of Music Video TV’ tells how The Now Explosion TV show was created and how I landed my dream job of making music video-films for the show.

’The Long and Winding Road’ by The Beatles was my first assignment. And almost my last. I had exactly one day to turn it into a music video-film.

That’s right. Twenty-four hours.

This was my audition piece. I wouldn’t be paid for it and the show was under no obligation to hire me if they didn’t like what I came up with. I was provided raw stock and processing. Everything else was up to me. No problem. I was a bull pawing the ground ready to charge.

A photo of me about the time I made The Long and Winding Road in spring of 1970

A photo of me about the time I made The Long and Winding Road in spring of 1970

THIS IS A BLOW-BY-BLOW ACCOUNT OF THOSE 24 HOURS.

You might say I couldn’t I miss with a Beatles song, right? Wrong. In 1970 The Beatles were the biggest phenomenon in pop music. It would be easy for my film to get lost in their shadow.

I had to do something special, something that complimented the lyrics yet stood on its own as a narrative, something that would still be compelling even without hearing the music.

Otherwise my career would be over before it got started.

I hurried home and loaded up my 45. Not a pistol, a record player. There was only two ways to listen to pop music in 1970: radio or 45 RPM records.

I played the song over and over trying to find the heart that The Now Explosion’s young audience could identify with. To me, it was about the loss of the first true love of your life, and the devastating heartbreak when that person rejects you.

I had two things going for me. I knew the perfect location: a winding country road not far away, and I knew who I wanted to be in the film: Alva Sanders.

Tight close up of Alva Sanders as she appears in The Long and Winding Road

Tight close up of Alva Sanders as she appears in The Long and Winding Road

I had worked with Alva on a short experimental film a few months earlier. She was lanky with long black hair, pretty, and had a graceful way of moving. When I called Alva, I didn’t ask her if she wanted to be in the film; I told her she was going to be in it and that I’d pick her up at 4:30 the following morning. She was quiet for a moment then simply said, “Okay.”

We arrived at a field of wildflowers near the country road location a half-hour before sunup on Friday morning, twelve hours before my deadline. It was late March, chilly and a little misty. Alva was wearing a thin shirt and bell-bottoms, and was shivering.

The first shot was a dreamy long lens angle of her running out of the rising sun toward the camera in slow motion. I positioned her and the camera directly in line with the sun. I asked her to tie her shirt up leaving her belly bare, a popular look of the time. Good thing 16mm is not high resolution enough to show goosebumps.

This became the iconic shot from The Long and Winding Road. The morning sun and Alva did all the work. I just turned the camera on.

This became the iconic shot from The Long and Winding Road. The morning sun and Alva did all the work. I just turned the camera on.

When the sun was above the horizon, I cued Alva and she started running, her long hair flying out beautifully. We got it in one take. We continued working through the shots depending on sun position. The scenes of the road itself we shot last because I needed the sun higher.

Alva didn’t just strike a pose and look pretty. We had talked on the drive that morning about what I was trying to accomplish. She listened quietly, asked a few questions. When I started rolling film, especially for the close ups, she was clearly channeling something inside and it comes across in the footage.

By 10:30 we were finished and drove back to her house. Her mother made lunch for us then we shot the scenes of her at the window. I had no artificial lights so had to rely on the natural light coming through the window. Fine with me. I wanted her to be almost in silhouette.

I was worried whether Alva could shed real tears for the camera and was ready to use artificial ones if needed. No problem. When I started rolling film, tears streamed down her cheek, but she didn’t over-emote, just stared out the window, the pain and sadness in her eyes appearing honest and real.

I grabbed a few more shots in downtown Atlanta, took the film to the lab, and an hour later was pulling into Ch. 36 on Briarcliff Road, the Now Explosion studios. My deadline was three hours away. The producer showed me to a closet-sized editing room and within minutes, film was flying.

16mm editing station very similar to the one I used to edit The Long and Winding Road. The equipment shown is exactly the same.

16mm editing station very similar to the one I used to edit The Long and Winding Road. The equipment shown is exactly the same.

As stated before, when the show’s creator Bob Whitney saw my finished film, his response was hardly enthusiastic. I also explained why.

I was devastated. I’d had my shot at my dream and blew it. I went home very morose and consoled myself that it would be run at least once or twice over the weekend. Come Monday I’d start looking for another job.

The show was broadcast “live” at the time with audience members calling in their requests – just like Top-40 radio. The DJs chucked and jived with them while a technician cued the videotape.

An hour or so into the broadcast I heard DJ Skinny Bobby Harper say, “And here’s a new one by the Beatles, The Long and Winding Road.” There it was on TV. My film. I just stood there and watched with mouth open.

Then something remarkable happened. The Long and Winding Road started running over and over again. It became the most requested film ever shown on The Now Explosion. The producer called the following day, told me I had the job and to report to work Monday morning.

That was 44 years ago. I still get emails today from people telling me how much the film touched them and how it has lingered in their memories for decades.

Blows my mind.

Not bad for a day’s work.

Thank you Impakter and Michele Bonanno for allowing me to contribute to your fine ezine.


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IMPAKTER EZINE FEATURES MY ARTICLE ON THE BIRTH OF MUSIC VIDEO TV

 

http://impakter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/NowExStudioShoot1970.jpg

THE BIRTH OF MUSIC VIDEO TV

on 24 July, 2014 at 09:00

IMPAKTER is a classy new international Ezine about culture, style, society, and philanthropy. I was introduced to its editor Michele Bonanno through a mutual friend in Rome. Here is the article as it appears in Impakter.

You may think Music Video TV began with MTV in 1981.  Think again.  That honor belongs to a show called The Now Explosion which first aired 14 March 1970.  It was the brainchild of Bob Whitney, a Top-40 radio jock.

How do I know?  Because I was there.

Whitney’s dream was to create TV programming that continuously played big rock hits featuring the hottest artists of the time.  The Beatles.  The Rolling Stones.  Jimi Hendricks.  Steppenwolf.  The Doors.  In other words, Top-40 radio with pictures.

Major networks scoffed at the idea.  In 1970 if it wasn’t a western or a sitcom, forget about it.  Forget about cable or satellite too as a means of distributing the show.  Didn’t exist.  Programs were delivered on telephone lines or on 16mm film reels and heavy 2” videotape reels via conventional freight.  No FedEx back then, just trucks, buses and airplanes.

BobWhitney1970

In the photo: Bob Whitney

Whitney decided that if he couldn’t sign a deal with a major network, he’d create a network of his own.  He successfully strung together a number of independently owned UHF stations located around the country.  They loved the idea of youth-oriented programming occupying a massive block of airtime from noon till midnight every Saturday and Sunday.

Voila!  Music Video TV was born.

The Now Explosion was an instant hit.  Teens around the country danced in front of their TV sets every weekend.  The UHF stations that ran the show became the ‘cool’ channels.  And there was no more avid fan than yours truly, watching the show on WATL Ch. 36 in Atlanta, GA.

NElogo

I was a twenty-two year old stock clerk at a big department store at the time and had dabbled in amateur 8mm filmmaking as a hobby for years.  When I discovered that the show’s production offices were located in Atlanta, I could hear destiny calling.  I immediately quit my job, much to my wife’s dismay, and sped off to Briarcliff Road, home of The Now Explosion.

NowExStudioBriarcliffRd1970

No appointment.  No resume.  Not even a cheap suit.  The producer’s door was open so I marched right in and explained to her that I wanted to make films for The Now Explosion.

She said they weren’t hiring

I said I could do it better than the ones who were currently shooting

She said they weren’t hiring

I said I had some really great ideas that I was sure their young audience would love

She said they weren’t hiring

I said I’d do it for free

She said you’re hired

On her desk was a stack of 45-RPM records and she handed me one.  “Here’s a new release by the Beatles that’s starting up the charts,” she said.  “See what you can do with it.”  She then gave me three 100-foot loads of 16mm Ektachrome EF film and told me the address of the lab they used.

I looked at the 45’s label.  The Long and Winding Road.

AlvaLWR-Freeze

By 5:00 PM the following day I delivered to her the finished edited film.  I had started shooting at sunrise that morning, had the film in the lab by noon and on the editing table by 1:30.  It was screened for Whitney who merely grunted and said they’d include it in the weekend’s roster and see what the response was.

Why the tepid reaction?  My film told a non-linear story of a young woman mourning the loss of her true love as she reflected on the long, winding road they had traveled together.  It couldn’t have been more different from the formula established for the show, mainly young gals and guys dancing against a Chroma key screen with splashy psychedelic effects added.

I thought I had been pretty stupid; that I should have stayed with the format, but that weekend my film was by far the most requested.  The producer asked me to come in Monday morning then hired me full time, complete with salary.

For me, The Now Explosion was a college degree in filmmaking that I got paid for.  In all, I made approximately 100 films.  I wrote the scripts, cast the players, found the locations, then directed, shot, and edited the films.  I was given free rein to do whatever I wanted as long as I turned in five finished films per week.

UGA16mmFilmInsp&Prep

I didn’t hit a home run every time.  Far from it.  When you’re cranking out films that fast, you accept that you’re going to strike out a lot.  But overall I had more winners than losers.

The golden time for me was when I screened a film I’d just finished for Whitney and his eyes would light up and he’d turn to the entire staff and say, “Now that’s the kinda stuff we need more of!”

I’m gratified that forty-four years later people tell me how much some of The Now Explosion films I made still touch them, particularly The Long and Winding Road.  I believe the reason is because most of my films focused on story and character rather than just music.  I’ve always been a storyteller.  Still am.

Sadly, much of The Now Explosion programming was scattered to the wind and lost forever.  The good news is that the remaining films and videotapes are being archived, restored and digitized by the University of Georgia Media Archives department.  Bob Whitney asked me to help him preserve what’s left and I’m happy to do it.  It’s an important part of American TV history.

RectorWhitney&VidJockBobTodd2013   In the photo: Bob Rector, Bob Whitney and VidJock BobTodd 2013

The Now Explosion launched my career in films, TV, and stage that continues to this day.  It launched a lot of other careers too.  Today, music video production worldwide has become a major component of the entertainment industry generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually.

It should never be forgotten that the vision and genius of Bob Whitney made it possible.

NowEx.1-13_WEB

 


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SO YOU THINK THE DECK IS STACKED?

WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

Recently author Claude Nougat posted an article on her blog entitled, “The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution: Mirage or Reality?” I commented with a few personal observations and Claude thought they warranted a blog of their own. It has gotten very good response and so I thought readers of my RectorWriter Blog might also find them interesting.

Claude, your blog post The Author-Reader Amazon Revolution:Mirage or Reality? is a very informative and sobering article that once again leaves my head spinning about the book market today. But also conjures up some memories along similar lines.

The joys of shooting in the great outdoors. That's me in the plaid shirt.

The joys of shooting in the great outdoors. That’s me in the plaid shirt.

A little less than 40 years ago I jumped through these same kinds of hoops but in a different medium: film. I was part of a small production company that decided to make a low-budget feature film for theatrical distribution. The timing was right because several G-rated low-budget ‘outdoor-adventure’ films had done very well, chief among them was Grizzly Adams. The attraction to this genre for the filmmaker was that Mother Nature provided all the sets and most of the players (wildlife) for free. All you had to do was get the cast and crew to a really spectacular location and tell a reasonably entertaining story about a hero single-handedly fighting man’s abuse of nature. 

I was chosen to write, direct, and edit for the simple reason that I had more experience than anyone else involved, plus I was still riding on my fame from The Now Explosion. The film was titled Nature’s Way but before its release was changed to Don’t Change My World.

We made the film for next to nothing, just like today’s indie authors produce a book. In its initial screenings audiences responded very positively but to go into wide release, we ran into the same obstacles that indie writer’s face. We weren’t MGM or Universal or 20th Century Fox and they owned the game.

No animal was harmed while shooting the film. Not true of the cast and crew. We all had our share of bites and scratches.

No animal was harmed while shooting the film. Not true of the cast and crew. We all had our share of bites and scratches.

The major studios had long-established relationships with movie theaters around the world, as well as marketing and distribution operations that ran like the proverbial Swiss watch. On the other hand, we were, in effect, knocking on the door of each individual theater. They didn’t want to deal with someone who only had one film to peddle and no marketing machinery behind them. We eventually did sign with a small independent distributor who managed to get our film released nationally but playing at only one or two markets at a time, so the money generated trickled in and seldom covered expenses. Plus the theaters, since they were dealing with a small fry, slow paid, and sometimes no paid, us – something they didn’t dare do with the majors. When we protested they simply said, “So sue us.” 

The sad fact of life was that the audiences who saw the film loved it, but getting it in front of an audience was a constant uphill battle that cost more than we could possibly make, especially since much of the time we never saw the money that came into the box office. By the time the theater took its cut (much more severe than Amazon’s take) and the distributor took his cut (always with extra expenses added) and the advertising agencies took their cut, nothing was left (sound familiar?).

Producer George Macrenaris makes friends with our star. Behind him is the shack of the bad guys. These scenes were shot at Grandfather Mtn., NC.

Producer George Macrenaris makes friends with our star. Behind him is the shack of the bad guys. These scenes were shot at Grandfather Mtn., NC.

The film finally generated significant revenue when it went into non-theatrical release, primarily on cable channels like CineMax (HBO). It was also broadcast by the BBC and several other operators in Europe.

The US Navy purchased a hundred or so 16mm prints for showing onboard their ships. A specialty distributor who provided inflight movies for airlines licensed its use. Same for a distributor who supplied films for college campus theaters. And finally the film was released to the newly emerging home video market. The point being, we had to search out and broker all these deals ourselves.

Do these guys look beat up or what? I'm 2nd from the left, front, and next to me is future wife Marsha Roberts. We'd just met a few weeks earlier.

Do these guys look beat up or what? I’m 2nd from the left, front, and next to me is future wife Marsha Roberts. We’d just met a few weeks earlier.

And the same is true for indie publishers/writers. Anybody who has been in business, whether it’s selling books or selling paper clips, knows that it’s never easy and you have to work at it continuously. 

Selling is ALWAYS job one. During the 15 years we toured our play Letters From the Front around the world, selling and marketing was a nonstop daily job – and I mean every single day.

So I guess I come to this issue with a little different and perhaps more cynical (based on experience) but realistic perspective.

Editing. The part I like best. Just me and the film. Similar to writing.

Editing. The part I like best. Just me and the film. Similar to writing.

If there’s money to be made, then big money is going to control the market. Always. Never been any different since the beginning of commerce. Might makes right. 

Will fair play come into play? Don’t count on it. 

The question to indie writers/publishers is: what are you going to do about it? Throw up your hands and say the deck is stacked and I don’t stand a chance so to hell with it? Or, I have right on my side but I can’t win so I might as well not play? Are you going to take Amazon and the other major players to court and sue them for what you believe are unfair practices? Good luck. They each have teams of lawyers just waiting to bury you. 

Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m being dark or negative, please don’t. 

As the old saying goes, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (although why anybody would want to baffles me). Most of my professional life has been spent finding alternate routes around established institutions, with varying degrees of success. My first rule is to never let somebody else define my pathway to success.

Poster for "Don't Change My World"

Poster for “Don’t Change My World”

If I’m going to fail, I want to fail on my own terms. As far as indie publishing is concerned, my wife (a fellow author) and I are still experimenting and searching out alternative paths. It will take time but it always does. I’m confident that we’ll find a way that works for us. We’ve done it many times before.

The threshold we’re shooting for is not just to make money for ourselves, but to make money for somebody else, preferably a large well-funded organization. That’s what we’ve done before. We found a way to make money for major companies with our product, lots of money. Then they started writing checks to us, big checks. I’m not saying this is the only path. We’re all supposed to be creative people — so be creative about this too!

To be exceedingly trite, we don’t look at this as a problem, we look at it as an opportunity. A huge ground-floor opportunity. And we don’t expect anybody or any organization to do the heavy lifting for us. Maybe we’re naive. We’ll see.


15 Comments

SO YOU WANT TO MAKE AN AUDIOBOOK

The good news is we got it done for Miz Marsha’s book “Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer” and it’s up and running and sounds great AND IS ACTUALLY SELLING!

The cover for Marsha's audiobook version of her book

The cover for Marsha’s audiobook version of her book

The bad news: It’s a hell of a lot harder than we had any idea, and we’ve spent most of our professional lives making films and videos in varying lengths from TV spots to features. Even a feature is only around 90 minutes long. The final running time on Marsha’s book was just over . . .

SIX HOURS!

And her book is a moderate 65,000 words.

A six hour show! Nine hours for a 100,000 word book; twelve hours for a 130,000 word book.

Those are long shows!

Marsha and I created and toured a play that was just over two hours long. Believe me, that was a big show. Two hours.

A six hour show? Staggering.

A twelve hour show? Good Gawd Almighty!

Many of the first recordings ever made were audiobooks

Many of the first recordings ever made were audiobooks

Now that I’ve gotten the enormity of what you’re about to attempt (I’m assuming that’s why you’re reading this) out of the way, how exactly do you do it?

There are basically two approaches to take in creating an audiobook. Whether or not you continue reading will depend on which of the two approaches you decide upon.

First approach: Find somebody with a pleasant voice and good diction (yourself, perhaps?), put him/her in front of your computer, open your handy-dandy recording app, flip to page one in your book and have them start reading. When done, edit, probably with the same app, and presto, you have an audiobook.

If this approach appeals to you, there’s no point in reading any further. Go with God.

God help you

God help you

The second approach is to create your audio book the same way you created your written book.

Professionally.

Your most important choice? Voice talent, the kind that can bring your book alive with nothing more than his/her vocal artistry. Great voice talent is readily available. Most will have samples you can download. Fees will vary enormously from no charge with a piece of the action, to thousands of dollars.

Time to play ‘Lets make a deal.’

The person you choose to record your audiobook will be your most important decision

The person you choose to record your audiobook will be your most important decision

Sometimes the price will include professional recording facilities. Convenient perhaps but pointless if you don’t get the reading you’re looking for.

Why is finding the perfect voice talent for your audiobook so important. Won’t any experienced professional do an adequate job?

Well, let me ask you a question. Did you know the original choice to play Rick in Casablanca was not Bogart but George Raft? Wouldn’t that have been a disaster, even with the same script and director? Or imagine Bette Davis playing Scarlet O’Hara, Laurence Olivier playing Conan the Barbarian.

Can you imagine anyone else playing Bogart's role?

Can you imagine anyone else playing Bogart’s role?

Old Hollywood axiom: Casting is everything. Same is true for audiobooks.

Marsha and I decided there was only one person who could do justice to her book: Della Cole. We’ve worked with Della for over 25 years in numerous film and stage productions, most notably Letters From the Front, in which she originated the lead role of Katharine Hartgrove. Much of Marsha’s book recounts our adventures with this long running show which toured the world for 15 years. Della was there for much of the time and knew most of the accounts first hand. Who better to tell the story?

Della Cole (right) was our one and only choice to record Miz Marsha's audiobook and as usual knocked it out of the ball park

Della Cole (right) was our one and only choice to record Miz Marsha’s audiobook and as usual knocked it out of the ball park

Besides casting, you’ll have to make many other choices. Scheduling, for example. Tricky considering the program length. To get all those hours of oratory laid down, a number of recording sessions will be required over a period of days, weeks, even months.

It took us six months.

Not continuously, of course, but all involved had very busy schedules. Sometimes weeks would pass between recording sessions.

Why does that matter?

Consistency.

Recording levels, EQ, audio formats, media, microphone placement, and room tone have to match from session to session. You might assume that the recording engineer will take care of all this.

Typical voice recording studio and sound-proof booth for the talent. Gone are the days of reel-to-reel tape recorders. It's all done digitally today.

Typical voice recording studio and sound-proof booth for the talent. Gone are the days of reel-to-reel tape recorders. It’s all done digitally today.

Don’t count on it.

During the course of working on your audiobook, he/she will be working on a number of other projects, all with different recording settings.

End result?

It’s very easy for your audiobook to sound like a patchwork audio quilt and ACX (Amazon’s audiobook production division) will reject it.

If these folks aren't happy with how your audiobook sounds -- off with your head!

If these folks aren’t happy with how your audiobook sounds — off with your head!

That’s right. ACX won’t accept just anything you send them. If it doesn’t fit their specs, your audiobook will be rejected. Fortunately they provide detailed spec sheets and a very helpful ‘how to’ section. You can access them here.

What does all this mean?

It means that, congratulations, you are now a producer.

If you do not feel comfortable being a producer, there are professionals you can hire to do that job too. An experienced producer can make up for their fees in the money they’ll save you on wasted time, poor scheduling, and ensuring that everyone does their job properly. They know when and how to crack the whip. You don’t.

I see you’ve already got your calculator out trying to estimate how big a dent this is going to put in your children’s college fund. Next question: How much recording time will be required?

With the production of your  audiobook you'll be adding up more than word count

With the production of your audiobook you’ll be adding up more than word count

Again this can vary greatly due to many factors, the most important being what quality level is acceptable to you. When you were writing your book, think how many times you scoured every word and sentence, every line of dialogue, until your manuscript was the best you could make it. Nothing less was acceptable.

Same applies with an audiobook. To get it exactly the way you want it will require a number of takes, even with the best voice talent. Often the talent will ask for another take if they don’t think they got the best out of a line or segment. Only an idiot would refuse their request.

Oh, and did I mention Whispersync?

Just when you thought you knew everything . . .

Just when you thought you knew everything . . .

What is Whispersync?

Whispersync is a very clever little magic trick developed by Amazon that allows customers to synchronize their content across various devices so they can pick up right where they left off.

In other words, somebody listening to your audiobook can at any time pick up their Kindle and it will be positioned at the exact spot where they stopped listening. Crazy, but it works and people buying your audiobook will want it to be Whispersync compatible.

What does Whispersync compatible mean to you and the production of your audiobook?

It means your recorded book will have to be word-for-word accurate with your written book. If it’s not, Whispersync may not work. Not good.

From your original manuscript to all the ebook formats to audiobook. What's next?

From your original manuscript to all the ebook formats to audiobook. What’s next?

It means someone will have to pay close attention during recording to ensure that the voice talent performs your book with word-for-word precision. Remember, they’re focused on performance. During playback it’ll need to be checked again.

This may seem like no big deal but take it from me, it is. You’ll be surprised how much stuff will escape your scrutiny; contractions where there should or shouldn’t be, dropped words, superfluous words added, repeated words. Catching them all becomes a bit nerve racking.

Okay, back to how much recording time will be required. For Marsha’s book, at 65,000 words, we recorded a little over 30 hours of original audio. In other words, a 5 to 1 ratio.

But there’s recording time and there’s session time. Session time includes the actual recording time plus playback time to check performance level and errors. It also includes slating, room tone, potty breaks, water breaks, takes ruined by noisy vehicles outside, doors slamming, or myriad other disturbances. It’s all part of the process.

A diesel firetruck with horns and siren blaring will trump the best sound insulation of any recording booth and be picked up by the microphone

A diesel firetruck with horns and siren blaring will trump the best sound insulation of any recording booth and be picked up by the microphone

One other thing to consider: Even professional talent can seldom record beyond a three hour session. Fatigue naturally sets in and the quality of the recording sags. If you’re lucky, and schedules allow, you can record two sessions in a day.

The information I’ve given here is based on personal experience. You may do better, you may do worse. As I said earlier, I spent years as a professional filmmaker so I was one-up on the game. Cutting audio tracks – dialogue, sound effects, and music – is an integral part of the film editing process. Been there, done it. A lot.

But with an audiobook all you’ve got is dialogue. No sound effects or music to cover up mistakes or distract the ear from ‘presence’ fluctuations or other recording anomalies. Your voice recording is front and center, bare-ass naked. Better be slim, trim, and flawless.

This is just one of the many reasons I found recording and cutting an audiobook to be an arduous task. I’ll do better on my next one. Practice makes perfect. Or at least better. I hope.

As writers, we're used to working alone. An audiobook is a production and productions require collaboration. Relax. It's not as bad as it sounds.

As writers, we’re used to working alone. An audiobook is a production and productions require collaboration. Relax. It’s not as bad as it sounds.

So at last the recording is done. It’s clean. It meets ACX’s recording specs. The voice talent’s performance hopefully exceeds your expectations.

Time to break out the champagne.

Go ahead. You deserve it.

Go ahead. You deserve it.

But wait! There’s more!

You now have to edit it.

But I’m going to cut you some slack here and save that for my next blog. For the time being, relax and enjoy your champagne.


9 Comments

MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR DANIELLE DEVOR

Danielle DeVor is one of my favorite writers. I’ve read two of her books so far: ‘Dancing With A Dead Horse’ and ‘Constructing Marcus’. Both prove she is a master storyteller who writes with flair and a narrative flow so well constructed that the pages fly. I particularly admire her skill with dialogue. When guys speak, they don’t sound as if their words came out of a woman’s mouth – a pet peeve of mine.

DancingDeadHorseFB

Thanks for agreeing to be interrogated, Danielle. I’ll start off with my favorite series of opening questions. They may sound familiar. First, who are you really?

I am an android from the planet Zotz. No, actually, I’m just a semi-normal American girl who loves creatures and animals.

I buy you being an android from Zotz, but being semi-normal, not so much. Next question, what were you before?

At one time, I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer. I still help people with fitting of pointe shoes and moderate on a ballet message board.

DanielleBallet

What did you do?

I have also worked as a make-up artist, costume designer, and have directed and written plays.

Ah, a fellow playwright! I kinda guessed that after reading your dialogue. And finally, what did you think?

I enjoyed writing and directing plays, and hope one day, that one of my books will get picked up to be made into a film.

I think they’d make a terrific TV or cable series aimed at the teen market. I’ve never read anyone who can get into a teen’s mind as convincingly as you do – the way they think, act, and speak. Having raised a couple of teens (boys) and having been one myself (long ago in a galaxy far, far away) the ring of truth is loud and clear in your work. Talk to us a little about this special ability you have.

My favorite film of all time is The Breakfast Club. Hughes was a master at getting into the teenage mind, and I have really tried to do what he did. With boy voice, it helped that at one time, our house was the go-to house for all the teen boys in the neighborhood. Mostly, I think, because I tell ghost stories and we let them be themselves without being judgmental. For girl voice, I just try to tap into my younger self.

I love your author picture. How did you come up with that?

DanielleDevor

I wanted something striking, and since I love all things vampiric, and I used to be goth, I dug through my closet, my friend Tabby’s closet and went out into the woods. Tabby took several pictures, and that was the one that turned out best.

Although your latest book ‘Dancing With A Dead Horse’ is a straight-out whodunnit, and one of the best I’ve read in a while, your other books delve into vampires and the paranormal. Why do you think there is such a great interest today in stories about vampires, zombies, and the otherworld?

I think the interest has always been there. Look at history, the Witch-burnings, the Vampire craze in Europe. In fact, legends about vampires date back to the early days of Christianity and in other ancient religions. I think it happens in flux. There was a huge jump when Stoker’s book first came out, then less than a hundred years later the first film of his book was made. 1922’s Nosferatu. Then, Universal Studios had their monsters all come out. A lull occurred until the 1960’s and then Hammer Studios took over in England with Christopher Lee. Then, Frank Langella reprised his role of Dracula where he’d been performing on Broadway in the 1970’s. The 1980’s had a lot of vampire comedy films like Vamp with Grace Jones. In literature, the 80’s spawned the juggernaut Anne Rice. So, I suppose you can say that vampires rear their heads roughly once per decade. People are saying that vampires are dead in literature, but they aren’t. They will never be dead. MWahahahaha.

TailOfDevil

Some say our business has always been full of bloodsuckers, but we won’t go there. Your books are so intense, I wonder if you do anything special to prepare yourself for a writing session.

Being a confirmed horror film addict, I have a lot of weird thoughts going on in my head all the time. So, that part isn’t too unusual for me. When I sit down to write, I just pull out the steno pad and pens and get started. Though, I always know the main character before I sit down. And, a situation I want them to be in. The rest just comes on its own.

I especially admire your ability to write convincing dialogue, regardless of the character’s gender. Guys speak like guys and gals speak like gals. There are so few writers who can do this believably. Do you have a secret?

I think it helped that I started out writing plays. Plays are all dialogue, so I got used to making it believable as to how people talk. Also, when I question something male-related, I ask my father. He’s was a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps during Vietnam, so he’s a really good sounding board for that.

Agreed. I’ve suggested here on my blog that novelists who want to improve their dialogue skills should try writing a play. If you gave yourself a pen name that none of your friends or associates knew you by, what kind of book would you like to write?

Ooh, that’s a hard one. Maybe a western? That would be something different. Though, I’d have to have a male sounding pen name for that I think.

If money was no object, what would you do with your life besides, or in addition to, writing?

I would hire a helicopter, go to Romania, and visit the REAL Dracula’s castle. The one currently for sale is one they fixed up because it was easy to get to. He only stayed like one night there. Whereas the real castle, it is in ruins up on the side of a mountain. I would probably try to spend the night to see if something was really there. Guess if I met Dracula, I’d probably not be here anymore. LOL.

SorrowsPoint

Why must you write and what would happen if you didn’t?

I can go times without writing. In fact, I didn’t write for about ten years after I stopped writing plays. Though, now that I’ve gotten used to cranking out several books per year, I’d drive myself crazy because I would know I should be doing something.

What writers have influenced you most and why?

Richard Matheson definitely. His book, I am Legend, is a masterpiece. Also, Anne Rice because Lestat is probably the most awesome vampire ever. (I know. I so sound like a kid there. LOL.) And, of course, Stephen King. Well, because who can ignore the awesomeness of The Shining. Though, contrary to what King thinks, I love Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance.

What were your adolescent years like? Are any of your books drawn from that time in your life?

I had a very angst filled adolescence. I am a severe asthmatic, and spent a lot of my junior high and high school years at home because I was so sick. This also is what stopped me from being able to be a dancer professionally. So, I tended to hang out with people older than me and learned to people-watch. That might be why dialog is easier for me to write as well.

DanielleTeen

Yes, I wonder if some writers ever listen to how people really speak. How do you go about formulating your plots?

I never have a full idea as to how a plot will go. I just know when I start that I want my characters to react in a certain situation. In Dancing With a Dead Horse, I wanted Jason to react to the murder and the subsequent accusation. In Constructing Marcus, I wanted Emma to fall in love with a spirit who isn’t a ghost.

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

I can do NANOWRIMO. But, I try not to be that hard on myself. I usually get the rough draft done in roughly 1.5 months. Then, I have to go back and add all the description. I still write mostly dialogue and not much else when I first start. That is one detriment to beginning writing plays instead of prose.

‘Dancing With A Dead Horse’ is approx. 67,000 words. Is that the length you shoot for? If so, why?

I tend to start out with wanting to hit about 70k. But, I also take market ideals into account. YA, you can get by with smaller word counts. But, I also write adult fiction, so for those, I shoot for about 70k. I’m about to start a science fiction project, so that one will need to be above 80k.

Why did you decide to become an indie writer/publisher?

Big publishers are so out of reach for most people. Literary agents tend to go with trends instead of taking chances on new authors. So, I went with smaller publishers that will take chances on new stories. And, I also have self-published a short story of mine. There is freedom with self-publishing, but it is hard too.

ConstructMarcus

Tell us your thoughts on the world of indie publishing as it stand today. What’s good about it? What’s not so good?

I think it is good that with indie publishing, readers don’t have to wait for a small amount of books to come out every year. At the same time, though, because there are now so many people publishing, it is hard to stand out.

What changes would you like to see take place?

I think there needs to be a better way to market books to people. Most people still browse. They may buy ebooks, but they like to browse too. So, I think it would be awesome if someone would make a bookstore of a different type with placards that have the cover art and description. Maybe a few sample pages. Then, they could take a card under that piece and go to the front desk to either have their selection printed, or downloaded onto their ebook. Think about how many books that people could see if a large book store only put book space for one copy? So many more books for people to see.

Writing is a job that often involves isolation for hours, sometimes days, at a time. How do you deal with that?

I’m not really an isolated person. I get up before everyone else in the house and usually have my word count and promo done before noon. Then, I have the rest of the day to do what I need or want to do. The bad part about that is that I am a night bird and getting up early kind of sucks. But, it is the routine that works for me.

What advice, or tips, would you give a writer who is about to write their first young adult novel?

Get to know some young adults. Pay attention to their mannerisms. Pay attention to what is important to them. Ask them questions about it. Really get to know them.

How supportive are your family and friends about your chosen vocation?

My folks sell my books more than I do, I think. I have to give them bookmarks to keep with them because they will go to a store and start talking about their daughter, the writer. Inevitably, they leave a bookmark behind. And, my friends and family all buy my books, so that’s nice too.

If you could travel to any time period and any place, what and where would they be and why?

Herzegovina

I think I would like to go to what my father calls, “The Old Country”. His side of the family is from what is currently Herzegovina, but at the time that his family came to America, it was still part of Austria. It was prior to World War II, so I think it would have been interesting to see where my grandfather grew up.

What are your favorite non-writing activities?

I love to read, watch movies, go to Indian restaurants. Sometimes, I like to bake.

What else have you got to say for yourself, Danielle?

It was great being interviewed by you, Bob. Thanks!

My pleasure, Danielle. My 5-star review of Constructing Marcus can be read here, and my 5-star review of Dancing With A Dead Horse can be read here. For those of you looking for a great weekend read, I highly recommend both of these.

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