CHERRY BOMB: Successful Launch and Early Reviews!

Celebrating with high school friend Corabel Shofner at the author reception.

Celebrating with high school friend Corabel Shofner at the author reception.

My novel CHERRY BOMB launched at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi on August 8. The following week, on August 19, I was on two panels at the Mississippi Book Festival, also in Jackson. Although I’ve lived in Memphis since 1988, it was fun and fitting for my novel’s first steps out into the world to be back in my home town. My third event is coming up this Saturday, August 26, at Turnrow Book Company in Greenwood, Mississippi, at 12 p.m.

I guess the most exciting news about the launch came from Jackson’s Clarion Ledger newspaper yesterday: CHERRY BOMB is #2 in Mississippi Reads, just under John Grisham’s CAMINO ISLAND, which was #1! See the list here. Congrats also to my friend from Murrah High School, Corabel Shofner, whose novel ALMOST PARADISE is #2 in the children and young adult list! It was fun seeing Bel at the author reception for the book festival on Friday night at the Old Capitol Museum.

With Beth Ann Fennelly at the author reception

With Beth Ann Fennelly at the author reception

I’ve bombed Facebook with lots of pictures from the Mississippi Book Festival, so I’ll only include a few here, at the end of the post. KUDOS to the festival committee and volunteers for a fabulous event! I started the day at an early morning POETRY panel, moderated by my friend Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi. It reminded me why I want to get back to reading poetry first thing every morning! And I loved moderating the panel, “Her Story,” and then being a panelist (for CHERRY BOMB) on “Voices From Home.” The after party at Duling Hall, which included a Thacker Mountain Radio show, was also terrific.

In addition to several gracious emails and Facebook messages from folks who have already read CHERRY BOMB, it’s received quite a few reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, mostly 5 STARS! You can read them here:

AMAZON REVIEWS:

“This is a beautifully written book that is both real and redemptive (5 STARS)

“Rich story of redemption and expression” (4 STARS) This also appeared in the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger on August 7, 2017

“Great debut novel” (5 STARS)

“I loved it” (5 STARS)

“From the darkest childhood in a cult….” (5 STARS)

 There are 7 reviews on Goodreads (6 are 5 STAR reviews)

This comment on Facebook from Janet Smith, who was my cheerleader sponsor at Chastain Junior High School in Jackson in 1963-1966, really made my day:

I could hardly put Cherry Bomb down. You write really well, Susan. I was completely enthralled in the plot. Your references to the Icons and other parts of Greek Orthodox worship though out the story line were very vivid and capturing.

Thanks to everyone for the “likes” and encouraging words on Facebook. It’s been a long journey and it’s so rewarding to see CHERRY BOMB being well received. So, here are those pics from the festival.

 

Inside the Lemuria Bookstore tent, where all three of my books were for sale!

Inside the Lemuria Bookstore tent, where all three of my books were for sale!

Outside my window at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel in downtown Jackson. "Mare" would have loved this!

Outside my window at the Hilton Garden Inn hotel in downtown Jackson. “Mare” would have loved this!

Voices From Home panel

Voices From Home panel, with Tracy Carr, Johnnie Bernhard, Julie Cantrell, and John Floyd

Moderating the "Her Story" panel

Moderating the “Her Story” panel

with fellow "Voices From Home" panelist John Floyd at the author reception

with fellow “Voices From Home” panelist John Floyd at the author reception

with my publisher Joe Lee and fellow Dogwood Press authors

with my publisher Joe Lee and fellow Dogwood Press authors

The Glass Castle

Sunday night my husband and I went to see “The Glass Castle.” What a terrific movie! Here’s a wonderful interview with Jeanette Walls, who wrote the memoir on which the movie is based.

 The-Glass-Castle

 

Jeanette Walls reading at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2011

Jeanette Walls reading at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, in 2011

I read the book when it came out back in 2005, and I met Jeanette Walls in 2011 at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi. She was there for a reading/signing of her next book, Half Broke Horses.

 

Since I went to the movie with my husband, who had not read the book, I was eager to ask another reader what they thought. I found one while standing in line in the ladies’ room, where she and another woman agreed that both the book AND the movie were excellent. I would have loved to chat longer with this like-minded soul!

 

So, I give it 5 STARS. Walls doesn’t have a victim mentality, and doesn’t hate her parents. The best part of the movie—and this stood out more than it did in the book—was seeing Walls come to understand that the abuse her father suffered from his mother was probably responsible for much of his dysfunctional behavior. I was writing memoir at the time I read the book, and I was struggling with writing from a place of forgiveness and not from anger. Walls (and the movie) achieved this brilliantly.

Prepping

August is almost here. That means my book tour is about to begin, and I’m prepping. First I read through CHERRY BOMB again, and marked several short excerpts to read at various events. Then I made a few notes about things I want to say at each event. First one is August 8 at Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi. I think I’m ready…. Only have to buy some wine to take for the wonderful folks who come out to the event!

 

Layout 1Next up is the Mississippi Book Festival on August 19. This will take lots more prepping. In addition to being on a panel for CHERRY BOMB (“Voices of Home” at 4 p.m. in the State Capitol Room A, with Johnnie Bernhard, Julie Cantrell, and John Floyd, moderated by Tracy Carr, director of the Mississippi Center for the Book) I am moderating a panel, which will take more prep.

 

my-soul-looks-back-9781501125904_lg“Her Story” is my panel at 12 p.m. (State Capitol Room A). The description says, “Five noted women authors discuss their most recent works, as well as the opportunities and challenges unique to women writers.” I just received copies of the other four women’s recent books in the mail so I can read up on them. I am honored to be moderating this panel, and hope I can ask intelligent questions of these amazing women:

Mary Ann Connell, An Unforseen Life: A Memoir

Jessica B. Harris, My Soul Looks Back

23130276Suzanne Marrs, Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald

Norma Watkins: That Woman from Mississippi (coming in September)

 

Just Google these women to read about how outstanding their careers have been. And how many trials and struggles they have had to overcome along the way. Can’t wait to get to know them. I was glad to meet Mary Ann Connell in person at Ace Atkins’ reading at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, recently, but I haven’t met the others yet.

 

FullSizeRenderIn the midst of prepping for these and other upcoming events, I’m working with the copyeditor from University Press of Mississippi on the anthology I’m editing, Southern Writers on Writing. 26 southern authors contributed essays, and they are all amazing. Hoping to meet my editing deadline with the press while juggling these other events!

And… as I mentioned in on Friday, I’m putting together a collection of my own essays, Pilgrim Interrupted, and have already queried one agent. The introduction, table of contents, section divider quotes, and permissions page are done. I’m just doing some final edits on the complete manuscript while waiting to hear back from my first choice agent. Stay tuned!

 

Meanwhile, CHERRY BOMB has gotten numerous 5 STAR reviews on Goodreads and Amazon before my official launch next Tuesday!
Thanks, always, for reading. I love to hear from you here, or on Facebook!

Returning to the Mississippi Delta

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, coming of age in the 1950s and ’60s. It wasn’t until my freshman year at Ole Miss (1969-70) that I met people who lived in the Mississippi Delta. Several of my sorority sisters in Delta Delta Delta, as well as a close friend who lived in my dorm, were from Greenwood, Greenville, Indianola, and other small towns in this mystical part of our state. I say “mystical” because it always held a certain sway over my imagination. Going home with a girl from my pledge class to visit her family one weekend confirmed what I thought—her family’s stately homestead harked back to an era I had only read about.

contUp-img5Also during that year at Ole Miss I remember driving over to Greenville with my fiancé and some friends to eat at Doe’s Eat Place, famous for their steaks and down home atmosphere.

During the 1980s, my best friend in Jackson took me home with her to visit her family in Indianola. That was only the second time I spent the night in a Delta home. Her parents weren’t part of the “landed gentry.” They were hard-working middle class folks who owned and managed a sandwich business—rising early to prepare hundreds of fresh sandwiches for local schools and convenience stores. I watched this production one morning with much respect for their work ethic. They were such gracious people.

 

The beautiful interior at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi

The beautiful interior at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi

Fast forward about thirty years to my next trip to the Delta, around 2010. My husband was invited to speak to a group of physicians, who put the two of us up at the Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood. What a fun experience! Viking was just putting in their cooking school and retail store, which wasn’t open yet, so I wandered around town and found Turnrow Books. What a magical place! Situated in a beautiful two-story historic building downtown, it had been restored and filled with literary treasures, as well as a lovely upstairs café.

A couple of years later, some time in 2012, I drove down from Memphis to hear my friend Joshilyn Jackson read from her new novel, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, at Turnrow. I had met Joshilyn five years earlier at the first ever Mississippi Writers Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi. Her writing style, rich, quirky characters, and clear grasp of the human condition drew me to her, and inspired me to start a novel. Finally—ten years later—my first novel Cherry Bomb is born, and I’ll be returning to Turnrow for a reading at 12 p.m. on August 26!

CB cover FINALCherry Bomb is set mostly in Georgia, rather than my home state of Mississippi. I wanted to put some distance between my personal life and the fictional life of the characters in the book, although many of my experiences fed the story. When people ask me what it’s about, I start with the short answer:

Cherry Bomb is about a graffiti writer, an abstract expressionist painter, and a nun, set mostly in Georgia in the 1970s and ’80s. It’s got weeping icons, art, and a bit of mystery, all in the Christ-haunted South.”

If they want to know more:

CHERRY BOMB chronicles the lives and suffering of three women whose fates are unexpectedly intertwined: MARE, a teen graffiti artist emerging from a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her cult-leading father and foster parents; ELAINE de KOONING, an Abstract Expressionist artist whose interactions with Mare dredge up painful memories of a shameful past; and SISTER SUSANNAH, an artist and nun whose reclusive tendencies belie her deep connection to the world around her. All three women converge around a weeping icon of St. Mary of Egypt, a 5th century prostitute whose awakening to grace leads her to ultimate salvation.

 I’m looking forward to returning to the Mississippi Delta on August 26, and I hope that people in the area who love literature will join me at Turnrow Books in Greenwood at 12 p.m.

It’s (almost) HERE!

Yesterday my publisher, Joe Lee (Dogwood Press, Brandon, Mississippi) sent me this picture. HOT OFF THE PRESS and coming to a bookstore near you SOON!

CB copies

 

Next Friday, July 14, we’ll be delivering copies of Cherry Bomb to Burke’s Books in Memphis, and shortly thereafter they will be available at Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, and TurnRow in Greenwood, Mississippi.

If you don’t live near one of these wonderful independent bookstores, please ask your local shop to order Cherry Bomb for you. It will also be available soon from Amazon.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS for events in five states starting with the launch at Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi on August 8! Click on the EVENTS button at the top of my web site for all dates and locations through December.

 

First up:

 

August 8 – 5 p.m. – Lemuria/Jackson, Mississippi

August 19 – 4 p.m. – Mississippi Book Festival/Jackson, Mississippi (Festival runs all day. My fiction panel is at 4 p.m. in State Capitol Room A.)

August 26 – 12 p.m. – TurnRow Books/Greenwood, Mississippi

September 7 – 5:30 p.m. – Burke’s Books/Memphis, Tennessee

 

Did I mention I’m a little bit excited? I can’t wait to hold a copy of Cherry Bomb in my hands and smell the ink!

CHERRY BOMB Launches in Mississippi on August 8!!!

I know I haven’t blogged in a few days… I’m in a tailspin of pre-marketing for my novel, Cherry Bomb, which launches at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi on August 8. (The book releases on August 1, so ask your independent booksellers if they have it or will order it for you!) My publisher, Joe Lee of Dogwood Press in Brandon, Mississippi, has been working hard to promote the book at various events, (click here for current schedule) so stay tuned for updates. For now, if you’re in or near Jackson, Mississippi, please mark your calendars for 5 pm on August 8!

Lemuria flier

I Love Stories

BellesLettersIICov2And essays. Which is why I love anthologies. The first anthology in which I was published was Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (University of Alabama press 2012). The editors were Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed. And now Jennifer has just edited (with her husband Don Noble) a collection of short stories (these are all fiction) by 37 Alabama women writers called Belles’ Letters II (Livingston Press: The University of West Alabama).  Belles’ Letters I was published in 1999.

I got a signed copy of Belles’ Letters II this weekend at Ernest & Hadley Books in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was there for a reading and signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. The two Alabama authors who contributed to this book were there to read and sign at the event—Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed. It felt like we had come full circle, with me as editor and

Susan Cushman, Jennifer Horne, and Wendy Reed in front of Ernest & Hadley Books, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Susan Cushman, Jennifer Horne, and Wendy Reed in front of Ernest & Hadley Books, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Jennifer and Wendy as contributors. I couldn’t be more proud of this book, and of them. Or more thankful for our friendship. We spent the weekend talking shop over coffee at Wendy’s kitchen table, another visit around Jennifer’s table, and a stroll in her backyard overlooking a lake in Tuscaloosa, drinks and dinner at local bars and restaurants, and I returned to Memphis on Sunday feeling revived.

Back home today I am diving into this new collection with much appetite and enjoyment. It’s fun to read stories by three of the contributors to A Second Blooming and six contributors to Southern Writers on Writing, the anthology I’m currently editing (coming from University Press of Mississippi in 2018). It’s so encouraging to see all these gifted writers taking time to contribute short pieces to anthologies. As Madeleine L’Engle said, “We all feed the lake.” And these authors are feeding an important lake—one that I believe will become historic. A lake filling regularly with contemporary Southern literature.

Anthologies aren’t just for breakfast any more. They aren’t just something to keep on a table in the living room and pick up when you only have a few minutes to read and don’t want to dive into a longer book. They can be as satisfying as any main course. As I was beginning to read from Belles’ Letters today, I found that it didn’t matter that the stories weren’t connected. That they didn’t have a theme. It only mattered that they were well written, excellent samples of the fine craft readers have come to expect from such authors as Pulitzer Prize winner Shirley Ann Grau, Harper Lee Award winners Fannie Flagg, Carolyn Haines, and Sena Jeter Neslund, and best-selling authors such as Gail Godwin, and Lee Smith. Each story left me wanting more—and scrolling down the table of contents like a kid in a candy store, selecting my next treat.

The-Pen-and-the-Brush-260x381My spring/early summer book tour is over, and I’ve got about six weeks to regroup before events for Cherry Bomb (my novel) start up on August 8. I had initially planned to get lots of words on the page for my new novel during this break from marketing, and maybe I will, but for now I’m content to slow down and read. To refuel. I couldn’t be happier with my “to read” stack in my office. I added another interesting book to the pile, another one I picked up at Ernest & Hadley this weekend: The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteen-Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein (translated from French by Adriana Hunter).

 

9781524741723The other treasures I acquired at this wonderful new bookstore in Tuscaloosa, Alabama were two copies of Chelsea Clinton’s children’s book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. (I’ll be sending those to my four granddaughters in Denver soon.)

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to my stories. And I don’t mean soap operas.

CHERRY BOMB Book Tour is Shaping Up!

cherry bombAfter a fun and busy spring book tour for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (11 events in five states) and A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (7 events in four states, and one more coming up next week in a fifth state), I’m slowing down a bit in June and July. Doing lots of reading and “mental prep” for my new novel, which is I’ve started and stopped in order to refuel.

Cherry Bomb (my novel) launches August 8 at Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi, and my publisher, Joe Lee (Dogwood Press, Brandon, Mississippi) and I are cooking up some fun events for late summer and fall. These (and more to come) will be listed on my web site’s EVENTS page, so feel free to check in from time to time for updates. Meanwhile, here’s a preview of coming attractions in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida:

August 8 (5 pm)            Lemuria Books/Jackson, Mississippi

 

 August 19                        Mississippi Book Festival/Jackson, Mississippi (panelist for

                                                Cherry Bomb; also moderating another panel)

 

August 26 (12 pm)            Turnrow Books/Greenwood, Mississippi

 

September 1-4            Decatur Book Festival/Decatur, Georgia (panelist for A

                                                      Second Blooming; possibly also for Cherry Bomb)

 

September 7 (5:30 pm)            Burke’s Books/Memphis, Tennessee

 

October 12-15            Southern Festival of Books/Nashville, Tennessee (panelist for

                                                A Second Blooming; possibly also for Cherry Bomb)

 

October 28 (time TBA)            Capitol Oyster Bar/Montgomery, Alabama

                                                (“Choose Your Own Cover” event with live music)

 

October 30 (4 pm)            Sundog Books/Seaside, Florida

 

More events are in the works for November…. We’re still nailing down details, so stay tuned.

Magical Time in South Carolina

Susan Pat Conroy center signOur visit to Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, this past Wednesday-Sunday was nothing short of magical. In five days we ate meals at five amazing restaurants (and dinner at Cassandra Kings home in Beaufort Saturday night); did a walking tour of historic Charleston with Bill’s friend from high school who has lived in Charleston for over forty years; Bill gave two medical lectures; I had two book signings at terrific independent bookstores, Buxton Books in Charleston and Nevermore Books in Beaufort; we visited the Pat Conroy Literary Center (in Beaufort) and met Executive Director Jonathan Haupt; and I had the opportunity to meet several authors and a literary agent I admire greatly.

At Nevermore Books in Beaufort, I was joined for a reading and signing of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be by contributors Cassandra King, Susan Marquez, and NancyKay Wessman. Owner Lorrie Anderson was a fabulous hostess!

Cassandra Susan Susan NK

My favorite restaurant was Fulton Five, in downtown Charleston. It has won the “Most Romantic Restaurant” award 17 years in a row, and the atmosphere, service, and food were amazing. We were the guests of Dan and Ilene Lackland. Dan invited Bill to Charleston to give two lectures at the Medical University of South Carolina, and they were delightful hosts.

oysters at AmenOutdoor dining on the front porch at Cru Café and the patio at Blossom, both also dowtown Charleston, were both wonderful. At Cru we dined with Bill’s high school friends, Bill and Sally Wallace. At Blossom we were joined by Julien and Polly Buxton, owners of Buxton Books in Charleston.

Lunch at Amen Street (just Bill and I) was another favorite outing, with She Crab Soup and East Coast Oysters on the Halfshell. Breakfast Saturday morning with our friend (from Memphis) Julia Alissandratos was at Café Framboise, a short walk from Julia’s house near downtown Charleston. And I had lunch with author friend Nicole Seitz at Napa in Mount Pleasant, where Nicole lives, on Friday.

The (surprising) good news is that I only gained ½ pound! Maybe the walking helped.

Meeting John Warley at Nevermore Books in Beaufort

Meeting John Warley at Nevermore Books in Beaufort

Among the authors I met in Beaufort was John Warley, who wrote A Southern Girl, which I read last year, and loved. John and his wife adopted a daughter from South Korea, and the book is about some of the events circling around the social milieu in Charleston. Wonderful book and a delightful man. I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

0cc6d8_6728dfa9946a4d518af1d73afe67813dA Southern Girl was published by Story River Books, an imprint of the University of South Carolina Press, which was started by Pat Conroy.

So, why do I say it was “magical”? The trip combined so many of my favorite things in five short days: coastal sunsets, delicious seafood, bookstores, writers, old and new friendships, and several stimulating conversations with people who are very much in tune with their spiritual lives. I came home refreshed and renewed, as though I had been on a retreat. And inspired to get back to work on my next novel (which is in my head but only a few pages are drafted so far).

With my spring book tour winding down this week (17 events in 6 states in 3 months) and only one event scheduled for June/July, my plan is to use those first hot months of summer to stay inside with butt in chair and get a good chunk of this next book written. This is the hard part, but books don’t write themselves while we’re out having fun on tour. Stay tuned….

With Polly Buxton at Buxton Books in Charleston, signing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer's

With Polly Buxton at Buxton Books in Charleston, signing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s AND A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

Synchronicity at a Book Signing for A Second Blooming

Kathy Susan RiverSo, I was in Nashville (Brentwood, actually) Saturday at a book event for A Second Blooming at Barnes and Noble, with local authors/contributors River Jordan and Kathy Rhodes. We had a good turnout, a great time, and then on Monday A Second Blooming contributor Wendy Reed posted this story on Facebook:

A friend from high school—whom I wish I saw more—texted me: “I have a story for you.”

The last time I saw her was Christmas before last. She’d completed chemo; I was facing an essay deadline. She drank water and listened. I drank a beer and complained. Though I didn’t use her name, I wound up writing that scene into my essay and so sent it to her to make sure I, who don’t perceive straight lines, hadn’t crossed one. True to her generous and kind nature, she thought it was fine.

Her text had piqued my interest, so I immediately dialed her number, and after catching up—she is doing well, feeling strong, and still upbeat and grateful, while I am cursing another deadline—the story she wanted to tell me was about Mother’s Day. In addition to graduating from the same high school, she and I have lost and become mothers, and enjoy reading books, which is what her husband and son went to Barnes and Noble to buy her for Mother’s Day, which good soul that she is, she spent driving to her father’s in Birmingham to go to a jazz concert with him. I think her husband and son had planned to buy her CS Lewis, but in the front of the store two women were signing a book, A SECOND BLOOMING.

“It’s about strong women by strong women,” the women said. Strong women: 1; CS Lewis 0 (okay, not the total all-time sales score, but just wait.) My friend thanked them for her present, vowed to read it when she returned, and headed to her father’s . It had been a year and a half since I’d sent her the essay, but somewhere outside of Nashville a little bell went off.

“Honey,” she said when her husband answered the phone (Actually I’m pretty sure she doesn’t call her husband “honey,” but I am pretty sure she pulls off the road to make calls), “Will you open the book and see if my friend’s listed as one of the authors?”

He found my name.

“I might be in there,” she said, directing him to turn to the last part of the essay. “I was originally, but it might have gotten cut.”

I wanted to tell her how essential she had been to the story, but I was too stunned. Her husband, whom I’ve only met once and who had no idea about the essay, wandered into a store with thousands of other books and walked out with the one book that not only has an essay by his wife’s old friend but also inspired in part by his wife. Is it just me, or is the Twilight Zone theme playing? Some use the word ‘coincidence.’ Others invoke the divine. I call such synchronicity. My grandmother called them signs.

My essay “Woman on a Half Shell” does not trade on faith, hope or coincidences, but it does meander aimlessly, and way more than I’d intended (I dream of writing tight, well-structure prose someday), but maybe, just maybe, there’s something to unstructured winding, to going forward anyway, to losing sight of our destination, to enjoying being lost so that we may find surprise. (Or maybe it’s my idealism showing again.) But I do know that I am delighted to have met Marcella Brehmer Tudeen so many years ago, to hear that her story is going so well, and I especially enjoy the part of her story where she unwraps A SECOND BLOOMING, a gift, and quite the surprise.

ASB CoverI remember the man and his son who purchased the book from us at the bookstore on Saturday. If you have a copy of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be, look at page 150, where two paragraphs in Wendy’s essay, “Woman On a Half Shell,” are about this man’s wife! How’s that for synchronicity?

And that Wendy can sure tell a good story.

So can the other 19 women who contributed essays to the collection, so if you haven’t read it yet, BUY IT NOW and dive in!

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