Category Archives: books

The Evolution of a Series by Erin Zarro

Ever Touched final cover 3-30-17This week I’m featuring a guest post by fellow Turtleduck Press author Erin Zarro. Erin is celebrating the release of Ever Touched, the third book in her series of…futuristic paranormal romance? urban science fiction? Here she is to tell you about how she got this far…

So, when I first set out to write the first book of my Fey Touched series, Fey Touched, I was feeling pretty good. It was to be an experiment in self-publishing. But as I wrote the book, it sort of took over my life.

But in a good way, of course. 😉

You see, Fey Touched was technically a rewrite of a previous novel I’d written in 2003, except I changed a lot of the worldbuilding and preternatural creatures. They were originally vampires. Then I changed them to Fey (the creatures of myth). Then one day at work it hit me SO HARD. Why not write about creatures based in science? And everything fell into place then: the Fey Clans, the Breeding Queens, the Fey Touched. The inciting incident, and what followed.

The book almost wrote itself. I saw the things happen, and wrote the story accordingly. In fact, I was superstitious about plotting, thinking it would wreck the spell I was under. Until the last ten percent, when I got stuck on how exactly to end it.

It was an exciting time. And Fey Touched was the fastest book I ever wrote and published at just nine months (when a book for me takes from first draft to publication an average of two years).

And it sold moderately well, which spurred me on.

So then came Grave Touched, which was a bit of a departure. There were science-y things in it, but it leaned more toward paranormal with ghosts. This is where things kind of went off the rails. I’d been experiencing excruciating eye and face pain (which I learned later was trigeminal neuralgia*) and I’d just started revising Grave Touched‘s first draft. And I found I could not do it. The pain was excruciating (I would not get a diagnosis for almost three years). In despair, I broke down and told my fellow Turtleduckers that I couldn’t make my deadline. I hated doing it, but I just wasn’t able to turn in my best work with pain and stress screwing with my mind.

So plans were made to fill the hole, and I was given a new deadline, a year into the future.

Except…I had to quit writing for three months. I feared it would be forever. But it wasn’t, and when I returned to it (out of necessity – I was quite literally losing my mind), things were tough. I had to work myself back up to the higher wordcounts I’d once written in order to make my deadline. It was rough going because I was still in pain, but I managed to make it – and Grave Touched was rejected by my editor. [Siri’s note: Full disclosure: that was me.] It wasn’t my best work, and deep down, I knew it. I was given the opportunity to rewrite it and resubmit it, which I took.

My muse was not on board this time, and it took months of incremental progress to get going, but once I hit my stride, I was all right. I was still having pain, and very little relief, but I worked on it because there was nothing else I could do. This book had to be done and it had to published, come hell or high water. I believed in the story, and I was not about to blow another deadline. My editor had given me a list of things to consider as I rewrote, and I used it as my guide.

I turned it in, and it was accepted.

That book was probably the hardest I’d ever written, so when it was released on 5/1/15, I was elated. I’d managed to do the thing I didn’t think I could do – write to a deadline and publish with severe eye and face pain. Whoa.

And finally, we come to my current release, Ever Touched. I’d just gotten my diagnosis and was on medication so things were better, but not perfect. Ever Touched was a bit of a departure again – but this time, new beings in the Fey Touched world. It came as a tiny whisper as I closed up after work one day, “Old but new. First Fey. Holographic wings.” And with that, the Ascended were born! (And there is another new race of people as well, but I won’t spoil it.)

Ever Touched wasn’t plotted much – very loosely, and I liked it that way. Throughout the process, I wondered if I’d pushed things too far, or maybe, hell, it sucked. The whole thing with GT had shattered my confidence some, so there was always the question of whether or not I could do it again. I believed in myself, and my fellow Turtleduckers believed in me, but there was always that little voice inside that said, “Maybe it really does suck, and everyone’s afraid to tell you.” Which made no sense, because my editor, Siri, the one who’d rejected GT, would indeed give it to me straight. And the others would, too. We’re about quality and we’re professionals and we’d be fine. But I wondered.

When I turned EvT in on December 1st, it was with trepidation. This would be it. Was EvT worthy of publication? I was also trying to avoid another three-year gap between books. Marketing-wise, it was suicide. Thankfully, it was accepted, and I was shocked to discover that it didn’t need many rewrites at all (thank you, Kit!) and was pretty sound as is.

This blew my mind. I’d expected some rewrites. But for it to be pretty clean…this was amazing (and a first. I have always had to rewrite books. Always).

Ever Touched may or may not be the final book in the series. I wrote it so it could be either, because I couldn’t decide at the time. But for me it feels like coming full circle. I started out all excited to be experimenting, was hit with serious health adversity, almost gave up writing altogether, and now have emerged triumphant and better than ever. In the book, there is also a big triumph over a cruel, horrible enemy. And I wonder if this enemy was a symbol for the trigeminal neuralgia – that the Fey Touched’s victory over him is a parallel to my victory over the TN. It certainly feels that way at times. On the whole, writing this series has had its ups and downs and tears and frustrations, but it has also been one of my greatest joys. I always tell people that I am not doing this for the money (and really? I haven’t sold much more than the average indie) but because I simply love it.

This book also has a special place in my heart because the two main characters, Brianna and Cobra, are two of my favorites. It took me three books to discover both their secrets, and I’ll be honest, I got a bit teary writing some of their scenes (especially one in particular). I discovered their theme song, “The Sound of Silence” (as covered by Disturbed) after writing three-quarters of the book. I was writing a certain scene while the song was playing, and it was so perfect that I was stunned. (You’ll understand when you read it).

Ever Touched is a book I am proud of. It took a lot of guts to do what I did in it, and to stretch the science in the way that I did, but I am glad I did it and didn’t give up till I found some cool stuff to work with. That’s all my muse, and my love of science, which is what started me on this back in 2011. Why not combine science and fantasy and see what develops? I’m so glad I took a chance on this series.

I can’t tell you what’s coming for my Fey Touched folks, but I can say this: I am probably not completely done with them, or their world. Stay tuned.

*Trigeminal neuralgia: an excruciating inflammation of the trigeminal nerve, which supplies sensation to the face in three branches. It is also called the “suicide disease” because people have attempted suicide to be free of the pain. Mine is atypical; that is, it’s not a usual presentation. I have mainly eye pain and some face pain; it’s usually face pain mostly. And that’s how I discovered it myself. The pain feels like someone is poking my eyeball constantly. Hard. And it never went away. Never, unless I was sleeping. And no one could figure it out, until I did last year. I finally have medication that reduces the pain significantly, but does not eradicate it. I am beginning to have more pain these days, which is to be expected as it is a chronic, progressive condition.

Siri here: I’m so proud of Erin for fighting through and getting Grave Touched and now Ever Touched out into the world! You can buy Ever Touched at Turtleduck Press, or if you’d rather start with the first in the series, Fey Touched is available here.

 

 

Cover Reveal: Ever Touched by Erin Zarro

Hi folks! Today I’m excited to give you a sneak peek of the novel I spent last month copyediting. (You might have seen hints on my Instagram.) This is the next Turtleduck Press release, due out May 1st. It’s book 3 in the Fey Touched series, but it stands alone pretty well — each book in the series tells the story of a different couple within the same group of badass, genetically engineered, crime-fighting humans. (Call it…urban science fiction? Or Earth-based science fiction romance? We at Turtleduck Press love genre-bending!)

So, without further ado, here are the lovely cover and book description / back-cover copy for Ever Touched:

Ever Touched final cover 3-30-17
One secret remembered, another forgotten…which one will explode first?

Brianna has two problems: she cannot remember her past, and she astrally projects to another woman who has predictions tortured out of her. As a result, she is lonely and feels distanced from her co-workers — the only family she has ever known — the Fey Touched Hunters. She is their intelligence gatherer, and her episodes are interfering with her ability to do her job.

When Fey Touched Hunter Cobra, her friend, finds her alone and injured from an episode, she accepts his help. But she’s terrified of doctors and of being thought mentally ill, so she refuses to tell him what’s wrong or let him take her to get medical help. Still, Cobra continues to help and protect her. They find themselves falling in love.

But Cobra, too, has a secret that could rip their fragile bond apart.

When Brianna discovers through her episodes that someone has plans to destroy the Fey Clans, the Fey Touched decide to put their hatred aside and help them. But it’s not just a matter of someone with a grudge: there are other, more powerful players — beings thought to be legend.

As they unravel the mystery, Brianna’s episodes become more frequent and more dangerous until she is faced with a choice. To find the mystery girl and help the Fey Clans, she must risk opening herself up to the Hunters and to Cobra, and put her own life on the line. But is she prepared for the answers she’ll find?

Siri here: Ever Touched will be available May 1st from Amazon et al. While you’re waiting, here’s a preview of what’s in store. Keep an eye on the Turtleduck Press site for buy links!

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Genre-Bending Books (Redux)

The Passage by Justin Cronin coverI’m a fan of science fiction. And fantasy. And everything in between…sometimes especially the books that fall in between. I’ve written before about science fantasy, about works that blend speculative fiction and realism, and of course, steampunk. But that was all several years ago, and now I’ve got a whole new crop of genre-benders to share with you…

Futuristic Fantasy

Start with the present day. Fast forward a few decades, or maybe a little more. You can see a clear connection to our own world, including geography. The technology level might be similar to ours, or higher in certain areas, or maybe lower, depending on what might have happened between now and then. (Gotta love verb tenses when talking about futures that may never arrive…) But there are also fantasy creatures or tropes–magic, gods, vampires. In this category we have:

The Passage series by Justin Cronin

This is what literary agents call a “high-concept” book with a “strong hook”. Two words: vampire apocalypse. Cronin starts in the present day, where a vampire virus has just been discovered. Then he fast-forwards through time, pausing for a while here and there to dip into the lives of a set of characters, some of whom pop up again and again. The books veer between thriller and literary drama–what agent Donald Maass calls “breakout novel” territory. That’s a lot of genres, but somehow it all works.

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinsonblog-brown-girl-hopkinson-cover

Toronto in the future, or at least Hopkinson’s version of the future, is a lawless place controlled by a drug lord. Infrastructure and social safety nets are all but gone. The placenames and layout of the city are still recognizable, though much decayed. But at the same time, the voodoo gods are drifting around, looking for a chance to get involved…

Above by Leah Bobet

Another story set in Toronto, but this one starts out sounding much like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, if the young protagonist had been from the underworld peeking out instead of our own world peeking in. It goes on to deconstruct stories like Neverwhere and a whole lot of other things. I can’t say too much about it without being spoilery, so instead I’ll just give a bonus shout-out to Bobet’s second novel, An Inheritance of Ashes, which is more…

Fantasy with Hints of Technology

A fantasy-seeming world that hints at not being a straight-up secondary world a la Tolkien. Or a world with some futuristic trappings that’s clearly more interested in fantasy tropes and telling fantasy stories. (Think Pern or Dune.) Or some mad blending of the two.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi OkoraforCover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Like Brown Girl in the Ring, this is a compelling near-to-mid-future story of a young black woman coming into her own magical powers. I’ve placed it here not because it’s set in Sudan (which looks more like fantasy to Western eyes) but because it’s less interested in the tension between magic and technology than Hopkinson’s novel is. It’s a classic fantasy quest story, with powerful sorcerers and training sequences and visions and even a band of misfits trekking long distances. There just happens to be advanced technology here and there.

The Tearling series by Erika Johansen

Girl living a quiet life in the forest learns she’s the heir to the throne and is whisked away to start her new life in the palace. (That’s not much of a spoiler–it’s all in the first few pages.) Another classic fantasy tale, modernized for today’s reader? Maybe…except that the heir occasionally uses words like genetics. The second book in the series delves more into why this is so, losing the tight focus on character but adding worldbuilding context.

The Fey Touched series by Erin Zarroblog-erin-zarro-fey-touched-cover

Finally, I have to put in a plug for Turtleduck Press author Erin Zarro. Her fantasy world looks not unlike ours…except that there are vampire-hunting fey…and occasional evil scientists performing genetic experiments and the like. Intrigued? Book 3 in the series will be out May 1! I’ll be posting more about it as the date draws closer.

 

Are you a fan of genre-bending books? Please share!

 

Reading Recap: 2016

blog-the-virtu-monette-coverHi all! It’s time for my annual reading recap, where I look back on my favourite books and also geek out about my own reading stats. *grin*

Favourite Books of 2016

This year it’s a tie between:

  • The Virtu by Sarah Monette, and
  • An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

…and an honourable mention goes to The Fellowship of the Ring (reread) which had a huge influence on me and which I am incapable of judging properly, especially with the movies confusing things in my head. It’s my first time rereading LOTR since seeing the movies. Weird experience, let me tell you. (I ended 2015 / started 2016 with Fellowship and am in the middle of rereading The Two Towers right now – part of a 7-year tradition of starting the new year with an epic fantasy novel. I started my LOTR reread after running out of Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones books. *wink*)

blog-an-inheritance-of-ashes-leah-bobetAll three of these are fantasy novels, two written for adults and one, Bobet’s, for the upper YA market.

What I loved about these:

  • depth in worldbuilding – the world feels real, there are layers and unexpected things and pieces that aren’t about the plot
  • character depth (okay, not so much in Fellowship) – the characters are vivid, they have complicated relationships, they struggle to think their way through the things they want to change about themselves, they fail and try again and fail worse and keep trying, they feel like real people
  • the feeling of epicness – while each story is very much about the struggles and relationships of a few key people, it’s also about enormous danger that affects the broader world, and these two aspects, the intimate and the global, are well balanced throughout
  • beautiful description, which also contributes to the epicness
  • strong narrative voice (or voices, in the case of The Virtu, which has two first-person narrators)

Reading Stats

Cover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi OkoraforI read 20 books last year, same as the previous year. That’s a little lower than I’d like, but then several were very long and took a month or more to read.

Genre

Here’s a genre breakdown:

  • 6 of them were adult fantasy (same as the last 2 years), 4 were adult SF (3 last year), and 2 were hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction (1 last year)
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction (same as last year): one was magical realism but I decided to classify it as literary instead of genre, and the other was a contemporary gay romance novella
  • 2 were YA fantasy (same as last year) and 1 was YA SF (same as last year)
  • 1 was middle-grade fantasy (0 last year)
  • 1 was non-fiction
  • 1 was an anthology (an 800-page behemoth that I’ve been working on for several years and finally finished)

blog-parable-of-the-sower-butler-cover11 of the books were parts of series – about three-quarters of my (SF&F) genre reading.

For 2017, I’m aiming to finish some of the many series I’ve got on the go. That also means forgoing new-to-me series in favour of standalones. I’ve got plenty of all of those already stocked on my shelf and ereader. Now to see if I can resist temptation…

Authors and Diversity

12 of 19 books were by women (the last was an anthology), which is on par with my reading in most years.

3 of the authors were people of colour, coincidentally all black women – Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower), Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death), and fellow Canadian Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring). I was particularly struck by the writing of Butler, whom I’d never read before even though she’s a major figure in SF&F, and will be reading more of her work in future.

blog-brown-girl-hopkinson-cover6 of the books were by Canadians (5 authors, as I read 2 books by Leah Bobet).

11 of the authors were new to me.

Publishing and Acquisition

Of the 20 books I read, only 5 were published in the last 5 years (11 in the past 15 years). That’s not good for a writer trying to keep up with current publishing trends – must do better this year! The oldest was The Fellowship of the Ring (1954).

Where I got my books: 1 was a reread, 3 were passed on from family or friends, 1 was a loan, and 1 was from when I used to volunteer at a small press (and was allowed to take home free copies). The other 14 I bought.

blog-fellowship-fotr-tolkien-cover9/20 (45%) were ebooks, down slightly from last year but higher than any other year since I started using an ereader in 2012. What I acquired in ebook form:

  • 2 books that are too big to hold comfortably in paper form – that is, they’re only out in trade paperback format, or they’re really thick
  • 2 books that are only out in hardcover, so the ebook is more comfortable to hold and also cheaper
  • 3 books I couldn’t find in the bookstore – either too old, or indie-published
  • 2 books I bought as ebooks for no particular reason

Side note on ereading tech: I use a Kobo Touch primarily, as well as the Kindle app on my iPhone for books that aren’t available from the Kobo store, and sometimes the Kobo app when I’m feeling lazy and/or don’t have my ereader with me. I find my phone slightly too small to read on comfortably, but it’s the right size for my hands, so I’m not terribly motivated to get a bigger phone. Will probably upgrade to a newer Kobo this year, though.

And there you have it! Hope you enjoyed the trip through Siri-reading-land. What were your favourite books last year?

If You Liked City of Hope and Ruin…

Since the time for gift-giving is fast approaching, I wanted to pop back in and share some ideas. (For books, of course–is there any other kind of gift for a reader?) If you liked City of Hope and Ruin, or know someone who would, here are some others to check out.

Cover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

If you liked the post-apocalyptic/fantasy blend with strong female protagonists of colour then try…

  • Brown Girl in the Ring by Jamaican-Canadian writer Nalo Hopkinson
  • Parable of the Sower (near-future) by famed American author Octavia Butler
  • Who Fears Death by Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor

If you liked the dual-author, dual-protagonist structure then try…

  • Sorcery & Cecelia; or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (YA) by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (an epistolary fantasy, with the two characters writing back and forth to each other)
  • Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer (okay, this isn’t even fantasy, but you’ll still love it, trust me)

If you liked the mixture of urban fantasy with a tinge of SF and the “chosen family” angle then try…blog-an-inheritance-of-ashes-leah-bobet

  • Above (YA) by Canadian author Leah Bobet
  • Fey Touched by Turtleduck Press author Erin Zarro (first in a series, and book 3 is due out May 2017!)

If you liked the demons from another dimension breaking into a fantasy world and the village/rural/wilderness setting then try…

  • Burning Bright by Turtleduck Press author KD Sarge
  • …okay, I have to put Leah Bobet on here again, because her An Inheritance of Ashes (YA) is exactly this (and was one of my favourite reads this year)

If you liked the Eastern European feel of the world then try…

  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone (YA) by Laini Taylor (set in Prague)
  • The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia
  • The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (set in Moscow)Shards by Kit Campbell

If you liked the combination of romance, SF/fantasy adventure, and save-the-world stakes then try…

  • the Erin Zarro and KD Sarge novels recommended above
  • Shards by my co-author, Kit Campbell
  • any of our other novels at Turtleduck Press!

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Reading Recap: 2015

The cover of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken LiuHi all! I’m sneaking back in after a hiatus, with the aim of posting weekly. To kick things off, here’s my annual reading recap…

Favourite Books of 2015

In no particular order, my favourite books last year were:

  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • Janus by John Park
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Honorable mention: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (reread)

What I loved about these:

  • hard-hitting emotion and psychological depth
  • huge questions/twists, either in plot or in worldbuilding, that seem like they could have no possible answer…until they do
  • location, location, location
  • strong narrative voice
  • interpersonal conflicts, not necessarily with a single clear antagonist
  • layered stories – frame stories, tales within tales, etc.

Reading Stats

blog-Janus-coverI have no idea if these statistics fascinate you as much as they do me (if they do, please comment…) but here goes.

In 2015 I read 20 books, 4 fewer than the previous year. Not good! Must correct!

Genre

  • 6 were adult fantasy, 3 were adult SF, and 1 was hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction
  • 2 were YA fantasy, 1 was YA SF, and 1 was YA speculative fiction
  • 2 were non-SFF YA fiction
  • 1 was a book of poetry, and 1 was a graphic novel
  • I read no anthologies for the second year in a row. Or rather, I read parts of two but did not finish. Short fiction is just not my gig right now. I also read parts of two non-fiction books but did not finish them either.

12 of the books were parts of series – almost all of my genre reading. The exceptions were Janus by John Park, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (which almost made my “favourite books” list), and Moonheart by Charles de Lint.

blog-Thirteenth Tale-coverAuthors and Publishing

9 of the authors were male and 11 female – a much more even showing than most years, as I tend to tilt heavily female.

To my knowledge, I read only one book by a person of colour. (That would be The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu.) However, in 2016 the stats will be much better because I’m doing a book-buying challenge – half of all the books I bought in 2015 were by authors of colour. I just haven’t read them yet because my buying is at least a year behind my reading…!

Of the 20 books I read, 14 were published in the last 5 years – a higher ratio than years past, thanks in part to the Turtleduck Press books I read and in part due to a book club I’m part of on Twitter (#20reads — come join!), which tends towards recently published books.

Acquisition

I got 3 books from the library, 2 were e-ARCs (electronic Advance Reader Copies), 2 were rereads, 1 was a gift, and 1 was a loan of a physical book. The other 11 I bought.

11/20 were ebooks – 55%. The ratio of ebooks to physical books I read continues to creep upwards – last year it was 40%, then 33%, then 25% (the first year I had an ereader). I own a smartphone but don’t tend to read books on it; I don’t own a tablet. What I acquire in ebook form breaks down like this:

  • books where the paperback wasn’t out yet and I wanted to buy it right away but didn’t want the hardcover (3)
  • books from my to-read list that go on sale (2)
  • e-ARCs (2)
  • library books (2 of the 3 library books I read were ebooks)
  • big fat fantasy novels that are too heavy to comfortably hold or lug around (1 – I’m looking at you, GRRM)
  • books that I bought as ebooks for no particular reason (2)

…argh, I counted something twice there, but I can’t be bothered to go back and figure it out. Ahem.

Your turn! Did you notice any patterns in your reading last year?

 

Turtleduck Press News: Burning Bright by KD Sarge

Hi all! Uh…did you miss me? I’ve been away from blogging in part because I’ve also been away from writing fiction (more news about that below!) and in part because of wrist problems that still aren’t fully resolved. So it may be a while before I’m back regularly.

In the meantime, though…I’d like to introduce you to a new fantasy novel, out today from Turtleduck Press. Author KD Sarge has published mostly lighthearted m/m romances set in outer space, and is currently working on an equally lighthearted fantasy adventure serial. But today’s new release is a little more serious. Here’s the cover — isn’t it gorgeous?

Burning Bright by KD Sarge - cover

I was lucky enough to read this novel early, while wearing my TDP editor hat. Burning Bright (book 1 of a trilogy) is still recognizable as a KD Sarge novel — with a thick streak of humour (especially the fabulous banter), vivid characters, and poignant moments. But it’s also darker than her other releases. That’s new for her, and that makes Burning Bright something special. Here’s the book description:

To Keeper Apprentice Hiro Takai, Keepers are heroes, risking their lives to battle with sword and spell the demons that would devour all life. His master Eshan is one of the best—skilled beyond his years, and possessing exquisite control over his magic and emotions. Hiro is lucky to be harnessing his fire-magic under Eshan’s tutelage—and even luckier to be his lover.

But when Hiro wakes as a full Keeper after his Kindling ritual, everything is wrong. Something is in his mind, bringing him new and amazing power, but it’s not sane. Eshan is gone, slipped away on a dangerous mission leaving only a cryptic warning for Hiro to flee the Keepers—who are now debating if they should kill Hiro or just let him die.

No mage is more powerful, more knowledgeable, or more true than Eshan. Hiro knows his teacher can help—if Hiro can just find him. Find him, and save him. Before the Other in Hiro’s mind drives him mad, or tears his soul to shreds.

Burning Bright by KD Sarge is available for Kindle or in your preferred ebook format, and will also be available in print soon. Links are right here. If you do read it, please consider leaving a review at your venue of choice. Visibility is the biggest problem for indie authors, and reviews make a huge difference. KD and I thank you in advance!

In other news, I am slowly wading back into the writing. I’m working on a thing that will be available from TDP next spring. (Being cagey because my Inner Writer is still skittish.) I am not doing NaNoWriMo proper, but I do have a writing goal this month for the first time in a long while: 20K of new words + at least 20K of editing. Wish me luck!