News of the Land

So yeah. About that nov­el. As many of mine do, this one topped out at 56K. I have not been able to hit the mag­i­cal 80K-and-read­i­ly-agentable mark in some time, so it's like­ly, with edits and addi­tions I have yet to enter, Comes the Flood will be around 60K, which will lim­it my sub­mis­sions strat­e­gy some­what. Still, I think it's a good book, or will be when I've pol­ished the shit off its heels. I fin­ished this nov­el in May. Since then the pandemic's got­ten worse, I spent a month in a par­tial hos­pi­tal­iza­tion and have slept the large part of those days in total with­draw­al mode. With­out the kids and Heather I don't know what I would have done. As a result, Tough fell behind and the lion's share of the read­ing load and all of the edit­ing fell to Tim Hen­nessy, to whom I am eter­nal­ly grate­ful. We're catch­ing up and back to posti­ing sto­ries, and will be adding three new staffers this week so we hope­ful­ly will nev­er have to take time off again.  I have a chap­book ten­ta­tive­ly due out begin­ning of the year and I'm tak­ing some time off from the nov­el to write some last poems for it. Here's hoping.

I keep buy­ing books as if I'm going to read them, and I just haven't been able to keep up my usu­al pace, even with poet­ry. I'm going to top off this year at about eighty. Plans for next year include more read­ing, 150 books read, two writ­ten and com­plet­ed nov­els, one of which will be the final book in the Ridgerun­ner tril­o­gy. I'm get­ting my first tat­too. I'm 51 in a month. I'm tired of fuck­ing around. Now if my brain just cooperates.


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Tonight felt sat­is­fac­to­ry. It wasn't a big fat adren­a­line dump like last night's writ­ing, but it went well. I could have writ­ten more, but I didn't want to leave it all in the page and flat-out exhaust myself either. A plot turn's come up though, and my out­line is no longer viable for the sec­ond half of the thing, so tomor­row I'm draft­ing a new out­line. I'm a lit­tle scared of doing it, frankly, since the writing's been going so well. I just need to stay vig­i­lant, not let myself get a cou­ple days out of sorts. So tomor­row there will like­ly be no update, as I'll be work­ing on the out­line all night tonight and most of tomor­row out­side of my fam­i­ly com­mit­ments. It'll all be fine, right?

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1147 of rough­ly 39300

On nights like this, there isn't much to say. Heather had half the day off so after mend­ing fences from last night in the ear­li­er part of her shift and because of being on the phone near-con­stant­ly in our new Covid-nor­mal in the sec­ond half, I start­ed writ­ing much ear­li­er than my nor­mal 9:30 PM, and so by din­ner­time now I've got­ten my words in and may even be able to write again lat­er on dur­ing my nor­mal time.

I do have a nor­mal time to write. 999 times out of a thou­sand, I'm writ­ing at 9:30 PM every night, and I write until I get to 500 words with­in the hour or a thou­sand, or some­times, rarely, more. More often than not when it's going well, I get a thou­sand words, so that's what I judge by: 500 min­i­mum, the Gra­ham Greene pre­scrip­tion, as described in The End of the Affair, but a thou­sand mark­ing out a good strong day's writ­ing. More than that, the Mus­es are smil­ing on me. Last night, a bad night that made me feel shit­ty until I sat down to write this after­noon, like a hang­over. Tonight? Some­thing else again. The only way through is forward.

I'm going to read now, and drink cof­fee, and maul a cat while I do. On deck, Cocaine and Blue Eyes, by Fred Zack­el, Sim­ple Jus­tice by John Mor­gan Wil­son and final­ly, Stoneb­urn­er, by William Gay. I'm halfway through the Zack­el, a third through Sim­ple Jus­tice and I haven't begin Stoneb­urn­er yet, though I've owned it and start­ed it a few times. I can already tell it's not top-notch Gay, but it's inter­est­ing, as the master's minu­ti­ae often are.

Edit in: 11:23 PM. Got an extra thou­sand words in for over 40K now. Halfway.

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538 words

Not a good night. Rough on the fam­i­ly, rough on me with John Prine dying, just pan­dem­ic close­ness rub­bing every­body, well me, the wrong way. I didn't, couldn't write last night, and I'm in a shit­ty mood, so I'm count­ing these words as des­per­ate and plead­ing with the mus­es to give  me just a few more over the next month or so. And I want to apol­o­gize to my wife pub­licly for being such a prick. I'm sor­ry, baby. That's all. You all can call this the con­fes­sion­al blog.

It sucks some­times, all the time, but most of the time you have to do the work any­way. But not always. Some­times, like last night, I couldn't imag­ine doing it, and I'm pay­ing for it in guilt all day antic­i­pat­ing when I can get to the key­board and make it right, and words won't come, like tonight. Waah waah wahh. I did­nt have to do it. I could stop. But I'm not going to.

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1027 words of 37700 total

Tonight was a come­down. I had lots of time over the week­end and took advan­tage of it, and tonight–not so much. Heather and the kids are sewing masks for fam­i­ly and friends so there are duel­ing sewing machines on either end of the liv­ing room table. Chal­leng­ing writ­ing envi­ron­ment, but I'd rather be in the mid­dle of things try­ing to write instead of the cliched lone­ly writer in his gar­ret keep­ing com­pa­ny with rats and roach­es but with no oth­er dis­trac­tions. I like my life occa­sion­al­ly, depressed and psy­chot­ic though I am most of the time. Thanks be to ther­a­pists and doc­tors and oth­er mir­a­cles of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ori­gins. I'm not going to go on at length except to say that I worked for my words tonight, and I can only hope the strug­gle doesn't show when I get to the final draft, how­ev­er far off or uncer­tain that may be.

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word count picture

1717 words today of 36500 total.

Hel­lo. One of the things you'll notice that's con­sis­tent about this blog is its incon­sis­ten­cy. A new year or a mile­stone hits and I'm eager to blog it and talk to the world, most of which I've been doing late­ly via Insta­gram and Face­book, leav­ing this, my main site, sta­t­ic and unin­ter­est­ing. So here I go again, pledg­ing to update with rel­e­vant news.

What's going on here right now is my stretch run toward nov­el num­ber sev­en, four of which have seen the gray light of  pub­li­ca­tion. Num­ber sev­en promis­es to be my most com­plex and longest nov­el yet. No more of the short­ie nov­els, at least not this time around. What I'll say about it right now–it's called Comes the Flood–is that it's unfash­ion­able as hell. It's a PI nov­el set in Revere MA, where I  have lived since 1996, pro­vides lots of local col­or in a time of very excit­ing and dynam­ic times, some of which I hope to com­ment on via the main action, though the tourist board and cham­ber of com­merce is not very like­ly to point to it as a guide or pin­point accu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the absolute­ly love­ly city in which Heather and I have cho­sen to raise our chil­dren.. I'm 36.5K into it, long enough to be able to see that it's sus­tain­able over the long haul, and ear­ly enough that I remain care­ful­ly excit­ed about the pos­si­bil­i­ties. It's time for the hard slog of the mid­dle now, and I hope to doc­u­ment dai­ly or near-dai­ly progress reports here.

Today was a week­end day, which meant I had a lit­tle longer to write. I got 1717 words in two ses­sions, and what I'm most inter­est­ed in is get­ting back to the out­line. I had a pro­duc­tive side-spin on the plot which sus­tained me for  cou­ple days, and now it's time to come back to the main thrust with addi­tion­al momen­tum. This is the first of my six, soon to be sev­en, nov­els to be out­lined. I won't do anoth­er nov­el with­out one, I don't think. It's been two days of high-ener­gy move­ment and promis­es to be even more fun going for­ward. I hope. So wel­come to the blog, the blog with new­found pur­pose. I come to it as I do to many things, a day late, unfashonably so, and a dol­lar short, but with a lot of enthu­si­asm. Hit me up if you have questions.

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News Items Various and Sundry

So it’s been some time since I updat­ed. It’s been a hell of a year. My health went to hell in a hand-bas­ket, and I wrote a ton of poems as a result. I read many books, and bought many more. The fam­i­ly went through some junk, and I went through some junk. Boy howdy.

On to the impor­tant stuff: even through the hell­ish land­scape that has been 2019, I have got­ten work done since my last update. A poem appeared in Black Cof­fee Review’s Fall 2019 issue called “Piss­ing In Pub­lic Uri­nals,” which was received with many quizzi­cal looks and side­long grins, but gen­er­at­ed more praise than many things I’ve writ­ten more recent­ly. My sto­ry “Easy Tiger” appeared in The Des­per­ate and the Damned anthol­o­gy. ‘The Russ­ian’ appeared in Mys­tery Tri­bune in Sum­mer 2019, and final­ly, the pieces de resis­tance, the two books I have that have come out this fall, Kraj the Enforcer: Sto­ries, out in Octo­ber from Shot­gun Honey/Down & Out Books, and Apoc­a­lypse in A‑Minor, a mis­cel­lany of poems,from Ana­log Sub­mis­sion Press, due out on Novem­ber 18th. Here is the cov­er copy for Kraj:

Meet Kraj—pronounced krai—a low-lev­el errand boy and hit-man mas­querad­ing as a bounc­er for Tricky Ricky Gutier­rez, nefar­i­ous own­er of the Twist, a club in upstate Elmi­ra NY. A place that has both a LGBTQIA night and a cow­boy coun­try night, this cock­eyed cor­ner bar in north­ern Appalachia sup­ports Ricky’s ille­gal schemes, and serves as a rur­al balm for Croa­t­ian-war refugee Kraj.

Kraj plies his trade over a short span, mov­ing from pet­ty theft to strong-arm­ing tips from peo­ple at the door, break­ing up red­neck fights, pro­tect­ing the club’s nubile female staff and col­lect­ing gam­bling debts owed Tricky Ricky. Kraj even­tu­al­ly gets sucked fur­ther and fur­ther into Ricky’s under­world plans, where he wants to be seen as a man on the come-up, but he has prob­lems mov­ing up in Ricky's orga­ni­za­tion will nev­er solve. His sis­ter Ana, miss­ing since the Croa­t­ian War for Inde­pen­dence, nev­er strays far from his mind.

Kraj, togeth­er with his some­time girl­friend Cami, new­ly become man­ag­er of a fran­chisee McDonald’s, and his man­ag­er Mikael. nego­ti­ates his way through under­ground fight clubs, pros­ti­tu­tion rings, drug deals, pet­ty thiev­ery, and of course, mur­der. Tricky Ricky gives Kraj a great deal of rope and auton­o­my to oper­ate.

Will he hang him­self with it or swing?

As far as the future goes, I have two sto­ries in the final stages of con­sid­er­a­tion for dif­fer­ent antholo­gies, plus the sto­ry “Big Pop­pa” com­ing out in Goli­ad Review. I also have a nov­el. The Enforcer’s Revenge fea­tur­ing Kraj, the pro­tag­o­nist of my most recent book, in edits. I said I’d giv­en up on that one due to a num­ber of com­pli­cat­ing fac­tors. but I may have found ways around. It will take time and oppor­tu­ni­ty that I don’t have right now, so it may be a year or two before I can fix it. I also have anoth­er full, if short, nov­el fin­ished, one whose bones are strong, but no agents are inter­est­ed, because it only runs 55K. Too short for sub­mis­sion. It’s called Sun­set Approach­ing, and it hear­kens back to my ear­li­er work, a more Appalachi­an book in set­ting and tone. I hope to place that with a uni­ver­si­ty or inde­pen­dent press some­time in the near future.

And final­ly, I’m in the midst of col­lect­ing a bunch of Appalachi­an sto­ries that I’ve pub­lished in var­i­ous jour­nals since Most­ly Red­neck came out, some crime and some not. They fit pret­ty well as a col­lec­tion, so I’ll be shop­ping that around soon enough too. I have a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor nov­el I’m work­ing on spo­rad­i­cal­ly. set here in Revere, where I live and write. I have high hopes for that, at least high com­pared with my goals for 2019, which was basi­cal­ly to sur­vive. I’ve done that, despite innu­mer­able chal­lenges, and I remain hope­ful in spite of crush­ing depres­sion, anx­i­ety, and psy­chosis, and I only hope I stay well enough to do the work that is in me to do.

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Hello Again

FRiGG splash page

I promised to post more dur­ing this peri­od of time, but…stuff got away from me. On the pub­lish­ing news front, I've man­aged to place poems in four jour­nals over these last few months, Plumb, Ginosko, BEAT to a PULP amd FRiGG. I'll also have anoth­er Kraj sto­ry in Mys­tery Tri­bune com­ing up soon, and anoth­er in Goli­ad Review this fall. 

I'll be at Boucher­con in the fall too, late Octo­ber, ear­ly Novem­ber, so look me up or drop me a note via social media before­hand. I'd like to get togeth­er, as I don't get to min­gle very often. That's about all for now.

BEAT to a PULP splash page
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Happy New Year!

I pledge to post a lit­tle more, which means I have to have news to share or per­ti­nent info. You can find two recent sto­ries, one in Goli­ad Review, a long sto­ry I'm par­tic­u­lar­ly proud of at 9000 words, and anoth­er in Mys­tery Tri­bune. Oth­er­wise, I've added a page for my newest nov­el The Last Dan­ger, sequel to Ridgerun­ner, in which Matt Rid­er gets into even more trou­ble with the rene­gade Pittman clan and clings to his instincts to the detri­ment of near­ly every­one around him. Jay Gertz­man wrote up a nice pré­cis of the nov­el on Ama­zon if you care to look it up. I'll repro­duce some rel­e­vant bits here.

_Ridgerunner_, the first nov­el in this pro­posed tril­o­gy, showed Matt Rid­er as a man capa­ble of pro­tect­ing his fam­i­ly from the bel­liger­ent, bul­ly­ing Pittmans, who con­trol the region­al drug dis­tri­b­u­tion in upsate NY and PA. Matt con­fronts them with the steely (as in guns) res­o­lu­tion of a West­ern home­stead­er pro­tect­ing his domain from cat­tle­men who want to run him off it. Per­haps the name Matt Rid­er is meant to sug­gest this kind of clas­sic rur­al Amer­i­can inde­pen­dence, which came through vio­lence. The Pittmans kill Matt’s broth­er and Matt has killed two of them. As _The Last Danger_ opens, Matt knows he is a hunt­ed man. He also knows, as anoth­er fight­er against crim­i­nal says, PI Phillip Mar­low says, “I was part of the nas­ti­ness now.”

His broth­er, wife, and daugh­ter all won­der what Matt has become. Traps are many-lay­ered in this nov­el. The Pittmans have forced him to do drug runs. That at least pro­tects wife and daugh­ter. But Matt expos­es them, and his loy­al best friend, to increas­ing dan­gers as the nov­el pro­ceeds. So his des­per­ate need to pro­tect just increas­es a quick­sand-like immer­sion. His own vio­lence increas­es, and he rel­ish­es it. The more he tells him­self he is pro­tect­ing the fam­i­ly (which is his chief aim), the more his behav­ior makes that sin­cere con­vic­tion a Kafkaesque entrapment. 

I hope to pub­lish even more in 2019, includ­ing a col­lec­tion of Kraj sto­ries as well as some poems and short sto­ries. I'll attend at least two, pos­si­ble three con­fer­ences in 2019, so get­ting to hang out and have a beer with some of you is a very real pos­si­bil­i­ty. Thanks for hang­ing in there with me, and here's hop­ing for the best in 2019

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In the House of Wilderness, by Charles Dodd White: Q&A

What were the orig­i­nat­ing images in this nov­el? I imag­ined as I was read­ing it had to be the open­ing eight pages, where you set up the con­flict beau­ti­ful­ly, but I'm pre­pared to be wrong, as you could have writ­ten the Strat­ton chap­ters first.

Yeah, I was real­ly drawn in by this idea of three very dif­fer­ent peo­ple trav­el­ing togeth­er through a kind of over­whelm­ing land­scape. I actu­al­ly spent a year com­mut­ing along that stretch of inter­state that pass­es from west­ern North Car­oli­na into east Ten­nessee, large­ly in the predawn hours, so it was nat­ur­al to lull into a kind of dark imag­in­ing. In a very real sense, the land gave me the sto­ry. Also, I was in the process of mov­ing into a new state for a job and the idea of home and how that can change at dif­fer­ent points in a life was very much on my mind as well. Those two ele­ments nat­u­ral­ly coa­lesced into what became the cen­tral con­flict of the book.

When did you real­ize you were pit­ting the triumvirate–Wolf, Win­ter and Rain–so bald­ly against against con­ven­tion, and what did it mean for the book, par­tic­u­lar­ly for Rain,? Was it a process of dis­cov­ery, this nov­el, or the ful­fill­ment of a plan? It all seems inevitable, as it ought to, though not in the ways you expect, which is what I read for, mostly.

That oppo­si­tion was there from the start. Part of it was my sense of the dual­i­ty of wilder­ness. For me that word has psy­cho­log­i­cal as well as phys­i­cal impli­ca­tions, which is at the heart of the para­dox in the novel’s title, i.e. how can a struc­ture man­age to be tru­ly wild? I think Rain is the most dynam­ic char­ac­ter in the sto­ry, large­ly because she defies what the men around her want her to become. Yet, she still lives with­in a very real world that shapes how we think, feel, and act. So there’s a sense of what things must be con­front­ed, but her sense of self makes that some­thing that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly easy to pin down.

What made you decide to pair up Strat­ton and Rain? I talked about it with my wife as I read, which I don't usu­al­ly do, won­der­ing how you were going to make it work, which I has­ten to say, you did, very well.

I didn’t want it to become a clichéd May/December pair­ing that pop­u­lates so many sto­ries. This was about find­ing some­thing of val­ue in anoth­er per­son with­out the for­mu­la of a con­ven­tion­al romance. So, their con­ver­gence need­ed to be inex­tri­ca­ble tied to the land. Their way of being and know­ing is drawn direct­ly from that fact.

I dig the ref­er­ences through­out, to the Gar­den and Gun arti­cle about the dog with can­cer, and the Jason Isbell/DBT, and the clas­si­cal music ref­er­ences. They give the book a good con­tem­po­rary feel, but I won­der, do you wor­ry about dat­ing your mate­r­i­al? Or do you just count on hav­ing picked up on the good stuff and the good stuff lasting?

I think it’s just a mat­ter of telling the specifics of the world I care about. Good nov­els should doc­u­ment the world they’re try­ing to por­tray. If you wor­ry about how peo­ple might react to your work down the line I’m afraid you can become too self-con­scious. That’s the big dan­ger in get­ting involved too deeply in writ­ing workshops/groups. You start writ­ing to please a cer­tain group when you should be writ­ing to con­front them.

On page 113, Loy­al acknowl­edges his trou­ble with women via the baby. A nice moment, and fun­ny. He pro­vides a nice coun­ter­point to Strat­ton. Did he always have as large a role to play, or did he grow into it with the writing?

He grew out of the edit­ing deci­sions. That scene, as well as oth­ers, came out of a direct con­ver­sa­tion with my edi­tor, Gillian Berchowitz, about who he was and why he mat­tered to the rest of the book. I’m real­ly grate­ful for this because it’s unusu­al to have such a thought­ful and inci­sive read­er. I real­ly can’t thank her enough for mak­ing the nov­el the best ver­sion of what it could be.

Page 117. I cringed a lit­tle at 'Oba­ma the Reneger." See­ing those things are part of the land­scape, and I find Stratton's pol­i­tics inter­est­ing, though maybe not sur­pris­ing, giv­en his occu­pa­tion. His uni­ver­si­ty friends seem more con­ser­v­a­tive, but he doesn't. Were you set­ting up oppos­ing view­points, or was it just the way Strat­ton rolls? He seems like a mav­er­ick to me.

I think he’s fair­ly typ­i­cal for some­one teach­ing col­lege in South­ern Appalachia. He’s a Demo­c­rat, but he also likes to drink whiskey and fish and camp. I think it seems weird to those on the out­side that you can have pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics and a rich cul­tur­al life through the edu­ca­tion­al world while still enjoy­ing the best parts of the rur­al expe­ri­ence. The con­flict, of course, is when the unfor­giv­ably racist and jin­go­is­tic garbage turns up, which it does in very direct ways, and men like Strat­ton have to find a way to hold on to the things they care about while still chart­ing an eth­i­cal course for themselves.

Liza fas­ci­nat­ed me through­out the book, some­one the whole nov­el turned around, some­one we know well, yet she's nev­er in the book as a POV char­ac­ter, though her pho­tos stand in for her. Stratton's loss is pal­pa­ble, though, on near­ly every page he appears. Can you talk about her, and the deci­sions you made about her? Was she always in the book, or did the idea devel­op as you wrote?

Liza was meant to be a ghost, but like all ghosts she was there to shape the world by her absence. Despite nev­er appear­ing in the “now” of the sto­ry, she is a cru­cial part of it. Not only for Strat­ton but Rain as well. I thought this was an inter­est­ing dynam­ic that tried to show what deep grief does to peo­ple, even those to whom they’re indi­rect­ly connected.

Wolf reminds me of the old man, Wade, in Lar­ry Brown's Joe, but where Wade was just plain evil, almost a car­i­ca­ture, Wolf is some­one more com­pli­cat­ed. Did you wor­ry through­out about that, about mak­ing some­one so bad, so charis­mat­ic at the same time?

I think most of my bad­dies are like this. It’s like Milton’s Satan. How con­vinc­ing would he be if he failed to seduce the read­er with his hero­ic rhetoric? I think it’s per­ilous to under­es­ti­mate evil, to try to reduce it to some­thing that’s facile. When you do that you lose an aware­ness of how threat­en­ing it can be.

The end­ing reminds me of the best kind of inevitabil­i­ty, the knowl­edge that no mat­ter how things go, they can always get worse. Yet there's some hope too, as there ought to be but often isn' t (I've been read­ing a lot of noir late­ly). With­out reveal­ing the end­ing, I'd say it's hope­ful, but com­pli­cat­ed. How would you describe it?

I think, like in all sto­ries, things have to change to remain interesting.

Did you have oth­er books you were in con­ver­sa­tion with dur­ing the writ­ing of this nov­el? What kind of book do you think you set out to write, and what did you end up with?

I think those con­ver­sa­tions are ongo­ing. There’s clear­ly some McCarthy and Lar­ry Brown in there, but also some Car­son McCullers, James Salter, and Bon­nie Jo Camp­bell. If you’re not think­ing about oth­er books as you work, even on a sub­lim­i­nal lev­el, I think you’ve trad­ed away a sig­nif­i­cant piece of what you’re try­ing to do.

Charles Dodd White lives in east­ern Ten­nessee. He is a recip­i­ent of the Thomas and Lil­lie D. Chaf­fin Award for excel­lence in Appalachi­an Lit­er­a­ture, a Jean Ritchie Fel­low­ship from Lin­coln Memo­r­i­al Uni­ver­si­ty, and an indi­vid­ual artist’s grant from the North Car­oli­na Arts Coun­cil. He is author of the nov­els, IN THE HOUSE OF WILDERNESS (Forth­com­ing 2018), A SHELTER OF OTHERS (2014), LAMBS OF MEN (2010), and the sto­ry col­lec­tion, SINNERS OF SANCTION COUNTY (2011). He is also edi­tor of the con­tem­po­rary Appalachi­an sto­ry antholo­gies, DEGREES OF ELEVATION (2010) and APPALACHIA NOW (2015). His work has appeared in Red Holler: Con­tem­po­rary Appalachi­an Writ­ing, Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Med­i­ta­tions on the For­bid­den from Con­tem­po­rary Appalachia, Appalachi­an Her­itage, The Louisville Review, North Car­oli­na Lit­er­ary Review, The Rum­pus, Tus­cu­lum Review and oth­ers. He is an Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor at Pel­lis­sip­pi State Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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