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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Traveling and Writing: Inspirational or Disastrous?

For those who may not know, I grew up within a military community. This lifestyle not only means that I’m not very familiar with civilian culture (I thought everybody knew what a commissary was), but it also means I’ve had to move around a lot. I’ve never lived in the same house for more than three years in a row. The longest I ever lived in one state was seven years, and that was in four different houses.

Let that sink in before you ask me where I’m from.

Person: So, where are you from? 
Me: Would you like the list alphabetically or chronologically?

I’m not from anywhere. Not really. I’m from the States, sure, but what do you do with the years I’ve lived in England, Italy, and Germany?

Identity crisis aside, I’ve moved around a lot. Which also means I’ve gotten the opportunity to travel, and I enjoy it. Traveling is amazing. I like getting out of my comfort zone and setting foot in a strange wildness, discovering new types of ravines, languages, and peoples. That should be incredibly inspirational for writing. Right?


When I first moved to England, I bought a used bike. I could walk everywhere, sure. I walked from my flat to the castle downtown, but it took an hour there and an hour back. With a bike, it took half the time (it was uphill, okay?). Chatting with my aunt online, she remarked that it must be wonderfully inspirational living in a foreign country and the city that birthed the legend of Robin Hood.

Of course it was inspirational. So I sat down, and typed, and!—I wrote a poem about a puddle on a sidewalk that I passed while biking. Not too inspiring, is it? (For those of you who are curious, it was my first local publication, in my university’s magazine. Check out: Puddle.)

A year or so before I moved to England, I went with a class from my undergraduate university on a study abroad trip to Oxford (read all about it in my newsletter: The Two Fandoms). When I take short trips, whether it’s for a weekend or a week, I like to leave my computer behind to focus on the trip itself. But while I was in Oxford, I was also getting a piece published on Splickety’s Lightning Blog, and they wanted me to make some edits. Which is pretty hard to do without a computer. In the end, I messaged my mom and walked her through the edits (all three rounds of them). Lesson learned—if I submit a piece for publication, even if I don’t know whether it’s been accepted or not yet, bring the computer.


“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”  
—St. Augustine of Hippo

When you travel as much as I do, you run the risk of computer damage. One time my sister and I had our backpacks in the back of a rental car, and the driver opened the trunk without watching the bags, and they fell and damaged both our computers. A piece of advice for travelers—whenever you go somewhere, only take what you’re not afraid to lose.

Another time, for my first two experiences of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), we happened to be packing up our household goods and moving to a new country. It’s a little difficult to write a novel to the pterodactyl screech of packing tape.

Leisurely travel can also be so overwhelming that I get behind on journaling. I didn’t journal half of 2017 because I didn’t want to skip over my trip to Israel, but I only got halfway through writing about it. I like to write incredibly detailed journal entries, so I couldn’t keep up with them while I was in Israel. I finally finished my journal entry back home on New Year’s Eve.

It’s especially hard to share a blog post, even if I have it scheduled ahead of time, if I have no internet access.


“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door […] You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  
—Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings

But that isn’t to say that all writing-and-travel-related experiences are negative. Some of them can be inspirational. Hiking and biking, in particular, are most inspirational for me. The exercise gets my blood pumping and my mind running. For example, I came up with novel names while hiking in the Alps from Oberammergau to Ettal. I also came up with countless poems from exploring cathedrals or biking to my local library. I even came up with the initial idea for Last of the Memory Keepers when we got pickpocketed in Rome.

And because I travel so much, I can write practically anywhere. While I prefer my desk, I can and have written in airports, in cafes, in the car, on trains, and yes, in my head while exercising.

So yes, I would say traveling can serve as an inspiration for writing. Traveling provides me with new life experiences and gives me stories, fictional and nonfictional to write about. Sometimes, it poses challenges. But that’s part of the adventure.

Let’s chat! What’s your favorite place to write? Is traveling beneficial or disastrous for your writing? Where have you found inspiration?

***


Travel poetry: Bury Me, Cathedral, and The Christmas Market

Sunday, April 15, 2018

7 Reasons I Enjoy Novels in Verse


Last year, I read a lot of books to be sure. 109 to be exact. In all of those stories, I discovered a new favorite form: novels in verse.

What is a novel in verse, you might ask? For those of you unfamiliar with this form, it’s basically a novel written as a series of poems. The form is kind of like Paradise Lost or Beowulf, but not really. While classics like the ones mentioned tend to use formal poetry-form, novels in verse tend to use free verse. Also, the latter novels tend to be more introspective than your average novel.

Because I’m a fan of poetry, here’s just a couple of reasons why I enjoy novels in verse* and why others might enjoy them as well!

*For clarity, I will also refer to novels in verse as lyrical novels, not in the sense that they’re sing-songy but rather that they’re poetic. I’ll use the terms interchangeably to avoid overusing one term alone.


1)      Poetry!


“Our lives
will twist and twist,
intermingling the old and the new
until it doesn’t matter
which is which.”
—Hà, Inside Out & Back Again

I didn’t discover my passion for poetry until college, and in some ways, I wish I had discovered it sooner, but in other ways, that’s okay. My preferences as a teenager were weird. Books I didn’t like then, I like now (e.g. Inkheart), and books I liked then, I don’t care for now (e.g. Eragon). So maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t discover poetry until college (see The Importance of Poetry: A Journey of Acceptance).

Either way, poetry can be fun to read and write. Do I want of a whole book made up of poems with a continuous storyline? How about YES!

2)      Novels in verse are quick, easy reads.


Which makes them great for reluctant readers! Or readers like me who are simply tired of reading 800-page novels. (Shhhh, you didn’t see me write that.) I like my dear 800-page books, but they can be exhausting. Whereas an 800-page novel is like a long and strenuous, albeit gorgeous hike, novels in verse are like a shot of espresso downtown in your favorite city.

3)      They’re targeted at middle grade and young adult audiences.


“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
—Madeleine L’Engle

If you haven’t already noticed, middle grade and young adult books tend to be among my preferred books. Why, you might ask? Well, they tend to have great themes, adventures, and characters. They continue to challenge me as a reader, and they’re just fun to read!

Lyrical novels tend to appeal to and connect with young audiences, presenting experiences that are relateable. Some such novels speak about what it’s like to be a foreigner or a newcomer in a strange place and others speak about the difficulties with school and stereotypes.

Novels in verse are great for young readers and the young at heart!

And for those who believe adults shouldn’t read young adult or middle grade books, I ask you to consider the words of C. S. Lewis when he dedicated The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to his goddaughter:

“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”


4)      Poetry tends to use a lot of imagery, metaphors, similes, you name it.


While prose can include imagery, in poems imagery is often symbolic. Writers can also do a lot more with metaphors and similes and sounds than prose writers can. I could tell you that when I visited Venice in the fall how the shade of the buildings covered me and the seagulls. Or I can show you in verse:

“I’m in over my head in darkness,
standing in shadows of the box-shaped buildings,
[…] with the seagulls gliding overhead,
their underbellies alight against the blue,
like they’re gliding on light.”
“Shadows”

Sure, I could’ve just written that the seagulls looked like they were gliding on light in a prose piece, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect.

5)      Novels in verse tend to be thought-provoking.

“how can I leave this fight
flit off to college
when so many still suffer
when I can feel tension
like mercury rising

“a wisp of hope
beginning to drift
skyward?”
—Clara, Audacity

Poetry is full of quotes I want to write down and memorize and lines that just make me want to buy all the books and think on them again and again. At least that’s my experience.


6)      Lyrical novels tend to evoke emotion.


There’s something about poetry that has the ability to present and evoke emotion in a way that prose can’t.

As a writer, I use poetry as a means to express emotion in an abstract way that prose can’t handle. Take my poem “Heartbeat” for example. I’ve always had a hard time explaining to people why I find heartbeats disturbing, and I don’t entirely understand it myself. So I decided to take the emotion of fear and asked myself “What does fear feel like?” and “How do I communicate that?” Here’s some of the result:

“she’s the reminder that I need fresh air—
kiss of sharp needles, stabbing my feet as
they plunge in this icy green lakeside shore from
liquefied glaciers where old trunks sank”
“Heartbeat”

I took some imagery from Mt. Rainier (Washington State) and from Mt. Saint Helens (Oregon) and used the sting of cold from glacier lakes as a metaphor for fear. Then I stripped the poem of proper capitalization and punctuation to add an unsettling, raw feel to the poem as a whole. My sister, who wasn’t originally afraid of heartbeats, told me she found them disturbing after I read her this poem. Whoops.

Of course, not all novels deal with fear. It’s only one emotion to write about. That an author can achieve any sense of emotion for the span of a novel is inspiring!


7)      Poetry can be downright beautiful.


“On this clear and moonless night,
Mama and I wrap up in our winter clothes
and go outside to watch and listen.
The trees beyond our backyard form a torn-paper line
between the snow and this sky
filled with stars.”
—Mimi, Full Cicada Moon

You had me at snow and stars. Need I say more?

Some books in prose have their fair share of moments of beauty, but such moments tend to be more frequent in verse.

Book Recommendations!


Looking for novels in verse recommendations? Look no further! Here are three I read and enjoyed last year: Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton (5/5 stars), Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (4/5 stars), and Saving Red by Sonya Sones (4/5 stars). And one I read this year: Audacity by Melanie Crowder (4/5 stars).

Back in February, I attended WriteOnCon, an amazing online writing conference, and one of the live panels featured a bunch of authors who write novels in verse talking about their books and some of their favorite lyrical novels. I’m pretty sure I added at least ten novels to my to-be-read list.

Though I haven’t read them all yet, here are just a few: The Way the Light Bends by Jensen Cordelia, Heartbeat by Sharon Creech, Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles by Shari Green, House Arrest by K. A. Holt, The Magic of Melwick Orchard by Caprara Rebecca, and Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott.

Let’s chat! Have you read any novels in verse yet? If you have, what are some of the ones you’d consider the best? On a scale of boring clichés to fantastic themes, how much do you enjoy poetry?

***


Literary references: Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out & Back Again; Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart; Christopher Paolini’s Eragon; C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Melanie Crowder’s Audacity; Marilyn Hilton’s Full Cicada Moon; Sonya Sones’ Saving Red; Jensen Cordelia’s The Way the Light Bends; Sharon Creech’s Heartbeat; Shari Green’s Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles; K. A. Holt’s House Arrest; Caprara Rebecca’s The Magic of Melwick Orchard; and Meg Wiviott’s Paper Hearts

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Poem: Early Spring

Weird weather can be fun, like when you get an early spring in January and the daffodils pop up and then you get sunburned because why wouldn’t you want to be outside?

On the other hand, it can be annoying. February sees winter return. And then March sees spring. And then the first day of spring is celebrated under a layer of snow.

I just can’t wait for spring to officially be here so I can start gardening again. I already planted my cucumbers indoors and their gravitating toward the window. Even the plants want to be outside.

Until then, I’ll have to suffice with my houseplants, tend my indoor veggies, and think on the warmer days.


Early Spring

I want to call it spring, the way
the sun
            drips
         d
         o
         w
         n
           
             like dissolved
          snow dustings
while the bees zip
            v e
        o          r
       the fence.

Yesterday I donned by trench coat,
turning up my collar to the blistering
                                                            wind.
Today I opened the doors
                                                let the breeze dance
      for a spell
          as I knelt
on the porch
to trim
back
winter’s rot
revealed like toys hidden
under a blanket
now melted
                        away.

***

Let’s chat! What’s your favorite season? Did you have an early or late spring this year? Or was it on time? Do you have any plans for this season?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Bookish Q&A Tag


Usually, this is the time of month where I post a book review. But March has been a rather slow month for me (I’ve only read six books), and I haven’t quite found a book to recommend. Other than Bridge to Terabithia, of course. That. Book. Is. Brutal! And beautiful. But oh, so brutal.

Instead of a book review, I’ll be participating in a book tag, more specifically the Bookish Q&A Tag! Thanks for the tag from the lovely S. M. Metzler who writes over at Tea with Tumnus. If you’re looking for book recommendations, feel free to take any from this post unless otherwise specified. And even then, feel free to read them if you want.


1) What books do you remember reading that kick-started your bookworm habit?


I was fortunate enough to be influenced by several readers as a child, and there are too many books to name. So I can’t say if a particular one got me hooked on reading. Here are just a couple:

My dad likes to listen to Focus on the Family audio dramas in the car, from Adventures in Odyssey to The Chronicles of Narnia. He also read The Hobbit to my brother and I over the course of a couple weeks while we watched our triops (three-eyed fish) grow and assert dominance over one another until one remained. Animals are brutal.

My mom introduced me to the Anne of Green Gables audio drama, often took me book shopping, and ordered the books from the school catalogue that interested me.

My third-grade teacher used to read to the class a lot. I remember listening to Junie B. Jones, Methuselah’s Gift, and A Wrinkle in Time. The first book I remember picking up on my own was The Black Arrow. Even though third-grader me didn’t understand most of it, I liked the title. I still have yet to finish it.

2) What genre, or genres, would you normally choose?


In no particular order, I like to read fantasy, sci-fi, historical fiction, poetry, and various nonfiction. For a complete explanation, check out my posts 7 Reasons I Enjoy Fantasy Novels7 Reasons I Enjoy Sci-Fi, and 7 Reasons I Enjoy Historical Fiction.

3) Do you eat while you read and if yes, what exactly?


If I didn’t eat while I read, I would probably starve to death. Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration. I’m not always reading! I like to write in the mornings, and when I do, I refuse to eat. In this sense, I’m like Sherlock: “Digestion slows me down.” Come lunchtime (anywhere between noon and three), I like to settle down with a good book and some food, usually some pasta or a salad.

4) Are there any scenes from your favorite novels that you remember vividly?


Code Name Verity: when Verity is flying with Maddie over England, and they see the sky alight with green, a rare but beautiful occurrence.

The Scorpio Races: anytime the characters are standing by the water and the narrative description is just so pretty!

The Silver Chair: where Puddleglum tells the Lady of the Green Kirtle that he’s on Aslan’s side no matter what and then proceeds to stomp on her magical fire.

I’m going to stop now because there are too many scenes and too many books to describe.

5) Were there any least favorites?


Are we talking about least favorite scenes or least favorite novels? One particular scene from This Present Darkness where the demons were attacking one of the main characters has haunted me for years.

Or is it least favorite scenes from least favorite novels? I’ve tried so hard to delete those memories. *clears throat* We do not speak of those. Moving on.

6) So, as you’re a bookworm, what are you reading currently today? (Optional)


I am currently listening to Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider in the car. Brendan Fraser is a great narrator. I didn’t know he could do so many accents and sound effects!

I’m also reading A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros, which is fascinating. It makes me want to take to the woods and mountains and never come back.

Wednesday I started reading Nikki Katz’s The Midnight Dance. Basically, it’s a fantasy story set in Italy based off the twelve dancing princesses, and so far, it has a Phantom of the Opera feel.

A Philosophy of Walking
Yes, the title is tiny. But it's a pretty cool book!

7) How’s it getting along for you? (Optional)


Dragon Rider: progress is slow. There are, like, ten discs, and I don’t drive a lot because it stresses me out.

A Philosophy of Walking: slow progress. I can only read a couple of chapters a day, and sometimes I don’t want to read it that day. But that’s okay. The book is about leisurely paces anyway.

The Midnight Dance: quick. I read 40 pages the first day, 60 the next. By the time this post goes up (I schedule most of my blog posts at least a day in advance), I may have even finished it!

8) Have you then got a large bookshelf, or do you plan to?


Do I have a large bookshelf! Hahahaha! I may have absconded all the bookshelves in the house and deemed the room The Library. Here are just the big ones:


The lawyer’s bookshelf (above). My grandpa on my mom’s side built this one. 
It’s fun, but the top shelf doesn’t sit properly. Maybe I put it together wrong?



We’ve had this monstrosity forever (above).



My mom bought this one (above) at a bazaar, and I claimed it.



The landlord owns this one (above), but it’s the perfect kid lit shelf.



Technically, this is the only bookshelf I bought (above), 
but I like to imagine that the others are mine as well.

9) Do you have a liking to indie or traditional books?


I typically read traditionally published books, but as an indie author, I try to read indie books as well. It’s hard living abroad in a country where the native language isn’t English.

Whenever I want free books, I either check them out from my local library, which only carries traditionally published, or I wait for free e-books.

When it comes to buying books, I’m terribly picky. I don’t like to buy books (unless it’s an e-book) that I’ve never read because my spontaneous buys tend to be the worst. So I’m pretty hesitant about buying print indie books. That and they take three to five months to ship. Not fun. Every now and then, I’ll take a chance on buying a print indie book, though I buy more traditionally published ones.

10) And lastly, do you plan to promote reading in some way, or already are?


Considering I run a bookish blog, I’d say I do a good deal of promoting books. For those unfamiliar with my schedule, I typically post a bookish post on the second Sunday of the month and a book review on the fourth, with some exceptions like today.

And now for the tagging:
Faith Boggus (A Boggus Life)
Cait (Paper Fury)
Daley Downing (The Invisible Moth)

If you haven’t been tagged and you want to take part, consider yourself tagged. Thanks for sticking with me to the end. Happy reading!

Let’s chat! What are some of the best books you’ve read this March? Any least favorites? When’s the last time you participated in a book tag?

***


Literary references: Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey, C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and The Silver Chair, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones, Mary Elizabeth Edgren’s Methuselah’s Gift, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow, Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, Maggie Steifvater’s The Scorpio Races, Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider, Frédéric Gros’ A Philosophy of Walking, and Nikki Katz’s The Midnight Dance

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Stages of a Plot Bunny

For many readers, stories may begin with the age-old phrase “Once upon a time,” but for writers, the story takes on a different phrase: “What if?” This question often sparks an idea, or more specifically, feeds a plot bunny.

Such bunnies may vary from story to story and from writer to writer. Just like you have various types of rabbits, from cottontails and lops to the mythical jackrabbit, you also have various types of budding story ideas, from a simple image or a character to plot points or hypothetical questions.

Dear writers, here are just a couple of the stages you can expect from your plot bunnies. Maybe you’ve experienced them all or just a couple. Either way, each stage comes with its own perks and drawbacks. And for my dear readers unfamiliar with the writing process, here’s just a satirical glimpse of what it’s like trying to raise a plot bunny.*

*All bunnies and rabbits hereafter will be referring to the story form rather than actual animals. I’ve never actually owned a rabbit, so all references are speculative and lean towards the writing craft rather than rabbit raising.



Stage 1: Discovering the Bunny


Like some people are drawn to adorable babies, and dog-lovers are drawn to puppies, writers are drawn to plot bunnies. Or rather, they are drawn to us. Unlike puppies, which you’d usually find at the park, out for a walk, or cuddled up on their person’s lap on a train, plot bunnies can be found in the most unlikely of places.

They attack writers in the shower.

They creep up on writers while they’re in the middle of loading the dishwasher.

They especially like to show up whenever the writer should be doing something else, like homework, work, or concentrating on the road so nobody in the car dies.

Not that the plot bunny has ever cared about timing.

When plot bunnies first show up, writers may be overjoyed. “Look at this fluffy, brand-new idea! Isn’t it the best? I must adopt it immediately!”

But if the writer isn’t careful to capture the idea right away, it may disappear.

Stage 2: Absent Bunnies


Sometimes, however, writers go through life without an idea of what to write next.

I’m not just talking about a writer lacking inspiration but an idea or a story in general. Sometimes, a writer finishes a project they’ve spent years pouring their time and effort into only to find that once they’re done, they’re left alone. The characters are gone. The setting is fading from the forefront of the mind. And all the plot bunnies are absent.


As much as I write, I have experienced this a lot. Sometimes, I’ll be in the middle of a project and start to panic when I don’t have a new plot bunny to adopt next.

When I first started blogging, I had maybe two ideas for blog posts. Thank God, I was only posting once a month back then, or this would have been the shortest-lived blog ever. So I talked to one of my vlogger friends, and he gave me one of the best pieces of advice a writer could here, “Just keep writing. The ideas will come.”

Stage 3: Chasing the Bunnies


“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” —Jodi Picoult

There are many ways to find inspiration or plot bunnies, but there’s only one guaranteed way to beat writer’s block (if it even exists at all), and that’s to write. Even if you don’t know what to say, write the first thing that comes to your head. Act like you have a plot bunny, and the real plot will bunnies will get jealous.

Okay, so some days are not the best writing days and the bunnies are off annoying some other writer. And that’s okay. Just write! Do it. It’ll be fun!

After all, if you don’t write, you’re more likely to lose motivation. The more you write, even if it stinks, the more ideas and the more plot bunnies you’ll have.

Stage 4: A Plethora of Bunnies


No seriously.

Keep writing and all five-hundred-and-thirty-eight of them will show up and bombard your brain and jump on your current story, demanding your attention.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to adopt them all! They’re so pretty. You may want tell all your fellow writers. You may even consider abandoning your current story because how could any writer resist?

Stage 5: Choosing a Bunny


But before you abandon your current rabbit, your work in progress, be sure to take careful consideration. It’s best to know your strengths and your limitations. While some writers can raise multiple bunnies at once, others can only handle one or two. A lot of this knowledge, though, comes from experimentation.

Personally, I can handle two, maybe three bunnies at once and all in different stages.
This blog, Word Storm, is like a mature rabbit. Sometimes, it takes minimal effort, almost like the posts write themselves, while other days, it tries to bite back. Lately, it’s been acting like a rabbit hyped up on coffee. (I’ve had the last three months of posts scheduled because I wrote most of them in January.)

My other bunny would be my latest novel, Just Breathe. As I’m working through yet another round of rewrites, this bunny can’t decide whether it wants to eat carrots or to bite me. Sometimes, I have to set it aside.



But I’m also working on a not-so-secret short story, which is one sleepy and lazy bunny let me tell you! And I’m considering adopting a new bunny when my novel is done. We shall see which one it turns out to be.

Before writers choose a plot bunny, whether they’re abandoning another or not, they should ask themselves how much time and effort they are willing to dedicate to the plot bunny. Will the excitement wear off after the first month? I’ve had a couple plot bunnies that I adopted for National Novel Writing Month that I ended up letting go after draft one. Both these bunnies were ones I adopted on impulse and by the time they made it past the first draft, I didn’t like the way they were turning out.

Choosing the right plot bunny can be difficult, but it’s not impossible.

Stage 6: Full-Grown Rabbit


There are many different types of full-grown rabbits. A blog, for example, may be mature, but it still requires constant attention. A novel, on the other hand, is slightly different. While the release of a mature novel-rabbit means excitement for readers because they get to read another book, it can mean heartbreak and fear for the writer. What if the readers don’t like the novel-rabbit? Why does it have to be so hard to say goodbye?

Sure, writers still have to market their novel-rabbit, but it’s like they’re putting up flyers for potential adoptees. Publishing a novel isn’t just putting a story into the hands of a reader—it’s the writer letting go.

Once writers release their full-grown story out into the world, the cycle begins all over again. Or it jumps around.

Stories are like rabbits after all. It’s not like they’re set in stone.

Let’s chat! Readers, did you know writing had so much to do with rabbits? Writers, what stage of plot bunny is your latest story in? What’s your favorite stage? How many plot bunnies do you typically take care of at once?

***