The Hunger Pains/Publisher Games

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Warning – long, meaningless lists, ranting, and conspiracy theories to follow. Popular series butchered.

 So now I have finished the third book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay, and wow, is it a sad affair. It’s all I could do to finish it. Had this been the first book in the series I probably wouldn’t have made it past page ten. In fact, so awful is this book that I seriously wonder if the author of the first two books, Suzanne Collins, actually wrote it or if it was ghostwritten by a fifteen year old fan and published as some kind of bizarre experiment in publishing. As with most things in life, I have a theory. A weird one.

Before I start my rant proper, let’s take a little look at the saga thus far. It starts off with Ms. Collins, a previously published and popular author, The Underland Chronicles series, signing for three books with Scholastic in 2006. The contract is said to be in the six figures range. We can assume that most of the agents and publishers who turned her down prior to the Scholastic deal are now dead, most likely by their own hands. Think if somebody said ‘no thank you’ to both Collins and Rowling. Oh, the pain! Anyhow, The Hunger Games trilogy débuted on the market in 2008 with the publication of the first book, The Hunger Games. First print – 50,000. The next two volumes, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, followed in 2009 and 2010, respectively. The series is a hit, to put it mildly. From Wikipedia; ‘The book had been on USA Today’s best-selling books list for 135 consecutive weeks, and the publisher reported 26 million Hunger Games trilogy books in print, including movie tie-in books’. Collins has recently been named as the best-selling Kindle author to date, with over a million units sold. Not bad for YA. Of course the recent news is the movie version of the first book, The Hunger Games. It’s already a runaway box-office success with one of the strongest openings ever in the history of cinema. Move over J.K., Suzy coming through. But let’s focus on the publishing industry first.

There are, in addition to the initial three volumes’ hardcover, paperback, e-book, audio book, collector’s and boxed set editions, the following books currently tied into (or parasitizing) the series:

  • The Hunger Games: Movie Tie-in Edition
  • The Hunger Games: Official Illustrated Movie Companion
  • The Hunger Games Journal
  • The World of the Hunger Games
  • The Girl Who Was on Fire (Movie Edition): Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games
  • Katniss the Cattail: An Unauthorized Guide to Names and Symbols in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games
  • The Hunger Games and Philosophy: A Critique of Pure Treason

There are study and discussion guides:

  • The BookCaps Study Guide series (one guide per book)
  • The Hunger Games Discussion Guide
  • The Hunger Games Companion: The Unauthorized Guide to the Series
  • Guide to the Hunger Games

 Then there are the parodies, including:

  • The Hunger Pains by the Harvard Lampoon
  • The Younger Games
  • The Hunger But Mainly Death Games

And, I kid you not: The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook: From Lamb Stew to “Groosling” – More than 150 Recipes Inspired by The Hunger Games Trilogy

There are probably a lot more books out there than I have listed up here, but I can’t be arsed to look for more. Apparently The Hunger Games For Dummies hasn’t come out yet. But just wait, it will, I promise.

But you get the point, right? Lots of stuff. Lots. Moving on past publishing, there are a number of related products.

Of course there is the soundtrack to the movie: The Hunger Games: Songs from District 12 and Beyond

Then there are Hunger Game games:

  • The Hunger Games Movie The District 12 Strategy Game
  • The Hunger Games Movie JabberJay Card Game
  • The Hunger Games: Training Days Strategy Game
  • And a role-playing video game is currently being developed by Lionsgate

And least we forget – Hunger Games Merch: calendars, posters, t-shirts, magnets, jewelry, socks, pen & pencil sets, key chains, stickers, book marks, postcards, notebook covers, makeup, shoulder bags, bed clothes, mockingjay pins and all the other shit that you would normally expect from a runaway bestselling book and subsequent blockbuster movie.

Yes, it’s a regular cottage industry with everybody and their uncle trying to cash in on a publishing phenomenon. But what the heck, that’s postmodern life, right? To the victors go the spoils and may the odds ever be in the corporate favor …

But enough about cynical profit mongering. At least for the moment. Let’s discuss the books themselves.

I’m a picky reader. About half of the books I start never get read past page 10. And that is after they have passed through my needle’s eye of readable literature. And while I am generally omnivorous when it comes to genre, in my old age I am definitely no longer in the YA (Young Adult) demographic. In fact I’m about as far away as you can get and still be breathing.

To be honest I can’t even remember why I picked up The Hunger Games (henceforth to be referred to as THG) in the first place. But I will admit that when I first began reading it I was hooked. And I think it’s a pretty good book. It has its faults but no one can deny it’s a page turner. I have read other popular page turners that left a bad taste in my mouth. Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, for example. Awful stuff; I shiver every time I think of it. But THG is fast-paced, not too cliché and has an interesting premise. I’m ambivalent about the teen violence and whether or not it’s a rip off of Koushun Takami‘s Battle Royal. I do know that I took my 13 year old to see the movie and he loved it. Now he wants to read the book.

After having whizzed through the first book I immediately started on the second. ‘Hard act to follow’, I thought to myself. As indeed it was. But Ms. Collins pulled a neat trick out of her bag with the ‘Quarter Quell’, and, although not as good as the first book, Catching Fire was a pretty good follow up. But there was one thing that puzzled me. As Catching Fire starts off, the MC, Katniss Everdeen, repeatedly recaps events from the first book. I’m thinking, what, they intend for this to be a standalone book? No way. Then I think, maybe it’s to bring the teens the books are intended for back to the story because everybody knows kids today have thirteen minute attention spans, right? Still, it irritated the hell out of me and diminished my suspension of disbelief, something that rarely happened in the first book. I also noted that Katniss’s character was beginning to go on my nerves; her constant self-doubt and misreading of just about every event that crossed her path left me, the reader, more and more frustrated. And it didn’t make her any more real or believable. Au contraire. Nobody that clueless could ever win anything, and certainly not The Hunger Games.

 So now we come to the third book, Mockingjay, and this is where the hit shits the fan. I have come to the conclusion that this is the rushed, inferior product of an author who has run out of ideas. The book is perfectly awful. Everything she did right in the first book and somewhat right in the second, goes totally wrong here in the concluding volume. The pacing is gone, the internal logic (I can’t give examples without spoiling), the characters, the love triangle; it’s all gone and blown up in her face. Mockingjay is a mockery – sorry, I couldn’t resist – of a good book.

This is where I trot out my conspiracy theory. That’s what you’ve been waiting for, right? OK. I’m wondering if Ms. Collins originally had planned on a single book. Take The Hunger Games (first volume), add fifty pages to it, wrapping up the conflict with The Capitol, and you have it all. Good, concise story-telling, one book, over and out. But wait, the publishers know that the real money lies in series. This is how you get to all those things I mentioned above; the spin-offs, the merch, the movies. You create a phenomenon that stretches out over time. I’ve heard it for years now – publishers want series. If the public buys the first book, then they are well on their way to buying into the series. Just look at Harry Potter (seven books and movies). People were waiting outside bookstores at midnight in the dead of winter to get their next dose of boy wizard. ‘Twilight’ anybody (four books and movies)? All well and good if you have enough material for a series. But what if you don’t? What if the publishers talked her into making THG a trilogy? Hmmm? But she didn’t have enough material for three books. The story was basically over in book one. What if (please, nobody sue me, I’m just wondering out loud) they stretched an idea so thin that they broke it? Well, baring a death bed confession from the author we’ll never know, will we?

So, that’s what I am wondering after slogging my way through to the end of Mockingjay. Are publishers pushing for extended series, stretching out potentially good stories so thin that they pop, like bubblegum balloons? Are authors buying in to this? What if this is the state of publishing today, where the desperate pursuit of money overshadows all artistic integrity and we, the readers, are becoming victims of The Publishing Games.

 

 

N.B. – I’d just like to add that there are of course plenty of bona fide series in the publishing world. Several of my writer colleagues and friends have published fantastic novels and short stories in series form, to their reader’s serial delight. The above article is not about proper series and serials.

Ratsa Rruk, Hippie Buoy

A Gambian pouched rat preparing to invade Florida

 

Don’t you just love it when you serendipitously stumble over something that verifies an outrageous claim you’ve made earlier? Don’t you? I sure do. 

Well, here I am flogging the snake again. No, not that snake; I’m speaking of El hognose-io, as usual. Yada, yada, yada. Anyhow, to get us started, let’s take a little trip together, to a distant time and a distant place (cue in Twilight Zone music) …

It’s 1970-something and our youthful slacker, Mr. T, is taking a break from stressful urban living by mucking about in a small seaside town on the Florida panhandle. He’s supposed to be renovating a rundown bungalow together with his girlfriend of the time, but oddly enough ‘things’ seem to keep getting in the way of actual work. Yes, I know, it does sound awfully similar to the 2012 version of Mr. T, but never mind that just now.

Upon arriving in sunny Florida our man discovers a bunch of new and wonderful things, such as palm trees, multicolored lizards and countless open-air bars strewn along the sandy beaches like stars flung across the night sky. You know, those bars that have bathrooms with little wooden signs on the doors saying Buoys and Gulls. However, Mr. T also finds other things in the Sunshine State that are less than wonderful; he becomes acquainted with the Floridian rat. In his own words:

‘One thing that people usually don’t think about when you mention Florida are rats. But they should. The first time I saw a Floridian rat, I thought it was a small, shifty-looking dog. At the time it didn’t strike me as particularly odd, but after a while I came to realize that something was amiss. There was this disintegrating garage in the back yard of the bungalow; the damn thing seemed to be infested with these weird little dogs. Only then did it dawn on me that these creatures were indeed rats. When I asked the neighbor about them, a state trooper who didn’t appear to be too fond of me or my kind (surprise, surprise), he told me that they weren’t your everyday rats, they were Florida wharf rats.

“Round here, we call ‘em baby-snatchers,” he had sullenly informed me. “Ya gotta have nettin’ over yer baby carriage, else fer ya knows it, you ain’t got no baby no mo.”’

Indeed. So it was with a smile upon my face that I came over an article about giant Floridian rodents the other day. It was a piece from some sort of newsy webpage, The Sideshow, entitled ’Giant, 9-pound Gambian rats invading Florida Keys.’ Wowsers. A Mr. Pfeiffer informs us that …

… The rodents, officially known as the Gambian pouched rat, are the largest known breed of rats in the world. They can grow up to three feet in length and weigh as much as nine pounds. Wildlife officials fear that if the rodents make it to the Florida mainland, they could devastate local crops.

Yeah, and if you’re not careful, they may eat your children as well. Take it from one who knows. So there it is; vindication once again. See, it is all true, right down to the rats! The fact that this particular story takes place in the Florida Keys (nowhere near the panhandle part) and that said humongous rats first made their appearence there anno 2000—after a bright local exotic animal breeder released eight of these behemoths into the wild—is irrelevant. I wrote about big rats in Florida in TBA and big rats in Florida there are.

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Bonus stuff (for those who have read this far): Why did I write about gigantic rats in Florida in The Beauregarde Affair in the first place? To introduce you to my cat, Jimmy, that’s why. If you’re interested in cat stories—and who isn’t?—then follow this link for the tail of  Jimmy vs. The Killer Rats.

The Single Star of Shame

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I knew it was only a matter of time, but when it came it felt like a knife plunged into my beating heart. My first one-star review. True, it wasn’t Amazon, but still, a humbling experience.

My first thought? How is this possible? Me, the perfectionist. All that hard work, all that proofreading, all that re-writing. The years spent tightening it up, killing darlings, trying to make every word count. And then in one fell swoop – boom! I’ve produced a one-star book. No explanations, no examples, just a lone, cold symbol of disappointment and distaste parked next to my little baby. Fuck. Me.

Granted, The Beauregarde Affair is not for everybody. If you have no interest whatsoever in the 70’s, then it might just not belong on your recommended reading list. If you are rabidly anti-dope, anti-hipster, it might infuriate you. Maybe you don’t care for slacker humor. Worse yet, perhaps you suffer from  acute ophidiophobia. Nevertheless, I’ve gotten wonderful reviews (not bragging, just saying) from readers who say, for example,  that they usually read almost nothing but science fiction. People who weren’t even close to being born when Mr. T was chronicling his longhaired misadventures claim that they could really identify with the characters. So the demographic is fluid.

 I am completely prepared for four-star reviews; in fact I would like to get a couple as soon as possible. Having exclusively five-star reviews on Amazon practically screams out Reviewed by friends and relatives only. So a couple of four-star reviews are a sign of health. It indicates that people other than your mom are actually reading your book. Here’s my take on the literary ratings:

©Brian’s Concise Guide to Literary Star Giving:

 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ – You cheated; there should only be five stars. Nice try, though; you get points for initiative.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★  – You have an excellent book and/or willing friends, colleagues and relatives. And your mom still loves you.

★ ★ ★ ★  – You have a good book but there was something off about it that kicked that fifth star out. Too many typos? A minor glitch in plot logic?

★ ★ ★  – You have an okay book, but something about it doesn’t work for me. Better luck next time.

★ ★  – You don’t have a very good book (or I am reading out of my preferred genre/I didn’t get it.).

★ – Your book sucks (or I am your ex. and you shall pay dearly for it at every opportunity). Otherwise; keep your day job. Forever.

I’ve actually seen reviews where the reviewer lamented that they can’t give zero stars. That’s just plain nasty, but hey, I’ve read some books where I seriously wondered if the ‘author’ needed some definitive feedback; please find another hobby. Or else.

I just finished reading —imho—a phenomenally good book entitled The Sister Brothers, by Patrick deWitt. Now I wouldn’t call it a work of genius, but it truly is an amazing read, with an unbelievably solid and unique voice, intriguing off-beat plot, 3D characterization, vivid scenery, and best of all, a slathering of humor in the darkest, blackest vein. My kind of book. Hell, I would have given it six stars. It was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize in 2011. Mr. deWitt has to date garnered 109 reviews on Amazon US, 85 of them awarded four or five stars. And deservedly so, if quality has anything to say. But then there were the eight one-star reviews. How is that possible, I again asked myself (btw – I am in no way comparing my humble talents to Mr. deWitt’s prodigious ones). Ok, a wacko here, a fool there, maybe even an ex-wife or two; but eight one-star reviews? None of the single-star reviews read like wackos or fools. I went through them again. And then I got it. It’s just the way things are. When people create stuff, others evaluate their creations. For whatever reasons, some people will like it and some won’t. Clearly with all the rave reviews, from the New York Times Book Review to the Washington Post, the 85 top ratings, there is something in The Sister Brothers of high value. And just as clearly, eight people thought there wasn’t. That’s the way it goes.

Back to Beauregarde. I had to know why this particular reader gave TBA one miserable star. So I mailed her and asked. Perhaps I was overstepping my role as anonymous author; nevertheless, she promptly mailed me back and explained that she ’could not engage with any of [my] characters’. Fair enough that, and if she believes that constitutes a one-star review, that’s her business, isn’t it? Do I have to like it? No.

So, to my point. Putting your creative soul out there for the reading public’s scrutiny can be an exhilarating experience. It’s somewhat like the rush performers get when standing on stage and hearing the roar of a satisfied audience. My stuff out in the world! But no matter at which level you write or perform there will always be those who don’t care for your work. You can’t write for everybody. And at some point you are going to get booed off the stage. Even J. K. Rowling got 82 single stars for her first Harry Potter book. Just listen to this one-star review:

“I am 14, I love reading, and this is probably the most boring, unoriginal and derivative story I have ever read. It is not interesting and was a waste of my time. Can someone please respond to my review and tell me why people like these books?”

Apparently that review didn’t stop J. K. Failure to please comes with the job; if you find the heat bothersome, best to exit the kitchen forthwith. Because sometimes it gets pretty hot. And sometimes your night sky shines dimly with a single lonely star.

Not So Instant Karma

Every man’s memory is his private literature.  ~ Aldous Huxley

Hmmmm … I guess I made my private literature public when I cranked out The Beauregarde Affair. At least ‘those’ years. What I didn’t expect was to have that memory come ricocheting back at me like a time-traveling boomerang.

 Back-story: I have been known to do a bit of artwork now and then. So I am hooked up to several artsy-fartsy websites, one of which is called JacketFlap, a site where authors and illustrators hang out and inflate each other’s egos. Same old same old. To make a long story short (something that I am really terrible at), a month or so after The Beauregarde Affair was published, one of the ‘principles’ of the story—yeah, yeah, I know, it’s supposed to be fiction—contacted me via JacketFlap. I hadn’t heard from him since 1970-something and he didn’t know that The Beauregarde Affair had been written, much less published. Synchronicity deluxe. But it gets weirder and wilder.

 Hopefully not spoiling the story, the Affair ends with an all out, no holds barred bash. But here’s the rub (there’s always a rub); how much can we trust our memories? They are known stretchers-of-the-truth at the best of times, more often outright liars if you don’t keep an eye on them. And we are talking about the spaced-out, smoked-up 70’s. I do claim in the beginning of TBA that it’s based on a notebook, the infamous ‘Journal’. But let’s be honest, The Journal was not 155 type-written pages long. No fucking way. There was some major extrapolation going down during the writing process. So when I described the closing fin de la siècle fest, it was written as much on faith as any of my original journal entries.

 It was therefore with an uneasy sense of closure that I received from Mr. X a copy of a drawing that I myself had made—and given to him back in the day. It chronicles in pen & ink that selfsame endgame debauchery, right down to the Welshmen, Perkie mainlining the keg and man-eating dinosaurs terrorizing the backyard. I stand vindicated. The only thing that worries me is this; if that part actually happened, how much of that other stuff did, too? To quote myself; uh-oh …

(NB: click on the pictures to get a larger version)

 

The Party to End All Parties (Thanks Mr. X)

Thirty-four years down the line (photo courtesy of Doug Bremner)

Crapy Grammer And Speling Can Make You’re Reeders [Sic]

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I’ve been reading a lot of self-pubs and indies lately and I am amazed at some of the woeful spelling and bad grammar I’ve had to wade through. This is not a good trend. If anybody ever needed to convince the reading public of their seriousness in writing it’s this particular group of writers (of which I am one).

In the former days of traditional publishing an author could perhaps lean on an editor to fix things up a bit; this is no longer the situation. Publishers are expecting you, the author, to do most of the editing yourself. And it is especially not true for self-pubs and indies, who, for the most part, don’t have an editor to begin with. Chances are that with sloppy spelling and poor grammar an author wouldn’t even have reached an editor’s desk, having already been shot down in flames by potential agents. A query letter full of mistakes is usually synonymous with an express trip to the slush pile. Even indie publishers, generally known for their wide latitude in accepting divergence from the norm, are starting to refuse manuscripts containing more than a healthy dose of typos and grammatical funny business.

 If I, as a reader,  encounter multiple grammatical errors and typos within the opening pages of a book, that book is pretty much dead in the water for me. It’s hard to suspend your disbelief when you keep getting hung up on the nuts and bolts of the story. I feel that the author is not taking me seriously as a reader and is subsequently wasting my time. What if you were listening to a song on the radio and the band played out of tune and constantly hit the wrong notes? Would you want to hear more? Or if you went  to a gallery and came over the work of an artist who just couldn’t be arsed to bother with learning technique, expecting you to look past the slovenly workmanship and  find the diamond in the rough? Would you be tempted to visit their next show? I wouldn’t. By the way – the above doesn’t apply to friends and colleagues who have asked me to beta-read an early draft of their manuscript, just so that’s clear. That’s kind of the point of being a beta-reader, isn’t it?

I make plenty of mistakes in my writing, both grammatical and otherwise, but I proofread again and again until I have (hopefully) rooted them out. And then I get a beta-reader or two to proofread it once more. The final test; I get my wife to read through it. If a mistake makes it past her it, it’s probably something wrong with the language itself. Nobody is perfect, even professional editors miss a mistake or two; however not taking the time and effort to learn correct grammar or proofread your manuscript is a sure sign of a lightweight. And more often than not, if there is something seriously wrong at the basic level, there are deeper problems higher up, too; for example jagged plots, stilted dialog and unbelievable characterization, to name a few. With thousands of new books cropping up daily, why bother with an author who doesn’t care enough about their craft to learn the elementary tools of the trade? The new phenomena of après–published slush piles (sludge piles?) are, in my opinion, mostly self-generated by sloppy writers.

In the end, it’s not about absolute perfection, because most writer’s will make mistakes that sneak under the radar no matter how many times they reread their manuscripts. A typo or two does not ruin a novel. But if the reader is constantly knocked out of the story by typos, bad spelling and crappy grammar, then that piece of writing is not yet ripe for an audience.

 

My most common mistakes?

– There/their/they’re, its/it’s, your/you’re (I know the difference; these are quick-write typos)

– Possessive vs. plural ‘s’ (see above)

– Phenomena/phenomenon (my pet peeve)

 

What  about my writing drives others crazy?

My (over)use of the semicolon; there are those who think I use way too many of them.

 

See otherwise this web page for a comprehensive list of common errors in English: http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/errors.html#errors

Btw – I intentionally left a mistake in this post; see if you can find it.

Face Eating Vampire Weasels

Well, I won’t beat about in the bushes.  Visitation to this blog has been less than spectacular. There have been weeks (weeks!) without a singe visitation!  Using what’s left of my scientific deductive mind I decided to dip into the WordPress tool chest and see what exactly is bringing those few brave souls who do partake in visitation. I discovered that there’s a list over which words and phrases were used in search engines to guide them here. Excellent idea, Brian! Let’s take a look:

 alien youth album cover  

crimson fart  

face eating weasels  

flesh torn open  

hot swedish blondes  

in the course of crimson king  

king crimson – court of the crimson king   

king crimson album cover   

king crimson album covers  

king crimson in the court of the crimson king  

milky way time travel vampire  

monica bellucci [hardcover]pictures

monica bellucci art  

monica bellucci book  

monica bellucci feet  

monica bellucci fully nude scene  

monica bellucci gif  

monica bellucci in stiletto heels  

monica bellucci nose  

monica bellucci quotes  

monica bellucci see through  

monica bellucci sexy legs  

monica bellucci smiling  

monica bellucci string  

monica bellucci style secrets  

monica bellucci tumblr  

monica bellucci up skirt  

monica bellucci water  

monica bellucci weight   

monica bellucci without make up  

people reflection in choppy water  

planet earth in milky way  

planet earth in milky way we are here  

psychedelic milky way  

tom-hanks-smile-  

vampires ripped my flesh  

wacky vamps  

weasel ripped my face 

weasel rippled my flesh  

weasels my face album cover  

weasels ripped my face  

weasel’s ripped my face  

weasel’s ripped my face album cover  

weasels ripped my flesh poster

you are here milky way poster   

 *

Well, that was certainly illuminating. See, what brings people to my author/book blog are the photos embedded in the posts. Nobody is looking for either me or Beauregarde the hognose snake. Nobody.

 So, did I learn anything from this exercise in futility? You betcha! My next book is going to feature Monica Bellucci’s face (and clothes)  being torn to shreds by vampire weasels. King Crimson (a shady monarch with flatulence issues) is the bastard who sicced the tubular vamps on her. It’s all going down in his court right here on planet Earth, which is, of course, located in the Milky Way.  There will be hot Swedish blondes (oh yeah!) and Tom Hanks will be dropping in for a cameo appearance, adding a bit of comedy relief.

Now this is how you write a successful novel!

Monica B., Slight Return

 

Btw: ‘monica bellucci feet’? That’s some weird shit to be Googling, whoever you are.

Have You Hugged Your Hognose Today?

I’m in intense negotiations with IKEA; they want to feature my T-shirt on a world-wide basis. It will come in two pieces – a front and a back; you have to put it together yourself with the enclosed needle and thread, one of which will be missing. H&M might try to outbid them; we’ll see.  Until then, this T-shirt cost me, thanks to Norwegian import taxes, more than you’d pay for an original Hendrix Stratocaster at  Sotheby’s. Go figure.

I may just feature this tee in a giveaway. Not too sure I can wear it to work anymore. I got funny looks and no enquiries about what it might actually signify. Now they probably think I’m on drugs. Yeah, I tried once, but I didn’t inhale. Oh well, genius is rarely understood in its own time.

 

Btw – Thanks to all you wonderful people who have taken the time to write a review on Amazon. You are my best hope for getting out to a broader public. You’ll be rewarded in … well, wherever.