Archive for the ‘political thriller’ Tag

Announcing the Transformation Project   Leave a comment

I started drafting the Transformation Project during the 2008 Presidential election. Originally, it was a political thriller with Shane (arguably the main character of an ensemble cast) protecting the female vice president after a terrorist attack seemingly wipes out most of the government.

The genesis came from my husband who insisted that if Obama lost, the liberals would start blowing things up to express their displeasure. You’d have to be familiar with Brad’s histrionic talents to understand just how entertaining that was. Most of the story was them trying to get west to his hometown where he could keep her safe. My mom’s hometown in North Dakota would host a plane that would take her home to Alaska.

It would have been a cool story to actually write, but after the 2008 election turned out the way that it did, it felt too much like fantasy, so I didn’t write it. But Shane wouldn’t go away. I’m a character-driven writer and he had a story he wanted to tell. It was an intriguing story of being a non-Christian in a Christian family, the black sheep, a mercenary with lethal skills in a town that has never needed that before … I quickly realized that I was much more interested in the story of a small town trying to survive when the nation’s infrastructure is in disarray than in writing a thriller.

From that was born an apocalyptic series of at least four books – The Transformation Project — of which Life As We Knew It is the first. A friend called it a “cozy” apocalyptic. There is a larger story of a terrorist attack, but that’s just backdrop for the story of a community dealing with a crisis.

I moved the location south because Mom’s hometown is not on any major transportation routes (which worked for a thriller) and seemed very remote from the big cities I wanted to attack. I couldn’t imagine a lot of traffic through North Dakota, but I could imagine Kansas being a crossroads for the sort of mass migration that apocalyptic events would inspire. The existence of a nearby interstate would serve as a reminder of bygone times as well. All I had to do was look at a Google map and see issues of resources that I wanted to explore.

Yes, I’m drawing on many of the subjects I’ve touched on in my blog … including anarchy. You won’t see much of that discussion in the first book, but in future volumes — well, you’ll have to stick around to find out.

Look for Life As We Knew It, Book 1 of the Transportation Project this spring – April or May. The countdown starts NOW.

Interview with Khalid Muhammad   1 comment

Today’s interview is with Khalid Muhammad, author of Agency Rules: Never An Easy Day at the Office, a political thriller set in Pakistan.


Khalid MohammedTell us something about yourself, Khalid. 

Sure, Lela. First, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me about my writing and my debut military/espionage thriller, Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office.

In terms of my background, I was born in Pakistan, raised and educated in the United States and returned to Pakistan in 1997 to pursue emerging business opportunities. I’ve spent my time in the country comparing the on-ground Pakistan with everything that I heard in the media. What a difference! There are times when I think they make up the stories that are written about my country.



I suspect they do, Khalid, for American political reasons.

As an entrepreneur, I have been able to build a successful marketing and brand management company in Karachi that services both domestic and international clients, which has helped with supporting my family while I build my writing career.  Since publishing Agency Rules in January 2014, I have written for a number of domestic publications and a few international ones, while I work on the next two books of the Agency Rules series.

Agency Rules – Never an Easy Day at the Office is my debut novel – the first in a series of 4 – 5. I chose to put focus on the story of my home country, Pakistan, because it is the most discussed country in the world because of our terrorism problem. Interestingly, while it is the most discussed, it’s also the least understood because the media doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s what I like to call “sound byte reporting”. So, I take my readers back to the 1990s, right after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and the Mujahideen had returned to Pakistan, radicalized and with no one to fight. They turned their sights on Pakistan and reforming the country through violence and intimidation. The story follows Kamal Khan, a precision sniper in the Pakistan Army and member of Pakistan’s most feared intelligence service, the ISI. Kamal is a fantastic protagonist because he is struggling with everything that he must do to accomplish his objectives. It will be hard for the reader to not identify with him or experience the world he is living in.


I’m reading the book now and finding the character of Kamal compelling and the Pakistan you describe to be quite different from the one I hear about in the news. You live in Pakistan. I could do an interview just on that — forget about the book. And we might actually do that separate from the interview. Talk about living in Pakistan.

Pakistan is a fantastic country, but no different than any other. We have gotten a bad knock in the War on Terror, even though we are a frontline state in the war, but the country is so diverse and amazing that when people visit from abroad, they are shocked that it is so different than what they have been told in the print and electronic media.

The nation has had a very difficult and interesting road since 1947, when the country came into existence. We have long struggled with the “extremism” elements both in political parties and fringe religious groups, but the Afghan War, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1970s, really brought it all out in the open. Prior to that, Pakistan was a progressive, liberal country. Shocking, I know!


What little I know of your history it isn’t shocking to me, but how did things deteriorate to where they are now?

What happened in 1977, and for many years after, was the rise of General Zia-ul-Haq, a ruthless, highly fundamentalist dictator that ruled throughout the Afghan war. General Zia took it upon himself to align with the ultra-conservative elements in Pakistan to create, what we call, the “Islamic” laws. These laws included the Hudood Ordinance, which virtually stripped women of all their rights in terms of criminal prosecution of rape and adultery, and the blasphemy law, which is well known to everyone around the world. Zia’s government was probably the darkest time in Pakistan’s history because of the way he ruled the country. Let me give you some examples.

There were public beatings in stadiums of those who had violated his Islamic laws, which I should point out had nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with his brand of morality. The media was silenced. There were literally newspapers published with big black rectangles covering stories that the government didn’t want the public to see. They actually monitored every newspaper in the country, which at the time wasn’t difficult because there were about 4 newspapers.

It was during his rule that two things happened that impact Pakistan to this day. First, Zia selected political nobodies and turned them into household names. Those people are still in politics in Pakistan, including current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. These people promised to carry forward Zia’s mission for Pakistan after he died in a fiery helicopter crash with the then US ambassador to Pakistan, Arnold Raphel.

The second thing that he did that continues to eat Pakistan alive is the massive growth of jihadi and extremist madrassahs. During the Afghan war, these madrassahs were setup to funnel motivated fighters to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Mujahideen against the Soviets, but when the war was over, they didn’t have an enemy – so they turned their sights on Pakistan. These madrassahs have created and supported most of the terrorist elements in the country until today. This was also when the financial links between Saudi Arabia and these madrassahs were created.

During the Afghan war, for every dollar that the CIA pumped into Pakistan to support the Mujahideen, the Saudis pumped in $100. These funds were, and are, funneled straight to the radical elements in Pakistan to teach them the Wahabi form of Islam. Wahabism is an extremely fundamentalist form of Islam that believes that the religion cannot progress and that the most extreme form of Sharia law is the only acceptable law for a Muslim country. This is the law that is followed in Saudi Arabia, where no woman can drive, leave the house without her husband or father and has no rights under the state. This is what they wanted for Pakistan as well. I should say still want for Pakistan.

Today, and for the past 12 years, our military has been fighting against these radicals. Our fight has cost us close to 70,000 innocent lives in terrorist attacks and military operations. We are finally making headway but the current government could pull the plug anytime they want – but we can get into that if you want to talk more about Pakistan.


When did you first start writing and what was the story?

I first started my writing when I was in the 7th grade. I had a fantastic English teacher that encouraged us to write from our imaginations. I can’t remember the first story that I wrote, but I know it was crime related. At that point in time, I was living a very troubled home life and all I was reading was true crime novels that I would get from the local library.

There was a great deal of frustration and anger in my writing at that age, which has matured now into a much cleaner, sadistic writing style.

I stopped writing when I was in university because life got me busy and didn’t really touch it outside of professional papers during my career. It was after the War on Terror started and I was reading/watching what was being said about Pakistan that I started thinking about starting again.


I think most writers write to get something out of ourselves that perhaps lives more safely in a fictional environment. My neighbors would not like it if I ran around the neighborhood with a big sword smiting people. Alaskans are fine with everybody being armed, but they don’t much like gunfire outside of the gun range. I write so my psyche can do things that aren’t exactly socially acceptable. Can you relate to that idea?

Completely! I have an extremely sadistic side to my personality when it comes to injustice. My writing has given me an outlet to express my feelings, ideas and sometimes hatred without the repercussions of criminal cases. I come from a violent childhood that has done a good deal of damage to my internal structure and belief system. I think my writing lets me express that. My wife likes to say that my writing is a catharsis because many of the things I would like to do to people (and probably would since Pakistan is a lawless country) come out in my writing.


Agency Rules Never EasyWhere did you get the idea for Agency Rules?

Agency Rules is a journey for me and Pakistan. Too many people only know what they see in the media about Pakistan and that is so slanted that I don’t even recognize my country when I read the foreign press. I wanted to tell the story that people don’t know, what we have struggled with for years, the battles that we have fought ideologically, religiously and sometimes physically over the past 30 years. The Pakistan that you see in the media is not Pakistan. Agency Rules is my way of setting the record straight by introducing you to the political and military gamesmanship, the corrupt and uneducated imams and the people who are struggling under the weight of all of it just to survive.


Tell us about the story.

The story is centered around the years immediately after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the impact on Pakistan. The reader gets the story from the point of view of Kamal Khan, a highly decorated sniper in the Pakistan Army who gets recruited into the elite Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Kamal takes you behind enemy lines into a terrorist camp to show the reader how people are indoctrinated, seduced and recruited into that life. There are many facets to the story that I can’t talk about because it would give too much away, but suffice it to say, the reader gets a clear picture of everything that goes on in Pakistan and why the country has so many problems decades later.

What’s interesting about the story is that it is roughly 6 years in the making. I have read de-classified documents from US and Pakistani intelligence, dossiers on terrorists, books, watched movies and documentaries to get all my research on target with the whole series. I like to tell my readers that everything that you read in the pages of Agency Rules novels has actually happened or is happening in Pakistan. There is a level of realism to the story that I couldn’t have gotten without the sheer amount of research that I did before I started planning and writing.

Never an Easy Day at the Office is the first book of the series and the foundation of the whole story.


What are your future literary plans? Will there be a sequel or other books to follow? If so, what and when?

Like I said, this is the first book in the series. I envisioned this as a 4 or 5 book series when I first planned it out, but the response and demand for the book has been so great that I might continue it beyond 5 books.

The sequel to Never an Easy Day at the Office is due out in early January 2015. I will be publishing two books within weeks of each other to bring the story to modern day Pakistan. I’ve finished (I hope) writing the next book of the series and we will start marketing it towards the end of the month, probably after Christmas.

I do plan on writing a crime thriller novel at some point because that genre has always been of interest to me. But it all depends on when I get some time away from Agency Rules to work on it.


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Interview with Thom Stark, Part 2   1 comment

Thom StarkWe’re returning with Thom Stark, the author of American Sulla. Thom has been gracious enough to lend his wit and intellect to my blog both to promote his book and to talk about some further ranging topics. This is the second part of the author interview, but I plan to run our conservation on Thursdays for a while. I have Writing Wednesdays. These are Thom Thursdays, I suppose. Lela

Part 1 of the Author Interview is here.

Tell us about American Sulla. The series is a political thriller that postulates a nuclear attack on New York City and the action takes place in aftermath, examining the consequences and coping strategies of the country and particularly the US government. How did you come to write on that topic?

In 2011, once I regained the ability to type, I began work on a science fiction novel called The Deluge. It’s set in 2053, so one of the things I had to do as a setting-up exercise was to create a timeline of important historical events between then and now that would give shape and substance to the kind of world my characters would be inhabiting 40 years in the future. That, in turn, led me to the events of William Orwell Steele’s presidency. As I began to explore them, I realized that they deserved a novel of their own. Since, according to my future history, the act of nuclear terrorism that triggered the cascade of changes that followed took place in 2020, I decided that I needed to write that novel first, because I might not get around to it before the real calendar caught up with my fictional one, otherwise.

So part of my reason for writing American Sulla is sheer serendipity. I was just building a future history for one story, and discovered a whole other novel in the process. The other part, however, is what happened to America in the wake of 9/11.


American Sulla


I love it when a character asserts himself and becomes so interesting that I must tell his story. That’s the best kind of writing. What was going on in 2011 and going forward that encouraged your writing of this trilogy?

I really hated what my country became after Al Queda’s attack. Yes, it was a horrific event, but the way my fellow Americans and our elected representatives reacted to it was what truly appalled me. We were living in Mariposa County in the Sierra Nevada foothills at the time. The eponymous county seat is an unincorporated Gold Rush town with fewer than 2,200 residents as of the 2010 census – and still fewer back then. And yet, the people there were almost literally pissing themselves in fear that Al Queda was going to attack that flyspeck burg with nukes! The utter panic and craven cowardice of those people was just sickening to me. And we’re talking about a very, very rural area, where the population is, at least theoretically, somewhat self-reliant and unpampered.

What happened with our national legislature was even worse. Congress fell all over itself to flush the Constitution down the toilet in pursuit of “security”. And two years later – by which time you’d think they might have regained at least a modicum of sense – they endorsed the invasion of Iraq by an enormous majority. This was a country that had had nothing to do with 9/11, that had abandoned its program of developing weapons of mass destruction, and that, moreover, was the only meaningful bulwark against the expansion of Iran’s influence in the region. And the Cheney government insisted on invading with an army that was easily capable of defeating Saddam’s Republican Guard, but profoundly inadequate for the task of occupying and pacifying Iraq afterward.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard a lot of people say that things would have been different if Al Gore was president, rather than George W. Bush.

I’ve heard that. I don’t believe it! I think neither of them was equal to the task they faced, just as President Obama is inadequate to the task of dealing with ISIS, and particularly ISIL, now. I wish we had some truly great presidents during this era, but it hasn’t happened.

So, part of the thought experiment that led to American Sulla was exploring the notion of how things might, indeed, be different if a classic liberal Democrat were in office when an terrorist event infinitely worse than 9/11 occured. Given the economic crash and the physical and financial damage this country sustained thanks to 9/11, it seemed clear to me that a nuclear terrorist attack would create far greater havoc, and whoever was unfortunate enough to be President at the time would be faced with some really ugly problems, and a critical shortage of clear solutions to them.

Given that reality, the next obvious question – at least, it seemed obvious to me – was “What happens next?”

Where does the title American Sulla come from?

Lucius Cornelius Sulla was a Roman general and member of the patrician class. He’s best known as the first man to be elected Dictator of Rome for an unlimited term. Prior to Sulla, the Dictatorship was never awarded for longer than a single, six-month term, and then only in times of national emergency. The emergency, in Sulla’s case, was the capture of Rome by Gaius Marius. He agreed to save the city from the Marian army on condition that he be made dictator for an indefinite period. Once Sulla defeated the Marian army, he set about eliminating the “enemies of Rome” and undoing the populist reforms that Marius (and the Gracchi brothers before him) had instituted. He also made changes to the Roman political system that he believed would ensure the Republic’s return to its former glory. Once he had accomplished those things, after only slightly more than a year in office, he resigned as Dictator and restored control of Rome to the Senate.

It seemed clear to me that any President would immediately declare martial law – effectively making himself dictator of the USA – in the wake of a nuclear attack, so the parallel between William Orwell Steele and Sulla was inescapable.


May DayMay Day is the first in a three-part series.  It came out in 2013. When is War – Book Two of American Sulla scheduled for publication?

Well, since May Day took around 18 months to write and edit, I’m aiming to publish War sometime in summer of 2015, but the only honest answer is, “It’ll be done when it’s done.” I’m not going to let it escape into the wild until I’m certain it’s fully baked, regardless of how long that takes. This novel is going to be my legacy, and I need to make sure I get it as close to perfect as humanly possible.

It’s a really complex tale, requiring three installments to tell. You’ve intimated on Facebook that there will be some surprises in the subsequent books as the character and the events continue forward.

By now, anyone who’s paying attention has probably figured out some of what will happen over the course of the novel … but, believe me when I say that there are plenty of twists in the tale that you will definitely not see coming. I can tell you that some of the characters I introduced in May Day will not make it to the end of the story. Some very unpleasant substances will definitely hit the fan in War – and still more ugly things will splatter in Revolution, the third and final volume of the novel. One thing I can promise my readers is that I will do everything in my power to make sure the time they invest in American Sulla is time extremely well-spent.

Where can we find May Day? Do you have a website?

The American Sulla home page (which includes a downloadable 38,000-word preview edition of May Day in a variety of ebook formats) is:

There’s also an American Sulla Facebook group:

More importantly, you can buy May Day in Kindle format here:

or, for British readers, here:

It’s also available in a handsome, durable, 596-page 7”x10” trade paperback here:

(Okay. I lied about the “durable” part. It’s a paperback. Don’t read it in the rain.)

You can buy American Sulla swag here:

My Author page is:

My LinkedIn profile is:

I’m on Twitter as:


And, if you’re interested, you can check out the CD I released in 2003 here:

and listen to a song I recorded fairly recently here:


Stay Tuned for Thom Thursday   Leave a comment

Thom Stark

Thom and I will be continuing our conversation with the second half of his author interview.

Interview with Thom Stark Part 1   1 comment

Displaying Thom Stark.jpgThom Stark is the author of The American Sulla and a Book Trap (Facebook) friend. What began as an author interview has expanded into a larger conversation, which I’m going to highlight on Thursdays for a while, starting with the author interview, which was long enough and entertaining enough to run as a two-part series. Lela


Tell me about yourself, Thom!

They tell me I was born in Pittsburgh, PA – and I believe them, because that’s what it says on my birth certificate – but I’ve never had any sense of attachment to the Iron City. I was an Air Force brat, so I grew up all over the USA. I learned to read in Japan, and almost immediately discovered and began to devour science fiction at a rate most black holes would envy. Even at the age of six, it was clear to me that someday I’d eventually wind up as a writer, but I certainly did everything in my power to avoid that fate – and I was sufficiently skillful or lucky enough to avoid the curse for almost four decades.

My wife and I spent 23 years living in California, so, if there’s any place I think of as home, it’s the Golden State. Since mid-2008, we’ve lived in Chillicothe, Ohio, where we moved so that Judy could be close to her mother while she was being treated for breast cancer. (She’s been cancer-free for more than 5 years now, for which I am pathetically grateful, because, quite frankly, I’d be completely lost without her.)

I sing, write, play, and record music as a hobby. I’m an okay guitarist, a pretty good producer/arranger, and a decent singer with a limited range, but a distinctive vocal style.

We’ve been Persons of Dog since Valentine’s Day, 2001. That was when Wolfgang Amadeus Dogzart, our beloved American Staffordshire Terrier came home with us from the Mariposa County Animal Shelter. Puppies have been part of our lives ever since. Wolfie died of leptospirosis in early 2008 – as you can imagine, that was a rough year for us – but we still have his first companion, a bullmastiff mix we named Miss Watson. Currently she shares Doggie Island with a year-and-a-half old Grand Pyranees/Saint Bernard mix named Wanda. She’s a rehab project we took on because she has an irrational fear of strangers that we have the experience to help her overcome. Wanda has been slowly improving, and we have great confidence she’ll eventually learn to leave her anxieties behind.

How did you first start writing?

With a pencil, on loose sheets of unlined paper. (At first I just drew individual letters, but after a few weeks, I progressed to entire words …)

Very funny! I meant writing stories, of course.

Actually, I wrote my first piece of fiction at the age of six. It was just a little plotless scenario about three teenage boys who race their jet cars to the launch pad where their rocket ship is waiting to take off, but it taught me the first Unfortunate Reality of Prose: that writing is hard. As it turns out, good writing is very hard.

I submitted a terrible short story to Analog when I was 11 or 12. Legendary editor John W. Campbell’s rejection letter was kind, and he encouraged me to keep writing, but it was already clear to me that I needed a lot more experience of life before I was going to have any chance of being good at it. So I stopped doing that and did other things for the next few decades – although I did write or co-write several dozen pop and rock songs in the 1970’s and 80’s. I’ve kept that habit up ever since, although, as is true of my prose output, the process of songwriting is a slow one for me.

I’ve worked at a wide variety of jobs, from newspaper typesetter to aspiring rock star, with stints in between as everything from carnival roustabout to professional videotape editor. In the mid-1980’s I got interested in personal computers, eventually became a senior research analyst for Wells Fargo Bank, and then went into independent consulting. That, in turn, led me into becoming a professional writer (by which I specifically mean “one who gets paid for it”).

I had gotten very interested in the Internet as a resource for networking professionals. This was in the early 1990’s, when the Web was only just beginning to emerge from the high-energy particle physics community, and using the Net basically demanded a set of skills that most people simply didn’t have. But there was an already-rich – and rapidly growing – collection of resources for the sort of job I was doing at the time, and I thought it was important to spread the word about them to my fellow PC networking professionals. So, at a San Francisco Novell User Group Christmas party I cornered Susan Breidenbach, who was then the editor of LAN Times Magazine, and pitched her on the idea of running what I described as “a Baedeker’s Guide to the Internet” for people in our line of work.

What I didn’t anticipate was that she’d offer me the opportunity to write it. And that, if I didn’t agree, it wasn’t going to happen at all. So I decided to take a swing at it.

The result was @internet, a column that would outlast LAN Times as a going concern, and bring me a whole new career as a writer. I ended up at Boardwatch Magazine, a truly unique and wonderful publication that featured an incredible collection of top-level geeks as monthly columnists. John Dvorak and I were the only actual career writers there, when I started in 1997. Everybody else was busy inventing the technology that ran the Internet, and just did their columns as a side gig. It was pretty darned heady company in which to find myself, and I was deeply grateful that Boardwatch’s fanatic readership immediately took me into their hearts. It’s important to understand that many of those readers actually paid perfectly good money for their subscriptions – and a surprisingly large percentage of them read every issue of the mag from cover to cover. That was something that simply didn’t happen in the computer trade press, where the dominant business model was “qualified subscriber” distribution … but it happened with Boardwatch.

Anyway, I learned a lot from my experience in computer journalism, and I swiftly acquired a reputation for turning in ready-to-run copy. Some of Boardwatch’s most important contributors needed a fair amount of help from the editors to massage their columns into readable shape. I didn’t. A lot of that is because I had spent almost my entire waking life doing nothing but reading from the age of six until I discovered girls at around thirteen, and I managed to thoroughly absorb the rules of grammar, punctuation, usage, and spelling in the process. Some of it is also due to the fact that that I’m kind of a perfectionist, and I can’t stand to to submit sub-par work. (Just as an example, my verbal contract with Jack Rickard, Boardwatch’s publisher and Editor Rotundus, specified that my montly column was to be 1,000 words in length. I don’t think anyone at the magazine ever noticed, but, for five years, every column I turned in was exactly 1,000 words long, to the syllable.)

Oh, my! That is precision! So what happened then?

Then the dotcom economy imploded. Over the course of six months or so, the computer trade press shrank from over 800 titles to around 150. And because Boardwatch had been purchased for a squidillion dollars by Philistines who systematically dismantled every single thing that made it such a special animal, it went gurgling down the drain along with the rest of the industry.

I had to find something else to write, because now the infection had really set in, and I no longer had any choice but to produce prose. I did a couple of newspaper and magazine pieces, but my major focus became authoring an academic reference book called Plutarch’s Alexander – The Complete Reference. I had been under the impression that writing for the computer industry had taught me to do research, but that project made me understand what really mastering the literature on a subject was all about. It’s a skill that has proven invaluable in writing my novel.

Anyway, in mid-2008, my wife was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. We were living in Las Vegas at the time, and I immediately put her on a plane for Ohio, because Vegas is not even the place you want to be treated for a potentially fatal illness. A set of plastic boobs, or a nose job? They’re good at that. Curing cancer? Not so much. Meanwhile, Ohio has two fully-accredited National Cancer Centers, and to live here costs half of what it would to live in the Bay Area – which is pretty important, when the economy is right on the verge of collapse, as it was in June, 2008.

So we moved here, and I turned my attention to being my wife’s primary caregiver. Once she emerged from cancer treatment – she took the full ride: lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation, one right after the other – I found that I’d lost interest in the Alexander project. Writing a book like that is an incredibly immersive experience. To do it right, you have to live and breathe the subject full time. I’d been away from it long enough by then that I had lost the motivation necessary to get back up to speed on the literature. Then I broke a tendon in my left bicep. That triggered a rather hideous condition called adhesive capsulitis (aka “frozen shoulder”) that, combined with a ruptured disc in my neck, made it impossible for me to write, or even read for the next year-and-a-half. All I could do was grit my teeth and wait for it to pass … which it finally did, in mid-2011.

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