Discrimination and being an Opening Gay Mystery Writer by Mark Zubro

Guest post by Mark Zubro, Lambda Award winning author of Safe and Pawn of Satan

 

Part of this was posted on Huffington Post under the title “A Walk to the Store.” This is a more full treatment of the topic:

One of the questions often asked in interviews with reporters, on panels at mystery conventions, or when I’m making personal appearances, is if I have experienced any discrimination connected with my being an openly gay teacher, while having twenty-three gay mysteries published.

Remember, at the time the books first came out, February 1989, of the people who were writing gay mysteries, a few were out, but most of the people who were writing them used pseudonyms, were actually married to a member of the opposite sex, or were in some other closet.

As so many of us have heard and indeed preached, it is important for us to come out so people know who we are. The decision to use my real name, first, middle, and last names was made in 1988. Remember this was before the Senate even passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was instituted to try and ameliorate an even worse policy. Using all three names was a defiant gesture of being proud and open about the tremendous accomplishment of writing a book and having it published.

There were a few mainstream gay authors using their real names at the time. Armistead Maupin comes to mind. And there were others.

I do wonder about so many who have preached we need to come out. So many in the gay media and in gay organizations preach being open, but what exactly are those now, but especially back then, were they risking? They’ve got jobs in gay media and jobs in gay publishing. For those of us who live in conservative areas with jobs in conservative school districts, the risk back then was real. And remember in more than half the states in this country, it is still legal to fire someone from their job just for being gay. It was legal to do so at the time in Illinois.

At the time the first book was published, the superintendent received two letters complaining about me. One complained about a teacher using gay characters in a book. As if, then, authors were to be limited by profession; as in an electrician could only write books with these type of characters; or a waiter could write books with only this, that, and the other type of character. The other complained about what I might be saying about my private life in the classroom. Basically they meant we don’t like this gay guy teaching our kids. And it could have been a problem. But the superintendent simply wrote them letters reassuring them that there was no problem. So I was lucky that there were only two letters, if luck it was? Or I was lucky that the superintendent wasn’t a homophobic pig, if luck it was? He only told me after the fact when the letters had been received and replied to. He gave me copies and did not discuss the issue.

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I did receive lots of positive feedback from my colleagues. Perhaps the other members of the English department and other members of the staff were happy for me in having an actual real book published by a real New York, big time publisher. Doesn’t every English teacher dream of writing a book and having it published? Or maybe the homophobic pigs just kept their mouths shut?

But in terms of discrimination the students were another possible issue/problem. Although it turns out mostly, they didn’t care that I’d had a book published. It was an adult world of books that was foreign and uninteresting to them. They did want to know if it made me rich, and were, I believe, disappointed when I told them no. Not perhaps as disappointed as I, but still.

They may or may not have been interested in my private life but then, as now, my private life is about the same, pretty dull and boring. At the time I taught, ran the teachers’ Union as president, went home and read books and wrote books. Now as a retired teacher I sit at home and read books and write books. Sometimes I vary the routine, then as now, with naps or eating chocolate. I long ago learned I was good at dull and boring. I believe in going with your strengths. Those are two of mine and I’m sticking with them.

There were, however, problems of discrimination with the kids.

There was one essay from an eighth grader, who wrote in part the following: “I know he’s gay because I know what his books are about. They’re about gay people. I think my dad is right about what should happen to gay people, a bullet hole in the head.” This student was in my class for a full year. I didn’t read the essay with this comment in it until after the school year was over. I found this more sad than anything else.

Then the following occurred and I learned how pervasive the discrimination and danger from some of the students was back then. The following is all true.

I walk to the convenience store down the street every day to get my newspapers and so I can claim I’m getting exercise every day. Yes, even in winter, I just bundle up and then bundle up some more and hope I don’t slip on the ice. Tripped and fell once last year as I got distracted by a beautiful dog who was being taken into the animal grooming place two doors down from the convenience store. Just a klutz, no medical issues.

Once in a blue moon I run into former students. At least they introduce themselves as such, since some of them are now in their twenties, thirties, forties or even early fifties.

One Saturday a woman in her thirties who was chatting with one of the clerks at the store turned to me and asked the usual, “Aren’t you?” and I said the usual, “I’m sorry I don’t remember your name. Please tell me.”

I wouldn’t have recognized her in a thousand years. She told me her name, and she has a husband, kids, and lives in town. So, we chatted less than five minutes, and I walked back home.

That next day, Sunday, she’s there again. She introduces me to the clerks at the store adding that she always liked me as a teacher and said I was always good to her and her friends. That was good. But the conversation quickly lagged, like one of those moments when you kind of don’t want to be talking to this person, or at least can’t think of anything to say, and are starting to feel uncomfortable. I finished the conversation and walked home.

The next Saturday, she was there again. She’d been chatting with the clerk again, but as I turned to go, she followed me out of the store. The weather was nice that day as it has been.

Over the few days of brief conversations, we’d talked about other students who were in the same year with her. I usually remember the kids from a particular year, if at all, as most teachers do, by the most rotten kids in the class. Since she was in her thirties, the people and events we were talking about happened over twenty years ago just after the first books were out.

The most rotten kid that year was Biff. (fake name here)

The woman — I’ve forgotten her name now — and since she was married her name wasn’t the same as when she was a kid, said that her husband had gone to a school in the next district over from mine. Her husband had been best friends with Biff and his cronies.

Then she apologized to me. She told me Biff, but not with her husband — maybe I believed that — came to my parking lot and flipped my car. She said she was so sorry for that, and she always liked me as a teacher.

I told her that no one had ever flipped my car, if she meant as in turned it over on its roof.

She said she’d always wondered if what they’d bragged about had been true. She then listed the other things they’d done.

These were all too true.

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One time, my car had been picked up and moved about three feet from the perpendicular. I drove a high-mileage, small compact car so it was possible. Two other times the windshield was smashed. Another, nails in tires. A broken window in the apartment. Sand in the gas tank — I got a locking gas cap in all subsequent cars. The list went on.

At the time, I’d called the police for a few of the incidents, but there was nothing to be done. I had no clue as to the identity of the perpetrators.

It didn’t all happen at once — in fact over about a four-year span.

Stupid me. All the little things I dismissed or didn’t pay attention to. I asked once at the place where I went to get replacement tires, wasn’t it odd that I was getting nails in my tires so often. Couldn’t someone be sabotaging them? The clerk at the time said no, they must be nails from construction sites. Much as I might fantasize about studly construction workers, I’d never so much as gotten close to a construction site and certainly have never driven through one.

The woman reiterated that they used to brag about what they’d done to get the fag.

Teenage homophobia. A form of intimidation and bullying.

I never put it all together. The incidents all happened too far apart for me to connect them.

I think on some of those interviews and panels I may have said something like, ‘oh I was pretty lucky, there wasn’t much of a problem with homophobia, only a few letters from parents, and then I’d tell the story about the letter.’ Turns out there was constant homophobia of a violent and dangerous kind, and I missed it.

The woman at the store apologized several times. Repeated that her husband wasn’t involved. Named the names of kids I’d long forgotten who’d helped Biff.

So, yes, the bullying of a teacher, against an openly gay writer. And I was too naive or stupid or arrogant to see it. What a fool.

She was so was so nice and so apologetic.

I ask myself how I couldn’t have put it together? The basic fact is, I didn’t.

The apology happened recently. The events she was apologizing for happened in the early ’90s after my first books came out. I ask myself have things really gotten better for us? I often think they have, but then there are headlines about another gay teen committing suicide. I imagine they are getting better, but then I still see us as the only minority whose rights are put to a vote. I try to remember that in all the years between Dred Scott and Brown vs. Board of Education, African Americans mostly lost court cases.

When you are in the middle of a storm, it always seems a long way until the end. But there are signs of hope for us, some large and global, some small and personal. I think about the president and the ringing phrase in his inaugural address, “From Seneca Falls, to Selma, to Stonewall,” and I have hope. I think about the Illinois senate taking a positive vote for marriage for us on Valentine’s Day, and I believe there is hope for us in this world. I listen to, instead of further scorn and derision, a woman making an apology to an author many years later, and I believe things have gotten better.

 

http://www.markzubro.com/

 

 

New Author, WS Long, discusses the influences behind his recent novel, Love and Murder

Interview by Jon Michaelsen © 2014

WS, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.

Let’s start off with, where do you live?

I live in hot, humid Central Florida where the weather only gets delightful December, January and part of February. I’m minutes away from theme parks and observing the tourists who visit from all corners of the world.

WS LongWithout getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

I emigrated from the Philippines with my parents as a young child. After the military where I obtained my college degree at night, I went to law school on student loans. I eventually met the man who became my husband at a group counseling center in Orlando for men going through the coming out process. We’ve been together for close to twenty years, having been married recently after exchanging vows in Vancouver, British Columbia, a few years ago.

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment to date? 

Wow, that’s a tough one. I don’t think I’ve achieved it yet. I would say that becoming more aware of myself, that is, realizing my true identity has opened my mind and how I live my life and with whom I choose to live my life. I don’t know if I would call that an accomplishment, but an evolving path to happiness.

Have you ever had to deal with homophobia after your novels were released, and if so, what forms has it taken?

I haven’t encountered homophobia as it relates to my books. Like Sally Ride in the recent biography that came out, I tend to compartmentalize my private life from professional life except for close friends and trusted co-workers. However, my friends are amused that I have written erotic scenes because I’m perceived as being fairly conservative in my social life (not my political beliefs, obviously). For example, I can’t remember the last gay bar my husband and I visited.

I understand you are a military brat and former military yourself. Has your past military experience worked its way into your writing?

Yes. Some of my personal experiences in the Air Force appear in “Ask and I’ll Tell.” I hopefully conveyed the macho culture, the fraternal closeness and yet the homophobia in “Ask and I’ll Tell.” The story of Pad, Wayne and RJ are loosely based on actual people, myself included. RJ Davis is based on a real lieutenant I knew in the military. Wayne is based on a couple of friends. And Pad, well, he’s obviously an extension of someone I know very much.

There were many men in the military that I knew that had same-sex attraction, but had a hard time dealing with those feelings.

LoveandMurder

How long have you been writing? Do you have a favorite genre for writing?

I’ve been writing fiction for four or five years and I don’t have a favorite genre for writing at all. I think male-male romance can “borrow” from so many genres and that’s a good thing.

I don’t count the times when I worked in the school newspapers, or the years writing for work but if you count those experiences you can say I’ve been writing since high school.

You are a lawyer by day, writer by night, so to speak. Can you share how your vocation influenced your latest release, gay mystery/thriller Love and Murder?

That’s easy. “Love and Murder” is loosely based on a criminal case of mine when I worked as an assistant public defender. The victim was a known prostitute. The case went to trial, but mistried on a DNA issue. Obviously, the story in “Love and Murder” is fictionalized. Frank Peoples has no similarity to the client in the murder case I tried. Jake Chandler is a combination of friends, both straight and gay, going through the coming out process and having issues, post-divorce. Hopefully, the readers of the book feel the despair of a solo practitioner trying to maintain his practice, while juggling family life, because that’s something with which many of my lawyer-friends struggle.

Have you considered releasing Love and Murder as audiobook?

You’re the first to bring that up. (Too bad you couldn’t hear me laugh when I read this question.) That’s an interesting proposal, but I wouldn’t know how to begin that process. (You should absolutely look into Audible.com (ACX=Audiobook Creation eXchange) – an Amazon company for a quick and easy process)).

Have you considered serializing your gay mystery/thriller, Love and Murder?

I have a rough outline for the sequel to “Love and Murder.” So, yes, there’s at least one more book with Jake Chandler in it with the working title, “Love and Pain.”

Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

My current work in progress, “The Nephilim,” is a YA book that weaves my belief system including reincarnation, past lives and eternal love. Without going into the plot line or characters too much, it does borrow heavily from Judeo-Christian belief systems about angels, demons, and the product of angels and humans, that is, the Nephilim.

On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.

 

Find WS Long on the web:

https://twitter.com/wslongauthor

http://www.tumblr.com/blog/wslong

https://www.goodreads.com/WSLong

https://www.facebook.com/wslongauthor

 

The Author of the Quarter Boys Mysteries Releases a Stand-alone with DeadFall

Interviewed by Jon Michaelsen © 2014

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David, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.

Let’s start off with, where do you live?

I live in Newton, MA, seven miles west of Boston. It’s actually a fairly large city, but divided into thirteen villages so it’s more like a bunch of small town centers spread out over a large area. We live in Newtonville, which has historically been more working class. Lots of multi-family homes, retirees, and younger families with kids. Very suburban, but with small yards.

Without getting too personal, would you share a little about your home life?

My husband Brian and I have been together for about nine years, married for just over four. We live in a small Arts & Crafts bungalow with our dog, Blue (the real-life model for Blue in the last three Michel Doucette-Sassy Jones books). We’re not entirely shut-ins, but we come close sometimes. On warm evenings you can usually find us on the patio—grilling, having cocktails, and cursing the neighborhood kids for being loud.

When I’m working on a book, I’m typically at my desk by 5 AM and write until 9. Then I walk Blue and start my day job as a graphic designer. I’m self-employed and work at home, so if it’s a slow day, I might be able to fit in a little more writing, but that’s rare except on weekends. I’m very regimented about writing. I treat it like another job…that pays roughly a nickel an hour.

What would you say is your greatest accomplishment to date? 

In terms of writing, just the fact that I’ve written seven books and along the way managed to create characters and a series that some people care about. I mean, how many people get to do that? And I’m proud of myself for resisting the temptation to continue beyond the point I felt the series should end.

That said, the biggest writing-related rush was finding out that Echoes was a Lammy finalist. At that point I’d sold just over 400 books, including literally 37 copies of Echoes, so it was really exciting to get that recognition, especially alongside Richard Stevenson, Garry Ryan, and Greg Herren.

Have you ever had to deal with homophobia after your novels were released, and if so, what forms has it taken?

Not that I’m aware.

quaterboys

The multi-nominated, Lambda Award winning Quarter Boys mystery series is what fans have come to know you for, beginning in early 2010 with the release of the incredible novel, The Quarter Boys. Why did you choose to self-publish your gay mystery series instead of seeking out a publisher?

It wasn’t a choice initially. I wanted to go the traditional publishing route, but didn’t get any interest from agents or publishers, even after Echoes won the Lammy. At that point I decided to just stick with self-publishing. The advantage has been that I control everything and can bring out books quickly. The downside is that I have to handle my own promotion, and I’m pretty clueless and lackadaisical about that part. If Drewey Wayne Gunn and Amos Lassen hadn’t happened across The Quarter Boys, I might never have had a published review. I’ve been very lucky, though, with word-of-mouth publicity.

One can’t help but fall in love with Michel Doucette of the Quarter Boys series; Where did you draw your inspiration for creating such a humble, damaged and broken, “wears his heart on his sleeve” homicide cop?

Thanks, Jon. I wish I could claim that Michel was carefully conceived, but the truth is that he and Sassy were both happy accidents. The writing of The Quarter Boys was like a month-long fever dream. Other than a basic concept and the characters of Joel and Lady Chanel, I made it up as I went along. Michel and Sassy were created on the fly when I decided I needed two secondary cop characters. In the chapter where he first appears, the reader learns that Michel drinks Jack Daniels, is emotionally guarded, and has recently lost his mother. That was just lazy autobiography because I didn’t expect him to play a very large role. It wasn’t until I realized he and Sassy had become the main characters that I went back to figure out how those pieces could be developed. Fortunately there was enough there to work with, and I’ve become a big believer that not all happy accidents are really accidents. Sometimes you just have to trust that your subconscious knows what it’s doing and then figure out how or why something works later.

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Why did you choose to end the Quarter Boys series with the sixth and final novel, Fierce?

I prefer mystery series where the main characters are affected by what happens and evolve from book to book, like the Henry Rios and Benjamin Justice books. My series was as much about Michel’s and Sassy’s personal journeys as the mysteries, which usually served as catalysts. Essentially, I completed their personal arcs—or at least took them to the places I’d wanted—and wasn’t interested in just having them solve mysteries, despite the fact that I loved writing them. I think the fans of the series got that. I’ve gotten a number of emails that basically said, “I hated to see the series end but understood why you did it, and I feel satisfied by the conclusion.”

There was also a small element of fear. I was afraid that the longer I continued, the greater the chance I was going to screw things up. If I write a crappy book now, it might diminish my own reputation, such as it is, but it won’t diminish the series.

Have you considered releasing your Quarter Boys series in audiobook?

Yes, though I haven’t done anything about it yet. This is one of those areas where being a one-man band can be a handicap. I can only put so much time into the books, and I’d rather focus on writing. I’d also like to bundle the whole series into a single digital volume at some point.DeadFall-WEBcover

Your new mystery, DeadFall, is a bit of a departure from The Quarter Boys series; what influenced you to write it?

It actually started as a joke when I told some old friends that I was going to set my next book “on the mean streets” of our hometown, which is about as far from actual mean streets as you can get, but then I became intrigued by the idea of doing something related to my own past. I didn’t have any ideas for the plot until I came across an article about a coma patient waking after a number of years and started wondering what it would be like if you went into a coma as a teenager and came out of it well into adulthood: How much of the past would you remember? Would you be emotionally adolescent or adult? How would you relate to people from the past?

The story built from there, though it took me about a year to crack how to fit the different elements together and make it a mystery.

It’s definitely a different type of mystery for me, and I’ve gotten a few comments that it even seems to have been written by a different person, though I think it links thematically to some of the series’ books.

Last question; can you share with us a little about your current release and/or WIP?

I’ve been playing around with a black-humored horror mystery set in South Boston in the mid-1970s, during the period when the city’s public schools were being integrated by court order. I really love the concept, and I’ve had fun developing some characters, but I still haven’t committed mentally or emotionally to writing it. I’m not sure it has legs enough to sustain a whole book, and I don’t know that I want to take a detour into speculative fiction. So I guess technically there is no WIP.

On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.

Thanks, Jon. I appreciate the opportunity to blather about myself.

Find David Lennon on the web:

www.bluespikepublishing.com

Audiobook Narrator, Actor, Writer, Sound Engineer, Voice-Over Artist, Brad Langer

Interviewed by Jon Michaelsen  © 2014

 

Brad, thank you so much for taking time to answer some questions for members of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook group.

Let’s start off with, where do you live?

I live in Rockland County, which is upstate New York, about 25 miles north of Manhattan.

Artist’s rarely like to toot their own horn, but what would you say is your greatest accomplishment?

I met my life partner many years ago, and then we drifted apart for a long time. Years after we first met, we found each other again, and have been together since. I consider that a major accomplishment and a miracle too. But if that wasn’t enough, I started recording my voice when I was 6 years old on  a portable battery driven 3 inch reel to reel tape recorder, and while the medium for recording has changed, I am still recording my voice today. It’s what I love to do, and I’ve been blessed in being able to do it now for the world to hear.

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Without getting too personal, can you share a little about your home life?

I work from my studio which is located in my residence. My partner is an author as well, and most days find us working on two levels of our home, one writing, one recording. And then at night we get to share our days with each other.

What inspires and challenges you most in your work as a narrator of audio books?

I love telling stories, and becoming characters. I have been American, Southern, British and an alien. I have been a detective, a scientist, a traveling businessman, a tween chef, a drakul and God. I never know what the next page and next project will bring and I get to explore new worlds, new adventures and new points of view every day.

How does it feel to be a virgin? Lol…I mean, you are the first narrator of audio books I’ve interviewed. Can you give up a brief overview of your experience and what got you into this line of work? Do you read the novel before narrating?

You make me blush! When I was in high school, I started a radio station by myself. I would record a show at night, and then play it back to the school at lunchtime the next day. And I loved telling stories, loved the idea of talking into a microphone. Later in college, I had one of the most widely listened to radio shows on our small AM station. And for years I have been told that I had a great voice. Finally, several years ago, a voice agent approached me and suggested I try narrating. Needless to say, I fell in love with the idea, and look forward to working every morning.

And while I normally skim a novel before reading, I don’t believe in fully reading before I narrate. I feel that the spontaneity of the moment is best captured as life is, without a crystal ball to know what’s coming next.

How to you prepare for narrating a book? Where do you go to record?

I try to choose only projects that I feel I can add something to with my voice and interpretation, and then I dive into the character, often staying in character for a short time even after I come out of the recording booth! My recording booth is in the ground floor of my home, so work is just mere steps away. A great time saver as traffic and weather are never an issue!

I’ve read all six novels in the Boystown series by Marshall Thornton. I’ve also listened to the first five novels via audiobooks, and I can assure you, listeners get a real treat to have you narrate all the novels in the series. You ARE Detective Nick Nowak as far as I am concerned! What is it like to step into the skin of such a complex character as Nick Nowak?

Again Jon, thank you for the complement, it means so much! I think Marshall has done an amazing job of crafting Nick. I connected with his character right away. One of my passions growing up was reading true crime and watching TV detectives like Mannix and Columbo. I always loved how they put the puzzle pieces together to take the chaos of a crime and assemble it into a logical and ordered solution. The process of looking outside the box and considering what others missed. To me, a good detective is the guy who finds the treasure in the spot that everyone else looked at , but didn’t see. I love that, and the aha moment, the moment went the light bulb goes off, the moment of reveal.

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How do you prepare for reading an intimate and/or erotic scene?

Honestly, the same way as I do for any other scene. I am so invested in my character and the world around him that I feel it is best to just let “him” feel the way I would. For my intimate and erotic scenes, my investment is real. What you hear is me “in character” living the scene, experiencing the pain and/or pleasure much the same as the character would. Truth is, sometimes I emerge from the booth drenched in sweat after a particularly demanding scene.

Have you ever experienced bigotry and/or homophobia after an audiobook you’ve narrated is released?

No. I can’t say that I have. Although I can relate to you a true story of contractors who were working on my house one day, and heard part of a murder scene that I was doing and thought it was real and told a mutual acquaintance that they thought I had killed someone and was confessing. They had no idea that I was a narrator/actor and had no idea that what they were hearing wasn’t real. Although I was taken by surprise when I was told the story, I often smile when I think of it as testament to the “life” I am able to give my characters!

Boystown5

Last question; will you share with us a little about your next release in the Boystown series by Marshall Thornton?

Let’s see… without revealing too much, some time has passed, and Nick is no longer a private investigator, deciding to give it up after he killed the Bughouse Slasher. As usual, once he has made his mind up to stay away from the profession, there is nothing that can drag him back into it. As we know, Nick is a very strong minded individual. His only weakness is a loyalty to the past, to the people who were once close. And the only thing that would drag him back to being a P.I. would be a sense of obligation to someone he could not turn down. And when that person turns up with what ought to be a slam-dunk…

On behalf of the Gay Mystery-Thriller-Suspense Fiction Facebook Group, thank you so much for sharing your time with us and answering questions fans of the genre would like to know.

Email Brad @ promobrad@aol.com

Find Brad Langer on the web:

http://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&page=1&rh=n%3A283155%2Cp_27%3ABrad%20Langer

Bio:

Brad Langer has been in the entertainment industry for over 30 years. Brad is president of Absolute Entertainment, a growing entertainment company that services the New York tri-state area. Given his broad range of skills and interests, Brad has been involved in every aspect of the business from acting, writing, sound engineering and audio production, to voice-overs, emceeing, and narrating. Brad’s background includes stints as a radio announcer on AM & FM stations in New York & Florida; puppeteering for Disney, working for Jim Henson on the Muppets movies, television programs, and special events such as Radio City’s Night of 100 Stars. A master of accents and dialects, Brad is currently a book narrator with titles available through Amazon.com, and is also the worldwide voice for

Forever Yours, International.