Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

Suffered from the Night: Queering Stoker’s Dracula – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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Hot on the heels of Berman’s Where Thy Dark Eye Glances, a queering of Edgar Allan Poe, and Joseph DeMarco’s A Study in Lavender, which gave the same treatment to Sherlock Holmes, comes Suffered from the Night, which takes on the Dracula mythos. With these three volumes, Lethe Press is quickly becoming the go-to publisher for the re-imagining of icons. And that’s a mighty sweet place to be. Even sweeter is the fact that the stories get better and better.

As with the other two books, the authors represented in Suffered from the Night draw their inspirations from major and minor characters in the text–some even unnamed–as well as those who present us their takes on the vampire myth in general. The kickoff story, Lee Thomas’s chilling “The Tattered Boy” is among those. This tale of a vampire boy and the college professor he terrorizes puts the reader in the appropriate time frame and mood. When beginning a vampire book, you can hardly go wrong with a Lee Thomas story. Just as literary, but more Stoker-based is Livia Llewellyn’s “Yours is the Right to Begin,” which plumbs the origins and attitudes of Dracula’s three “weird sisters,” as Jonathan Harker calls them, and does so with such sumptuous language as to take your breath away. Ed Madden‘s poem, “Self Portrait as Jonathan Harker,” continues the text-based entries.

Damon Shaw’s magnificently engaging “Seven Lovers and the Sea” explores from the sailor’s point of view what happened aboard the Demeter on that fateful voyage departing from Varna Quay, and Jason Andrew’s stately, moody “The Calm of Despair” tells the immediate aftermath of the Demeter’s landing through the eyes of one of Count Dracula’s solicitors. Elka Cloke’s epistolary and wholly successful “Bloofer Ladies” explores the relationship (which always had a lesbian subtext to me) between Mina Harker and Lucy Westerna complete with a darkly disturbing ending that sees Harker and Westerna reuniting in a ruined abbey several years hence.

Back to the epistolary form (an unsurprising choice, considering the source material) for William P. Coleman’s “The Powers of Evil,” which retells the last chapter of the story and includes Arthur Holmwood’s unrequited love for not only Jonathan Harker but an old lust for Jack Seward as well. Holmwood and Westerna also play key roles in Traci Castleberry’s “My Arms Are Hungry,” told from the point of view of one of the “bloofer lady” children. One of the most creative entries, Jeff Mann’s “Protect the King,” takes the unnamed gypsy driving the cart containing Dracula’s body, and invents a wonderful servant named Boldo for the vampire lord. As usual, Mann’s research into the Romany culture is thorough and totally entwined in the story.

Rajan Khanna’s “Hungers” is a nicely paced, action-packed romp with a nice twist or two that sees the offspring of the major human characters in the original text carrying on their forefathers’ (and foremothers’) work in doing battle with the undead race, this time with the evil Baron Winters. Steve Berman‘s own “The Letter that Doomed Nosferatu” strikes an uneasy balance between comedy and foreboding as it looks at the cinematic premiere of F.W. Murnau‘s Nosferatu as attended by a man and his companion, who might just be the film’s subject. This, however, is a perfect set-up for perhaps the oddest, yet most compelling story here–Laird Barron’s “Ardor,” which combines vampires, snuff films, and an Alaskan aircrash in a totally engaging and perverse read. Sven Davisson updates the undead for the texting Twitter generation in his New Orleans-set “A Closer Walk With Thee,” and Seth Cadin ends the collection with an oddly wistful “Unhallowed Ground.”

Nothing in this collection seems out of place or lacking in any respect. It’s of a piece with the other two anthologies referencing Holmes and Poe, which makes this the last entry in an anthologic trilogy. One can only hope Berman’s visionary stance never shifts and we get something equally as wonderful. Soon.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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A Conversation with LA Fields

SweptLA Fields has many voices, among them the second Mrs. Watson of her Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “My Dear Watson,” and two teenage boys, Jesse and Marley, of “Maladaptation” and “Dysfunction,” two novels (so far) comprising the Disorder series. She also has the voice she answers interview questions in, which may or may not be the closest to her own. She took time out from her busy writing and grad school schedule to talk to Out in Print.

Out in Print: The voice you have for the Disorder series is powerful and has a great deal of veracity—is that because it’s actually your voice or a compilation of people you know? Do you hear it when you to go the place in your head where these characters come from?

LA Fields: It’s mostly the voice I got from learning how to talk in the 1990s. I still use the word “like” excessively, though now I do it with a deep understanding of the difference between metaphor and simile, and yes—so far every time I go home to those characters, I can still access how they talk and think. They used to be older than I was, and that writing felt prophetic on a personal level. Now that they’re a couple of years behind me, a playlist of the songs I loved at whatever age I need access to can tap me right back in. That voice and process is still there, it just takes a little more work to be true to it.

OiP: What was the genesis of the Disorder series?

LAF: Maladaptation started just before the end of my senior year. I had quit fanfiction in my junior year and wanted to get serious about original fiction. I wrote a few short stories that blew like the fucking wind, and I decided to try to and write something without any gay in it, to write something outside of my comfort zone. Enter: “Cowboy Dan” by Modest Mouse. I tried to write a story from that song about a hundred times, first as a ghost story in which Dan tries to escape town, dies in a car crash, and then haunts a bridge, killing those who try to escape the town. At one point he had two sons (Billy, the oldest, and a younger Jesse, after Billy the Kid and Jesse James) and at another he had no family, and the story kept sucking just like all the others. At some point, the murder of his wife became the new story, and that made me think of what it would be like for the son who was orphaned like that, but the story stalled again.

Meanwhile, in another part of the movie, I had a friend who sat in front of me in English class named Marley. Not only was her name the coolest thing I had heard all year, but I had a total friend-crush on her, and so came up with my Marley. This was just after my mom died and I was transplanted to a new school, so I gave Marley my old life. He lived in my old house, went to my old school, and had all of my books. We were reading Heart of Darkness around this time, and another friend who sat in front of me in Drama class had the name Kurtz, so that became his surname. Another friend-crush from Drama also shows up as a name for Marley’s sister, Lindsay. I had a lot of girl-crushes in high school. And now.

But then that halted too. I had Marley all ready, but nothing interesting to put him through. I went back to Cowboy Dan: Billy became Jesse because I liked the name better, and he became gay because I couldn’t help myself, but then the story just petered off into nowhere again. And Marley was sitting in Estero, FL (later to become East Arrow—I was eighteen, so don’t judge) with his thumb in his ass. And then one day I finally put my hands together. Voila.

Marley’s affair with an older man grew out of the fact that I had recently read Lolita and needed a reason for his parents to send him away. The program in Loweville was a imgreshideously contrived way to get them together. Loweville is based on Loveland, CO but fictionalized so that my lack of research isn’t me being wrong, it’s artistic license. Also I like the pun on the word ‘low,’ and I hope I didn’t beat it to death.

Missy came out of me trying to combat my literary misogynism (which I think I’ve pretty much overcome at this point). It wasn’t until I gave the manuscript to my best friend and frontline editor that we both realized how similar Missy’s brash and bubbly personality was to her, and the fact that Missy and Marley are best friends is only art imitating life.

Aaron and Genny were needed to fill in the group, and they developed from there. Genny will make a cameo in the sixth book, and Aaron will stick with Missy until the day he dies. Tulsa began as a generic bully and bloomed into so much more. I stole his name from Diana Wieler’s Bad Boy and I think I loved the name too much to waste it on a 1-D meany, and I needed an extra 10,000 words after my first little 60K draft, so he got his perspective added in. It turns out that he is my favorite character to write, because he’s the most messed up and poetic of them all. Tulsa even gets his own book down the line, if I ever make it that far, because I love him that much.

I had just started listening to emo music (girl Marley liked Panic At The Disco, which meant it was okay to like that sort of music, which I secretly did the whole time) and I burned a CD that was half From Under the Cork Tree and half Hot Fuss and brought it with me to my dad’s cabin in Georgia for one week of the summer. That week was the point of no return. I discovered Missy’s voice, hit the 1/3 mark, and finally wrote the “Cowboy Dan” prologue in one shot, after all that trouble, on a janky old laptop from the early nineties. It was a third hand hand-me-down with no Ethernet jack, it was so old, and I had to save my novel on a floppy disk and squeeze the screen to get it to stop blotting out half the time. Super fun.

I finished the novel Wednesday, September 13th, 2006 at 6:16 PM in Sarasota, in my dorm room, Pei 128. This book transitioned me through one of the most significant summers of my life, and I think that’s reflected in the plot. I was neck deep in Poppy Z. Brite books and Modest Mouse CDs, and I’ve gained a boner for pictures of desert highways that may never go down. It’s the first book I ever finished, and the first one I ever seriously started, and it’s got my fingerprints all over it. Writing a book is better than burying a time capsule; so long as this is around, I’ll never forget who I was when I wrote it.

OiP: Do you identify personally with any of the Disorder characters? Which one is most like you?

LAF: I love this question, I ask it myself when people I know read Maladaptation. I’m curious about how my friends see themselves, so if they like Jesse better than Marley, or love Missy more than any of them, then that tells me who they want to be; it’s like an inkblot test. As for me, Marley is really rooted in who I was at 15 years old. dys. coverWe have the same anxiety problems, and books, and mild OCD habit of never bending their spines, we both still bite our fingernails and chew our lips and twist our hair sometimes, so even though he annoys me a lot now that I’m square in the middle of my twenties, I’m still the most like him. Tulsa was the most fun to write, because he was so complicated and lonely (and he’s coming back in future books). Jesse I envy, that’s why he’s the love interest. It’d be nice to be that minimalist in emotion, but I can answer this question much like Oscar Wilde did: Marley is who I think I am, Missy is who the world thinks me, and Jesse is who I’d like to be, in other ages perhaps.

OiP: The voices of the Disorder boys and the voice used in both My Dear Watson and “The House of the Resonate Heart” in Where Thy Dark Eye Glances are wonderfully different. Do you prefer one over the other?

LAF: The voice in The Disorder Series is easier, because it’s closer to my own (that’s my voice if I thought carefully about what I wanted to say and the best way to do it before I let it all come flying out of my mouth). The imitation stuff is just that—it’s me exploiting a talent I have for being a mockingbird writer. Lots of writers can do this. It’s not unique to me, but it is helpful when you want to sound like someone else. It happens a lot by accident in my academic papers—I’ve been told I’ve taken on the style of writers as unlikely as Nathaniel Mackey and William Faulkner. I write better papers when I let myself get hypnotized by someone else’s text-flow, and assuming I intend to copy another author’s story-telling voice, I write better fiction like that too. There might be an element of gender in that divide too: the Disorder boys (plus Missy and Lindsay, who are both a bit rough-and-tumble) versus a softer, more lady-like Victorian tone.

OiP: How did My Dear Watson come about?

LAF: I got an English degree in a little bubble of a school called the New College of Florida. It’s the only public honors college in the state; there are no fraternities or sororities, there are no official sport teams, there are no business classes, it has narrative evaluations instead of grades, the student government’s charter quotes Star Trek as the school’s motto, and even the admissions office gives out ironic footballs saying that our team is still undefeated (can’t lose if you don’t play, can you?). There I wrote a thesis dominated by Oscar Wilde quotes called “The Life One Does Not Lead: Double Life Narratives and Queer Criminal Codes,” the third chapter of which compared the homoeroticism between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty to the same dynamic between Superheroes (Batman, Spiderman, and Superman) and their main villains. I was writing about adversarial relationships and couldn’t talk about all the tenderness I noticed going on between Holmes and Watson, so I went looking for a book that put them together with as much accuracy as the academic paper I was producing. I couldn’t find it, I couldn’t find anything even remotely close to what I was looking for, so I wrote it myself. Mrs. Watson got incorporated because I’d just gone through a few genders studies classes and I wasn’t about to ignore all the wives and women in that story, no matter how much Holmes and Watson couldn’t take their eyes off one another.

OiP: My Dear Watson really, according to the Amazon reviews, seems to have upset some people as it paints a less than flattering picture of Sherlock Holmes. Was that intentional? Having done it, do you regret it? Is there something you would have done differently with that book?

LAF: Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t get his panties in such a wad over being “misinterpreted” by a woman, so I don’t know why everyone else feels the need to stick up for him. But no: I wouldn’t do it differently because I don’t think I got him wrong. I love Sherlock Holmes, I love him like I love Heathcliff, and Stephen Dedalus, and Professor Snape—while writing I was worried people would read the novel as me (the author lady) protesting too much. Some of the reviews seem to have a problem with how Mrs. Watson sees Holmes, and some have a problem with her point of view being taken in the first place, which is fair enough on their end, but… once I chose her, the debate for me was over.

Mrs. Watson can’t like Holmes as much as I do; he’s the love of her husband’s life. He’s smarter than her, more important, more famous, more rare, irreplaceable to everyone including Watson and the country, and yet… Watson lives with her and not with Holmes. She must have something Holmes lacks, and so the book is an exploration of what Watson wants/needs from someone he admires/loves, and it’s also about Mrs. Watson trying not to feel like a consolation prize. She’s got some winning qualities too, and in fact a lot of what Watson loves about her he loves about Holmes too, but Mrs. Watson is more accommodating, less tortured by her potential/responsibility, and so more capable of doling out love and support. It took me nearly all of college to realize I’m bisexual—so as much as I’m a ball-buster like Mrs. Watson, and as much as I get Holmes’s artistic and nearly self-destructive zeal for what he does, I’m fascinated by the calm, patient, non-jealous love that Watson has for both of them.

I managed to get into a very minor passive-aggressive internet exchange with one reviewer, but I was only trying to figure out what people think they want, and what they71S3tsHI4HL__SL1280_ think I’ve done, and why those two things are different. It comes off as bitchiness (in me and Mrs. Watson alike) because it comes from a place of defensive insecurity.

However, in choosing nameless second Mrs. Watson as a narrator I was trying to do something more than just retell the stories from the POV of someone who wasn’t there for them; the dips into the literature and politics and scandals of the time underline the fact that the second Mrs. Watson was always there (she was “around”), just nobody was really listening to her.  This concept came out of me being a literature major, sure, yes, obviously, but it also came from a passion for gender studies, which includes thinking about both femininity and masculinity, and about how people incorporate gender tropes from both “sides” into their self-expression. That, as well as thinking about what it is to be gay/straight/bisexual and how each could have been dealt with in a specific historical time and place, by a specific woman who no one else had spoken for.

Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has some beautifully effeminate qualities: he’s slim and so crosses his legs knee over knee; he’s neat and catlike in his personal dress and hygiene (a dandy); he blushes when he’s given a heart-felt compliment. But then he’s also a slob around the house, and he’s got the upper-body strength to bend a fire poker, and like my own father he doesn’t often laugh out loud, but instead represses his laughter into near-violent tummy spasms. I wanted to make the ignored woman as present and assertive as I wanted to show Holmes’ (text-based, canonical) flaws. They’re both human, they both exist in those books, and I wanted to draw them even.

OiP: I’m always interested in writers’ creative processes. Are you a plotter or a pantser (flying by the seat of your pants without a plan)? Quick first drafts with lots of revisions or painstaking first drafts with little revision? How do you work?

LAF: A plotter. I’m an outliner and a time-liner. I’ve had the same big notebook since I was sixteen, and it’s full of nothing but Table of Contents-looking outlines for the chapter structure of each book. The paper notes I’m left with after I finish any book amount to between 10-20 one-sided notebook pages, I keep most of it in my head.

I’m in grad school right now at Columbia College Chicago, and I’m meeting all kinds of adorable freaks who write, and then rewrite, and do weird shit like cut up their stories and hang them all over a room, and feel like a story is never really finished… that sounds exhausting. I think out the whole arc of a book first—chapters, sections, scenes, themes, word count, and I tweak a little as I go along, but the overall structure doesn’t vary after I’m a third of the way into a manuscript. That’s my point of no return.

I had one free summer between high school and college for Maladaptation, so it got done in one summer, and it’s the same with all the others. I give myself hard deadlines, mentally prep in advance, and lay it out right the first time. Some writers can’t hold a whole book’s concept in their head on a first draft, but I can if I’m not being lazy, and I’m so glad about that. The few times I’ve been forced to rewrite due to computer error have been agony.

OiP: You write in a variety of genres—do you feel a special affinity for one?

LAF: I have favorite categories that make even the most foreign genre feel comfortable to me. Young adults and teens are a category that can cross all genres, and so are queer characters. For example, My Dear Watson, though mostly about adults, includes snapshots of teenaged Holmes that I treasure, and even when I try to write a clean, plain heterosexual romance, I can’t—somebody’s queer somewhere in this story and I’ll roust ’em out eventually! I have a completed manuscript called Loopholes that is my attempt to be age-appropriate to teens (talk around the swears, go to prom, care about outfits, etc.) but even then the intriguing new boy in town is bisexual, and the parents are an adoptive gay couple. I got way too bored with nothing but straight people.

OiP: What are you working on now?

LAF: I’m about 6,000 words into what might be a very MFA-ish Leopold/Loeb inspired novel, but I’m also worried if I don’t finish the Disorder Series before I’m thirty I’ll forget what it’s like to be young and ruin it. Those are my priorities right now.

OiP: What do you want your readers to take away from your work?

LAF: I hope that readers take away from me the same things I take away from the books and shows and songs I love: you’re not alone. It’s naïve (it’s nearly insulting) to think you’re the only one who’s sad or witty or in love or bored, how dare you? When so many people have come before you making all this art, and for what? Money? Fame? Was everything you love made by someone rich and famous? I bet it wasn’t. The ones before me made it for their sake and mine, I make it for my sake and yours, and I would hope my readers feel that as deeply as I do in my best moments, when I’m overcome by a private, Zen-like, connected peace. Of course, underneath all that shallow shit it’s mostly about: like me and pay me and pay attention to me and agree with me that I’m smart. Obviously.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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Anything for a Dollar – Todd Gregory, ed. (Bold Strokes Books)

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As Todd Gregory also admits in his introduction to this volume of erotica about men paid for sex, I have been paid for my body as well. These days, however, the only way I could make any substantial money is if I charged by the pound. Still, there was a time when I was younger, cuter, and braver and my rent needed to be paid. I’m not ashamed of it. As I first heard from Modern English, it’s all part of “life’s rich tapestry.” And that tapestry has many threads, as evidenced by the variety of stories in  Anything for a Dollar.

The collection starts off strong with Max Thomas’s atmospheric, “In the Studio,” about a college student who starts off modeling to make a bit of cash (sounds familiar to me) but soon becomes engaged in both the situation and the sex. A longish story, it’s the perfect introduction as it really encapsulates what the book is about. But then we veer off into some rather unexpected territory.

Aaron Travis’s “The Adventure of the Rugged Youth” is a neat piece of Sherlock Holmes fanfic that wouldn’t have been out of place in Lethe Press’s recent A Study in Lavender as Holmes encounters a boy paid to seduce and kill Holmes in his sleep. Yet another reason not to let tricks stay over. Jay Starre takes to South America with his stripper story, “Private Dance in Rio,” one of two Starre entries here. More domestic but far stranger is Jeffrey Ricker’s “The Last Good-Bye,” which features a psychic sexual surrogate helping a man work through his grief for his late partner in a rather startling way.

Jeff Mann enters the fray with his hot tale of  a country boy’s paid lust for a blond businessman named Bjorn in “Penthouse,” which also (true to Mann’s form) contains some irresistable descriptions of several New Orelans feasts. Oh, and people get tied up as well. Davem Verne takes back to the subject of modeling with his story of Eurotrash posers, “Paris Euros Giles,”  but Rob Rosen prevents things from becoming too Eurocentric with “Revenge of the 97-Pound Weakling,” his delightful tale of a gymrat contest judge. Nathan Sims has a more supernatural take on the subject in “Haven’s Rest,” which sees a boy helping rid a backwoods ex-gay ministry of a particularly evil spirit.

Haley Walsh’s “Marked” takes me closer to familiar territory as he focuses in on the carnival life with a story of a tattooed man and an itinerant stud he calls Pink Boy, but as visitors to New York City know, the urban environment has its own charms. One of those is the subway, but Luke Oliver takes that rather prosaic setting and turns it into something…well, super with a capital “S” on its chest in “The Conductor.” William Holden gives us a historical perspective in “Debtors’ Prison,” and the inimitable Dale Chase rouses us once more with a tale of a Western rent boy with “A Few Dollars More.” We’ve all seen ugly hustlers and wondered how they were able to make a buck, and Lawrence Schimel enlightens us with his “Pity Fuck.” And then there’s Todd Gregory’s title story to wrap things up.

A word about availability. This title isn’t out until October 1st. Being a reviewer, I often receive advance copies of books. I try as much as possible to review them close to their release dates, but I was so anxious to dive into this collection that I paid no attention to the date and, thus, am reviewing it a bit early. But either of the above links will allow you to pre-order this terrific compendium of erotica, so feel free to do so.

It’s delayed gratification of the best kind.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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My Dear Watson – L.A. Fields (Lethe Press)

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I started my love affair with Sherlock Holmes when I was a pre-teen, sometime after Edgar Allan Poe and before Ray Bradbury, so I was well acquainted with reading stories with one hand on an open dictionary. I had, of course, enjoyed the movies with Basil Rathbone, but something about the character grabbed me more than the mysteries did. Oh, they were interesting enough, but not as interesting as Holmes himself. The queerling in me recognized a kindred soul, but I would never have thought Watson shared his bed. In L.A. Fields’ wonderfully imagined My Dear Watson, this relationship is explored in detail.

And who explores this relationship? It’s seen in detail by Watson’s second wife, and in a particular bit of genius, Fields chooses to have her review Watson’s affair with Holmes on a chronological basis according to case. Thus, she begins with their meeting in 1874 on “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” and sees them through their ups and downs (including Watson’s first marriage) to their final case together, “The Last Bow” in 1914. But this is, in itself, framed and commented on by Mrs. Watson during a visit Holmes makes to them after his retirement in 1919.

Naturally, she dislikes the effect Holmes has on Watson; the inexorable pull he maintains on the doctor would be enough to drive anyone close to Watson round the bend, and in the segments about Holmes’ visit in 1919 are fraught with tension as she and Holmes do a bit of sparring:

“Hmmmm,” I hum brightly at him, and once again his face goes sour. I’m sure he heard every subtle facet of that noise, my implication that I know his nature, that I imagine he would be Watson’s wife if he could, my lording over him the fact that I have that official status in Watson’s life, that I have won. It is a hit against him, a palpable hit. Alas, however, I am playing against a master, and I can admit when I’ve clearly been outdone. “You are such a unique person,” Holmes says poisonously. “What a shame that history will most likely never remember your name.”

Holmes can be such a bitch. But we always knew that about him, didn’t we?

All Holmesiana is covered, from his cocaine addiction (“The Sign of the Four”) to his faked death and three year disappearance at the hands of the evil Professor Moriarty (“The Final Solution”) as well as the effects all of these events have on his paramour, Dr. Watson. What I find most admirable about My Dear Watson is how familiar Fields is with the Casebook and how effortlessly she weaves some of the principal characters from the mysteries themselves into the relationship between Holmes and Watson, creating jealousy, confusion, and empathy at times between the men. It’s masterful work, and only someone with a thorough knowledge of the stories could have accomplished it.

Fields also does masterful work voicing Watson’s second wife, a woman with wit and intelligence who not only realizes her husband’s faults, but knows that they are outweighed by his virtues. As seen above, she is wary of Holmes but respects his hold on her husband and does not try to break those bonds for fear they would only grow stronger. Fields finds her voice from the very get-go and never once falters. Kudos are also due to Lethe Press, which seems to be scoring well in the “queering” genre, as evidenced by its recent queering of Edgar Allan Poe (Where Thy Dark Eye Glances) as well another upcoming volume queering Dracula. This volume fits well with those.

Extremely readable and undeniably creative, My Dear Watson should be on your bookshelf if you have even a passing interest in Sherlock Holmes. And even if you don’t, this is a remarkable portrait of fame, its effects, and the power one man can hold over another.

©  2013  Jerry L. Wheeler

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