A Celebration of Jennifer McGowan’s MAID OF DECEPTION

MaidofDeceptionYesterday saw the release of our own Jennifer McGowan’s Maid of Deception, the second installment of her Maids of Honor series, and we’re as proud as can be. In typical Corsets, Cutlasses, & Candlesticks style, we’re grilling Jenn with questions about her newest book, her characters, her writing methods, and her own special skills that would make her a fantastic Elizabethan spy. Let the celebrations begin!

First, a little intro from Jennifer McGowan herself:

Thanks so much for hosting me today to celebrate the launch of Maid of Deception! Though it seems like forever since the first book, it still is surprising that the launch is finally here!

Everyone asked such great questions, so I’ll dive right in!

From Katherine Longshore:
You have obviously spent a great deal of time and energy creating a cast of unique and carefully-depicted characters, which promises powerful stories for each of your maids-in-waiting. Does this make it easier to write the companion novels because you know them all so well, or more difficult because former narrators try to take over? And which scene in Maid of Deception was the most difficult to write?

Katherine, GREAT question! Writing the subsequent Maids of Honor books after Maid of Secrets has been easier, in the sense that the setting remains the same and the primary cast of characters remains the same. However, what has been harder is to ensure each Maid’s voice remains distinct and authentic. With Maid of Deception, this was fairly easy to do, because Beatrice has such a clearly defined personality. However, as I began work on Maid of Wonder, Sophia’s story, it took awhile for me to find her voice—she’s used to being behind the scenes, after all! The scene in Maid of Deception that was the most difficult to write was when Beatrice believes that she is really alone in the world, unwanted and unloved. For such a proud, bold young woman, this is a humbling realization.

From J. Anderson Coats:
How long do you typically research before beginning to draft? At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

Jillian, researching these books seems to happen organically. There are some things that I learned a decade ago that I can finally put into a book, and other things I’m learning just because the current story requires it (like details of the Scottish rebellion!). I typically research as I write, though I spend about a month before drafting really pulling together the information I need. And then I research more during revisions. The post-draft research is generally highly specific, focusing on recorded events in history or any contemporary accounts that can help add life to the story.

MaidofSecrets_paperbackFrom Jessica Spotswood:
Each of the MAIDS books stars a different lady-in-waiting/spy. How was writing Beatrice different from writing Meg?

I love this question. 🙂 Meg was very much a fish-out-of-water, an independent young woman who was ready to take on any challenge with pluck, wit and a can-do attitude. Beatrice is more of a jaded insider, a grown-up Mean Girl who has seen and heard it all—the betrayals, the lies, the short-comings of everyone around her. So Beatrice has a more mature outlook, and a grimmer one, too. She’s naturally less-hopeful, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. That’s why, when she falls in love, it was really very special for me. 🙂

From: Sharon Biggs Waller
How do you keep the overall story arc flowing through all the books? And as a follow up, how do you keep track of all those details? Index cards? Notebooks?

Sharon, I confess—there are things with this series that I didn’t know when I started writing Meg’s book, that really came into focus for me during Beatrice’s book. And now, having just drafted Sophia’s book, I can see how the full series arc will conclude, and it’s a little overwhelming (though in a very cool way!). And, sadly, I don’t keep notes or index cards. I hear of people creating a “series Bible” and I go all glassy-eyed… that would be so wonderful! But I seem to be writing the books so quickly that I just have to have the actual stories as a resource. Fortunately, with everything in digital format, “search” has become my favorite tool in Word!

From Susan Hill Long:
Can you tell us how you came up with the names of the Maids? Do they just appear on the page for you, or do you struggle to find a name that particularly suits each Maid and her background and special skill?

Sue! This is the first time I’ve been asked this. I would say Meg Fellowes’s name came to me first and rather easily, as she was the heroine of Maid of Secrets and I needed a good, sturdy, practical name. Then there was Jane Morgan the assassin. Jane Morgan was the name of my very first heroine of my very first historical romance manuscript—a young woman who dressed as a knight to avenge her brother. 🙂 So it was fitting for her to play the role of the assassin for the Maids of Honor. Beatrice came next—I wanted a sophisticated and vaguely haughty sounding name, and it fit the bill! Anna, the genius of the Maids, I love because my older sister is named Ann, and she’s a hydrogeologist and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. 🙂 And then there was lovely Sophia, the youngest and most ethereal of all the Maids, with her fledgling psychic abilities. Sophia just seemed right for her.

From Cat Winters:
Your Maids have their own special skills to help with their job protecting the queen. In Beatrice’s case, persuasion is the tool she uses to try to thwart a Scottish rebellion. If you were personally hired to protect Queen Elizabeth I, what would your special skill be?

Cat, what a great question! If I were hired to help protect the Queen, I would probably be charged with ferreting out secrets of her court and the foreign delegations. I have the kind of face/demeanor that seems to get people to open up and tell me things, and if I wasn’t a tavern keeper in Elizabethan England, well, I certainly could bend my abilities to serve the Queen!

Thank you for answering our questions, Jenn. Huzzah for the release of Maid of Deception!

Buy the book online:

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Find Jennifer McGowan online:



SISTERS’ FATE Release Day Celebration!

One of the greatest things about collaborating in a group blog is being able to celebrate the release of our members’ books!  Jessica Spotswood’s final installment in her Cahill Witch Chronicles trilogy, SISTERS’ FATE, will be on shelves tomorrow and we’ve been dying to ask her some questions about it, but first…

sisters-fate-225SISTERS’ FATE

A fever ravages New London, but with the Brotherhood sending suspected witches straight to the gallows, the Sisters are powerless against the disease. They can’t help without revealing their powers—as Cate learns when a potent display of magic turns her into the most wanted witch in all of New England.

To make matters worse, Cate has been erased from the memory of her beloved Finn. While she’s torn between protecting him from further attacks and encouraging him to fall for her all over again, she’s certain she can never forgive Maura’s betrayal. And now that Tess’s visions have taken a deadly turn, the prophecy that one Cahill sister will murder another looms ever closer to its fulfillment.

From J. Anderson Coats:  The complicated relationships and interactions between the three Cahill sisters are especially well-drawn. Do you have sisters of your own to draw on for inspiration and/or horror stories? What tips do you have for capturing this dynamic?

Thank you, Jillian! Like Cate, I’m actually the oldest of three sisters. Growing up, my middle sister and I argued a lot and tended to define ourselves in opposition to one another, whereas my little sister is eight years younger than me,  so there wasn’t much sibling rivalry there. I definitely drew on my relationships with them to portray Cate and Maura and Tess. As for how to write siblings, I wrote a whole post about it for WriteOnCon last summer. But here are some questions I’d ask yourself: Where does your protagonist fall in the birth order? How do your siblings see the world differently? What are some secrets they share (or don’t share)? What are some memories they share (and how might they see them differently)? Who is the favorite – or the perceived favorite? Is there something about her sibling that your protagonist envies? If they aren’t close now, were they ever – and what happened to change things? What role might your siblings still be playing, even if they’ve outgrown them?

From Susan Hill Long:  You’ve spent so much time with the Cahill sisters, and seen them through the arcs of three books. What are your feelings about saying goodbye to these characters?

It’s bittersweet! Last year at this time – when I was finishing up edits – I felt eager to explore new characters. Now, I rather miss the Cahill sisters. After three books, I know Cate’s voice and her world so well. I know how she’d react to various situations, what she’d say, how she’d say it. There’s something lovely in that familiarity. I’ve definitely considered writing a short story set in the Cahill Witch world, featuring another main character, to celebrate the paperback release next summer, if I have time – or at least writing a little snippet for my newsletter subscribers, if I ever manage to get my newsletter up and running! But overall, I’m really proud of the trilogy, and I hope readers will be satisfied with how things end for Cate and her sisters and Finn.

From Sharon Biggs Waller:  Writing a trilogy is a massive undertaking. I know what it’s like to live with particular characters for one book so I can imagine you’ve grown quite attached to them. How did you say goodbye to them?

I’m not sure I have entirely said goodbye to them, to be honest! I still think about writing shorter pieces set in their world, and even though I’ve gotten a finished copy of SISTERS’ FATE, it doesn’t feel entirely real yet! Maybe once it’s out in the world on Thursday and I start hearing from more readers? But I’m looking forward to celebrating the whole trilogy at a launch party next Saturday at my fabulous local indie, One More Page Books, with wine and cupcakes and friends!

From Jenn McGowan:  As you complete your final book, what has surprised you most about the trilogy? Was there a subplot or character that became more important than you expected, or did some other unplanned-for development take your story in a new direction?

Oh, so many things surprised me! I’m not much of a plotter, and I ended up entirely rewriting STAR CURSED; only the ending stayed basically the same. But overall…hmm. One of the things that surprised me most was how important Rory and Sachi became. In BORN WICKED, my editor wanted me to make them mean girls, perhaps rivals for Finn or Paul. But it was really important to me that Cate have strong female friendships. However, I had no idea that they’d end up following her to New London in STAR CURSED and that Sachi’s arrest would create such a high stakes situation for Cate and Harwood Asylum, or that things would get very dangerous for them again in a pivotal scene in SISTERS’ FATE. And I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was to write newspaperman Alistair Merriweather – my favorite new character in SISTERS’ FATE. He sort of leapt off the page! I’d love to write a short story about him and Rilla someday; I adore their banter. They kept trying to take over every scene they were in!

From Cat Winters:  What advice do you have for authors who are just now sitting down to write a trilogy for the first time?

Make sure you really love these characters, because you’ll be spending years writing about them! And don’t worry if you know how you want the trilogy to end, but aren’t exactly sure how you’ll get there. That was absolutely the case with me, and I figured it out along the way, with the help of a fantastic editor, some great critique partners, and a lot of wine. (Just kidding about the wine.) (Or am I?)

From Laura Golden:  What was your favorite scene to write within the entire trilogy? Your least favorite? Why?

My favorite scene in the entire trilogy is probably the first kiss between Cate and Finn, with magic and feathers. You can see a version of it in the BORN WICKED book trailer here. It was one of the first scenes I wrote. But there’s also a scene in SISTERS’ FATE – I can’t say much without spoilers, but it’s in Chapter 20 and someone dies, and as I wrote it in the coffee shop, I cried. I’d known for years that death was coming, and still I cried! It’s so sad and I’m very proud of it. I’m also very proud of the last scene of STAR CURSED, because it’s made lots of readers cry and I love that – not because I’m evil, I swear, but because it means they’re invested in the characters! As for my least favorite – gah, all the Inez scenes were difficult to write. It was important to me that she not become a cardboard villain, so I kept trying to add in all this backstory for her, and my editor kept cutting it. I hope we ended up with a good balance!

From Katherine Longshore:  As you and Cate Cahill both head into new unknowns, what advice would you have for her going forward?  What advice do you think she might have for you?

I would tell Cate to be patient. This is highly ironic advice coming from me, because I am hideously impatient myself. But I happen to know that good things are ahead for her, even if they won’t happen at the speed she’d like, either romance or social revolution! As for what advice she’d give me…she’d probably tell me I ought to keep in better touch with my sisters and email them more often. I’m going to visit one of them this weekend, Cate! (I think she’d approve.)

author photo JSBonus question: What’s next?

I’m super-excited to be editing an anthology, PETTICOATS & PISTOLS, which contains 15 short stories about strong, smart, resourceful American girls throughout history. It’s all YA historical fiction and historical fantasy. I’ll be writing one of the stories, and the other contributors include fellow Corsets & Cutlasses members Katherine Longshore and J. Anderson Coats, as well as Elizabeth Wein, Robin LaFevers, Andrea Cremer, Beth Revis, Marie Lu, Marissa Meyer, Robin Talley, Caroline Richmond, Lindsay Smith, Kekla Magoon, and Y.S. Lee. It will be out in winter 2016 from Candlewick. After that – well, I’m working on several proposals, so we’ll see what happens!



Congratulations, Jess!


What’s Your Poison?

That is, assuming that poison is your weapon of choice.  This week, I asked the Corsets, Cutlasses and Candlesticks crew what their favorite historical weapon might be, and received a fascinating assortment of responses.

From Jenn McGowan:

Crossbow! Despite its downsides of not being silent (although more quiet than a gun, certainly) and the lack of a quick-loading mechanism, it’s a great weapon for distance shooting, and is suitable for women and children to wield effectively without heavy training.

Of course, in the halls of Windsor Castle, discretion is king (or queen). To kill most effectively there, you’d more likely choose a sturdy, silent knife–or a well-placed cup of poison.

From Sharon Biggs Waller:

A hatpin! Because of the huge Edwardian hats, hatpins became quite long, over a foot! They were basically skewers with a very sharp end. These were decorative items and meant to secure the hat to the hair (through the chignon or bun) and so they weren’t exactly meant to be used as a weapon. But I can’t imagine any woman worth her salt not reaching for the thing if she were approached by a thief or someone who meant to do her bodily harm. I’ve heard tales of suffragettes using the pins to defend themselves, for instance. They certainly needed it as many men and some police officers became quite violent against them.

Laws requiring a set length and protective corks on the ends were discussed in some cities like New York and Berlin, but mainly to protect passersby and innocent bystanders in crowds who might be scratched or lose an eye because a lady turned her head.


Here is a fabulous illustration teaching a woman how to use a hat pin from a website called The Bartiitsu Society. (www.bartitsu.org). It’s from a 1904 self defense article in the San Francisco Sunday Call newspaper. I love this!

From Jessica Spotswood:

I vote for poison! This article over at Slate suggests that “the weapon was a great equalizer. Murder required administering a poison in repeated or large doses, tasks that women could conveniently perform since they were trusted with the preparation of food and the administration of medicines. As a group, women had plenty of reasons to commit murder, too—lack of economic opportunity, limited property rights, and difficulty in escaping the marriage bond. In his recent book Elements of Murder: A History of Poison, John Emsley describes multiple cases of women who killed to gain courtly power, get rid of husbands, collect insurance, cover up swindling and theft during domestic employment, and receive inheritances.” Fascinating, no?

From Cat Winters:

I second the vote for poison! A character needs to be sneaky and smart to do the job just right. For fun, check out musician Jill Tracy’s diabolically delicious, Victorian-inspired video for her song “The Fine Art of Poisoning.”

From J. Anderson Coats:

My favorite historical weapon is the printing press. Fewer things have brought down kings and lords and governments and the encrusted weight of accepted truth quite like regular people reading and writing and thinking for themselves and sharing ideas with other regular people across time and

And I (Katherine Longshore), unsurprisingly, am fond of character assassination.  In a time and situation where appearance is everything, where others must be made to believe you think like them (or even that you simply like them), a good, believable rumor can work wonders.

What about you?  What’s your poison?

Celebrating the release of THE FALCONER!

This week, we celebrate the US release of Elizabeth May’s THE FALCONER in our usual style–by asking all kinds of questions.15791085

Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined for a life carefully planned around Edinburgh’s social events – right up until a faery killed her mother.

Now it’s the 1844 winter season and Aileana slaughters faeries in secret, in between the endless round of parties, tea and balls. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, she sheds her aristocratic facade every night to go hunting. She’s determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city’s many dark alleyways.

But the balance between high society and her private war is a delicate one, and as the fae infiltrate the ballroom and Aileana’s father returns home, she has decisions to make. How much is she willing to lose – and just how far will Aileana go for revenge?

From Sharon Biggs Waller: You’ve designed book covers yourself, so I’m interested in hearing the story behind your American cover? Did you have much input?

Not much of a story there, I’m afraid! I didn’t have input on the US cover. But my editor really gets the character and the story so I was really content to defer to what she thought would work for the book. I do know the excellent photo on the cover was taken by Daniel Castro, who is an incredibly talented fashion photographer.

From Jennifer McGowan:  My question is about preparing for your American launch–how is it different than your UK launch for you? Anything new and fun that you’ll be doing?

It’s different in the sense that I was such a bundle of anxiety for the UK launch that I feel like I didn’t really get to enjoy it. I feel like I was a lot better prepared emotionally this time around, so I’ve been able to feel happy and excited about US readers finally getting to read it! New and fun: definitely working on the blog tour and articles; I love sharing some of the behind-the-scenes stuff!

From Susan Hill Long:  The book trailer for The Falconer is one of The.Best.Ever.!! Can you tell us something about the making of this Oscar-worthy treat?

Thank you!! I’m so glad you like it! 🙂 I wish I had a great story to go with it, but I actually didn’t see the trailer until it was already complete. But I love it, too!

From Jessica Spotswood:  I love historical fantasy! Which came to you first – the 1840s British setting, or the faery conflict?

The setting! I knew I wanted to write an historical, because it’s one of the genres I read most and I wanted to try my hand at it. I also knew I wanted to include fantasy elements, because I have so much fun writing speculative fiction. But the original draft of The Falconer was a pretty big mashup of monsters from Scottish mythology (including faeries), and in the end it felt like there was a bit too much going on. It was very over-crowded, with lots of conflicting mythologies. So I decided that I’d keep the faeries on as the antagonists because I know a great deal more about faery mythology than anything else.

From Katherine Longshore:  In THE FALCONER, Lady Aileana has to lead a double life—faery slayer and society debutante.  What aspect of each life was your favorite to write?

For her society debutante half, I really enjoyed writing the kind of fish out of water feel there. Certainly, Aileana is the product of her upbringing. She often worries about appropriate etiquette because she doesn’t want to draw attention to herself more than she already has. But at the same time, she’s been sequestered from society for the requisite mourning period (a year, in the case of a parent’s death) and has spent that entire time killing faeries at night. So when she goes back into society, it doesn’t come as easily to her as it did before.

For the faery slayer bits, I admittedly love writing her scenes with Kiaran. They play off of one another really well, and her dynamic with him is so different than with any other character in the book.

From J. Anderson Coats:  “If you could introduce Aileana to any other character from fiction, what would it be and why?”

I want to see Aileana and Hermione Granger meet. Aileana doesn’t have much bookish intelligence like Hermione does, and Hermione doesn’t have as much technical knowledge as Aileana, so I imagine their banter would be EPIC.

From Cat Winters:  I love that THE FALCONER is set in Scotland, where you also live. What do you find to be the most common misconception people have about the country? And what do you enjoy most about the area?

I rather feel like the romanticized Highlander idea of Scotland remains pretty pervasive. You know: all tartans, kilts, brandishing claymores and calling delicate ladies “lassie” type of Scotsman from romance novels. There’s definitely a lot of othering of Scottish culture that tourism and pop culture doesn’t help in subverting.

I’d say that one of the things I love about Edinburgh is how many events we have going on all the time. Markets, festivals, fires, marches, fireworks . . . it’s really a lovely place to live and there are so many opportunities to meet new people.

You can add THE FALCONER to your Goodreads list.

Or order it right now!

A Celebration of Jennifer McGowan’s A THIEF BEFORE CHRISTMAS

ThiefBeforeChristmasThis holiday season we’re celebrating the release of Jennifer McGowan’s newest release, A Thief Before Christmas, a Maids of Honor novella.

The synopsis:

Who better to steal a heart for Christmas than a thief? In this e-short story and prequel to Maid of Secrets, an actress plays matchmaker for two young lovers.

It’s December 1558 in England and a new Queen is about to be crowned, but thief and amateur actress Meg Fellowes and her Golden Rose acting troupe are focused on survival, not politics. In between performances of their newest play in the bustling town of Leeds, the troupe is picking the pockets of rich lords and ladies in preparation for their own ragtag Christmas.

At the end of each long day’s haul, the troupe’s spoils are divided up, with the useless bits cast aside. But on this particularly cold winter’s night, Meg notices two curious, sealed letters in the discard pile. Together with her roguish troupe master, Meg opens them and discovers they are love letters—never sent—between a merchant’s son and a landowner’s daughter, who do not know of their shared affection.

Meg resolves to give the two would-be sweethearts their most hoped-for Christmas wish by returning the letters to the pockets of the intended recipients, not the senders. Can Meg master the role of matchmaker in time for Christmas, or will the young lovers be forced to spend another holiday—and perhaps the rest of their lives—apart?

In classic Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks tradition, we’re toasting Jennifer’s new book with a group interview…

Jennifer McGowan

Jennifer McGowan

Sue: Jenn, do you have a favorite holiday tradition, book-wise, at your house? We drag out a basket of books like Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, and hey, presto! — the holiday mood is set.

Sue, what a great question! When it comes to works of fiction, the Christmas story that never EVER fails to hit me right in the heart is a fable called “The Christmas Apple.” Because the Internet is awesome, I found a version of the fable online: http://homeandholidays.com/fable-of-the-christmas-apple-the/. Just reading it takes me all the way back to the first Christmas I read the tale. Stories are an amazing thing.

Laura: We often see books with a sequel. What was the process like for penning a prequel?

Laura, I thought writing a prequel would be easier—after all, I knew what was going to happen next! But in many ways it proved to be an interesting challenge. I wanted it to be a romantic story (because that’s how I roll), but Meg meets her romantic match in MAID OF SECRETS, so she couldn’t fall in love a mere months earlier. In addition, many of the characters appear in both books—but for those meeting them for the first time in THIEF, I needed to stay consistent without revealing too much. Finally, I wanted to “reward” readers who took the time to read THIEF even if they’d already read MAID… so I included little “easter eggs” of details that will figure into future books or will round out readers’ knowledge of key characters. I even dropped a hint that won’t play out until book 5 of the Maids of Honor series. We’ll see how well I pulled that off!

MaidofSecrets_paperbackJess: How was writing a novella different from writing a full-length novel?

Jess, it was easier in that it was shorter—so there was only one main plot line to follow. However, it was more difficult in that I had to tell a complete story with only a handful of words compared to MAID OF SECRETS, which was over 100,000 words. It was rather like cooking a full meal to serve in a thimble! But I enjoyed the process tremendously, and if all goes well, I will do more of these novellas to share additional adventures of the Maids of Honor between books.

Katy: So many Tudor novels are set in London or at court, how was it recreating Elizabethan Leeds?

Katy, as one Tudor fan to another, I can tell you it was fascinating! I knew I wanted to set A THIEF BEFORE CHRISTMAS in a bustling market town, not too far away from London (but far enough), and Leeds came up rather quickly as a possibility. I then spent way too much time researching the woolen market and guild halls, even the local church—all minor points in the story, but I wanted to try to be as factually correct as possible. Then I added the Christmas details, including the words of a famous carol of the time, and used it all as a backdrop to a story that would be relevant to Meg’s future adventures. I would never claim to be an expert on Leeds, but I hope to visit it one day to retrace Meg’s steps as she raced through town (a path that I based on a rough medieval map)!

Jillian: Tell us about one darling (a line, a scene) you had to cut from A THIEF BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

Jillian, it seems the more I develop as a writer, the more I find myself cutting. In THIEF, I had a moderately comic business in a courtyard involving a bombastic noblewoman in a furious encounter with a horse. The scene is still there, but finding words to describe the woman that were actually period-accurate proved more and more difficult as I sought to use increasingly colorful descriptions. My long-suffering copy editor at Simon & Schuster forced me to stay true to the time period – but I believe the scene rings more authentic due to her tireless efforts.

From Sharon: How did the idea for the novella come about?

Sharon, with the extremely long time between books in the Maids of Honor series, and knowing that not every reader would be willing to take a risk on such a non-standard time period for an entire novel, I wanted to write a shorter tale to highlight the adventures of the main players in MAID OF SECRETS. I also had never written a novella—or a Christmas story—and the idea intrigued me.

Speaking of Christmas, I’ll be setting a future Maids of Honor book at Christmastime, and the traditions of the time period will be on full display then—as well as the food! Elizabethans definitely liked their Christmas sweets.

From Cat: Which of your A THIEF BEFORE CHRISTMAS characters would you most like to invite to your own holiday table? Which would you least want to have in your home?

Cat, I love this question, too! Quite definitely, I would want to invite Meg and Master James… as long as I counted the silver before they arrived. 😉 I enjoy their relationship so much, especially as Meg continues to discover who she is as a person, and Master James reveals a bit more of his character with each scene I write about him. As to the person I’d least like to invite, I would have to go with the shifty-eyed jewel seller, Theodore Minsk. He’s a slippery character who has known Master James a long time, and readers may see him again in a future Maids book.

Thank you so much for allowing me to share my release of A THIEF BEFORE CHRISTMAS! It’s wonderful to be able to celebrate with my fellow history lovers.

Order A Thief Before Christmas in time for the holidays:

Amazon Kindle
Simon & Schuster

Visit Jennifer McGowan online: