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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tree/House is Great, But Not Publishable -- Spooky!

Though I'm reluctant to admit it, Tree/House is self-published. I have faith in its quality, and so I always have it under consideration at some reputable traditional publisher.

My relationship with Madras Press has come to an end for now. I just adore them, so I hold out hope that I will write something appropriate for them at some later date, but, when given the opportunity, they decided to pass on Tree/House.

Novellas (fiction works between approx. 15,000 and 35,000 words long) are really hard to find a home for in the publishing world. I can see no rational excuse for this. The shorter length means less publishing cost. I would think it would be ideal for a society with an ever-shorter attention span. A few independent publishers seem to agree with me, because I've been able to scrounge up a short list of places to query. Let this be my notice to the big houses: Novellas are cheap to print and easy to edit! They are undoubtedly the next big thing!

The only reason I'm bothering you, reader, with this information is that the farewell I got from Madras made me feel so strange. Maybe this is the norm in small publishing, but when I asked for permission to send it to someone else who had asked for it out of the blue, the editor seemed thrilled. He said they liked it (hooray!) but had been having a devil of a time finding a place for it in a series and figuring out how to market it (boo hoo!) I don't know if he was overstating the case, but that sounds like I was awfully close to being published with a house I admire hugely. (Disappointment.) It sounds as if its only downfall was its very uniqueness. (Dismay! Bewilderment!)

I won't mention that one of the first things they ever published was a little book by Aimee Bender, which  utterly lacked category, genre, species, etc. I won't mention it because I know I'm not the incomparable Aimee Bender, with now two acclaimed novels and two short story collections to her credit, and before that, a degree in creative writing.

I will mention that this feeling is eerily familiar. I wrote in a previous post that I keep finding great venues for my writing, but then the venues don't accept it into the fold of their genre. Maybe every writer who gets rejected feels a little bit like that, but I'm starting to feel uncomfortably unique. I always thought unique was good, because who wants to read the same old thing, rehashed with slightly different names and locales? Apparently, a lot of people.

I sympathize with the publishers, because there are so many books out there that I might start coming out with fantasy stories in which a writer gets read by someone other than her mother. There's a definite glut going on, and publishers seem to have chosen to combat it through marketing. In marketing, or so I've heard, if the message isn't clear, it's not worth the media it's printed on, because no one will pay attention. Sending a clear message in the marketing of a book involves assigning any number of categories to it, among them genre. Readers have recently become very accustomed to choosing between books that magically fall into preset categories. Some people read only one certain genre.

The thing is, the categories aren't really "preset": they have to be assigned by publishers and booksellers.  I'm sure they have endless headaches trying to figure out how to categorize all these millions of books. I can't blame them for shying away from my little Tree/House, which has no identifiable popular genre beyond "literary fiction," and just possibly "women's."

Here's a list of genres and subgenres Tree/House doesn't fall into (suggest some!):
romance (it's sort of anti-romance!)
instructional (although there are a few suggestions on many topics)
western (although it has stables and knife-throwing)
fantasy (although there are some less-than-believable elements)
horror (although it has a really creepy guy and he's brutally murdered)
paranormal (although there's a ghost)
adventure (although it has travel and a couple of characters who throw caution to the wind!)
campus (although the main character goes to college for a while)
animals (although one character is a cat)
environmental (although the trees are soooooo important)

So the gist of it is, if you want to expand your horizons and read something outside what you normally read, something that, while not very categorizable, will inspire you to strike out and make your own way in life, please consider Tree/House.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

At the Vicarage

In his recent book, At Home,  incredibly entertaining author Bill Bryson explains in one of many instructive asides that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the only solid requirement for a post as a country clergyman in England was a bachelor's degree. There were virtually no check-ups from the authorities, who also provided books of pre-approved sermons, and thus, men who had studied literature, classics, science -- anything but religion, in fact -- could and regularly did obtain sinecures all over the country. They then used their spare time (there was a lot of it) to write lasting works of literature, make important scientific discoveries, and invent some of the implements of the industrial revolution.

What a great system! I, as a former academic, can imagine myself quite happy tending to my flock, meanwhile creating works of great imagination! Like the historical vicars about whom Bryson writes, I was unwilling or unable to get a job teaching at a university, but that doesn't mean I have nothing to contribute to society. Unlike them, however, I don't have that nifty net to fall back on, and I'm still stymied as to what I can actually do in the world in such a way that I can get paid. I guess the non-university grads got tired of tithing so their pastor could just sit in contemplation. I can't blame them. Back then, I would have been one of them. I wouldn't have had a real chance to go to university. Even to get into a classroom I would have had to exhibit extraordinary ingenuity.

But, because I was born long after the struggles for equality among classes and genders had made great strides, all I had to do to get into a very good college was do well in school. Somehow, I never got the message that more was expected: I was happy with the small but enthusiastic shows of encouragement and praise I got, and that was enough. It was enough through a BA, an MFA, two more MAs and a PhD. So, although I had original thoughts and new ways to do things on a small scale, I never had to think outside the box entirely. Since I followed my bliss instead of my bank account, now I'm earning nothing, married to a wonderful, underemployed man, during an economic depression, scratching my head, my tummy rumbling.

I've always disdained money as a driving force, but, wow, do I have some ideas about what to do with it if I had some.

If only there were some system to sustain people like me who show some potential but haven't realized it...

My best hope is that, when we move, a library or book store will allow me to earn some kind of wage for taking care of books. For reasons I'm sure to elaborate on later, I dare not hope my own books could make me a living. In the meantime, I'll be thinking of a way to go back in time as a British gentleman.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Poetry Corner: Jarchas



In a beautiful corner of the world -- Moorish Andalucía -- in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, poetry was central to civilized existence. Fidelity to established forms and linguistic abstraction were prized above all else. 

But these subtle writers in Arabic also enjoyed observing life around them, and that meant sometimes overhearing the songs of the mozarabes, Christians who spoke a now-extinct mixture of Arabic and the local romance language. The poets liked to punctuate their long, stately poems with short, and sometimes mysterious, snippets in the voice of a mozarabe, often a beautiful young woman. These snippets, called jarchas, are the only poetry we have from this linguistic group. Scholars have transliterated the jarchas from the Arabic script in which they're found in order to approximate these lost rhythms and sounds.

Jarcha from moaxaja number 8 of Jehuda ha-Levi (1070-1141):
Non me mordas ya habibi, la
No quero daniyoso
Al-gilala rajisa: basta
A toto me rifyuso

Do not bite me, my friend, no. I don’t want someone who hurts me. The bodice is fragile, stop. I refuse everything.

Linguistically, this jarcha is a special treasure that plays out its social milieu. While the grammar and most of the words are in romance, and recognizably related to modern Spanish, the terms for refined, luxury concepts (lover, bodice, fragile) have been derived from the Arabic. 


While it's tempting to see it as a quasi-feminist plea to be treated with respect, we have to take into account the venue in which this jarcha would have been heard: in a predominately male court. The snippet itself is likely written by the poet of the main text, also male. So, the most likely interpretation is a comic relief / lurid one, although we will never know for sure. 

The text, translation, and a lovely version with instruments of the time are presented in the album El Crisol del Tiempo. 

Also note the changes to the site: you now have access to a list of my publications, with links to excerpts and full texts, on a separate page, linked on the left of the screen. The enjoyably watchable videos are listed on their own page. Enjoy the reorganization! More great content coming soon! 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Writer-On-Writer Repartee

The amazing Mike Angley has honored me by interviewing me for his blog. Get insider information on Tree/House and Dusk Before Dawn and take in my headshot.  Check it out:

http://childfinder.us/?p=2433 or

http://childfinder.us/2010/10/treehouse-author-jessica-knauss-visits-with-mike-angley/

As soon as I get through my geographical ambiguity (it's hard to write when your desk is moving) I will be thrilled to update you, dear readers, on the future project I discuss in the interview: a novel based on a medieval Spanish epic. Expect exciting teasers, process, and excerpts!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Books For Treats

There's no getting around it: it's the Halloween season. What used to be a time to honor the ancestors has become a celebration of the willies and a chance to gorge on candy (as if Americans needed another opportunity like that!).

With all of that at the front of my mind, I was thrilled to find out about the organization Books For Treats. Founded and run by Rebecca Morgan in San José, California, it replaces candy with books! Passing out literature instead of sweets! Substituting cavities and obesity for literacy!

Now, I have the world's biggest sweet tooth -- always have. I remember being cynical when a teacher talked about giving a "treat" to the class and it turned out be a visit from the music teacher or something else non-candy. But, reimagining my childhood trick-or-treat ventures, I know how amazing it would have been to receive an age-appropriate picture or story book instead of that fistful of Dum-Dums. The website gives examples of child feedback, and it's very positive. Let's face it: finding books and making sure they're suitable for the particular child who comes to your door takes a lot more attention and care than grabbing a bag of candy at the grocery store, and children will perceive that qualitative difference.

The site also links to similar organizations in Texas and Iowa and great ideas for where you can get inexpensive kids' books, as well as guidelines for deciding what to give to whom. Check it out!

I highly doubt we will get any trick-or-treaters where we live, so when I heard about Books For Treats, I donated some 28 children's books via priority mail, and I hope they get there in time to be used this year. Most of the books were children's picture books in Spanish, which I have used with some success in the language classroom. Two volumes were The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Magician's Nephew, fabulous books I bought to read to my husband, who didn't do much reading as a child. (The couple that reads to each other, stays together!) Even if they can't be used this year, the books will still be fresh for the 2011 round. Really good children's books never get old.

booksfortreats.org

Coming soon: Interviews with authors Angela Townsend and Barbara Briggs Ward! Musings on web site issues! Stay tuned!

Monday, October 18, 2010

It's Finally Here! The New Edition of Tree/House!

It's going to take a while for the "search inside" feature to catch up, but here it is, the new edition! Just click on the ad to check it out, or see the CreateSpace page here. (As usual, I get more royalties from the CreateSpace page. Consider it your holiday gift to me.)

The new edition has black-and-white photos chosen for their relationship to the story. Two come from Emma's photo album: the Mexican pavilion at Epcot Center and the Shakespeare library at the estate. Others were taken at different locations in Pennsylvania to represent the snow storm and the untamed parts of the estate. They should all impart a sense of calm to the reader. I hope they will give the reader a sense of the beauty of nature, and of the beauty within.

The text also makes better use of the page, and as you can see, the cover has been redesigned and is now much more attractive. I hope you will be proud to have it on your shelf.

The two bonus stories are both highly symbolic means of dealing with the same themes in Tree/House: femininity, awakening, honoring creativity and the less manicured parts of life.

"The Consequences of Neglect and How to Make Amends" took some inspiration in Latin American short stories of fallen angels, but the disgraced icon has a completely different meaning connected directly to Clarissa Pinkola Estés's Women Who Run With the Wolves.

"Anonymous" is a re-imagining (or first imagining) of the real authors of folk tales, unsigned tomes, and any culture's basic mythos. It touches on the subconscious origin of the great stories as well as themes of psychological imprisonment and freedom.

The new stories and the photos are provided at the same cost as the first edition. Enjoy! 

Note: both sites still list the publication date as 2008, but I assure you that the old edition is no longer available. You will receive the new volume, dated 2011! 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Look at Me, Paris and London!

I can now say that something I wrote, with my name on it, is available at the ultra-fabulous (from the literature point-of-view) Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris (France, people!). This is thanks to Do Not Look at the Sun, Issue 4 "Poems for Park Benches," Autumn 2010 (get previews here). For once, I'm at the beginning of the issue (at least in the online preview) instead of the end.

Do Not Look at the Sun is a highly creative endeavor. Much more visual than I would even have come up with myself, the editors generously distribute the 'zine for free in public spaces in Paris, and now London, and also in some really fine bookstores in both cities. It can also be purchased online for a nominal fee. Three euros should not break anyone's bank!

I admire their creativity, so rampant that they can hardly keep it to themselves. They describe the pieces they publish as "misfit" lit, and I didn't have anything untraditional enough for the longest time. Then, earlier this year, as part of the moving-in process in Pennsylvania, I was archiving my old journals and considering how different my memories of the events were from the way I described them. I cam up with an image of grasping words, and titled it "Experience." I didn't think it was publishable as it was, and then I  remembered all the wonderful "misfits" that end up in Do Not Look at the Sun.

So, hey, I have published work available at Shakespeare and Company in Paris!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Not the Taste Experience We Were Looking For

Today my piece, "Not the Taste Experience We Were Looking For," appears in Short, Fast, and Deadly i44.

I'm thrilled to have this published. It's the creative result of something that bothered me for months before I got any validation that it was a real phenomenon. The eggs we would get from a certain local farm at a certain not-so-local store had a distinctly flowery taste to them. The chickens were pecking at wildflowers or something. If I had been anticipating it, it wouldn't have been so bad, but going to the breakfast table with only eggy expectations, it was pretty unpleasant. My husband couldn't taste the difference, but he was sympathetic that it must not be good. I thought maybe I was crazy. I thought maybe we weren't washing the soap off the cooking pans thoroughly enough. We tried disguising it with salt, pepper, and cheese, but the only solution was for me to eat eggs from another farm and another store. (Not having eggs at certain breakfasts was not an option.) Of course, the flowery eggs were slightly cheaper, and the other store was out of the way for us. My husband continued getting the flowery eggs for himself, and I got the special, normal-tasting eggs.

Until one fine day, my husband's face contorted into the very picture of dismay. Ever so faintly, he could taste the flowers! Validation at last! Double validation when "Not the Taste" was accepted for publication!

It's the story of an intrepid couple who try to eat very local, but are hounded by the powers that be until they have no choice but to go back to the food that tastes weird and processed to them. The story is very short to get all of that, but again, with microfiction, the seed of the idea can blossom into all kinds of interpretations in the readers' minds.

If anyone else has experienced the taste of flowers in their eggs, please let me know. We can approach the farms, but mostly we can feel taste bud solidarity.

Follow the link to enjoy:  i44

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sneak Peek at the New Edition

My loyal followers here are the first to get this peek at the new edition of Tree/House. Check it out here. That's right, in just a few weeks, it will have a much more attractive cover and inside, new black-and-white images, all taken personally by the author to provide a calming visual presence to the reader. And as a special bonus, two new short stories I hope you will enjoy.

Monday, October 4, 2010

"Dictionary" in The Shine Journal

My poem, "Dictionary," is now up at The Shine Journal. It looks great, if I do say so myself!

The editor requested an origin story, and on the site I kept it very short. In reality, I was in the throes of breakup woe over my first two lovers when I wrote this. Both relationships were unhealthy, so I used a shorthand and combined them. During writing, I alternately saw the names and faces of first one, then the other.

Bachelor Number 1: My first boyfriend. I met him in my small high school, in my little town. I couldn't conceive that there might be something better out there, and I didn't know what love was, so I imagined that this was love and accepted whatever came along with it. We were constantly clashing because we had utterly different expectations. I never saw him as he really was, and I doubt he could see me, we were so full of preconceived notions. We never made each other happy. I was too busy trying to make him fit into my dream life, dreaming of true love and a perfect marriage that I was too blind to see was not reality. He tried to change me, I tried to change him. He did us a huge favor and called the wedding off just a few months before it was to take place. What a relief! In the poem, I allude to the feeling of losing my sense of self whenever I was with him. After that fateful phone call (no sniggering, we lived 3000 miles apart at the time), I was left with an apparently blank slate. It filled back in with my personality after the shock wore off.

Bachelor Number 2: I had a lot more in common with him, and I could really see us spending our lives together in blissful contentment. But I was still trying to change one fundamental thing about him to suit my fantasy: he never wanted to be with me for the long haul. Through no fault of his, I was convinced that he was The Love of My Life, that there would never be anyone to compare him to. As recently as two years ago, if he had given me the signal, I would have dropped everything just to be with him. If I've ever suffered from erotomania, he was the object. I knew that when they did my autopsy, they would find his image on my heart. Very deluded, indeed. Very self-effacing, as we see in the poem.

Thank goodness, it turned out that Bachelor Number 2 was just a step (an important step) on that ladder toward meeting my real soulmate. To anyone who's suffered in love, keep the faith! 

Enjoy "Dictionary"! It's just one of many self-rediscovery poems in Dusk Before Dawn.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rhinoceros Dreams trailer

I think it's turned out pretty cute, using only the resources I had at hand. One way I can tell I have a happy marriage is that I've taken so many pictures of rhinoceroses, real and representations, since I met my husband. Thanks, dear heart!

video

Check out the September 2010 issue of This Mutant Life. A single copy, at only $8 Australian, won't break the bank, and makes an excellent gift for the superhero/mutant lover in your life!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

"Invasion"

My latest publication, a poem entitled "Invasion," is now at Apollo's Lyre for your viewing pleasure! It's sixth in the Table of Contents.

I wrote this gem as a self-portrait assignment. This was how I looked to myself at the time: alone at a desk in the wilds of Massachusetts, contemplating my forever unattainable love, who was at that time in California.

Importantly, "Invasion" is just one of the many great poems on offer in Dusk Before Dawn. Online or in print, enjoy!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Interview Series: Word-Loving Montana Writer Dixon Rice Talks about His Thrillers and That Editor in the Head






Dixon Rice enthralls the room at Toastmasters
JK: Tell me a little about where you grew up and what you do or have done besides writing. 

DIxon Rice: My father was a Naval officer and I was born on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.  I have siblings who were born in Ann Arbor MI, Columbus OH, Norfolk VA and Fairfax VA.  Like most military families, we moved around a lot.  I went to high school in Mercer Island, a Seattle suburb, and got a BA in Political Science at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma WA.  At one time I had aspirations of going to law school, but decided to spare the planet one additional attorney.

I spent 8 years in Army intelligence – a year in S. Korea and most of the rest at Ft Bragg NC, and then moved to Kalispell MT, in the gorgeous Flathead Valley, where my mother and brothers had moved.  I married a school teacher from Butte MT, and we raised our four kids to enjoy long winters and a few weeks of sloppy sledding each August.

Besides an intelligence analyst, I’ve been a funeral director, investigator, office manager, payroll manager, shipping clerk, insurance salesman, and done retail sales.  I’ve jumped out of perfectly good airplanes and helos.  I’ve been in jail, and I’ve been a volunteer going into jails for Literacy Volunteers. I’ve been active in Toastmasters, soccer refereeing and coaching, American Cancer Society, and church groups.  I recently donated blood for the 100th time at the local Red Cross.  

JK: Tell me about your books and their intended audience.

DR: “Montana is Burning” is my first novel, a contemporary thriller taking place in a rural area of mountainous NW Montana.  An abortion clinic serving wealthy out-of-towners is firebombed, with three fatalities.  In the middle of hotly contested election between the incumbent sheriff and his chief of detectives, Paul Longo, the brand new detective, is the only neutral guy in the department. He must confront vicious local politics, a small group of religious fanatics, federal agencies trying to take over the investigation, a newly-formed militia group trying to blockade the county, and jealous local cops.  Pretty much his only supporter in the department is Janet Barefoot, a member of a tiny Native American tribe.  An outsider herself, she appreciates the barriers Paul faces.  When a peace march is bombed, quick thinking by Paul keeps the death tally down, but can he solve this terrorist spree before more lives are lost?  120,000 words and not yet represented. Contains sex and violence.

My work-in-progress is “The Assassin’s Club,” a thriller taking place in the early 1970s, featuring two very different killers.  Tyler Goode, early 20s and newly moved to Montana after his family perished in a hit-and-run accident, is cornered by the town bully and must kill to survive.  Nobody witnesses this battle to the death, and he walks away thinking he did the community a public service – and it felt pretty good.  Then the bully’s brother starts stalking him, and Ty realizes he must kill again, except with forethought this time.  A month after dispatching the brother, Ty kills once more in order to save a friend’s life.  By now, it’s become both a habit and a hobby, with Ty figuring he’s tipping the scales between good and evil after the death of his family.

Alternating chapters present a bearded, thirtyish man who emerges nude from the ocean near Ensenada, Mexico.    He meets a woman walking along the beach.  Startled, she blurts out, “Jesus! You’re naked.”
He thinks to himself, “So that’s who I am” before killing her and taking her white beach robe.  Jesus walks up the coast, killing when it pleases him, and gathers a Manson-like tribe of weak-minded losers.  In southern Washington, he turns east, following the voices in his head.  Jesus will run into Ty when he reaches Montana, but who will survive the encounter?  Two-thirds complete, will be about 90,000 words. Contains sex and violence.

JK: How does real life affect your fiction? Think in terms of atmosphere, plot, characters, language, etc.

DR: I love both the hustle-bustle of cities and the quiet beauty of mountain valleys, and try to incorporate a variety of settings, depending on the goals of each scene.  I enjoy taking people I have met, and flipping an aspect of their personalities on its head – making an honest nun a pathological liar, making a rigid Baptist secretly a gambling addict and alcoholic, or making somebody I find loathsome and phony into a philanthropist. I usually let my characters tell their own life stories and make their own decisions, and I’m often surprised at where they lead.  I attempt to choose timely themes that won’t become outmoded with the passage of time.

JK: What is your favorite book? What other things influence your work?

DR: Early on, I struggled with believable dialogue.  A writer friend introduced me to Robert B. Parker, and I discovered Elmore Leonard and Richard Price on my own.  Each one has his own distinctive style, but they are all masters of dialogue, and I learned a lot from reading their works.  Of recent books I’ve read, my favorite is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

JK: Do you have a favorite word? How do you use language to differentiate your characters and/or settings? 

DR: I love playing with words, and probably have a favorite word or phrase every day.  “My cup runneth amuck” has been a favorite for many years.  Following the advice of Elmore Leonard, I recently embraced “said,” eschewing all other attributions.  I use “just” much too often.

For my characters, whether primary or walk-ons, I try to visualize their background and level of education, and write with those in mind.  I often find myself making my characters sound too smart and self-aware, and always need to rewrite extensively.

JK: In general, what is your inspiration? What was the specific inspiration for your most recent project?

DR: Everyday people and events, and the continual question “what if…” keeps me occupied with a steady flow of new ideas, many of which are just dreadful.  I visualized my current WIP on a 15-hour road trip after taking my son to college, and loosely plotted the entire book (and 5 sequels) before pulling into my garage.  Thank God for the habit of always carrying a pen and pocket notepad.

JK: How much time a day do you devote to fiction writing? What is your work area like? Do you have any methods that might seem unusual or inspiring to other writers?

DR: I’ve discovered I get lots of writing done if I get up at 5:00 a.m. and take my laptop to a coffee house.  My critical editor is still asleep at this time, so that little voice in the back of my head is not telling me how crappy my prose is.  And the people coming through the door for a fix of caffeine get to be characters in my book (turned on their heads, of course). 

At times, I’ve taken a legal pad to a restaurant or coffee bar, and written pure dialogue for a couple hours.  No descriptions or narrative, just pure dialogue.  Often I’m able to use much of it, and at other times they become background, helping me understand my characters and their conflicting goals. 

JK: When and why did you get started writing? What characteristics from your first efforts survive today?  What kind of feedback do you get? Do you have a definable fan base? Are your family and friends supportive?

DR: I started telling my kids bedtime stories, and they asked me to write down some of them.  A few of my early stories were published in local or regional magazines and journals.  I plotted out a YA novel about a sorcerer’s apprentice, but ran out of clichés about half way through writing it.  Once I started writing adult novels, my habit has gone completely out of control.

I get lots of advice and support from my local critique group and a few other writer friends, and the group’s deadlines help keep the pressure on.  Writing conferences help also, as well as the Writers Etc group on Facebook.

With nearly 1,000 friends on FB, I do lots of networking with fellow writers, editors, agents, and just plain book lovers.  Knowing starving authors, I don’t expect large numbers of these folks to buy my books but I hope to generate some buzz when I’ve got a polished work ready to send into the world.

My fan base is people looking for a book to take to the beach – one that will keep them awake and occasionally give them something to actually think about.

My family and friends tolerate my writing addiction.  I believe they reason that it keeps me off the streets and is less obnoxious than other things I might do with my time.  My kids go “Eeewww” when I send them pages containing a sex scene.

And finally, the voices in my head are generally supportive. 

You can find sample chapters of both of Dixon's novels in the “Notes” at his Facebook account, which is at http://www.facebook.com/notes.php?id=100000277993263&notes_tab=app_2347471856