8 Questions with Fantasy Author Christian Brown

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Kevin:  Hey everybody, thanks for tuning in to Eight Questions. I’m one of your rotating guest hosts, Kevin Tumlinson. I’m glad you could be here. And today I’m chatting with Christian Brown. He’s a best selling author of the critically acclaimed Feast of Fates, which I’ve read and enjoyed, Christian.

(If you prefer audio, you can listen to this episode on the 8 Questions Podcast)

Christian:  Thanks. That’s the highlight of my bed ridden sickness.

Kevin:  Yes, Christian and I are both suffering from lingering illnesses so we’re going to hack and cough our way through this interview. Christian, so you’re a fantasy author. I have eight questions for you. You have not heard these questions. You have no idea what I’m going to ask you.

Christian: That’s plenty fine, yes.

Kevin:  And that’s half the fun. So we’re going to just get started. First of all, you’ve got some new work out right now, besides Feat of Fates. What’s on your plate right now?

ChristianFeast of Dreams came out, Feast of Chaos comes out in a month and a half.

Kevin:  And that’s a continuation, right?

Christian:  Yes.

Kevin:  So I have to read it.

Christian:  It’s Four Feasts Till Darkness.

Kevin:  I’ve been told by some reviewers that my books that lead to other books are cheating so I feel like I have to read your book now. You’ve cheated me and forced me to read your next book.

Christian:  It was as advertised on the ten. There are Four Feasts Till Darkness so if I had only the three then I would be misleading the public.

Kevin:  Well, you know how it is. Okay. So let’s hop right in.

The first question is since your work has been described as genre changing, how has your work changed the fantasy genre?

Christian: Well I think it’s more speculative fiction. There’s a lot of people that like to apply this [indistinguishable, over-talking].

Kevin:  Yes, it’s hard to nail it down. I’m sorry.

Christian:  It is. Well, no but it’s really just writing a good story, you should be able to incorporate all of the aspects of current social social trends and social questions, and I think it does a lot of that.

In the first book you see acts of terrorism, horribly racism and sexism. These are problems that we face, obviously, well we’re talking about this at a very sensitive time.

Kevin:  Yes, it’s apropos.

Christian:  So much is going on lately. So these are problems that we’re still dealing with in the real world. And I know that some people have retreated into this safe fantasy that they’re starting to write. That’s not what I write, so your listeners just need to know that.

I mean my stuff is not as dark as George R.R. Martin or Abercrombie. Like there’s always this sort of thread of hope, but I’m not afraid to go to those dark places. And I think we kind of have to.

I think it’s sometimes easier through fiction to process these things than it is to necessarily see them on a daily basis or confront them. So yes, you’ll see a lot of that, a lot of things that are happening in our current social climate happen on the world of the day.

So I would say that’s why it’s been classified as genre changing.

Kevin:  Yes, you address – there’s another author associated with this podcast, Garrett Robinson, who writes. Do you know him?

Christian:  Yes.

Kevin:  Yes, so you guys are very similar in your approach to bringing social issues into your fiction and dealing with those. It’s very cool.

Christian: Yes, well I’m a product of diversity and I’m bi-racial and I’m gay and I’m married to a VT amputee.

Kevin:  Wow.

Christian:  Yes. Not intentional, it wasn’t like you know seeking out differences, but that’s just sort of how it turned out.

So we’ve dealt with a lot of hatred towards our family and towards ourselves. And so I try in the book when you examine that, it’s to show scenarios in which these people that are facing these issues can realistically succeed against them, though there is conflict. So that’s sort of the method to my writing I guess.

Kevin:  Yes, and you’re doing it well. You didn’t do yourself any favors, you just kind of stacked the entire deck of stereotypes and other things against yourself, but I think you’re doing okay.

Christian:  Basically I’d have to be – well, my partner’s one-legged but yes, I guess if I am a person of minority. So if I was a woman I’d have it all rounded out.

Kevin:  If you were three feet tall.

Christian:  Three feet tall, Lilipution also being in a wheelchair, I’d have it all covered.

Kevin:  So question number two. What got you into writing speculative fiction in the first place? I originally had fantasy written here but I’m going to change it to speculative fiction.

Christian:  I still like to be lumped in the fantasy genre because I think that genre needs more voices sort of like mine and Garrett’s. Everything’s been sort of the same for a while, where everyone’s sort of been trying to copy just this epic fantasy mold.

Kevin:  Yes. Everyone wants to be Tolkien.

Christian:  Everyone wants to have a pig farmer or someone like the Hobbit living in the middle of nowhere, hero rises from the ashes of nothing and saves the world. It’s been done so many times that it’s a little bit tiresome. Well to me at least.

I’d always read these stories, and some of which were relatively good. I mean if you’re going to do pig farmer stuff, I think Chronicles of  Prydain does it very well.  That’s a really great series and I’ve actually come back and read it a few times as an adult. Lloyd Alexander I think wrote that.

Kevin:  Yes.

Christian:  So anyways I really loved his stuff and obviously growing up with my own differences, you know as you start to get older you start to deal with what the world throws at you, the hatreds and the differences and how we cope with all of that.

But then things started to resonate less and less with me, even though I’m still just intrinsically drawn to stories of magic and mysticism and different worlds, science fiction too. I mean I just like these concepts of other worlds and other people that have problems similar to ours.

But these books didn’t have problems similar to mine or similar to the people that I knew and so we sort of drifted apart for a while. And I stopped reading, I would say when I was about – I was heavily into physical fitness and I was a personal trainer for a while and so I just completely gave up on my cerebral side, became a meat-head.

For that I didn’t read for like about five or six years, just because the material didn’t grab me. And then my mother got sick with lymphoblasted leukemia and I was designated as her primary care giver and during that time – we had a wonderful time, her and I, but there would be silences and so I picked up books again and I started to see what was out there and there was some new voices.

I always get her name wrong, M.K. Jemisin?

Kevin: Yes, I think so. I know in general who you mean but I’m like you, I’m not always getting that right.

Christian:  I picked up her book, I think it was in The Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital here in Toronto. I picked up her book at the gift shop and I was like this is interesting. So yes, there were these new kind of voices, Gemma Files is another take. She writes interesting edgy fiction.

And I picked up these two completely random books in like some nowhere gift shop bookstore and they were fantastic. It was the kind of material that actually resonated with me as an adult.

So that sort of drove me back into writing and I started to explore some of my other favorite authors like Clive Barker and Dan Simmons who does some really great sci-fi.

So I started to fall back into it that way and eventually I picked up my own dead and buried manuscript, resurrected that and got to work on that.

Kevin:  Was that Feast of Fates or was it something else?

Christian:  Yes, I had the title – the first story that I’d written was actually the fifth story in this sequence that I’ve done. And it was completely different, completely different characters. And I think it was called – it has some weird kind of pseudo vampire name, it was called like Threads of Blood or something.

There is a book called Threads of Blood now, which I’m sure is great, but it was just not fitting for what I had written. So it was a very, very different story than what it is now.

Kevin: Yes, sounds like it. All right. So you brought up your career in health and fitness. How do you think that experience has helped your writing career?

Christian:  Discipline definitely.  Just gives you that discipline to do things even if you don’t want to do them and even if they’re uncomfortable.

No one – I mean yes, we like the endorphins from exercise, people who exercise and people who are into fitness, but you don’t – no one really likes to do it. If they do, they’re kind of lying because there’s nothing fun about exerting yourself.

There’s a little bit of that rush when it starts and it’s like oh, this is nice. We have a terrace garden in our – I make it sound really fancy but it’s not.

Kevin:  Our terrace garden.

Christian:  Our terrace garden. There’s this chin up bar so it’s really nice to just go out there and do chin ups in the morning before I start my work or whatever. But it’s still exhausting. It’s nice for about the first 30 seconds and then it’s like ugh, I want a coffee, I want to go back to bed.

But it teaches you that discipline of just forcing your way through uncomfortable situations, which is a good skill and you can learn it. Not through exercise, you can learn it in any number of vocations or hobbies, but that’s the way I happened to learn it.

You can learn it in the military. You can learn it in a lot of ways, right.

Kevin:  Yes.

Christian: But yes, that’s definitely been a very valuable skill and yes, just not quitting, even when you feel you want to, also another good skill.

Kevin:  On that note, that’s actually the next question. On the days when you don’t feel like doing the work, what actually motivates you to get going?

Christian: Well I have a picture of my Mom in front of me so I always turn to her face and when I’m feeling lazy it seems to be glowering at me, “Get to work”.

 And just again, you just have to put in the time.

There are periods though, I mean I’ve never personally experienced – I know it exists for people, I’m not going to be like it doesn’t exist, but writer’s block. I’ve never personally experienced that.

I’ve experienced like exhaustion where I’ve just put so much of myself into something, or into a book launch, or into a series of things that my body and my mind was just like no, I’m not going to do this right now.

But yes, unless you reach those moments there’s always ways to just push yourself forward.

Kevin:  Yes, I’ve had plenty of those moments where I had lots of ideas and lots of momentum, but had just used up the last of my ability to actually write.

Christian:  Yes, well we’ll go for a walk, go do something creative, go see an art show. But again, do something that just shuts off your brain so it can recharge.

Kevin:  Yes.

Christian:  So I think that’s actually very important is knowing the value of stepping away, which for obsessive people, I don’t know if you’re obsessive but I’m quite obsessive when it comes to doing things.

Kevin:   Are you kidding me? Do you remember having to go to a scheduler to get on this interview?

Christian:  Oh, yes. You’re multiple state, he’s got a whole questionnaire you had to fill out.

 Kevin:  Exactly man. We do it right around here.

Christian:  What’s your star sign.

Kevin:  By the way, that’s me. Like I created that for my – the people I interview for this show and no, I don’t think they have anything like that for everyone else. So it was just like well, if I’m going to do, I’m going to do it.

Christian:  Yes, that’s what I’m talking about, knowing when to step away. Yes, I think that’s one of the most important things too.

Kevin:  All right. So what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? And this doesn’t have to be just writing or anything. This could be anything in your life.

Christian:  The best advice I’ve ever been given. Well, this is actually current topical with what’s going on right now, but I think my mother had told me once – she told me two things.

First she’s like, you know, always take the high road, which we’ve all heard that from our parents before. This was in particular due to a certain volatile family situation which I won’t go into. No one needs to hear my family drama.

There’s some stuff going on between her and her brother and whatever, and she had told me, like I had stepped in being like I said being mother bear in this situation, but baby bear, protecting momma bear. And she’s like you know, Christian, you just need to take the high road.

And it was against all of my instincts to do that because I like to – I don’t shy from conflict naturally. Like sometimes conflict’s necessary. I don’t seek it out, but I’m not afraid of having the tough discussion or make the tough decision.

But anyways she told me to step back, and in this instance she was completely correct. I stepped back and the situation defused itself, and everything turned out in a really beautiful way, which it probably wouldn’t if I had thrown myself in there like my instincts told me to.

And that’s also like in terms of writing too, that’s helped as well too because you’re going to get that negative review. It’s going to come. Usually if it’s a negative review, it’s not just going to be bad. Like if someone hates your book, they hate it with their entire soul.

Kevin:  Yes.

Christian:  You moved them profoundly to hate it. So you’re going to get their review and you’re going to get the urge to respond to it or do something. You just do nothing, because that’s that person’s opinion and that’s their experience so you have to let that go.

So yes, I found that lesson has actually served me very well through my adult life.

 Kevin:  Yes. I mean I recently got a pretty bad review and same person, by the way, that accused me of trying to scam him by having a book that didn’t tell the entire story or whatever. And my very first instinct was I wanted to respond to that guy.

And I will admit I maybe took the middle road because I went on Facebook and asked everybody I knew to go down vote him and comment to him. So maybe I could have been a bigger man, but whatever.

Christian:  But you didn’t directly engage.

Kevin:  I did not directly engage, so I think you’re absolutely right on that. I think that when it comes to it, I point it out and I let people defend me. We’ll just say that.

Christian:  Yes. I enjoyed your book actually. I don’t read a lot of science fiction except Ben Simmons and some of the obvious ones, but I like that it’s just technical enough.

Like whether you do or do not know what you’re talking about, it seems like you do and that’s perfect, so it’s just technical enough and it’s character driven, which I quite enjoy. I don’t like science fiction when it’s too abstract and remote and the whole process is not about people, because I like the people personally.

Kevin:  I don’t want to go off on a tangent about my work, but I mean that’s one of my things, is that I’m a character writer. I think you are too.

Christian:  Thank you, yes.

Kevin:  I think that absolutely makes the difference in a good story. And that’s one of the things I enjoyed about your book, because I’m not really a fantasy reader either. Like I’ve enjoyed a few fantasy stories that were compelling to me but for the most part, that’s not the genre I go looking for so I appreciated your characters as well.

All right, moving on before I start promoting myself here.

So when you think of someone who is truly successful, who comes to mind and why?

Christian:  This is a bit of a weird one but I would say Timothy Findley. We’re talking about like in the literary field.

Kevin:  Any field really, but yes.

Christian:  We’re in the literary because it’s about books, it’s an author podcast. I pick Timothy Findley. I read him since I was young. I don’t know how many people know about him. He’s kind of forgotten these days, but he was very prolific and successful playwright and Canadian author.

Also openly gay man, married his partner and they live just this idyllic kind of nice life and he just passed away very gently at his home, surrounded by people he loved. And he had this amazing body of work that in some ways rivalled Atwood’s.

He was of the same calibre as her. He was still cranking out amazing work. But at the time they were two of our pillars of just great Canadian literature.

I say Canadian literature because I’m proud that they were of my nation, but at the same time read worldwide and he was an amazing, amazing character and dialogue writer.

Kevin:  Yes, this is the guy that wrote The Wars?

Christian:  Yes. Yes he just wrote some really – and Pilgrim, which was one of my favorite books.

Kevin:  Pilgrim, yes, that’s another one I was thinking about.

Christian:  He was clever, a smart man.

Kevin: So why him?  Why does he come up when you think about success?

Christian:  Hard work. Successful but not so successful that it changed him. I mean the man lived his life – he had enough money that he could have lived in Ottawa, the capital city, in a mansion, and he lived in a farmhouse surrounded by the comforts he needed and wanted.

So that to me it’s really – I just look at his life and I’m like that’s a really respectable pleasant life. And you know we’re all going to die sometime. That’s something that I would aspire to have as my – what I’m looking back on when that time comes. Very far from now, hopefully.

Kevin: I hope that after I die there’s somebody on a podcast saying you know who I think of, Kevin Tumlinson. That body of work. I’m hoping for that.

Christian:  And just a really nice guy. Like there’s nothing that I can really think that was particularly slanderous or scandalous about his career.

Kevin:  Yes, which is almost uncommon now, right. Because if you’ve heard of anybody…

Christian:  Who knows.

Kevin:  Right, yes. It’s like gone are the days when if you’re talked about on a news cast it’s like you know the author of The Wars and The Pilgrim. No, now it’s like TMZ and they caught him sneaking out of some sort of porn house or something.

Christian:  Yes.

 Kevin:  Which is a shame, that’s a shame. All right.

Christian:  Innocence is lost.

Kevin:  This is a connected question and it’s not one of the official questions. I just thought of it just now, but what does success actually mean to you then? I mean beyond this medium.

Christian:  For me? So I would say sustainability. I mean success is always going to be a bit of a moving target because you know you’re going to have to adjust your metrics and elements as you ideally become more successful.

But my first goal was just to be sustainable and to just make money off my books, which I accomplished over the past two years. I worked really, really hard and spending a lot of my own money.

Unfortunately that old adage, it takes money to make money, well it does. I spent a lot of my life savings just to get somewhere sustainable, and to make a quality product. You cannot make something that rivals, I’m sure you can it’s very difficult.

I was even pinching pennies and trying to be really conservative with my funds, but it still costs a lot of money to hire professional editors and to get web designers. It just takes money.

And cutting corners, if you want to stand toe to toe with some of these books that the publishers are putting out, some of which are crap, yes, but that describes books anywhere. It’s quality and it costs money unfortunately.

Kevin:  Yes, I try to point out to people because there is that statement as if it’s a justification. People will say, well, you know, sure my book is crap but there’s crap coming out of Random House too.

Christian:  So much crap out there.

Kevin:  Yes, like what do you want to compete with? Are you really saying you want to be competitive with the crappiest book that comes out of traditional publishing, or do you want to be at a much higher level?

Okay. So, next official question. So who do you think of actually as your biggest and best mentor and/or inspiration?

This is kind of loaded because I kind of figured you might mention your Mom, but you already mentioned her.

Christian:  I did.

Kevin:  So, we’re just going to assume your Mom is your biggest inspiration, I’m sure.

Christian:  Well, she kind of is, actually. Not to be a Momma’s boy, but she was the woman – my father as well, too, deserves mention because they both struggled with a bi-racial family in a time when it was not very acceptable.

Obviously people are still having serious issues with race worldwide, but this was like 37 years ago. We had a burning cross on our lawn. We went through some really dark stuff together.

So I’d say my parents, not just my Mom but my parents. Because even though my father and I had our issues as I was getting older, or actually when I was younger, the teenage years are never good for fathers and sons usually.

We found a happy medium but they taught me a lot of lessons about acceptance. They could have gone the other way and become very close minded and said no, you must fear all these people that are attacking us and you must hate them.

Even the words, the things that people say through their actions, my parents always seemed to do the right thing. So they were really amazing.

We weren’t a rich family. We were actually very poor and they worked their way up to middle class. So that was also a very good lesson for me in terms of how to improve your station in life and how to continuously work even though the world seems like it’s pushing you down.

And eventually something good will happen. You don’t see it at the time, but eventually you know that seed is planted and that seed grows. It just takes a long time sometimes, right?

Kevin:  Yes.

Christian:  They were great role models for determination, perseverance and all that.

Kevin:  All that stuff. I love that idea that one of the lessons was that you can improve your place in life, your station in life.

Christian:  Yes, like we’re a bi-racial piss-poor family. My only entertainment for the first seven to ten years of my life was the public library because it was basically free. Well, it wasn’t free but it was pretty cheap, and that’s where my love affair with language started.

To me it was like here’s this entire world and you pay nothing for it. And I’m already sort of a very internal creature, so if you fall into a book and envision everything in there.

You’ve read my writing too, it’s very sensory. That’s what happens to me when I read, is that I go into a book.

So it was wonderful entertainment for me. It was probably the best. I don’t think that I would have had that if we didn’t have to struggle, strange as that is. I think that that was actually a good thing for us, it brought us closer as a family.

Kevin:  So did you have that feeling when you were a kid going to the library that there were certain parts of the library that you weren’t supposed to be in, or certain books maybe that you weren’t supposed to?

Christian:  I just took off. I think I read like Poppy Z. Brite, remember her?

Kevin:  Yes.

Christian:  She went totally like off the grid though and she’s started like a cat rescue or something. It’s really like the early 90s. I read her when I was like maybe, oh God, twelve, which you can imagine I’m just like what is this. Like half my mind is like I don’t know what I’m reading or whether I should be reading this, but I read it anyways.

Kevin:  I’ve had this whole thing, I don’t know, I’ve always been a little timid in situations where I don’t know the rules, so for the longest time I didn’t really know the rules of the library.

Because we grew up out in the country, I mean going to the library was an ordeal. You had to go there. It wasn’t like I was going to walk by it on my way home from school or something.

We’d go in and I’m like there’s the kid’s section and then there’s this greater section, right. My whole thing was well, I’m a kid so they probably expected I need to stay here. But I’ve already read all of this crap, you know, this is all boring to me. I want to read that stuff.

So I thought I was going to get in trouble the first time I snuck out. Like I didn’t check out “grown up books” for years because I read them all sitting in the library, because I thought I’d get in trouble for trying to check them out.

Christian: I think once my Mom started letting me go to the library or wander the library unattended and get stuff and come back on my own, then that I was like I was going to do whatever I want.

That’s a child’s nature though is to sort of push the boundaries as far as they can. I read Peter Straub when I was very young too. Didn’t quite understand it. Lord of the Rings I read when I was very young too. I had to read it again when I was much older just to understand the language and get the flow of everything.

But yes, I still read that when I was very, very young. It was the enormity of it was kind of what captivated me. Because I’m like this is huge, this thing is the size of like the Old Testament. So books have always had a real magic to me I guess.

Kevin:  All right, so earlier you mentioned the fact that we all are eventually going to die, some of us, some of us. And I know what I want my epitaph to be, but what epitaph would you want most to be written about you when it’s all said and done? What epitaph would you like at the end of your life? I just stumbled right through that but we’re going to assume it went well.

Christian:  I would like to say…

Kevin:  It’s so morbid. I should have just stated it…

Christian:  We’ll talk about that after but we have a morbid viewpoint on it but it’s a necessary part of life. I think the sooner we sort of accept that and deal with it the less afraid we are of living.

But I would say oh, probably something about this world that I have in my head that I’ve written is so clear to me, especially when I’m writing and you’re really in those moments. Like I feel like I’m there. I feel like I can see these people living and breathing. That’s how real it is to me.

So maybe something poetic like wandering the sea of stars forever. Something like that, like a quote from the book, I don’t know.

Kevin: A quote from the book, yes. That would be appropriate. Now I change my answer. Actually, I want your quote now. And that’s cool. I could see that. That is poetic to have your work. I think Tolkein actually has something like that.

Christian:  Yes, I don’t quite remember what it is, but it’s something like – I can’t remember it, I’ll have to look it up.

Kevin:  I can’t either. I know there were two characters in his books, mentioned in the Appendices, that he actually has carved on his tombstone and his wife’s tombstone I think. Something like that.

There’s going to be like 8,000 emails now to correct me on that and tell me what an idiot I am. You would think I’d remember that. It’s like I’ve experienced that a thousand times. I should know that by now.

So in connection to that, you clearly want to be most remembered for the work you’re producing at the moment. You don’t think you’ll produce something else later?

Christian:  Oh, I totally will. Like I mean after – well, I’m working on the…

Kevin:  That’s kind of a loaded question I guess.

Christian:  After that I’ve got – so I already started the framework for the prologue. For some reason there’s this whole generation of people that have decided that prologues are evil, but that’s another topic for another day.

I wrote the prologue for my next project, which I’m going to start on after, and it’s an urban fantasy kind of. So, yes, I’m going to work on that and then I have a children’s book I’m going to do.

But the greater work that I will always go back to will be Geadhain and its world and its stories. So that’ll be the foundation I guess of my career ideally. But I can’t stay fixed on one thing for too long because you’ll burn yourself out and you need time to grow and to settle.

So yes, I’ve got part of two projects planned in each major arc.

Kevin:  That’s a good plan. That’s the way I’m doing it now too, especially since flipping to thrillers. I’m writing a Dan Kotler book and then I write another book something completely unrelated, and then I write another Dan Kotler book.

Christian:  Yes.

Kevin:  I just kind of stagger them.

Christian:  Just to mix it up a little bit. But you don’t get sick of your own work either, right?

Kevin:  Right, yes, which is a definite real danger when you’re like 30 books in. So where can people find you online or anywhere? What’s your physical home address and how can people get there?

Christian:  Where can we send that creepy package to. So that’s www.christianadrianbrown.com. That’s the landing page. It’s nice. I think you’ve been there before.

Kevin:  Yes.

Christian:  You’ve probably seen trailers and it’s got a sort of Pinterest or Instagram like look.

Kevin:  Yes, it’s got a cool design I’ll say.

Christian:  I have a web designer and she’s fabulous. Her link is actually on the site too if you ever need a web designer, she’s fantastic. Yup, and she’s Canadian too so if you’re a US listener, you’re in for a bargain.

Kevin:  Canadian.

Christianwww.christianadrianbrown.com. I have a Facebook page which is super active, a lot of people stop by there and shoot the poop. And Twitter, and that’s really about it. I’m probably going to do an Instagram this year but I think we had this conversation last time in our last podcast together, but I try and keep social media very curated because I don’t want like most people that it’s just like constantly Tweeting “I’m having lunch”.

I don’t want people to get sick of hearing my voice I guess. I’m not a very extroverted person necessarily. I don’t feel like talking all the time.

Kevin:  That’s where you and I are different.

Christian:  Yes. Honestly if you have that need to connect, then yes, you need to feed that need, but I don’t have that. Which is something obviously that I work on, because you can’t just be alone and never speak to anyone.

Kevin:  Okay. There’ll be links to your web page and probably some other stuff in the show notes for everybody listening. And Christian, I appreciate you being on the show with me.

Christian:  Yes, thank you for having me, it was great.

Kevin:  Yes, so that’s Eight Questions everybody, we’re going to wrap it up. Definitely check out Christian’s work at christianadrianbrown.com.

If you want to find out more about my work, I would be happy to show you if you’ll just show up at kevintumlinson.com you can find out about my books, podcasts and more. Pretty much anything Wordslinger, you can find it there.

Thanks again, Christian, and for everyone have a great week ahead.

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