Monday, August 22, 2016

BACK JACKET HACK-JOB #12: Life of Pi

A post by Mary Fan
Welcome back to our recurring blog segment, BACK JACKET HACK JOB! It's my turn to make a butchery of a book's back cover copy, and my chosen victim is one of my favorite books, LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel. Hope you get a good chuckle out of this unholy mess of a book description... I certainly had a good time writing it!

And now, with out further ado...

A shipwrecked Indian kid refuses to cooperate with authorities when asked about just what the hell happened to him. Instead, he tells them lie after lie about how he traveled across the ocean with a tiger and encountered a carnivorous island. Like, he comes up with some serious whoppers. Luckily, his background as a zookeeper's son means he knows enough about tigers to make the whole thing sound pretty damn believable. So much so that he probably had everyone fooled until the island turned up. No idea why he threw that in there and ruined his whole hustle.

When the authorities refuse to believe him, as most reasonable people would, he finally relents and says that he actually ended up on a lifeboat with three other people, and then everything turned into the Hunger Games because of one crazy dude who wanted to eat another dude. And of course, Pi won when he killed the crazy dude. Finally, he tries to justify his make believe by drawing some parallel to faith and religion, instead of just telling the truth: that he was trying to avoid telling the po-po that he flat-out murdered a guy at sea.

Whatever, man. You could've just confessed in the first place and saved us a hundred chapters.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fan the flames of your writing with fanfiction

Good morning, writers. I'm coming to you live from my kitchen table where I'm wolfing down a bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats, sipping my coffee, and checking out Archive of Our Own, a fanfiction (FF) site. This has become my new morning routine.

Last month, I wrote a post about fandoms and how writers could learn something about what makes fans passionate about stories. This month, I'm going to lightly to skim the topic of fanfiction and why authors might want to participate. I say skim because one could literally write a book on this stuff (not me though, I have too many projects I'm juggling).

I just started writing FF for two fandoms, one based off a television show, the other off a popular series of books. At first, I wasn't going to do it because I'm up to my eyeballs in half-done writing projects. I have two manuscripts and a short story I'm working on -- all at the same freaking time. But then I started reading the FF on AO3 and it inspired a few ideas I had. I don't know if it's the writer in me, or the fan, or a combination of both, but I can get real meta about stories. I can't tell you how many times my husband and I would watch an episode of Mad Men and I would go on and on about Don's story arc or Joan's scene or wonder aloud why Matthew Weiner chose to have Peggy say that. My husband, the engineer that he is, watches TV strictly for entertainment. But I digest TV, movies, and books for entertainment AND knowledge on story craft. I also know that writers can be both purposeful and arbitrary creatures. We don't always have a reason for what we do. Since I can't ask Matthew Weiner or John Wells why they do the things they do, I choose to fill in those blanks myself with FF.

So why would established authors want to try their hand at FF?

First, FF allows authors to break out of a rut and experiment with voice and narrative style. If you always write in first person, write FF (first person is not really done there).

Second, writing is a muscle that authors need to exercise. But it's not always easy to work on your stuff everyday. Sometimes, writing has to marinate. If I feel like I can't get to my manuscript because my kids are too distracting, I'll write a piece of FF, roughly 1K-2K words in length, and upload it to AO3. [I have to say the readers on AO3 are super nice. I get lovely comments about my work. The criticisms are few and everyone is so appreciate of the writing. It certainly helps my deflated ego.] I've written for the day, added to my 10K hours and all that, and contributed to a community. I feel good about life.

Third, writing FF allows writers to work within the confines of existing characters. It's great practice for working with character voice, mannerisms, and motivation. Especially if you're working in a TV fandom because viewers see that character, notice that he thumbs his nose often, or bites his lip, or wears the same hoodie all the time. You need to work that into your FF piece in order to remain true to the character. I've made a point now to incorporate more mannerisms into my original work.

Fourth, and this is personal to me, FF scratches an itch. In television, viewers can pick up with characters in the middle of the action whereas in books, authors tend to flesh out scenes, provide backstory. But in TV, a lot of that is glossed over in favor of time. When I write FF, I like to compose short pieces that fill in those gaps. It's cathartic. What were those characters doing before we got to this point? I'll write it.

The bottom line is that writers write. Personally, I can't always be hyper-focused on my original work. I like branching out into FF or blogging or (at some point) screenwriting. But FF is a lot of fun for me. It gives me joy to see beloved characters live on, or get justice (as the case may be in one fandom). Also, I'm contributing to the community. It's neat to see how fans interact with art.

Do you write fanfiction? Do you now want to? Sound off in the comments.





Monday, August 15, 2016

EEK! PUT SOME PAGES UP FOR A CRITEEEEEEK: A collection of shorts


Hey, everybody!  It's time for another installment of "Eek! Put Some Pages Up For Criteek!"  In case you don't remember the deal, you can check out Jonathan's original post including the rules. 

I have this WIP where I hope to create one large story knitted together through a collection of short stories. This Eek! is from the first story, Megan. You hereby have my permission to shred/praise/toss/tout/completely rewrite the first two pages. Happy reading. And be gentle!

~Carrie

“How can you say being invisible wouldn’t be fun? How would you know?” Noah stared at her, disbelief mixing with anger.

It wasn’t the first time they’d had the superpowers conversation. As annoying as it was, she took some comfort in knowing she wasn’t the only big sister who had to relive this particular debate over and over again. Usually, she just nodded and agreed that whatever superpower Noah was fixated on for the day would be the most awesome thing in the world.

But that particular morning she just couldn’t bring herself to agree. She didn’t mean to say what she did because she knew he wouldn’t understand. At eight the world still looked as though it could be anything he wanted it to be.  Despite his innocence, or maybe because of it, she found herself wanting to say more. She wanted to tell him that she did, in fact, know what it felt like to be invisible.

That as soon as she got out of the car she’d once again don her cloak of invisibility.

She wanted to warn him that while being invisible would allow him to move from place to place unnoticed, it also had consequences. After a while, he would start to question his own existence. The cloak of invisibility is heavy and he wouldn’t have the power to just remove it whenever he wanted. Others would have to remove it for him.

But she didn’t say any of those things because he wouldn’t understand. She’d already said too much and his innocent feelings had been hurt. Besides, she had reason to hope that this would be the day when someone would permanently lift her cloak of invisibility. Why dwell on the negatives?

“I’m just kidding with you, Noah. Of course being invisible would be awesome.” She tried to put as much enthusiasm into her voice as possible, but the look on Noah’s face told her he still didn’t trust her.

The car pulled to a stop at the front of the car line and she slowly got out, her mom calling to her before she could shut the door.

“Megan, are you sure you’re going to be all right until after your game tonight?”

She always asked, and while Megan appreciated it, she wished her mom wouldn’t. Every time her mom asked the question, Megan had to lie. She had to tell her that of course she’d be fine. Megan had to stay at school until after the game, and her mom couldn’t come because of work and Noah. Why tell her mom the truth—that she’d be miserable and alone—just to make her feel even guiltier than she already did?

“Yeah, of course I’ll be fine. I’ll see you tonight.”

Megan closed the door and turned toward the school. It loomed over her, and she immediately started to feel the weight of the cloak. She tried to shake it off with each step, but it wouldn’t budge.

She entered the building, a ghost walking unnoticed through the crowded halls. As she did every morning, she tried her best to connect. She looked at her classmates as she passed, trying to pull their eyes to hers. She gave them a slight smile or nod. Their eyes often linked with hers, but they didn’t connect. They looked through her, not at her.

She was the girl everyone knew, but no one noticed.

She had gotten used to it. She learned to accept it. She was able to find a way to be a ghost, existing only when someone removed the cloak for her. In some ways she liked it. No one bullied her. No one took advantage of her. No one expected things from her that she couldn’t deliver.

But she couldn’t hold on to those positives for very long. The loneliness and self-doubt eventually took over, nearly suffocating her.

This was the first day in a long time she felt the heaviness so early in the day. She always felt the burden from the moment she woke up, but she could usually endure until the final bell rang. Since she’d been given the hope of a different day, she thought it would feel lighter than normal. Instead, it felt heavier.

She held her breath as she turned the corner, even though she knew he wouldn’t be there. He was never there before her. But still—there was always the possibility, and she couldn’t seem to keep herself from hoping.

She released her breath slowly as her eyes fell on the empty space in front of his locker. She glanced around as she walked, not really looking for him, but looking just the same. The usual groups were all accounted for, talking over each other in frantic sentences to get in as much gossip as possible before the bell rang.

She moved forward, unnoticed.

Someone accidentally bumped her shoulder as he passed by, and for a moment her cloak shifted. She was rewarded with a polite and apologetic smile before she became invisible once again. She reached her locker and looked down the hall once more as she unpacked her bag, hoping to see Brett.

Instead, she saw the one person at school who she knew was genuinely happy about her existence. Emma was her savior in many ways, but Megan didn’t think she knew it. Sure she often told Emma she was an awesome best friend and that her life wouldn’t be the same without her, but she didn’t think Emma fully understood the truth of her words. Emma wouldn’t understand it if Megan told her she made her feel as though the cloak didn’t exist at all.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

When Your Day Job Gets In The Way Of Your Writing Dream

 

A Post By Jonathan

Howdy, folks! This isn't going to be a long post because I'm actually writing this in between sessions for this huge event I'm running at work today. Of course, I'd much rather be writing, but someone's gotta pay the bills right?

Like most writers out there, I dream of becoming a full-time author someday. Of having all the time in the world to work on my books, and live in my make-believe worlds with all the characters in my head. But unfortunately (or fortunately, whichever way you look at it), I have this 8 to 5, Monday through Friday gig that just keeps getting in the way. So because of that, I've got to find small little slivers of time at night or early in the morning to peck away at the old keyboard. But when I do manage to do it, I feel so accomplished.

Like earlier this week, I had a short story due that I totally forgot about. So whenever I finally got a second to write I did. I ended up writing till about 1:30am every night for three days but I eventually finished it (and by the deadline). Sure I was dead to the world the next day, but who cares right? I was writing, and that's all that mattered. I wonder why I can't do this all the time, but it's just something I have to figure out I guess. Stephen King says write everyday, and I suppose he's right.Then again, I don't get paid to write. I get paid to run events and stuff-- like I should be doing right now!

So, dear readers, I know I'm not the only writer who has to juggle a day job and a writing dream. So I'd like to hear from you guys. How do you manage to find time to write when you've got 40 hours a week already taken up by the other job? Please comment. Would love to hear from you!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Preparing For a Book Launch -- A Checklist

My new book, A BRIT ON THE SIDE, releases a week from today! Cue all of the flails -- and the to-do list! Here's a peek at mine:

1.  Create final-final version of e-book. I use Vellum to create my e-book files, which is SUPER easy. No coding or fiddling involved, and it even reminds you to include your "Also By" pages in the back of the book.

2.  Proofread final-final version of e-book. Again. For the 1,437th time. Just to make sure nothing's gone wrong in the file conversion.

3.  Upload to retailers. I upload to KDP directly and use Draft2Digital for the rest. Some vendors take longer than others (looking at you, iBooks), which needs to be taken into account when uploading files. Hint: uploading files on a Friday for a Monday release is NOT enough time for the book to be live on all vendors. I'm NOT doing a pre-order for my upcoming release, so this timing is key for me.

4.  Update author website with buy links. In theory, you've already updated your author website with the cover, Goodreads link, blurb and teasers, so all that's left to do is add those all-important vendor links.

5.  Create teasers. I'm not sure if this is a thing in genres outside of romance, but #TeaserTuesday is a BIG thing. Teasers start at least six weeks prior to release, but the week before calls for a flurry of teasers. Again, in theory you can create these anytime but if you're like me you're squeezing them in amongst everything else.

6.  Experiment with graphics for Facebook ads. I'm a big fan of Facebook ads and now Facebook has a new ad option called "Brand Awareness," which is a relatively low-cost way to experiment with graphics for ads before you're paying big bucks for clicks. I say relative because, well, even $3/day adds up. Basically, Brand Awareness delivers your ad to your target audience and you pay per estimated ad recall lift (EARL). You can read more about EARL here. Brand Awareness is a new advertising option on FB and I'm using it for the first time now, so I'll report back post-launch and let you know if I thought it had any impact.

7.  Create graphics and copy for launch-day Facebook ads. There's a lot of debate about direct-to-retailer links in ads vs ads leading potential buyers to your webpage, which then has all retailer links. My own practice is to go direct to Amazon and include links to other retailers in the ad copy. I've already tested my graphics (see #6 above), so now all I've got to do is wait for my retailer links and set my budget.

8.  Make a list of additional advertising venues. Books cannot be sold via Facebook alone and having a list of quality sites for advertising is key. This again requires buy links, but doing the research gets you more than half-way there.

9.  Create a release-day launch kit. Assume friends/bloggers/your weird Aunt Sally will want to share the news of your release. Better to have a bit of input into that, yes? I suggest creating a document to have at the ready that includes: your book cover, blurb, link to Goodreads, link to retailers, a few early review quotes.

10.  Reach out to blogger/author friends to gently remind them of your upcoming release. If you've had author friends blurb your book, offer them last-minute ARCs for their reader groups. If a blogger loved your book, offer ARCs for a giveaway. If you're active in a FB reader group, reach out to the owner of the group and ask if you can publicize in the group on release day. I HATE asking, but I've learned that it's definitely not the worst thing and often your offer is met with a "Yay! I don't have to plan a post today" sigh of relief.

11.  Draft email to send to ARC reviewers thanking them for advance reviews and asking them to post on retail sites. Goodreads reviews are fab, but let's face it -- we al want reviews on the 'Zon. Include retailer links to make this as easy as possible.

12.  Plan a celebration. In my opinion, the WORST thing to do on release day is to sit alone with your computer and continually check rankings and reviews. Much better to plan lunch/dinner/drinks with family or friends. Even better -- plan all three! You've just published a book and if that's not cause for celebration, I don't know what is!

In the name of shameless self-promotion, I've got my favorite teaser from  A BRIT ON THE SIDE to share with you! I've also got an ARC  to give away to one lucky blog reader. Just comment on this post and I'll pick a winner later this week. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Living in the Gap: Intersections (Guest Post by Cheryl Oreglia)

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
amazon.com/author/kozeniewski
Hey everybody!  I'm very pleased to bring you a guest post today from blogger Cheryl Oreglia.  Cheryl reached out via that handy little "Contact Form" widget over on the right hand side of the page.  And YOU can feel free to contact us that way, too, if you're interested in an interview or guest post.  But enough of my blathering.  Let's get right to what you came for her by meeting today's guest and diving into her post. 

I'm a blogger, but I do have a life outside of my head, and it squeezes between me and my keyboard like a frightened child. What can you Do? On the surface my life is common, I’m married with children, work as a teacher, and live for weekends at the lake. But just below the water line is a unique voice and one that I hope will resonate with you. So come along on this textual pilgrimage and let’s see what we can discover one blog at a time.

You can find Cheryl at her blog, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


Guest Post:


I sit here sipping coffee, feeling like I’m parked at the drive-in theater, but it’s light out, and no one is smooching on me. I’m actually in my car, on my way to work, early Thursday morning. I have a few hours of work ahead of me and then we're off to the lake for a long weekend. Three whole days to write, relax, and do a little wine tasting. Taking a generous swig of coffee I wait for the light to change at the intersection of Hamilton and Leigh. If you miss this light, it’s no less than a three minute delay, so I might as well distract myself with the people around me. 

The first thing I notice is the guy shaving in the car next to me. I feel like I’m peeking into his bathroom so I avert my eyes. There is a young girl texting in the car in front of me. She is resting her glossy pink phone on the steering wheel, so engrossed in her textual reality, she doesn’t notice when the light turns green. Before I have time to react, the guy behind me lays on the horn, he jerks his car into the next lane, glares at me, and speeds off. I almost flipped him the birdie, but I'm a teacher, and one of my students might see me. It would be difficult to explain why the religion teacher is flipping off strangers on her way to work, especially with the Love One Another sticker, affixed to my bumper.

My lane starts to move, the girl looks up, continuing to text with one hand, while steering with the other. She smiles at me in the rear view mirror and shrugs her shoulders. It makes me think of Anita Roddick who says, "You can't change the world from the rearview mirror." I wonder about the cars, the people, and this intersection of life. Perhaps this random encounter has no greater meaning than the color of my toenail polish? But I'm starting to believe synchronicity is far more important than we will ever know.

I imagine the guy shaving is a mid-level exec, raised in the Bay Area, got caught up in the whole tech craze, and now owns a swanky new condo in San Jose. He has time to shave at home, but he likes the idea of shaving on the way to work, it makes him feel important. His seventeen year old son needs more attention, but Shaver golfs every Saturday with his college buddies, and he's gotten into the habit of prioritizing his own needs. 

I believe the texting obsessed young lady is a student, heading to Del Mar High School, driving a used Jeep handed down from one of her siblings. She is not a scholar, this is her junior year, and she is more concerned about prom then her G.P.A. She'll be transferring schools next year because her parents think she needs a more rigorous academic environment. Her new shoes hurt, but they make her feet look small, and in her opinion that is the only critique for shoes. Her dad sells insurance for All State, which is ironic, because texting while driving annuls your insurance benefits. 

Now the guy behind me, with the short fuse, he could be my husband, but he's not. He is a real estate developer and generally impatient about delays. He's meeting a buddy for a round of golf at the San Jose Country Club, and this red light is going to make him late. If there is one thing in this world that drives him crazy, it is people who show up late for appointments, and he will not be joining that league.

We head off in different directions, unaware of the impact we've had on one another, or the ways in which our lives intersect. See a few years back, Shaver was in a skiing accident, he shattered his wrist, and had to miss a golf tournament. Mr. Impatient was asked to take his place. This is when Mr. Impatient found out about a dilapidated apartment complex that was for sale in San Jose. He purchased the building, ousted the tenants, and converted it into condos. Shaver bought one, his seventeen year old son now attends Del Mar High School, and will be taking Texting Queen to the prom next week. What Texting Queen doesn't know, is she'll be enrolled in one of my classes come fall, and I'll be confiscating her glossy pink phone for most of the semester. 

Every life is an intersection of who we were, who we are, and who we will be. I made up the stories, not the people, but they all represent aspects of myself. On occasion my wayward dispositions intersect, just like the people we encounter on the road of life, sometimes I get held up, and forget how a stranger can transform my day. 

Monday, July 25, 2016

5 rookie writer mistakes to avoid at all costs

A post by Mary Fan
Back when I used to bounce around online writers communities exchanging first chapter critiques
with fellow amateurs, I found myself reading a lot of stuff by newbie writers. These writers often had really cool and interesting ideas, but the writing wasn't there. And over time, I began to notice that some of the same things popped up time and time again. Some of these were mistakes I'd made once upon a time as well, so I totally sympathized. Others were ones that I'd avoided because I'd once had a mentor set me straight.

Here are some of the more common ones. If you're just starting out and you steer clear of these rookie mistakes, you'll save yourself a lot of time on rewrites :-). Also, apologies for the somewhat rant-y tone in advance... When you run into the same things over and over, you start feeling like you're running into a wall, and running into walls always makes me grumpy.

5. Thinking they can tackle third omniscient POV

Look, the debate about whether there are "rules" in writing or not has been raging forever, and it's never going to be resolved. But the fact is, pretty much no one likes third omniscient POV anymore. Yes, it was once commonplace to have a story switch from one character's perspective to another's within a section, sometimes even paragraph to paragraph. Yes, a lot of classics are written that way. But the year is 2016, and people don't write like that anymore. In fact, one publishing consultant I know said she hadn't seen third omniscient commonly used since the 1980s. That's practically before Taylor Swift was born, folks.

I noticed that a lot of rookie writers would hop from character head to character head in an attempt to emulate those old-timey styles. And there are those who had more modern examples of third omniscient to look up to. But the fact is, it's extremely hard to do well, and unless you're a true expert in the craft, you're probably not going to pull it off. When done well, third omniscient offers a grand, sweeping worldview of the book. The way most rookie writers do it, though, it mostly just reads like POV ping-pong, which is super distracting and often jarring. Like, you're happily following one character's POV, then BAM! It's someone else's. Then all the POVs feel incomplete, which has the unfortunate effect of making it feel like the reader's being kept at arm's length.

So if you're just starting out, then when it comes to third omniscient--just don't. Pick a perspective and stick with it for at least one whole section.

4. Not defining their world-building

This mostly affect sci-fi/fantasy writers, but can also affect contemporary writers as well. For a world to be believable, whether it's in a galaxy far, far away or just a few miles South, it has to have a defined set of rules. Now, these rules can be whatever the author wants them to be. As fantastical or absurd as desired. But you have to put them in place, and you have to stick with them. Otherwise, readers very quickly notice that things don't make sense, which pulls them out of the story.

Rookie writers tend to dream big, which is awesome, but sometimes, this means they forget to give shape to their ideas. So you wind up with worlds where anything is possible not because a believable cause-and-effect within the universe, but because the writer said so. This comes across as sloppy, and it kills any hope of creating tension or stakes because the reader's too confused about what's possible or not to follow along.

3. Forgetting that readers aren't psychic

This is another one that's big for sci-fi/fantasy writers. Here's the thing: You are the only one who can see the fictional world inside your head. Readers aren't psychic. So if you use a fantastical, made-up term, they're going to have no idea what that thing is. And it isn't mysterious to keep it that way; it's just confusing (and frankly, really annoying). Often, all it takes is a quick phrase defining an object or concept to set the reader straight.

Of course, there is a lot that can be implied as well. People will no doubt point out that hey, great writers don't spell out everything because they assume the reader is intelligent. Well, there's a difference between intelligence and ESP. There are ways to subtly drop in information without spelling everything out, but if you don't give any information at all, then you're putting the burden on the reader to hunt for clues or make things up, and that's just lazy writing.

This problem also manifests in the form of missing descriptions. A writer might have a clear vision of what a character, place, etc. looks, sounds, or smells like, but unless they tell the reader, the reader has no idea. I've heard the argument that the writer "wants the reader to imagine it for themselves." Sorry, rookie writer, but that's also lazy writing. You don't have to give the reader everything, but you have to at least paint an outline. Otherwise, the reader's doing all the work, so what is the point of you? (Sorry--the rookie writers I've heard this from tend to be pretentious as well, making it doubly annoying). Same goes for emotions--rookie writers will sometimes think that dialogue alone is enough, but here's the thing: words have many meanings, and this is a book, not a screenplay. So unless you hint at what the character's feeling, the reader will have no idea, which makes the writing just feel thin and flimsy.

2. Losing sight of what the story's truly about

The opening of a book sets a reader on a journey--to follow a character (or characters) through whatever trials and tribulations the plot's going to throw at them. And in this opening, the reader is promised certain things. If it's a romance, they're promised a pair of lovers who eventually get together. If it's an adventure, they're promised a quest with a goal at the end. If it's a mystery, they're promised intrigue and possibly danger all leading up to an ultimate answer. And so on.

Though stories can twist and wind their way through their plots in unexpected ways, the good ones never lose sight of that promise--what the whole point of this exercise was. Rookie writers sometimes seem to forget what their own stories are really about and go off on tangents that lead nowhere and do nothing but distract the reader from what they really want. For instance, I've read romance novels with random military operations that have nothing to do with the main characters thrown in for some reason. I've read epic adventures where the heroes, for whatever reason, take a detour and apparently forget all about their quest for chapters and chapters. I've read mysteries where the detective figure apparently forgets that there's a killer on the loose in order to have a social life.

While characters can certainly get thrown off course, the promise set up at the beginning of the novel is always going to loom over the story. It's the reason the reader kept reading in the first place, so when the characters (and writer) seem to forget about it, it gets really frustrating. So be sure to pinch all your story points together. There should be a purpose behind each action, and it should all ultimately tie into the book's larger arc.

1. Not reading books, goddammit!

I once had a writer tell me that he didn't read books, and that his stories were inspired by videogames. He said it was because reading other books would taint his unique vision, and he didn't want to do what was done before. Cue tight smile and uncomfortable nodding.

I've also seen writers go on about how nothing good is published these days, and that their inspirations all come from the Truman administration or earlier. Which would be fine if they'd at least pick up a recently-published book now and then, but often, that isn't the case.

Look, wanting to create a unique vision or drawing inspiration from the past are a noble goals, but the way to go about them isn't avoiding what people are actually reading these days. The result won't be something new; it'll be something out-of-sync.

Thing is, at the end of the day, the only way to get better at writing is to read a lot and write a lot. The reading part is because there's a rather undefinable quality to good writing that you know when you see, but that no one can quite explain (many have tried, but it's never all there). It's something you absorb over time and become attuned to.

The writing part is because practice, duh. ;-)
 
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