Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for Zombies (of course)

Though I don't want to hop on the Zombie trend train, I must admit. I love a zombie. There's something so wonderfully irredeemable about them. While Vampires and Werewolves could be your boyfriend dating a zombie is just not romantic. I mean, there's undead then there's undead-and- bits-falling-off-you. And zombies can be funny and scary at the same time:

I remember reading in World War Z by Max Brooks that the thing about zombies is that you can't negotiate with them. There is nothing they want more than to eat your brains. So any militaristic strategies go out the window. For a zombie, there is no threat of collateral damage that could keep them at bay. And every force you send against them could potentially turn into more zombies. Zombies are relentless.

And zombies are handy for representing a whole host of evils -the relentless march of time, the approach of death, the environmental destruction of the earth, the evils of capitalism, the evils of socialism, the evils of isms. Or, like Anna Kendrick awesomely improvised in New Moon, a metaphor for consumerism, "Some girls like to shop, okay?"

Zombie King, I'd say is Jonathan Maberry. His Rot & Ruin and Dust & Decay books are wonderfully rich. They don't display an 'us or them' mentality to zombies, more like 'they were us' There's pathos and humanity and even dignity in zombies. They don't just represent the other. In fact, the zombies aren't even really the bad guys in these books. Definitely pick up the series if you haven't already.

On my zombie horizon to check out is Sophie Littlefield's Aftertime. There are zombies then there are cured zombies. Can't wait to find out what that means.

Bringing the Zombie into your life:
Get healthy by running away from zombies. Once I'm back to running (I hope soon!) I'm getting this app.
Zombies! Run

Zombie information from the government
and a zombie graphic novella from the CDC

Finally, if you are in Asbury Park this October, why not join in the annual New Jersey Zombie Walk? It's lovely by the seaside, even when it's covered in gore. And it makes a great antidote to the Jersey Shore. (Snookie as a zombie, now that I'd watch.)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

X is for X'd out Eyes

and Y is for Why me?

Apologies for the lateness of these posts. As often happens in the 24th mile of a marathon (the marathon being the A-Z blogging challenge. See what I did there? Marathon, 26 miles, alphabet 26 letters - I know, genius, right?), some runners go down.

I did, on Friday. After doing my 20 minute Couch to 5K run in the morning and feeling pretty damn proud of myself, I settled down to do a little light weeding in the vegetable garden. When I got up again I found that I couldn't straighten out my back and, oh yeah, was in excruciating pain (so THAT's where Cruciatus curse comes from...) So I looked like this (except I'm not a fish)
After seeing the chiropractor twice (and doing my writer's group via google+ hangout and percocet - I was either really insightful or really unintelligible), I have been told that the likely culprit of the back outage was not the weeding, it was in fact the running I've been doing for 4 months.

THE RUNNING. The one healthy thing I've been able to start and maintain for any length of time in my entire life. The only time that exercise has ever made me feel good and I've look forward to doing it again.

Y Me? Running is fun. It's FREE. I already know how to do it and I need no special equipment. I was going to do a 5K in the Fall. I was going to buy the Run! Zombie! app (more on that tomorrow when we finish up A-Z with, ahem, Z) I was more depressed at the prospect of not running than the pain I was in. That was thing making me cry like the kid who lost her balloon at the zoo. Inconsolable.

OK. Pity party is over. (thankfully short, no?) My chiropractor is awesome and she's promised to work with me so we can modify my running and get me back to something, some form of something. No promises, but she said I might not have to give it up forever.

Tomorrow morning I plan on getting up, putting on my running pants and shoes and walking for 30 minutes. I can finish listening to the audiobook of Mockingjay and tell myself to TAKE IT SLOW.

I'm not good at slow.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for Willpower

Things happen and then they don't. I was on a roll for a while, religiously writing every day or every other day for a good six months. Recently, I've fallen off the wagon. Partly it's because $$ is tight and I have to have littlest home with me every day. Partly it's because I foolishly volunteered to chair the art show at eldest's school. Oh and I have a conference I'm planning in June for 300+ people, the client of which conference will only pay me if I actually produce the thing. Silly, I know.

Willpower is not a constant thing. It ebbs and flows. Some days I use it a lot more than others and consequently, I have less. I don't consider myself weak for pouring myself a glass of wine last night and watching The Muppets with Eldest instead of writing. I consider myself tapped out. I know I'll replenish my stock of W and go back into the fray soon. I remember that, for writers, thinking and dreaming are synonyms for writing.

Tonight I'm looking forward to cozying up with my wip and a cup of Harney & Sons Paris tea (The Greatest Tea Blend In The World. Believe Me.)

How do you see your writing willpower? Are you too hard on yourself when you don't do as much as you think you should or do you slack off at the slightest provocation?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V is for Villasante

Forgive the lateness of this post, but I only just got laptop back from Apple. Oh, how I've missed you...

During last year's Pennwriter's Conference I listened to my future agent (never gets old, saying 'agent') Barbara Poelle, talk about how to become as knowledgeable as possible about the industry and your craft. Read a ton, in and out of your genre. Look at shelves in the bookstore to see how books are marketed, where they are located. Figure out where you would be. Go, alphabetically and find the actual physical space where your book would be. Then buy a copy of the books on either side of you.

I did this and after some wandering around and a promise to reward myself with a cup of tea and a scone, I found where I'd be, in teen fiction (Barnes and Nobel calls it that, not me), subset fantasy, on the bottom shelf, next to Scott Westerfield. Not a bad shelf mate to have, I know, but it got me thinking about my name. I've always had a love hate relationship to my name. It's fairly unusual and it's not unpronounceable with extra letters and silent g's or anything. It just seems so unlikely to me, that it would be on a book. I think about my blogging buds and their last names. These are the names that seem to belong on book covers: Campbell, Hardin, King, Cavanaugh, Robin. Bransford (oh wait, that's already on two covers - have you got your copy of Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe yet?) But mine? 

I'm pretty sure it's the child of immigrants in me that's making me feel like that, making me feel like my name is too foreign to be on a book. I had considered using my husband's last name or a pseudonym but in the end the artifice rubbed me the wrong way. 

Now I'm trying to 'celebrate' my own name. It is what it is, after all. Mine. And unlike the mis-pronunciations of telemarketers past, it's not Belefonte, or Valente or Visante. V is for Villasante.

Do you use your own name or a pseudonym? And if you don't use your own name, why?

V is also for V is for Vendetta, which I've never seen but after reading the Fault in Our Stars, I really want to:

Monday, April 23, 2012

T is for Tools

My beloved Mac Book Air is going into the shop today - and I won't have her for at least five days. I don't have a 'back up' computer, though I'm trying to borrow an iPad. I digress. The thought of not having my laptop got me thinking about a writer's tools. Not the 'toolbox' in the sense that Stephen King writes about in On Writing (the grammar, the style, the voice) but the actual tools writer's use to organize and produce.

Here's what I use:
Laptop, small bedside notebook, 4 whiteboards mounted on my office wall for untangling plot muddles, notes for iphone, itunes for music, post it notes (also on my wall, also for untangling plots and motives) stickie notes on laptop

All of the above plus: stickie tabs, highlighters (at least 4 colors) pad of paper for drawing diagrams, Breakout Novel Workbook, Solitare (when I hit a wall, I do something else with my conscious mind to let the unconscious have a go.) prayer beads. Kidding about that last one, but it's not a bad idea....

What tools do you use?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Sustainable

It's (almost) Earth Day! Yay for the earth and everything on it! I will be taking my kids to see this movie this weekend and you should too, because chimps are cute.

As much as I love chimps and recycling, now I want to talk about building a writing life that's sustainable. I don't believe that I'm going to be the next Suzanne Collins, even though every civilian (non-writer type) I talk to about writing asks me if I've written the next Hunger Games (Seriously? How am I supposed to answer that? Yes? No? Maybe? I have no clue?)

I believe that I'll keep going-writing and learning about the process. I'll keep meeting other writers and readers who love books as much as I do.

Creating a sustainable writing life has become my focus now. It means that there is no 'end point' where I can say I've accomplished it all. Every milestone (writing a book, writing another, querying, getting an agent, getting published, selling actual books into the hands of people who are not related to you) is an achievement - absolutely - but it's not the be all and end all.

I don't mean to pull out the desktop Zen Rock Garden or anything, but it really is about the journey. Writing is the ultimate long game.

What do you do to create a sustainable writing life?

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for Robust


  1. (of a person, animal, or plant) Strong and healthy; vigorous.
  2. (of an object) Sturdy in construction.

I was still writing the first draft of BOOKEND last year, feeding chapters to my crit group that I'd only just finished. It was not the best way to handle the situation because it meant that I was drafting and revising at the same time. Not the way I like to do things, I found out. But there was one time where it did work out best.
I'd just written this scene in the woods. Two female characters are talking. Now, I'm not the best with dialogue tags at the best of times, but when Greg and Laura read the scene they both said. "I'm sorry, I couldn't figure out who was talking." 

It wasn't because of the tags this time, though. They knew technically who was saying what, but the character's voices, their personalities seemed interchangeable. This was a serious blow. Both girls are strong, but they're very different characters in my mind. The fact that my CP's couldn't tell was a big problem. When I looked back, I saw that I hadn't made one of these characters robust enough. You could throw a couple of adjectives around her but she wasn't sturdy. She couldn't withstand being close to another stronger character and not suffer by comparison. 

Luckily, I was still writing the first draft and I could change course easily. It taught me a lesson, though, not to take characters for granted - especially the secondary characters that are so vital for moving plot along. Each character needs to be vigorous enough to stand next to your MC and not wilt.

Not what you want in a character

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for Question Everything

This is probably advice to take with a pinch of salt from someone like me. I already have an innate tendency to question everything so much that it paralyses me. But this is a different kind of questioning of which I speak. This is questioning the easy.

So I'm in the middle of my wip and I get a visit from my muse. She says, "You need to put Mop into a different setting. Shock her. You need to send her back to high school." Never mind why my MC is not currently in school, or why this would be a shock when she's 17. The point is that the idea came like a little gift wrapped present. I could see tons of scenes of conflict and revelation. The idea opened up a vista, a vista, I tell you! I was psyched.

And then I questioned. Is this a good idea? Is it the best idea for this book, or is it just a convenient idea?

Sometimes I get ideas that are good ideas - but not now and not here. I need to question every path I go down, make sure that I'm not being lured down a path because it's flashy or easy or God-help-me-trendy.

So does that mean that Mop isn't going back to high school? Not necessarily. I'm going down that road anyway, seeing where it takes me. I'm fully aware that I need to question my motives and see if the new setting functions the way I need it to. I need brains, then beauty. I guess the companion piece of advice to "Question everything" is "Do it anyway." Then question again.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Permission

You've heard the adage that it's better to ask forgiveness after the fact than ask for permission before? That so goes against my personality. I'm a permission asker. I want certification. I buy how-to books by the yard, whenever I encounter a task in my life that I haven't accomplished before and am nervous about.

When I got married I deposited a lot of my hard earned coin into Martha Stewart's pockets. I guess it was because I'd never been the kind of girl to dream of a wedding (white or otherwise) that when I got to that landmark I was well and truly freaked. I wanted to do it 'right' I wanted to know exactly how I was supposed to do things. I didn't want to make a mistake.

Writing definitely made me feel the same way (you should see my shelves of how-to-writing books.) I knew I wanted to do it, but I didn't feel I had any right, anything to back me up. I had two pieces of paper that proved I could make art (never mind that I didn't want to) and a full time job that proved I could plan events. But writing? I went to art school. Never even wrote a thesis paper. How could I write a book?

But I did it anyway. After much waffling (I am a GRADE A waffler.) I gave myself permission. Permission to write, permission to fail, permission to stay at home with the kids and write at night, even though it meant not pulling in the extra income. I gave myself permission to try.

Seeking permission from others is a illusionary transfer of power, whether it's to schools, teachers, a degree or the Wizard of Oz. You don't need others to confer upon you the permission to follow your dreams.  If you are under 18 or living in your parent's house - yes, you need permission to use the car or eat the last twinkie. But if you're a full-fledged adult and it's legal and does no harm, you have my permission:)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

O is for Onward

BookEnd is in Ninja Agent's capable hands. She will figure out who to submit to and how. It will be happening in the next two weeks. I have nothing to do with it - my part (for now) is done. It means that for the first time in two years I'm not even thinking about BookEnd or querying. It's left me feeling both a bit lost ("Where did I leave that thing I've worked on for two years? It was here a second ago!") and a lot liberated.

A funny thing happened as soon as I sent my minor revisions to Barbara. Ideas bloomed.

I guess I'd been unconsciously keeping them at bay on purpose, thinking that I should just concentrate on what's on my writing plate. Especially with the follow up books to BookEnd (BookBegin and BookBinder), I knew roughly what I wanted to happen in those two books, but I hadn't started writing them. I wasn't sure if I should since without an agent, it didn't seem sensible to spend my writing time on books 2 and 3 of a series I had no idea if anyone would be interested in.

Now I have scenes sketched out. I know who dies in book 2 and who changes. I know how it ends and how 3 begins. I look at the new world I'm starting and grin like a crazed literary despot. It feels good.

AND I've also had ideas bloom in my wip FIND ME. I know something about Mop that she doesn't know, something that will almost kill her. Man, this is fun.

So, what's blooming in your idea garden?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rock the Drop!

Thursday, April 12 is Rock the Drop day!

Here's how it works:
Go through your teeming piles of books and pick out one or two that are arcs, duplicates or that you feel ready to pass on to another deserving soul.

Click on the banner link above to print out a Rock The Drop bookplate and insert it into the book.

Drop the book - could be at a restaurant, park bench, bus seat - anywhere it might be found.

Snap a picture of the book. You can post pics to readergirlz facebook page, tweet it at #rockthedrop.

You're done. Random act of book kindness completed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for Interruption

I love the A-Z Challenge. I find it exhilarating to sit down every morning having no idea what I'm going to write and whip something up based on a letter of the alphabet (I'm a pantser not a plotter.) But I have to interrupt the parade of letters because I suddenly have a deadline. A real one with a person on the other end waiting for me. So it's with a heavy heart that I suspend my participation in the blogfest. Hopefully I can jump back on in time for the letter P.
Have fun in alpha-land!

Monday, April 9, 2012


Subtle, right?

The short story:
I don't know what to tell you first. Maybe start with the fact that I'm deliriously happy to be represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Agency. You don't understand (she whined like a star struck fan girl) Barbara was the first agent I ever met, the first who requested my full before I'd finished revising it. I saw her at the Pennwriter's Conference last year with CJ Lyons and later that summer at writeoncon with Holly Root. Lots of agents talk about how necessary passion is, but with Barbara you feel it, it comes off her in waves. She's whip smart and funny and lovely and I KNOW she's married, I am too. I'm just saying, when she offered me representation (which I didn't know was coming) I told her I love her. I'm not taking it back, either, though it was probably too much too soon.

The long story:
I sent Barbara BookEnd in January, SEVEN MONTHS after she requested it. I wanted to send it sooner, I had a voice in my head that kept whispering, you're taking too long, your taking too long. I worried that she wouldn't be interested after all that time. But against that panicky feeling I had something substantial. Jonathan Maberry's voice in my head. I met him at Pennwriter's too and over lunch I asked him when I should send in the full request I had gotten from Barbara, after I took some time to clean it up.  He got very zen-like and said, "When it's ready." I didn't think he understood me, so I said, "Right, but how long is too long to wait to send it - what's the optimum time frame for sending out a request?" He didn't even blink. "When it's ready," he repeated. (He's like the writing Kung Fu master, by the way.)

So I took his advice and polished that sucker until it shone. In January I sent it to Barbara and also sent it out to a few other agents. I started racking up rejections (see rejection badge) quickly, but I also got a couple of other fulls. January was OK, February was worse, March was terrible as I got a rejection on my full on my birthday. Cry.

On April 2 I got an email from Barbara saying my book was next in her queue and thanks for my patience. I pretty much ate Tums like Pez that week. Then a week ago I got an email from Barbara saying lovely things about my work and asking if we could talk.


I don't know why I'm so clueless sometimes but I managed to convince myself that this was going to be a request for a revise and resubmit.

Keeping a brown paper bag nearby in case of hyperventilation, I called Barbara and found that she was just as lovely as I remembered. She asked me some scarily insightful questions about my story - about a character's motivations and development - and then she said she'd like to offer representation. All casual and stuff, like she'd said she was running out to Starbucks and would I like a chai? I couldn't speak for a good five seconds. She might have thought I'd dropped dead. Then she said, "Um, hello?" That's when I told her I love her. Cry. Tears of happiness.

I'm so excited and grateful to be on this journey with an agent (advocate, ally) like Barbara.

H is also for the Hunger Games Soundtrack:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

G is for Gatekeeper vs. Champion

Everyone's been subjected to the whims of a gatekeeper. It might be a judge in a competition, the teams picking sides for kickball, the bouncer at a nightclub or the guy who goes 'eeny meeny miney mo' at the door to Valhalla. It's frustrating to know that all your future happiness, or at least dance floor fun, is in the hands of the dude behind the velvet ropes.

That's what an agent is, right? S/he's the person who stops you at the door and checks out your outfit, finding your leopard print tights and go go boots wanting (What? Isn't that what everyone wears to go clubbing? It's been a while...) An agent seems to make arbitrary decisions based on indefinable criteria. You can make yourself absolutely loopy - I know, I've done it - trying to figure out WHY an agent has rejected your query/ms.

But it puts a different spin on things if you think of an agent, not as an adversarial gatekeeper trying to keep you out, but as a champion who is always on the look out for a writer and project they feel passionate about. Someone who opens up their email in the morning and thinks, man I hope I find it today.

That's what I think an agent should be, an advocate. Someone who loves your work almost as much as you do, gets excited about saying 'yes' and can't wait to talk about your work to whoever they can corner with the line "You've GOT to hear about this book I just read." Isn't that what you want? I do. And that's worth waiting for, the needle in the haystack. And that's why you can't ever give up.

And G is for Grizzly Bear:

E and F are for 'Epic' and 'Fail'

The Easter/passover/pagan spring solstice holiday just ransacked my schedule. Coupled with the fact that I had to go to DC for business, had to extend my trip and had NEWS (more later this week on that) happen to me on Thursday - I've completely fallen off the A-Z Challenge wagon.  Je suis desole.

It's been manic to say the least. And this morning at church (whither I go on Sundays to get my spiritual s**t together) I realized I'd promised one of the kindly church ladies I'd knit a shawl for the elderly/infirm/chilly- which I have not done yet. Church ladies are all well and good and make awesome brownies but DO NOT MESS WITH THEIR KNITTING. I escaped out the south door before the last alleluia had been sung.

If your blogging world is a mess, church ladies are chasing you with knitting needles and your mom is getting updates about you from other people's facebook updates - what's a girl to do?

Gigantic slice of easter egg shaped cake and tea.

Then, dive into the fray.

And how was your first week of the A-Z challenge?

E is also for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros:

F is also for Felt (with Liz Frazer doing backing vocals...)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Derailed

It's a IWSG and A-Z Challenge Mash Up!
Today being the first Wednesday of the month it's Insecure Writer's Support Group and this post is also brought to you by the letter 'D'

I've been thinking about the things that derail my writing and I realize that there are some 'triggers' that lead to my going off track. I'm hoping that I can recognize these triggers ahead of time and maybe circumvent them. Though, of course, sometimes derailments just happen. The important thing is to just get back on track.

Here are the things that derail me:
I have fights with my children sometimes. Often, it's my fault, after all I'm the adult in the relationship and I should know better. But somehow I slip into a behavior that leads to frustration. Do I need to mention that this revolves eating and bedtime? Which is just before my writing time? By the time everyone is abed and I should be ready to write, I can't - or don't. I often need medicinal ice cream or whiskey (or both) I'm steaming and frustrated and huffing and puffing enough to blow a house down.
The only thing I've discovered to get through this is to go for a run. But then I'm exhausted. It's all too easy to let the writing slip off the radar.

You know all the reasons why rejections should NEVER make you give up as a writer. Still, I can admit that getting a rejection makes it real hard to sit down and concentrate on the WIP. It's like the evil inner editor voice gets louder, "want proof that you suck? just happen to have a form rejection on a full request right here..."

Good News/Good feedback
Maybe this is just me, but sometimes when something good happens (I get a full request, someone at a conference likes my pitch, I get a really positive crit) it also derails me. I know that might be weird, but it makes me stop. Almost like I'm not sure how to react. Lethargy sets in and I think to myself, 'I'm doing gooooood." Thankfully, it doesn't last. The next derailment comes soon enough, jolting me into action. But it makes me wonder if that's what happens when a really popular author comes out with something substandard - is it this 'good news' derailment at work?

So, what derails you from writing? And how do you get back on track?

D is also for Drugstore

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Critique

Maybe in the beginning I hated it. Okay, there's no maybe about it. I've always hated getting a crit. I remember being in art school, with my work hanging on the wall and everyone walking around it like it's an alien specimen. I still get slightly ill when I think about it.

But I had to put my big girl pants on when I started writing seriously three years ago. I had to let my work out there because I knew that it was the only way to get better. I think that's one of the differences between hobbyist writers and real writers. It's not a matter of quality or talent, necessarily. It's an openness to grow - painfully if that's what it takes - and to take on board criticism of your work.

The feedback I get from my writing group is priceless. As is the accountability of meeting every two weeks. It keeps me focused and thinking, thinking about my writing. It keeps me honest.

Two huge things I've learned from being in a writing group and routinely getting feedback:
First, consider the source. Every reader has an angle, a set of characteristics. Sure, we're all supposed to put our personal biases aside when giving a crit, but who can, really? One member of your group might dislike paranormal elements and you'll end up with notes in the margin like "doesn't feel realistic." Which might be true or might be them projecting their preferences on your work. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water and dismiss the comment, just consider the source.

Secondly, I always pay close attention to feedback I don't agree with. Maybe that's perverse, but if my initial instinct is to reject a piece of feedback as "no, that's not what's happening here" I make myself stop and look more closely at the comment and why I'm rejecting it so quickly? Half the time there's something there that I don't want to see but absolutely need to see. Understand that you have angles and biases too. Be open.

And what if you don't have a writers group? YOU NEED ONE. It can be online, informal, at a coffee shop, small or large. I put our group together after NaNoWriMo meet ups. You need to be a part of a larger community of serious writers.

Oh, and you need this book. It's genius.

By Becky Levine

And C is for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for Badge of Honor

Eldest is a girl scout and she can tell you - they don't give out badges, you earn them.

I recently topped 10 form rejections and was looking for a way to, okay, not celebrate the fact, but to acknowledge them and turn them from the scarlet R of shame to a badge of honor. I mean, I earned these suckers. I polished my novel until it shone like the top of the Chrysler Building. I did my agent research. I wrote (50+ times) my query letter. I put my most vulnerable self out there. And in return, 10 times and counting, I got a form rejection email. Sometimes they were nicely worded, sometimes they were Dear Author types. All of them were crushing in their own way, but hey, I survived. I deserve a freaking badge.

So that's what my husband did, he made me my first badge o' rejection:

I'm quite proud of it. It shows I'm dedicated. It proves I haven't given up. And turning a negative into a fortifying positive, well, that's something of a past time for me.

How do you turn rejection into a badge of honor?

B is also for Band of Horses. This is one of my fave songs ever:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for ACK!

How did April sneak up on me? I've been signed up for this A-Z challenge for months and suddenly it's here?

In case you don't know what this challenge is about (seriously? where have you been?) it's hosted by Arlee and others and it's a fun way to keep the writing short, sharp and shocked and to meet new peeps. Here's more info.

I love this challenge. I love the "Oh crap,what am I going to write today?" I wake up to every day. Last year I had some of my funnest (warning: not a real word) posts during the challenge. And I think i missed maybe one or two days. So I'll start with a basic question - in A-Z challenge and all things writerly - are you a pantser or a planner/plotter? Did you finish your post for 'Z' sometime in February ore are you now trying to come up with something other than Xylophone for 'X'?

Hop around the other blogs here and say hi to my fellow alphabits.
I'll also be posting some of my favorite musical artists - starting with:
A is for Richard Ashcroft:

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