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Resolutions (Part 2)

We continue with our discussion of New Year’s Resolutions:

What are your writing related goals for 2011?

The first Galaxy Games book is coming out in Fall 2011, so my main goal is getting the word out so readers can find and enjoy this story. I’m also writing the second book in the trilogy as well as a book for Wizards of the Coast that I’m not able to give details about yet because there’s a non-disclosure agreement in place. Those two books will be out in 2012, which will also be the five-year anniversary of The Penguins of Doom.—Greg R. Fishbone, author of GALAXY GAMES: PRELIMINARIES, scheduled for a Fall 2011 release with Tu Books, an imprint focused on multicultural MG/YA fantasy and science fiction.

To finish a futuristic YA, which is my immediate goal. I can’t plan for after that because I have submissions out to publisher and whatever sells will set me in a new direction. I would like to write another book for my current publisher, Flux, for a spin-off from my THE SEER series.—Linda Joy Singleton, author of THE SEER series where ghosts whisper to psychic Sabine.

I have three or four book ideas, so I’m going to develop each of them until I can write a synopsis, then ask my agent for feedback on what he thinks will be most marketable. Doing some advanced development will also help me make sure I’m comfortable writing these stories before I pitch them. Two are serious YA ideas, which is a change for me since I’ve mostly written fun middle grade action, like my HAUNTED series. Trying something new is intimidating, but regular stretching is good for the mind and soul as well as the body.—Chris Eboch, author of the middle grade HAUNTED series about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show

I’d love to write first drafts of two ideas I have brewing and take at least one of these through to something workable. It just helps to always have new things brewing! And of course I wouldn’t scoff at a new book sale either :) And because I think reading is so important for writers, I’ll set the goal of reading at least 75 books in my genre in 2011.—P. J. Hoover, author of the middle grade science fiction novel, THE EMERALD TABLET.

Let’s see: Revise my YA sci-fi, submit it and another finished project to agents to find new representation, complete a nonfiction book proposal I’m working on right now (and the book itself, if somebody bites), and either successfully revise or officially table a YA horror manuscript I’ve been churning for about three years now. I sure would like to sell one of those manuscripts in 2011, too, but we’ll see—that one’s only marginally under my control, so it’s more of a hope than a goal.—Joni Sensel, author of THE FARWALKER’S QUEST and other middle-grade and YA fantasies.

Joni hits on a good point—some goals involve aspects that are beyond our control. For example, I can no longer pursue a goal of writing for several hours in a row every weekday, which is a schedule I used to follow. That’s just not going to happen at this time in my life. I can, however, make it a goal to use my writing time more wisely—and accept that my toddler is probably going to interrupt me nevertheless. I’m going to try some new methods rather than setting new goals. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to change my writing schedule so that I’m writing in “seasons”—short bursts of high activity—rather than trying to write every day.—Parker Peevyhouse, author of science fiction.

Readers, what kind of goals do you set—project based, time based, or other?

Tomorrow: keeping track of goals.

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Holiday Roundtable Part 4

To wrap up our holiday roundtable, we put on our speculative hats and asked, “What silly gift would you like to receive, if only such a thing existed?”

I’m a huge pet lover, so in the book I’m writing now and another YA being submitted, there are tiny companion pets for my heroines. In my science fiction YA (FAR AWAY NEAR) Mari is befriended by a tiny flying creature like a hummingbird called a Candle Fly, which can communicate with her telepathically. In my WIP, a dystopian, my heroine befriends a hand-sized almost magical lizard-like creature she calls Pet. So put a Candle Fly and Pet on my wish list, while I’m telepathically chatting with them, my cats will spin circles trying to chase them. (g).—Linda Joy Singleton, who writes about magical things I wish existed as well as futuristic worlds I hope never exist.

The three things any Galaxy Games player needs: a language implant, to speak and understand any language in the universe; a personal integrity field, to keep the bad germs out and the good germs in; and a quantum entanglement engine for instant transportation anywhere across the Stepping Stone network.—Greg R. Fishbone, author the Galaxy Games series that should have you covered for the 2011, 2012, and 2013 holiday seasons.

I would LOVE a gadget that detects my soon-to-be-favorite books so I know which ones to pick up at the store. Parker Peevyhouse

I wish my stocking could contain an elf that would regularly clean up my laptop, both inside and out: inside by deleting old emails and files I don’t need to keep, and outside by hoovering the dog hair, crumbs, and fingerprints off my long-suffering keyboard and screen.—Joni Sensel, author of THE FARWALKER’S QUEST and other middle-grade and YA fantasies.

Wow, I love all those ideas. Can I have another elf who will do the housecleaning? I’d also like a ghost encounter. I make up stories about them for my Haunted series, but I’ve never seen one myself. That hardly seems fair.—Chris Eboch, author of the middle grade Haunted series about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show

That was fun! Readers, how about you? What’s your Ultimate Fantasy holiday gift?

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Holiday Roundtable Part 3

We continue with our discussion of holiday gift-giving, by your friends at The Spectacle.

What books are you giving as gifts this year, and in what format? Why?

I already have BEHEMOTH by Scott Westerfeld in audio for my dad. I recently found out there’s a 4th BARTIMUS book, which I’m getting for my son. My Mom and I have already gifted ourselves with more books in the charming MISS JULIA adult series by Ann B Ross. And if any relatives want my SEER or DEAD GIRL books, I’m happy to gift them.—Linda Joy Singleton, who writes about magical things I wish existed as well as futuristic worlds I hope never exist.

I’m sure to give some books—I always do—and I even have some bookstore credits to use, but I have not remotely started to think about holiday shopping yet and probably won’t for a few weeks, at least. I do, however, have a stack of new or only slightly-read books that are destined for our local kids’ literacy program as part of a book drive our SCBWI region participates in every December.—Joni Sensel, author of THE FARWALKER’S QUEST and other middle-grade and YA fantasies.

My family always gives books for Christmas. This year I’ll be handing out one of my favorites: CLOUD ATLAS by David Mitchell. I’m also going to be on the lookout for fantasy adventures for my nephew, who is still hoping for more Percy Jackson books (and I think he would love Greg’s GALAXY GAMES, but that’s not out yet!)—Parker Peevyhouse

I haven’t planned that far ahead, but I enjoy going to a bookstore and browsing. Sometimes you find great stuff on the discount tables toward the front of the store—cool atlases, oddball cookbooks, or goofy humor. I’ll see something I never knew existed and think, “That would be perfect for….” Our SCBWI region is having a book signing and book drive as part of our holiday party this Saturday (Page One bookstore in Albuquerque, 7to 9 PM), so maybe I’ll browse the books on hand for the niece and nephews. I’m also donating a stack of books to the holiday book drive for at-risk kids. You never know when a good book will make a difference in someone’s life.—Chris Eboch, author of the middle grade Haunted series about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show

The New England Mobile Book Fair is a great independent bookstore near me that’s literally the size of a warehouse. They’re the only store I’ve ever seen where books are shelved by publisher, so it’s great for researching the kind of books each house prefers. Plus they have room after room of bargain books. For anyone on my list who likes to be overwhelmed by books, I’m getting a gift certificate. If they’re out of the area, they’ll just have to drive up.
For specific titles, check out the “Friends With Books” section on my website. This season I like “A Crack in the Sky” by Mark Peter Hughes, “Bamboo People” by Mitali Perkins, “Yummy” by G. Neri, and “Bats at the Ballgame” by Brian Lies.—Greg R. Fishbone, author the Galaxy Games series that should have you covered for the 2011, 2012, and 2013 holiday seasons.

Readers, tell us about the books you’ll be giving this year (unless the recipients are also readers of The Spectacle and you want to keep a secret!).

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Holiday Roundtable Part 2

We continue with our discussion of holiday giftgiving, by your friends at The Spectacle.

Who would be the perfect recipient for a book or series of yours?

An outdoorsy tween or young teen who will feel cooped up in winter’s rough weather and would like to at least read about the magic of wandering through nature would probably like my Farwalker books.—Joni Sensel, author of THE FARWALKER’S QUEST and other middle-grade and YA fantasies.

My Haunted series should appeal to young readers who want action and adventure—maybe even those reluctant reader boys who’d rather get a videogame. Halloween may be the big time for ghosts, but a good spooky scare is fun all year round. Or if someone has read The Ghost on the Stairs, I hope they’ll want the next two books in the series, The Riverboat Phantom and The Knight in the Shadows.—Chris Eboch, author of the middle grade Haunted series about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show

Most of my fan mail for THE SEER 6-book series is coming from girls between age 12-15 who love the fast-paced, romance and mystery. My DEAD GIRL WALKING trilogy gets a slightly older audience as this crosses over nicely for adults with the fantasy of finding out what it’s like to live in someone else’s body.—Linda Joy Singleton, who writes about magical things I wish existed as well as futuristic worlds I hope never exist.

This year, THE PENGUINS OF DOOM would make a great stocking stuffer for anyone with ginormous stockings intended for flat rectangular feet. It’s a humor story and you’d sure need a sense of humor if your feet were the size and shape of hardcover books! Also there are funny pictures to look at and penguins, penguins, penguins!—Greg R. Fishbone, author the Galaxy Games series that should have you covered for the 2011, 2012, and 2013 holiday seasons.

Authors in our audience — tell us about your books, and who would be the perfect recipient.

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Holiday Roundtable

If you’ve been inside a store lately—just about any kind of store—you know Christmas is coming (along with several other holidays that don’t get as much attention). This weekend, millions of shoppers will hit the stores for “Black Friday,” so named because many stores go into the black on the day after Thanksgiving, as customers start the holiday shopping spree. To get into the spirit, Spectacle blog members answered questions about their own holiday wish lists, focusing on books, writing tools, and of course a bit of speculative creativity. We’ll post the answers over the next four days. Join us for some holiday fun!

What is on your holiday wish list as an author or a reader?

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about the new PC version of Scrivener–I wouldn’t mind giving that program a try. It’s supposed to be great for organizing plot notes and moving scenes around. I also wouldn’t mind getting a program for writing crossword puzzles–I love puzzles.—Parker Peevyhouse

As a reader: Zero books, so I might have some chance of catching up on the TBR pile in 2011! I wouldn’t turn down a copy of MOCKINGJAY, though, since I’m the last person in the kidlit world yet to read it. Also an iPad, since wish lists are intended for dreaming.

As an author: To make the e-book of my third Farwalker book available before the holidays, or at least year-end. But I’m not sure how much Santa can help me with that.—Joni Sensel, author of THE FARWALKER’S QUEST and other middle-grade and YA fantasies.

Please send writing tools! Word 2010 is on my wish list. My old version of Word decided it no longer wanted to run on my computer—it was a promotional version of Word 2007 that I got at a developers’ conference, and seems to have had a built-in self-destruct mechanism. The newest LibreOffice looks nice but it keeps choking on my files. I’ve also had an issue with magically disappearing text in the new Windows beta of Scrivener.

For my reading wish list, all I require is an extra 26 hours in the day so I can fit more reading into my schedule. I already have a backlog of amazing books on my shelf!—Greg R. Fishbone, author the Galaxy Games series that should have you covered for the 2011, 2012, and 2013 holiday seasons.

I gave my daughter a list of books I’d like downloaded to audio CDs since I love to listen to books in the car. I asked her for books which will appeal to my parents, too, since we share our audio books. So I asked for either:

* HUNCHBACK ASSIGNMENTS by Arthur Slade—loved this book and would enjoy it again on audio.

* SKIN HUNGER by Kathleen Duey—wonderful fantasy with a complex world that I read in book form and would like to listen to it before reading the second in the series.

* SEPTIMUS HEAP #3 by Angie Sage—was able to get first 2 in audio but not any others.

* TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY—My dad, who is a UFO buff, will enjoy this action, bizarre, fun book.—Linda Joy Singleton, who writes about magical things I wish existed.

What’s on your holiday wish list?


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NaNo Noise and Notes, Part 5

It’s been suggested that instead of celebrating writers as NaNo does, we should spend the month celebrating readers instead. After all, without readers, those novels remain silent. What do you think?

ParkerWriters need just as much encouragement as readers do.

PJ: Hmmm…why not do both?

Kari: This idea makes me want to say, “Really?” One month out of the year dedicated to fostering discipline and writing and fun is going to obliterate readers? Sure, I think celebrating readers is a great idea, but does it have to be a them vs. us scenario? Is there not room enough to celebrate both writing AND reading? I think this is silly and creates a conflict where conflict is unnecessary.

Linda JoyWriters ARE readers. I love to read as much as I love to write (probably more!). Most of the fans I hear from want to write to, and I’ll never discourage them. Celebrating hard work is never a bad thing. YAY for writers!

Greg: Again, Laura Miller misses the point. She seems to be imagining that readers and writers are mutually exclusive personality types. In reality, people who write, even just as a hobby, are more likely to read. They’re more likely to understand and appreciate the structure and conventions of story. They are more likely to become critical, knowledgeable, discriminating readers. They are more likely to love books. They are consequently less likely to wait for the movie version or to tune out altogether.

Chris: That sounds nice in theory, but how would we go about it? Kids may have summer reading programs, contests and so forth, but adults either read for pleasure or not at all. Anything that celebrates reading will probably primarily reach people who already love to read. The best way to keep adults reading is to write great books.

One thing we might consider, though, is trying to support professional writers more, especially early in their careers. It takes years to develop the skills necessary to be a professional writer, and then hundreds or thousands of hours to produce a single publishable manuscript. If writers can’t make a living off of their work, you’ll wind up with mostly mediocre work from people who have not been able to devote the time to fully develop their skills. We can support writers early in their professional careers by being open to reading new writers, supporting independent bookstores (which are more likely to take chances on new writers), supporting libraries to buy new work, discouraging illegal downloading, encouraging writing organizations to provide grants and awards to writers who have one or a handful of published books but haven’t yet made it big, and by talking about new talents when we find them. Those of us who are writers can build communities (like The Spectacle!) that help give new and mid-list authors a voice.

Joni: What Kari and Chris said. It’s a symbiotic relationship, so support for one builds the other.

What do you think might celebrate and help promote more reading?

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NaNo Noise and Notes, Part 4

Today’s NaNo question: Instead of celebrating writing by the pound, even if its crap, should NaNo or some other organization switch the focus to revising, which many writers feel is the more important and neglected skill?

Kari: Maybe NaNo could be followed up by NaReMo, where everyone has to revise the drafts they created in November. Though I think revision is it’s own beast. Unless you’re on deadline, it’s not really something that can be rushed. Your first draft is your foundation, but when you’re spackling the walls and painting the rooms, you want to make sure you’ve got it right, and that can take some time.

PJ: No. There’s nothing to stop some other group from forming and focusing on revision, but NaNo serves its purpose and should stay that way.

Parker: How can you learn to revise until you’ve written something? Writers who have already completed a first or second draft will learn to seek out revision methods on their own, if only after several rejections. But first they need to have finished that draft. Still, it would be great to see a NaNoReviseMo in January or February or something, after everyone has finished NaNoWriMo and has let that draft sit for a bit.

Linda Joy: I’m all for freedom of choice. Writing crap is a choice (g). But who’s to say it’s crap? Go forth and write for fun or profit or to fulfill some need for inner insanity.

Chris: I believe there is also a revision month. I don’t know how valuable it would be to people to just spend a month revising, though, unless they have the tools to do it successfully. Perhaps NaNo could follow up with a year-long series of monthly articles and tasks to help people revise their manuscripts.

In any case, I don’t think NaNo is nearly as much of a culprit as the self-publishing industry, which encourages people to ignore professional editorial feedback telling them their work isn’t ready, and to focus on marketing their work rather than on improving their writing.

Greg: Check out  National Novel Editing Month. It’s in March, which allows three months for your NaNo draft to age like a fine wine (or unripe cheese) before you pull it out again. Looking at it with a fresh eye and committing to 50 hours of editing time should give you a much improved manuscript by the time April 1st rolls around and some good practice at the art of self-editing.

Have you checked out NaNoEdMo? Ever participated? Tell us about it!

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NaNo Noise and Notes, Part 3

NaNoWriMo — who needs it? Each year, thousands of participants scribble out most or all of a novel. But do you think most of that work would eventually get done regardless? Laura Miller recently wrote in Salon: “I’m confident those novels would still get written even if NaNoWriMo should vanish from the earth.” Do you agree?

PJ: The key word here is “those.” I don’t agree that the same novels would get written. I do agree that some novels would still be written. But some people thrive off the energy supplied by NaNo.

Parker: Probably the novels that deserve to get written still would be, but that doesn’t mean NaNo can’t be the vehicle through which those novels are drafted.

Greg: A person needs to write about a million words of crap before the good stuff starts to flow. A NaNoWriMo novel gets a person 5% of the way there and comes with an injection of encouragement to keep them going for more.  By contrast, it would take about 39 of Laura Miller’scrappy articles about NaNoWriMo to equal the wordcount of a single NaNoWriMo novel. Hope you’re hungry, Laura!

Except for a few rare prodigies, most writers start by churning out putrid drafts and gradually improve their craft until their work becomes polished and salable. I can easily imagine some of the young writers doing NaNo this year will discover the joy of writing, burn through a million words of crap, and end up publishing some amazing books that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

What do you think? Does NaNo help birth books that would otherwise be silent?

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NaNo Noise and Notes, Part 2

Is NaNoWriMo evil, as suggested recently by Laura Miller in Salon? (Well, she didn’t use the word evil, exactly, but close.) We asked The Spectacle writers for their thoughts:

Does NaNo encourage the wrong folks to write (crap)?

Kari: There are a lot of people who want to write, or who joke about writing, “the great American novel.” I think it’s fine if non-writers want to jump in the fray. If anything, it will (hopefully) give them more respect for authors and how difficult our job can be. Plus, maybe a few will discover they really can write and that they love it. Why couldn’t NaNo result in the discovery of the Next Great Writer?

PJ: I would not encourage a non-writer to try it. It’s aimed at people who have already tried their hand at writing and have worked through lots of the basics. There are too many things to be learned in writing a first novel. That’s not to say there won’t be exceptions to this for some non-writers, but this won’t be the general case.

Parker: I wouldn’t encourage non-writers to try it. I don’t care to torture newbies this way.

Linda Joy: I’m all for freedom of choice. It can be a great exercise for new writers and a focused challenge for experienced writers. Why would anyone want to do it if they aren’t a writer? Writing is hard work. I recently explained what it was like to stress over 8 pages a day to a non-writing friend: “Imagine you’re concentrating on something really hard, struggling to remember or come up with an idea — then imagine doing it all day while staring at a computer screen.

Thinking hard is HARD work.  And embarking on NaNoWriMo without any writing skills is like going on a journey blindfolded. I’d rather travel with a map.

Greg: I believe everyone has a novel in them, struggling to get out. Tell me I’m naive, or idealistic, or just trying to justify the voices in my head that keep screaming for me to “write, write, write,” but I’m absolutely certain we’re all born with an innate urge to tell stories. Even if it’s not well written — first attempts rarely are — and even if nobody else will ever read it, dumping that novel out of your brain and onto paper or a computer screen will help to keep you sane.

Don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than 30 days to complete a draft or if your story ends up shorter than 50,000 words. If the NaNo rules don’t suit your work style, make up your own set of rules.

Joni: Greg is naive, or idealistic, or just trying to justify the voices in his head. (Just doing what you said to do, Greg!) I guess I’m too tired of hearing from nonwriters (and, usually, nonREADERS) who have “a great story idea” and are sure they could whip out a bestseller — just as soon as they can get around to jotting it down — to have much support for non-writers lured by NaNo. On one hand, as Kari notes, maybe it helps them appreciate some of the work that goes into a book. On the other, it reinforces the impression that anyone can do it in a few weeks and that it’s nothing like a full-time job or takes any persistence, talent, or skill. On the other other hand, I loved WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (a NaNo book), so clearly good stuff can come of it.

Which leads us to tomorrow’s question. In the meantime, have you known anyone who participated in NaNo who wasn’t already writing anyway?


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NaNo Noise and Notes

The excitement that goes along with National Novel Writing Month is often, in recent years, accompanied by voices of skepticism or downright distaste, like this one by Laura Miller in Salon. There are also, of course, many books and classes dedicated to the idea of writing books fast. We asked The Spectacle’s contributors what they thought. (Writers participating in NaNo this year are coded in red.)

Have you ever done NaNo, and if so, what did you get out of it?

Kari: I’m doing NaNo for the first time this year. Last year I tried a version of it, where I wrote a short story a day on my blog, but that only lasted a week or so. This time I’m really trying to meet the 50,000 word goal.

PJ: This year, 2010, is my first time.

Parker: No, but I have done my own fast draft in a month before — after spending months outlining. I got the draft done, but the prose wasn’t very fresh or interesting. I did discover some plot ideas I hadn’t thought of until I was writing in a mad rush. Overall, I didn’t think the experiment worked very well for me. Even revision couldn’t breathe life into some of the stale stuff I had pounded out.

Greg: I never have before now, mainly because my book wordcounts have always been under the magical 50,000 limit.  One year I actually started my own version, called InChiBoFo (short for International Children’s Book Fortnight) to challenge myself and others to write a chapter book in two weeks, but I didn’t have the energy to keep InChiBoFo going year after year.

This year, having a book under contract that could be in NaNo range, I signed up with the intention of having a draft completed by the end of November. But I spent the first week of November writing an author’s note, glossary, and series bible for Galaxy Games. The second week of November has been unexpectedly hectic with planning for the annual New England SCBWI regional conference. The third week of November’s not looking much better.  At this rate I’ll be lucky to start my NaNo novel by December, let alone finish it.

Linda Joy: This is my first year. Before I’ve been in the middle of a book so the timing was never right. Also I preferred to write slowly and edit as I go. But that took about 6 months to finish a book. On the good side, that book was pretty solid since it had been edited a lot.

This year all the planets lined up perfectly to try NaNo. I had one chapter of a dystopian book which excited me but scared me, too, because writing a planned trilogy is daunting. I’m good at cliffhangers, fast-paced scenes and romantic mystery. So I thought if I could write the book really fast, I would figure out the rest of the stuff (you know, global disaster, wicked villains, science….) So far, I’ve met my 2,000 word/5 days a week goal.

Joni: Nope, but most of my first drafts get written in a mad three to five weeks anyway. It’s the revisions that take time.

What benefits do you think NaNo provides?

Kari: NaNo is a great way to learn how to discipline yourself. You have to write everyday, whether you want to or not, whether you can think of anything or not. You. Must. Write. It gives you a freedom to not worry if your idea is too crazy, or you’re only producing red herrings, or your story suddenly veers off down a rocky path. You’re allowed to let creativity run free, and in doing this, you have the potential to create some really amazing stories. Plus, if you sign up on the NaNo website you can see your buddies’ word counts everyday. I think healthy competition makes writing fun.

PJ: Anyone can get the sense of accomplishment gained by finishing the first draft of a novel.

Parker: It teaches discipline, one of the most important parts of being a writer. Participants’ future novels might not be written in a month, but they might be written with more discipline.

Greg: Anything that gets people excited about books and writing is good for the industry. Finishing a 50,000-word draft in 30 days is a real accomplishment, like running a marathon using only your fingers. Everyone who does it should feel really proud, so that’s good for individuals as well.

Linda Joy: Some people just want to know they can finish a book. But writers need to be realistic and act professionally. I don’t think editors want to receive zillions of NaNo books, unedited, in December, which could be a result since it’s so easy to fall in love with your words. I think NaNo is fun, a nice community and a way to focus writing into better habits. But a book written in a month will usually need months of work before it’s ready for submission.

Ah, months of work… that’s a good segue to more discussion tomorrow about potential NaNo problems. Until then — Do you have NaNo experience? What did (do) you think of it?


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