Monday, March 30, 2015

Art and Politics

In response to an RWA article advising romance writers to avoid polarizing topics, SF writer, John Scalzi responded to the effect that one's political attitudes are part of one's identity and the experience of the world from which is drawn anything a writer might produce of any unique worth.

This makes me wonder who I am as a writer. Am I trying to tailor my stories to please everyone? And by so doing, denying some part of my personal truth? 

Is a desire for truth necessarily polarizing? The truth is that the world contains people with widely polarized views. If I want my work to reflect reality to any extent I need to include characters with strongly held and divergent opinions. I need to reflect what I have experienced as true, hopefully, without becoming pedantic about it. In respect to the intelligence of readers, it's best to present my evidence, meaning the sorts of experiences I know to be real, and let the readers draw their own conclusions, even if some of my characters draw conclusions like my own.

In the cause of engaging more readers, we're encouraged to write sympathetic characters. The fact is, nobody is universally likeable. There are probably people out there who hated Mother Theresa and thought Gandhi was a pill. People who are trying to please everyone seem to me less rather than more likeable. Giving characters polarized views isn't going to change this state of affairs.

In any case, I think the sympathy is in the writer. Every human being has an a-hole, is born selfish, and retains selfish interests throughout life – and none of this makes them impossible to love. Babies are loved because it's in the interest of the species – it's in our hearts to love them – no matter how self-occupied the little hedonists are.

It's the writer's job to sympathize with her characters – even the nasty ones. They won't all be the heroes or heroines of the story, but they will all have viewpoints and see themselves as the protagonists of their own stories. Their goals and methods may be unsympathetic, but they will have been somebody's baby at some point in life, and there's always room for a little sympathy for that beginning that went somehow awry. If nothing else, we can sympathize with unmet needs and lost potential, with the wrong turns taken.

That said, romances do tend to be more concerned with personal relationships than with the political affairs of the world at large.

Writer Lois McMaster Bujold, in her much-cited guest of honor speech at Denvention, pointed out the different story expectations held by romance readers and f/sf readers. Romance readers expect a story to address the emotional issues involved in building intimacy in interpersonal relationships. Avoiding polarizing topics may be appropriate for some romances – such as short, category romances too tightly focused on a single relationship to allow time for other issues. 

Fantasy/SF readers are more concerned with world-building and political issues. I write crossover urban fantasy-romances where I'm concerned with satisfying the expectations of both fantasy/adventure readers who care about broader world-building and romance readers concerned with interpersonal relationships. Writers of Womens' Fiction or single title romances may also want to involve readers who care about the broader issues, however polarizing they may be. 

That is to say, the political views of the writer and characters may have more or less of a place depending on the sort of story being told.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Name Garme #amwriting

The Name Game
Names are important and I give a lot of thought to naming my characters. I have a baby naming book in my office and a couple of naming sites bookmarked on my computer.  My own name, Ute, is a German name that's more often than not mispronounced. (It's ooh-tah). I've learned to love it over the years, but  it hasn't always been easy to live with.

Maybe because of my name, or maybe despite it, I don't care for character names that make me trip over my tongue. No Yenouriandosia or Dxelegoginocins for me, thank you very much.  They'd stop me in my tracks every time I read them and, because I am quite possibly the world's worst speller, using them as a writer would no doubt ignite my spell checker and send flames shooting out over the keyboard.

I tend to favor simple names that are just different enough to be memorable and, if I can find them, have some significance to the story.

The easiest way to connect names to story is to connect them to time and place. The Sweet Lenora Series is set in the 1850s and the heroine's name, Lenora, is (I hope) reflective of the time. Her maiden name, Brewer, carries her New England roots. The hero, Anton Boudreaux, is from New Orleans and his name tells of his Creole French background.

Contemporaries can be harder to get right, and sometimes I have to reach a little further. The heroine of The P-Town Queen, Nikki Silva, is named after her father, Nick, a first born child who might have been a boy. Her last name is Portuguese and common in Southeastern Massachusetts. India Othmar, the heroine of Afterglow, is a kindergarten teacher. Her last name comes from Charles Shultz. In the Peanuts cartoons, Linus's kindergarten teacher is Mrs. Othmar. Her first name comes from a movie, Mr. and Mrs. Bridges, which starred Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, about a long married couple whose marriage isn't very happy.  The Joanne Woodward character was called India.  Mallory Prescott, of Dancing in the White Room, gets her name from George Mallory, a mountain climber who died on Mt. Everest.

Sometimes, naming can be fun. I had a grand time naming the characters in Confessions of the Sausage Queen; the Minhouser sisters, Mindy and Mandy; Randy Handy, now married to Mandy to make her Mandy Handy; Mindy's husband Ricky Grinowski, one of the Grin boys, and his brother Stannie, named for the hockey cup.

I'm working on several new stories now, with new characters. I've named them all and as I write these stories, and the characters begin to take on a life of their own, I hope they will grow into the names I've chosen for them.

How do you chose your characters names?

'Til next time

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Book Festival Fun

I had a great opportunity this month. I volunteered at the Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB), now described as the third or fourth largest book festival in the U.S. This was the TFOB's seventh year of existence and the first I haven't manned or participated in running a booth in which to sell my books. In fact, this year I didn't sell a thing. But I had a blast.

I signed up as an Author Escort. A schedule grid is posted and a volunteer may choose the time slots they want to work: one, two, or all day. As a firm believer that is it better to give than to receive when it comes to pain, I only signed up for two slots in one day. (This thing runs two full days plus stretches nearly three-quarters of a mile of center of campus of the University of Arizona and occupies every possible room of the Student Union. We are talking major distance walking.) Then, when the organizers have most of the time slots scheduled, they request you to send in your top four choices for your time.

That email might have sat in my inbox for maybe forty seconds when I sent off my reply. Voila! I was assigned to escort Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry for both sessions, so in essence all day. Woot! Plus Dave's pseudo rock band, The Rock Bottom Remainders, were set to do a charity concert the night before--on Friday the 13th--so I cajoled two friends to go with me.

Photo courtesy of Amy Tan's Facebook Page
First, members of The Rock Bottom Remainders are all authors who dabble in music, or as Dave puts it,  they publicly go out there and fake it. The band actually broke up in 2012, but reunited for the TFOB. Onstage were Dave Barry and his brother Scott (who played a mean blues harmonica),  Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Scott Turow, Ridley Pearson, Ray Blount, Jr., Alan Zweibel and Greg Iles, drummer Josh Kelly, and Albom’s singer/actress wife, Janine Sabino Albom. One of the highlights was Amy Tan in skin-tight police tape pants and carrying a riding crop singing "The Boots Were Made For Walking" at the end of which she spanked all the males in the group. I think Mitch Albom really enjoyed that... Since I was right by the stage, when she finished I heard her tell his wife, "You gotta help me, I can't get out of these pants." It was a fun show and all the proceeds went to local literacy groups.

Come to find out, when I signed up to escort Dave Barry, included was any other author he was presenting with as well as the moderator or interviewer. Oh wow! So I also got to escort Alan Zweibel, one of the original writers for SNL back in its real heyday with Gilda Radner! I had read his play about Gilda, "Bunny, Bunny" and loved it. Of course I took my copy for him to sign.

The afternoon session was an interview conducted by our local op-ed cartoonist, Dave "Fitz" Fitzsimmons, nationally syndicated award winner. Fitz had said Barry's "people" told him that they couldn't think of anything Dave would need "beyond the usual virgin giraffe and helicopter." Guess what I went out and got? Yep. I got it to Fitz in the morning and he surprised Dave with it onstage.

All in all, it was a fabulous experience. Dave and Alan were absolute gentlemen, very easy to talk with, and wonderful storytellers. Both confirmed for me that any life experience is fodder for writing, so you must get out there and experience as much as possible. And TALL? Good grief, each man was at least six foot four. So in this final photo, they're both bending forward at the waist and I'm standing on tiptoe.
Alan Zweibel, me, Dave Barry. Yes, it's my own photo.

At the close of the day, when I'd shown Dave how to get out of the University of Arizona's Student Union so he could figure out where he was in relation to his hotel, he turned around and gave me a hug. I was gobsmacked with gratitude.

I guess I might sign up for next year again. Maybe. (wink,wink)

Happy writing,


Thursday, March 26, 2015

The End Is In Sight

It has been a long journey for me to be within sight of these two words. Nearly a year, actually, and I would expect around eighty thousand words by the time I actually type the words out. My current SF project, “Siren’s Song”, is now entering the most demanding phase of literary choreography – the climatic ending. For this novel, I expect the final reckoning to encompass three chapters worth of rising action, and most likely an epilogue to tie things off.

So what does a writer concern themselves with?  What are the objectives and impediments involved in finishing a novel? These issues, dear reader, are what today’s blog spot is about – from a science fiction action story point of view.

The main objective is going to be reader satisfaction. Arguably, this might be considered the only objective. The payoff. The unwritten contracts delivered. In some cases, however, there is always the possible sequel, and this is less a payoff than a carefully planted lure that doesn't spoil the feeling of accomplishment.

Yes, of course there are loose ends to tie off, but when you think of these minor story arcs as miniature climaxes in themselves, you can begin to see the complex steps in the dance more clearly. How the arcs are tied off, and when the arcs are tied off, have much to do with the rising crescendo of the main story itself.

It starts with the stage. The final scene must be selected, and when possible, play a major part in the overall performance. This might be a calm pastoral setting meant to contrast something horrific, or an environment equally as dangerous as the clash of antagonists upon it. In some cases the scenery needs to get out of the way and become purposely bland. In stage terms, this is all about lighting, props, and sound meant to set the reader’s mood (and nerves on edge).

Next come the main and supporting actors. Too little, or too much, and you weaken the drama. Each primary character must come fully decked out in every bit of emotional and physical baggage that brought them to this point, and they must use all of it. The toolbox is bewildering in its options. Do you choose discovery? Violence? Forgiveness or redemption? Self-sacrifice? Who are these people you’ve created, and how have they grown up to this inevitable confrontation? And you thought setting the stage was complicated.

Timing. What to do. When to do it. Perhaps a pause before the storm, or the maelstrom before the calm. What works best? There is cause and effect to consider, lest you lose credibility. You have to shape the sequence of events making up your story board much as a rising wave. Get the reader on the edge of their seat. Bring the reader down gently from the peak, or drop them straight into the waiting chasm in the darkest of endings. The story’s aftermath should be as carefully thought out as the climatic showdown. You want that sense of closure. If you’re anticipating a sequel then perhaps keep the exit door slightly ajar.

Those tie offs. Every story ought to have smaller stories buried within, and perhaps even a lesson or two. These minor story arcs need to find their own endings, and in many ways they must replicate all the care and attention to detail as is demanded by the primary story. The character finally finds a mate. Perhaps a sense of inner peace, or a friendship restored. A truth revealed to blind the lie the character has lived with. Oh, and I’m talking any character, not just your main actor. A great read will see the stories close on several characters the reader has come to know and love (or hate).

The beginning of a novel is all important in that it must grab the reader and draw them in, however the ending has a more long term job that will shadow everything else. It must bring the reader back to your next book.

And for me, this is just the first draft.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

By Any Other View, the Point Will Be the Same Or Will It?

As my not so clever title suggests, this month I want to talk about Point of View or POV for those of us too lazy to write the entire thing out every time. The reason I decided to review this most important aspect of writing is because I've been immersed in changing the POV from third-person to first-person in a novel I'm currently working on. While slaving away slicing and dicing from him and he to I and me (truly one of the most boring enterprises I've ever done, which is saying a lot because I've done some amazingly dull stuff, grading stacks of poorly written essays on the same topic comes to mind) I was reminded just how important the right viewpoint is to the story. 

I originally wrote the novel (a contemporary coming of age novel set on a ranch in south Texas) as a middle grade book and most middle grade books are written in second person. By the time I finished the first draft the young male protagonist ,struggling with the death of his mother, became a cutter and cutting is too mature a theme for the under twelve set so I had to make him a teenager. Most YA novels are told from first person because teens prefer it, so I had to make the change. 
What's interesting is that as I dredged through 

line after line of switching POV's I discovered just how different the two are. (Forgive me for ending with a preposition, sometimes sentences end up that way whether you want them to or not.) Third person, even a close third, meaning you only get to follow the narrator, is by the nature of those hims and he's not as relaxed and comfortable in the telling of the story as the narrator is when relying of I's and me's. Interesting when you think about it (as an FYI this is second person, a POV I only use in blog posts, it's simply too hard for me to keep up throughout an entire novel).

Most romance novels are written from third person, mainly to allow the reader inside the heads of the two main lovers. Despite the many intimate acts the two carry out, their POV does not allow for such a relaxed form of story. At least that's the way my two POVs panned out. 

Okay, now that I'm done, I have to admit this isn't the most groundbreaking or fascinating of posts, so to make it up to you, how about a couple of fun POV images. Also, at the bottom is a quick lesson on POV for anyone interested in a review. 

Interested in more faux enlightenment? Go to my website Gabriella Austen

Monday, March 23, 2015


Writing humor requires a special understanding of your audience as well as your own sense of what’s funny. If you aren’t laughing when you write it, chances are no one will give a good guffaw when they read it.

I was raised by parents with a silly side. Very likely it saved their marriage during the Depression and the Second World War. Their example helped me find the humorous side, be it ironies or gallows humor, in serious situations.

One night, my father was surprised to see personal friends leaving an AA meeting. Back in the house, he announced he was glad he didn’t need to join AA because: “I’m already a member of A.U., Alcoholics Unanimous.”

On the distaff side, my mother advised, “Don’t complain about your health. Your friends don’t care, and your enemies are glad of it.”

That’s a little on the gallows side, as is the hospice humor at a medical convention in my sequel to Kill Fee, Medium Rare, featuring Penny Olsen Martin. This kind of humor is best appreciated when read between crises.

Excerpt from Medium Rare:

Penny’s favorite (joke) was about the two little old hospice volunteers who were discussing their experiences:

“Well, Millie, we’ve each had our patients for a year. That’s two years between us.”

“But Sarah, they are only supposed to live six months. We must be doing something wrong.”

Or upon leaving the symposium:

The crowning touch was when the plenary speaker looked around the final assembly of hospice volunteers and health workers, observing, “My, my, what a large crowd. We’ve grown. You might even say we’ve metastasized.”

Whether it’s satire, irony, physical humor or slapstick, there is plenty of “funny stuff” to choose from. To qualify as funny, humor should be encapsulated within a story that makes the audience part of the fun and places readers at the scene anticipating the action.

Alliteration drives humor and action in my 2011 award-winning mystery novel, Kill Fee. Once introduced, who can forget Penny’s talking Indian Hill Mynah bird, Bilgewater, the bad-beaked bird, or her beach house, the moldy mausoleum.

In the movies, I’m reminded of this scene from When Harry Met Sally, with Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. An older woman at the next table in Katz Delicatessen sees Sally acting out an orgasm to prove girls can fake it. When the waiter asks the older woman for her order, she points toward Sally and says, “I’ll have what she’s having.” (The fact that she is Billy’s mother in real life makes it ironic, too.)

With laugh-out-loud humor, two classically southern storytellers come to mind. The late Lewis Grizzard, Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist, also wrote books and performed as a stand-up comedian. His humor centered on life in the South. He welcomed the Yankees to his neck of the woods and defined them the ones who “didn’t cook their green beans.”

I call southerners the ones who overcook everything, including what they call Chicken-fried Steak. Take a perfectly good piece of beefsteak and lay it in flour; using a wooden mallet pound the living life out of it, then fry it in lard. Gradually add milk and simmer three hours in the milk gravy. If you refuse to eat it, you’re chicken. (Sorry, I made that part up.)

Driving up and down Atlanta’s hills while listening to one of Grizzard’s audio tapes almost got me killed. He was describing a carpet installer stuck in a funeral home trying to complete his work before a storm erupted (“It was comin’ up a cloud.”): It got dark; the electricity went out; the walls closed in; and lightning zapped. Pow! A body sat straight up. The carpet guy didn’t have to be told twice; he sprinted through the open window and wasn’t seen for days. (Note story, exaggeration and picture of a guy hurling through space to anonymous safety.)

More recently another funny guy, Jeff Foxworthy, following in Grizzard’s footsteps, went after Rednecks: “You know you’re a Redneck when…?” He used his self-discovery and self-deprecating sense of humor as a device.

Jokes are funny when the listener or reader is familiar with the background. Here in Florida, we have a plethora of armadillos splatted on our roads. Our chicken joke is: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Answer: “To prove to the armadillo it could be done.”

Having lived in Daytona Beach for 27 years now, I appreciate a well-used reference in our “World’s Most Famous Beach” town. Daytona is the destination of many spring breakers. So: “What do you call a spring breaker swimming in our 60 degree ocean?” Answer: “A Canadian.”

The truer to type the joke, the funnier it is. But sometimes you simply have to be there.

Find Julie at:
Web site at
Twitter: @JulieEPainter
or Amazon

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ode to Discworld

Well, really, this is an ode to the creator of Discworld, Sir Terry Pratchett. I don't usually recycle material here, but family commitments and other time demands made me decide to share these quotes I shared on my own author blog the week Sir Terry died.

We are all lucky to have lived in a time and place where Discworld came to our imaginations, from the imagination of Sir Terry Pratchett. He walked away with Death this month, but Discworld lives on. (As does the Long Earth, and of course, the prophecies of Agnes Nutter and other Good Omens.)
Some quotes from Sir Terry’s work and life that remind us of our good fortune:
“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.”
“It’s not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren’t doing it.”
And finally, fittingly…
Elizabeth Fountain is the author of An Alien's Guide to World Domination, a story inspired by Pratchett's ability to combine humor and science fiction with all-too-human characters. She blogs at Point No Point.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Pulp or electronics?

Michael W. Davis

There’s a growing divide in today’s book market. No, scratch that. More like a war. See, given technology has leaped into a realm where pulp is no longer necessary to push words to potential readers, the industry is moving toward eliminating paperbacks. Why? Because of cost and profits. Imagine the overhead and sunk cost associated with selling a book in paper form. The material, the postage, even storage (when non POD methods are used) eat up a major share of potential revenues. Now consider pushing electrons around the ether. The editing costs remain the same but there is no more stock or material cost. That’s why royalties are three times as high for E form than paperback.

So what right? If it’s cheaper and faster just do it. Here’s the rub. Many in the reader audience still want to hold the results of an author’s dreams in their hands. I’m not exaggerating to say that when I do festivals and signings readers are ecstatic to be able to still buy in paper format. About one in three announce, “Oh do I love the feel of a book in my hands.” Some even go so far as to comment, “When I can’t touch them, I won’t buy them.” Whether those sediments are true or just disappointment, it reflects the war between where we’re headed and the interest of our main audience, mature readers. Point is, even though I make more on E than paperback, I relate to the holdouts. I too love the feel and look of my mental child when I can touch that dying breed, a paperback. And it will die, question is how long the swansong will take before we’re all relegated to quantum particles skipping across the cosmos to tickle the fancy or our inner muse.

Without paperbacks I can no longer do signings, participant in festivals, sell at talks and readings, and I will miss it so. Many of my hard core readers ask when such and such book will be released in paperback, and when I say, “Never” I’m greeted by silence. The nine novels of mine that are available in paper form are likely the last given the push to electronic. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the reasoning, without that change many publishers would cease to exist. I also understand how metro sprawl is the result of an expanding population consuming more and more of the wilderness, but don’t mean I have to like it.

As a legacy to my granddaughter, I’ve tucked away one copy of each of my paperbacks so some day she can touch the mind’s eye or her papa. Day will come when the rest of the creations from my muse will spark off into the universe and fade from existence. Oh well. Till next time.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Memoir or Autobiography?

The Saturday writing group I lead includes five (out of 20) writers working on what they call memoirs, but they are really autobiographies: the telling of their life stories in chronological order. This week, spouse Bob Hart wrote a lengthy article on the differences between the two. I shall summarize, plagiarize, and interpolate here.

My short story which appeared in Volume II of the Florida Writers’ Anthology is a memoir. “Standoff in the Alborz Mountains” is a true experience set in the mountains outside of Tehran, Iran, where I was held hostage by a band of armed men, demanding payment to let me pass on the winding mountain road.

Samantha Dunn, journalist and award winning author, has provided a simple definition: Autobiography is the story of your life; memoir is a story from your life.

Unlike the linear plan of an autobiography, a memoir focuses on a theme, event, or choice. It can start anywhere, and can move back and forth in time.

If you are contemplating writing stories from your life, the decision is between an autobiography and a memoir, perhaps several memoirs. Before striking fingers to keyboard you should ask yourself, and answer truthfully, a series of brutal questions. Who really cares about your past? Will anybody want to read this? Is the story of my life something only my mother or my children would read, or can it be related to a wider audience?

To be effective, your writing must show what you learned, or how you changed.

Traditionally, autobiographies for publication have been written, or ghost written, by celebrities, politicians, or the notorious. Unfortunately, the lives of ordinary people man little to the reading public, unless you are an extraordinary writer who can transform the story of your life into a best seller, such as The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, or Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. While both of these have been categorized as memoirs, The Glass Castle is much more autobiographical.

Well written memoirs are popular and marketable. Unfortunately, publishers and agents reject them out of hand. However, this is not to discourage anyone from writing the story of their lives. It may be necessary or cathartic, and it might be what you need to express or unload before putting on paper what you really want to write.

If all else fails, consider using events in your life as kernels for fiction.

Veronica Helen Hart (Ronnie) is the author of The Blenders Series which features a group of adventurous senior citizens, led by Doll Reynolds. Many of the incidents in the books are variations of real-life adventures from her own life (memoirs in disguise). The full article on Memoirs and Autobiographies by Bob Hart will appear in the blog for

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

10 Important Tools in the Writer’s Tool Belt

In the past number of years I have been writing, reading about writing, getting notes from editors and fellow writers and this is what I have compiled about what to pay the most attention to when writing a book. Of course there is much more to the writing process from idea to completion of a book, but this is as good a place to start as any.

(1) Point of View: Stay in the POV of the character that most matters during the entire scene or better yet chapter. Thanks Judy for this one! I was so good at head hopping that sometimes it flowed by with no one noticing and that’s not acceptable in professional editing. Head hopping confuses the reader.

(2) Sprinkle adverbs judiciously: No need to obsess about it but keep the number down to what really works. I had one bad experience with this from someone who thought they were most helpful pointing out every adverb in a chapter. I felt that it was all they cared about in my writing. Not story, not characters or plot but the d**m adverbs! Of course once I calmed down I realized that it’s definitely something you need to watch out for.

(3) Your opening sentence: Make it the best it can be. Keep it exciting and make your reader want to know more. I’ve read lots of first lines to see what people like when you juxtaposition one idea against another it can work well. Example: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times concept in The Tale of Two Cities.

(4) Chapter cliff-hangers: First book I ever wrote I always ended with the heroine writing in her journal and drifting off to sleep. Apparently that helps a reader do the same!

(5) Show don’t tell: Readers love dialogue, not long descriptions like we writers so often enjoy compiling. Bring your readers into the action and keep them feeling what your characters are feeling. This one has been in every book on writing I’ve read because it’s so important.

(6) Write in the genre you love to read: Stands to reason you need to know what others in your target market are writing about in their novels.

(7) Read, read, read: This one speaks for itself.

(8) Write up to your readers: Don’t assume anything less than the best about your readers. They will spot things you can’t imagine them spotting. Do your research and honor your writing and your readers. They will thank you for it.

(9) Love your characters (or hate the villain): You need to understand who you are writing about as well as you understand yourself or your friends. You need to know your main characters life story. And it’s so much fun getting to know them. Enjoy the process and write a full biography on the heroine and hero at least.

(10) Enjoy the art and journey of storytelling: This one is easy at first but can be harder during the editing process. Choose wisely. And finish that book! A lot of writing teachers have observed that many people just don’t follow through with the process. Like Woody Allen said, half of life is just showing up.

So there you have it, a quick list of what has been drilled into me in past years. What has been the most important consideration you have taken onboard about how you go about the wonderful process of writing a book? I’d love to know!

Best, January Bain

Forever Series

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