Category Archives: Literary Citizenship

At Midwest Writers Workshop – #mww13

The Midwest Writers Workshop is a national writer’s conference that happens annually in Muncie, IN. It may be a surprising location, but this year’s conference sold out. In other words, we midwestern writers do exist. MWW offers various writing sessions with published authors and professionals, agent pitches, etc. For more detailed information about the conference visit their website here.

My role at the conference is small. It’s of little importance in the larger scheme of things, but it is of great importance to me and I would assume to my fellow interns.
The story:

Cathy Day, author, Ball State Professor, and MWW committee member acquired a grant that allowed 11 Ball State students to work as either Agent Assistants, or Social Media Tutors. I’m a tutor; my job is to meet with workshop attendees who want to learn to use social media, wordpress, facebook, twitter, pinterest, instagram, google +, etc., and build websites to promote their work. As part of our internship, which is a paid one, we  get to attend two sessions of our choosing.

(Yesterday, I attended sessions with Hank Nuwer and Matthew Clemens. While sitting in these “classes,” I realized that somehow, this is what I want to do with my life, or at least it’s very close.)

Working with the attendees was a great learning experience. In teaching them, we interns gained confidence in our own abilities and learned to better use the same formats for ourselves. But that wasn’t the best part. As a Midwesterner, it is rare to find local folks who are into the same things as I am, but here, I found a couple hundred! The sense of community at this conference is incredible. I believe I can speak for all the interns when I say that we seemed to grow closer as a group, or at least more comfortable around each other, and we all walked away with new connections. If nothing else, that was worth attending the workshop.

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UPDATE:
I left the conference completely exhausted, but also completely satisfied. Having only just graduated from Ball State’s writing program, I was already missing the community of writers and like-minded people. Being at the conference showed me that the community I left still existed in the world and it showed me how to find it. I left MWW with a few new friends who still communicate with me via twitter and a strong desire to go back next year.  Looking back on the days leading up to MWW, I can see that I was underestimating what ended up being an invaluable experience.

Supporting the Arts: Reality

Alright friends, it’s time to speak some truth. We artsy fartsy folks have a tendency to say that we support the arts, but never actually open our wallets, especially those of us who are still in or just recently out of college. I’m graduating this month and am unemployed so I fully understand the difficulties of monetary support, but I’ve just run some numbers. In the month of June, I managed to find $.96 to buy a fountain drink seven times and I found $1.08 to buy a tea from McDonald’s five times. That equals $12.12, aka a cd, book, dvd, movie ticket, etc. Do me a favor and check your bank  activity. Look and see how much money you spent on frivolous things in just one month. If you’re employed, then it’s probably more than the $12 I discovered and believe me, just $12 feels like too much.

Split Lip Header

Now with that said, we’ve arrived at the sale’s pitch portion of this blog because that’s also $12 I could’ve donated to an artsy Kickstarter project, perhaps one like Split Lip Magazine‘s. (View their campaign here) Split Lip is currently an online-only literary/arts magazine that is trying to become both virtual and tangible. As a fan and an intern, I’d love for you to find a few bucks to help them reach their goal, but if you check them out and decide that they aren’t quite for you, I would still urge you to peruse Kickstarter and find something you do want to support. (If you’re unfamiliar with this website, you can check out my previous blog about it.)

kickstarter badge

In a world where everyone wants to be some sort of artist, it doesn’t make any sense that the publishing world is dying and music sales are in the toilet. Just because you can find something online for free doesn’t mean you should do it. One of my writing professors encouraged us to make a pledge to buy 20 books a year, every year. I’m not quite there yet, but once I start working, I’m doing it. I encourage all of you to do the same with whatever your passion is. If you want to be a musician, don’t steal music from the internet. If you want to make movies, pay to see them. Don’t just watch online.  Of course, I  hope everyone does this, but doesn’t it sound foolish to steal from the business you want to be a part of?
In short, if you want to be a part of the “art scene,” don’t just say it. Start giving a buck.

What I’m Now Calling Twit-Lit

That’s right, Twit-Lit. What is it you ask? It’s literature found via Twitter and it happens to be blowing my mind. I’m new to the world of indie lit and I often have trouble finding it, which seems to be a part of the “indie thing.” Fortunately, I’ve found my solution through my social media addiction.

(Pause for confession time…)
I’m a complete Twitter junkie. I first made my account back when Ellen DeGeneres asked everyone to follow her. I thought it was stupid and stayed away for over a year before being caught-hook, line, and sinker. I’ve since wasted many precious hours reading the ramblings of strangers and celebrities who I don’t even care for.

follow me bird

ANYWAY, I’ve recently decided to put my social media browsing to better use. Rather than scrolling through my personal feed of, well basically junk, I’ve been scrolling through my #Literary list. (Thanks, Tweetdeck!)

I’ve been following writers, agents, editors, literary bloggers, avid readers, etc. Most of these fine folks are constantly linking material and now there’s no shortage of things to read. Come to think of it, I’m probably missing a lot of lit when I’m off reading a link rather than reading my twitter feed. This is a problem for later.

My latest find? Jackson Paul Baer. (Click his name to go to his website or click here to follow him on twitter.) Baer’s first novel is soon to be released, but in the mean time, you can head over to his blog and read one of his short stories called “My Best Friend is Fidel Castro.” While you’re there, check out some of his other posts that include tips for writers and various author interviews.

Know any good literary citizens I should be following on twitter? Comment below and let me know!

(PS: If you tweet, but don’t use Tweetdeck, I recommend creating an account asap! Don’t worry about being confused. Head over to YouTube, search “tweetdeck tutorials,” and voila.)

Discovering the World of Non Fiction

I’ve never been one to browse the non fiction section at my local bookstore or library. I write fiction and therefore I read it. It is probable that my logic is very different from yours, but I’m young and I was naive. Even during my first non fiction writing course, I  steered clear of it outside of class. It wasn’t until three semesters later that I realized I really enjoyed non fic. Around that same time, I realized I liked writing  it, too. Coincidence?

Since I’ve avoided the genre for so long, I’m now trying to catch up. I’m currently reading Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman and Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream by Buzz (H.G.) Bissinger.

FRC FNL book covers

If you aren’t familiar with either, here’s a quick rundown.

Fargo Rock City is Klosterman’s memoir about growing up in a small North Dakota town, population 498, and loving the 80s rock and roll scene.

Friday Night Lights is something of an expose on Texas high school football. Bissinger follows a few players from a high school team and highlights the pressures they’re under as well as the celeb-like treatment they get for being starters and what kind of success these things set them up for. Hint, hint: it’s pretty much zero.
(I’ve always thought the rumors about the importance of Texas football were grosly embellished, but not according to this book. If the title sounds familiar, it a 2004 major motion picture of the same name, which then spawned an award-winning NBC series in 2006–you should check them both out.)

Both of these books are making me rethink some of my writing. I’ve felt a kinship with the creative elements of fiction, but the more nonfiction I read, the more I realize how much can be done. In my second nonfiction writing class, my professor wanted to expose us to the various formats writers are using in the genre. Two things that stood out were Nox by Anne Carson and Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. Both are rather unconventional, but I would argue that Nox is most unusual. While Fun Home is so because it’s a comic, most people are generally familiar with comic strips so it’s not quite as striking as Nox, which is printed on paper that is folded accordion-style and presented in a box, loosely. There is very little writing in it; much of the text is on letters and pictures. It looks as if it’s the love child of a puzzle and a scrapbook. 

Nox fun home

Seeing these types of formats have opened my eyes to new creative elements. In addition to the writing, there is the presentation. I’m thinking that this could be quite useful in terms of tailoring your work for your intended audience.

Another thing that is striking a chord with me is the content that is covered in non fiction. Both of the books I’m reading now are relevant to my interests. I certainly never thought I would get a chance to read a book about growing up loving hairbands. (What d’ya know, I’m not the only one!) This revelation is making me wonder what other books I’ve missed, where do I find them, and do I have the “writing chops” to fill an entire book? or am I strictly essay?

I’d like to compile a list of non fiction books I need to read. I would appreciate your comments with suggestions! (and let me know if you know of anymore alternatively formatted works)

Pure by Julianna Baggott: Review

PureJulianna Baggot

“Evocative, Intense, & Well Written”

Pure cover

In a world where dystopian novels have become trendy, Pure is stands out as both trendy and smart. Julianna Baggott has published a multitude of works on the genre spectrum, children’s (The Anybodies, The Prince of Fenway Park as N.E. Bode), literary fiction (The Madam, The Miss America Family), and poetry (Compulsions of Silkworms and Bees, Lizzie Borden in Love: Poems in Women’s Voices), but it is her literary side that shines through in this fantasy, adult/YA crossover. Baggott highlights the difference between elegant subtlety and the common oversimplification that is popular among young adult novels and reminds us that literary fiction isn’t reserved for adults. Her voice and sentence quality are refreshing as she writes of Pressia, “She glances back before stepping into the alley, and she catches her grandfather looking at her the way he does sometimes–as if she’s already gone, as if he’s practicing sorrow.”

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Pure tells the story of teenage Pressia, a girl living in a post-apocalyptic world, knowingly separated from the “Pures,” those who were safe in the Dome at the time of the detonations, like Partridge. Pressia lives outside, where the survivors are fused to whatever materials were near them, making her doll-hand normal. Her sixteenth birthday is approaching, looming like a death sentence. She will be made a soldier or she will be killed, leaving her no choice. She runs and so begins our adventure.

 

Pressia teams up with a fellow survivor Bradwell, who says, “We each have a story. They did this to us. There was no outside aggressor. They wanted an Apocalypse. They wanted the end. And they made it happen.” As Bradwell becomes a stronger presence in the novel, there are hints of a love triangle between Pressia, Partridge, and Bradwell, currently all-the-rage among young adult best sellers. As the story progresses and secrets are revealed, these relationships leave YA behind and counter with all the complexities of more realistic, adult fiction relationships.

 

The book alternates between many points of view, contrasting the lives of the outsiders like Pressia, those like Partridge, safe in the safe in the Dome, and even a government officer in El Capitan. Their exploits lead us to new characters that slowly reveal the story’s political nature and liberal agenda. The references to the Before, the time before the detonations when the Scottish, Japanese, and Irish existed along with Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and airports, reflect a world that readers will be familiar with. The commentary on our real world society unfolds with the story of the Dome, the story of the rich and powerful versus the poor and the weak.  The author successfully weaves a relevant, literary tale in a commercial format.

 

The book’s tone is set in chapter one as Pressia listens to the far off grumblings of a Death Spree. “She knows that whispers can be useful. Sometimes they contain real information. But usually they’re fairy tales and lies. This is the worst kind of whisper, the kind that draws you in, gives you hope.”

For more on Baggott, follow her on Goodreads.

Organizing a Literary Event (I did this)

A couple of weeks ago, I helped four of my classmates, along with our professor Cathy Day, plan an event called “What’s Next: Graduate School for Creative Writers.”

(You may have seen the poster I shared for it) event poster
Cathy, myself, and my classmates Lindsey, Stephanie, Rachael, and Kayla worked together to get a group of Ball State University writing faculty sit on a panel and tell students about their experiences with going to grad school, the different types of graduate programs offered, and the different jobs available to you with these degrees. Sounds interesting, right? It was. The amount of information that the attendees walked away with was borderline overwhelming, in a good way. So what’s the problem? The amount of attendees! (The turnout was a bit disappointing.)

What did we do wrong? Well, I’m not entirely sure so let me tell you what we did.

  1. Poster! We made a poster, then we plastered prints of it all over Robert Bell, which houses the English department, among other things. (We did this well in advance)
  2. Facebook! We made a Facebook event and shared it with everyone we could think of that would be interested in attending or would share it with people they thought might be interested. (Some tweeted it as well)
  3. Announcements! Several students visited writing classes and made announcements about the event. Personally, I went up to each student who expressed interest and reminded them either they day before or the day of the event.
  4. Finally, on the day of the event, we shared it on social media again as a reminder.

Here’s a photo of the panel

event panel

(From left to right: Jill Christman, Matt Mullins, Sean Lovelace, Michael Meyerhofer, Cathy Day)

Perhaps you don’t know it, but this is a rather kickass panel. The students who were invited certainly knew it, so why weren’t they there? I can only think of two things.

#1: In the midst of a busy week on campus, they just forgot.

#2: They were stereotypical college students who were more concerned with partying than education.

Now, because I know a lot of these students, I can in good conscience say that it was probably number one. (If you’re skeptical, note that the event was on a Thursday evening, not a weekend day or early in the morning.) So, how do we combat HSF (Hectic Schedule Forgetfulness)? The only thing I can think of would be passing out individual mini-flyers. This idea came to me when another student handed me a mini-flyer for The Vagina Monologues in one of my English classes. I stashed it in my planner where I kept seeing it everyday. I did not forget about The Vagina Monologues. Sadly, this happened after our event, but I will remember it for next time.

Silver lining? When I was approached with the task of organizing a literary event, I was petrified. The very thought of it seemed impossible, but to be honest, it was rather simple. Granted, there were five of us plus our professor, but even so, I’m pretty sure that if I wanted to plan a literary event in the future, I’d have a few friends to help out and even though it wouldn’t be as simple, it would be entirely possible. That’s nice to know in addition to all of the information I got from the panelists.

(Do you have any suggestions on how to spread the message for future events? Please comment.)

Publishing 101: A beginner’s first look

Last week, I shared with you 10 things I learned about being a writer; this week, I bring to you another list. (Drum roll, please)

5 Things I Learned About Publishing!

Book-Printing

(Ok, so this is a printer, but would you rather have a picture of a desk?)

Alright, publishing… *shivers* (That word scares me, sometimes.)

  1. The difference between small press, independent press, and micro press…
    To be honest, it was not until recently that I had any clue about these differences. The sad part about this is that it has probably been mentioned to me ten different times, but this week it was different. This week, I had to read the difference for myself rather than having it handed to me. Perhaps that’s not fair. It was in essence handed to me. I was given a Wikipedia link by a professor. (That’s right, a professor used Wikipedia! But hey, sometimes it’s got its act together.) So what did I find? In the past I have wondered what would be right for me because realistically, I know if I publish, it will probably NOT be with one of the “big dogs.” I thought there were three other options, small presses, independent presses, and micro presses. Well, apparently that’s two options.(?) Small & independent presses are terms often used interchangeably and micro presses are publishers that produce chapbooks or other small books on a very small scale. (Small as in maybe 50 copies of one book in a year.) Well thank you, Wikipedia. Apparently I’m looking for small/independent presses. Click here if you want to check it out for yourself. 
  2. What do editors want?
    I’ll let you in on a little secret; they don’t know. Stop trying to write that book that you think they want, that book you think will make money, that book that fits all their patterns. Write the book you want to write because not only do you not know what they really want, they don’t even know. Trends change and the work that speak to an editor will change, too. No one stays the same forever, right?
    And while we are talking about editors… Let me tell you what dawned on me for the first time. If you’re thinking about becoming an editor, be prepared for a thankless job. Perhaps the author of the book you spin into gold will be appreciative, but to paraphrase Betsy Lerner, no reader finishes a book and says, “My God, the editor did a fantastic job with that one!” No one asks the editor to sign their book either. Have you? Seems a little odd since so many of us writers are desperate for that big deal that comes with an editor.
  3. It’s a lengthy process.
    And here I was thinking it was writing the book that took forever! Having read up on the sometimes horrifying topic that is publishing, and attending a first-time published author panel–first book that is, I’m realizing that the publishing side can take just as long, if not longer–depending on how you write. From the moment your book gets selected to the moment it’s printed, bound, and in your hand, you could be looking at years. Yes, that is plural.
  4. Platform!
    Even with the rise of e-readers, I’ve always had a romanticized view of “literature” and all that it entails, including the authors. I used to think the publishing world would always be a business of the dark age, but as usual, what do I know? I’ve learned in my Literary Citizenship class this semester that authors need a platform and an online presence. This week I learned that not only do I need a platform, I sort of already have one and if you find yourself reading this blog, chances are you have one, too. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google +, Tumblr, Instagram, Goodreads, GetGlue, WordPress. These are just the forms of social media that I have on my phone! Everything I post on each of them shapes my platform. How much have I posted before I realized that? How many things should I have put more thought into beforehand? How many message boards have I posted on that can link back to me? This is something all new writers should really be thinking about.
  5. How many times must we see/hear of a book before we pick it up?
    I recently read a story published in Ninth Letter by my professor Cathy Day called “YOUR BOOK: A Novel in Stories.” The story comes from her “Theory of 5 Pops,” which I’d heard her mention in a past class. The theory is that a book will “pop” onto your radar at least five times before you actually buy it. This could be anything from seeing the cover in a store or while someone else was reading it, or reading a review of it. So while I had heard this before, I feel like I learned it this week because the story made it sink in. As I was finishing her story, I started thinking about my past purchases? The following was my thought process–

    Do I do that? How many times did I hear about my favorite book before I actually bought a copy?  Wow, I do that! How many times have I rented a book at the library with a $20 in my pocket instead of buying it? How many of those were books that are still in circulation? How many current books have I bought used copies of?

    All of this lead me to wonder if as a “5 pop” cosumer, am I killing authors’ careers? What if that fifth “pop” takes so long to make it to my radar that buying the book then won’t really help the author’s career?

Side note: I encourage you to think about that fifth point. How responsible are we for the fall of the publishing industry? (For this reason and so many others.)

Being a Writer: 10 Things I Learned This Week

If you’re studying writing and you don’t learn something everyday, you’re probably doing it wrong. I could name ten things I learned today, but let’s just go with 10 things from this week.

  1. Make your literary life less lonely. Build a network in undergrad/graduate school. Try to find online groups if you can and keep this network going outside of school! You’ll need it.
  2. Experiment. Exercise your brain. Dabble in other formats in both writing and reading.
    “The more things you can try, the better off you’ll be.” – Marcus Wicker.
  3. Make time to write! … Okay, so I knew this already, but after hearing different writers talk about their very different processes, from writing during summer vacation to writing once a week to writing everyday, it feels less daunting. So how about, Make a writing schedule works for you.”
  4. Write the book you want to read! Then ask yourself, why would anyone want to read this? 
  5. ‘“Writer” is not a distinction that is conferred upon us by a degree.”  We tend to feel more like writers when we’re in school. When we’re there, we’re writing and people are reading it and giving us feedback, so we go to grad school to hold onto that, but that isn’t what makes us writers. If you have to be in school to write, then it’s not for you. – Cathy Day.
  6. Graduate school: It’s not a requirement, but it gives you a boost. You get time to write and you find people to work with.
    *Take time off before you go. Get out in the world and have some experiences, something to write about. Get a job that makes you want to quit to go back to school and write; you don’t have to go right after graduation.
    *If and when you do go, USE THE TIME TO WRITE! Your goal should be to leave with something polished.
    *You do NOT have to pay for grad school. Try to find a program that has funding for you.
  7. Be prepared for rejections. You’re going to get them. Remember that you aren’t doing it for the money, you’re doing it for you. It helps to have mentors who remind you that they had just as many rejections at one point in time.
  8. How do I find places to submit? READ A LOT! If you’re starting out and like me, you keep wondering how to go about finding the right places to submit your work when it’s ready, first, read a lot and while you’re reading, pay attention to the publisher. Are they publishing work similar to yours? Those are the places you need to be submitting to. Read journals! There are so many, there’s bound to be one that interests you and that’s probably a good place for you to submit.
    *Before you submit, put your work aside for a little while, a month, maybe longer, and then go back to it. Do you still like it? Do you still believe in it? Send it.
  9. I have my MFA. What do I do with it? Teach writing. Go into editing or publishing. Nothing? Even if your job doesn’t require your degree, you will gain invaluable skills in pursuit of it that will help you in all sorts of areas and if nothing else, it’s going to help your writing. That’s the point, isn’t it?
  10. Be a Literary Citizen! Support the world you want to be a part of. Buy new books. Let authors know you appreciate their work. Suggest things to others. Talk up your favorites.
    Participate in the literary community where you live. If you think there isn’t one, you probably just haven’t found it yet. If there really isn’t one, make one! Start a book club. Host a reading. Neither are as hard to do as you might think. There are local writers everywhere and they want to get their work out there so they’ll be willing to read and venues want the business so they’ll host. If not, do it in your house. Why not?

Keeping with the Literary Citizenship idea, I think this is worth mentioning….

Yesterday I went to a reading at Ball State University’s In Print: Festival of First Books. (All of the visiting writers have recently published their first book. Title-tada.) At the end of it, I was standing in the back of the room by the book table, checking to see if there was anything I didn’t have–there wasn’t. As I was looking, I realized one of the authors was standing next to me, buying both of the books by the other visiting writers.
I made a little memo-to-self to share this. It probably shouldn’t have been so noticeable. I should’ve been thinking of course he would do that, but I was really thinking Wow, that’s really nice of him, as if this was surprising, and then, that’s a good definition of literary citizenship. Now I’m wondering if the other authors have done or will do the same…?

It should be understood with all of this talk about networking and workshopping, but I’ll put it plainly one more time. You can’t expect people to be interested in what you’re doing if you’re not supporting what others are doing. (Pay attention to #10.)

Multiple Character Arcs, are you frustrated?

Got a lot of characters? Need to weave them? Having trouble? I’ve struggled with this since, uhm, forever…

Do we write short stories for each character? Divide perspectives by chapters? Sections? Write only in third person??? I’ve been giving my fingers a workout trying to find some good blogs/chapters/articles on strategies for weaving multiple character arcs and I’m not coming up with much.

The only thing I can think to do is study the work of the authors who are already doing it so well, and they are out there.

Circus in Winter, Pure, The Sweethereafter

  1. Cathy Day’s Circus in Winter. This book is a “novel in stories.” It’s a format I was unfamiliar with before reading this book, but after a couple of stories, I started grasping what was happening structurally, and each story hooked me. In the end, the reader has enough information to build this world chronologically and connect the puzzle, if you want to. (Great read) 
  2. Julianna Baggott’s Pure. This is a young adult fiction novel that blends literary and commercial work. In it, each chapter is labeled with the perspective of the character it’s written from and they go back and forth. It really helps the reader see all sides of the coin. In terms of format, think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. (Also a great read.)
  3. Russell BanksThe Sweet Hereafter. This format is similar to Pure, in the way that each story is from a different character’s POV, but it focuses around one event. If you’re writing something more singular and trying to include so many thoughts, this could be a handy study guide.

Of course there are more, these are just a few more recent reads I wanted to mention. But lets say you’re in a hurry for some reason and you just don’t have time to sit down and not only read a bunch of character-rich books, but truly study their craftsmanship.

Alternative route? TV. Lots of shows get you invested in multiple characters. It’s become incredibly popular in recent years to have large ensemble casts and it’s a trend starting to show up in film more and more as well. (See Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve for example. –Not movies I recommend on merit, however.)

Which television shows are good for this?

Number 1, without a doubt, is Friday Night Lights.

Friday Night Lights cast

If you’re unfamiliar with the show, you should check it out. (All 5 seasons are on Netflix.) There is a never ending supply of simultaneous storylines in that show. Lets see how many major characters I can think of off the top of my head…

       Coach, Mrs. Taylor, Julie, Saracen, Riggins, Lila, Street, Tyra, Landry, Buddy, Billy, Mindy, “Grandma,” Smash, Vince, Jess, Luke, Becky, JD. (19!)

Alright, I’m just going to stop, but I could keep going.

It sounds hectic, but honestly, the writing and production are so good that you can follow it all and you can’t help but to be invested.

Other such shows are Nashville, Chicago Fire, Grey’s Anatomy (the early seasons), and Prison Break.

Nashville, Chicago Fire, Grey's Anatomy, Prison Break

With that in mind, I am not saying avoid the reading and watch TV. In fact, I’m not saying that at all, nor would I ever! Why should someone read your work someday if you’re not reading anyone’s? But if you find yourself needing to give your brain a bit of a rest or are unable to sit down with a book for a moment, I’d recommend a little not-so-mindless TV, but mostly Friday Night Lights. It’s a forever-favorite!

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UPDATE:

As it turns out, author Cathy Day has a blog post about this very issue. It offers strategy and other book recommendations. Click here to check it out!

Come to hear what no one tells you about graduate school for writers

Literary Citizenship

[Here’s a link to the transcript of what we talked about on 3/14/13 at the panel, in case you missed it!]

Links and Resources

Before, during, or after the event, feel free to check out these links and resources:

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