Sunday, December 21, 2014

Reflections on the solstice

Today is December 21st, the solstice, the shortest day of the year. Snow falls gently, sporadically, in large puffy flakes like milkweed down. My husband indulges in his new hobby, baking breads and nut rolls. The house smells like temptation. Tonight I will leave a candle burning to welcome the return of the light.

We've been wrapping presents, and as always we play our favorite music. A couple contemplative Winterludes; John Denver and the Muppets; The Nutcracker;  the now hard-to-find Three Ships. On Christmas Eve we'll dig out the two-decades-old tapes of our kids singing in their high school concert choir.

As I grow older, I find the bustle of the holidays less endearing. My children are grown, and I won't see my grandchildren until New Year's Eve. The early darkness and long nights weigh on my spirit. Many years have passed since I last accepted the beliefs I learned as a child. Perhaps I simply no longer have the energy to celebrate the way I once did.

Even with all that, I would not give up Christmas. Even though the solstice has come to have more meaning for me than the Nativity story, I still enjoy the traditions. The foods, the gift-giving, the sappy TV shows. I even enjoy the perennial debate over seasonal greetings--I'll gladly accept any good wishes anyone wishes to bestow upon me.

These days, it's the music that gets to me. I still laugh when Beaker sings his lines in "The Twelve Days of Christmas," and I'm touched by the simple sincerity of the songs. I get nostalgic listening to fifty teenagers sing "Adeste Fideles" in perfect a capella harmony. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, whose ballet so perfectly captures the longing to hold onto ephemeral beauty, makes me weep. And when Jon Anderson blends his glorious soprano voice with a gospel choir in "O Holy Night"...

Well, with music like that, sometimes I wish I still believed.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Shucker's Booktique, the latest from J.C. McKenzie

Please welcome author J.C. McKenzie and her brand new release The Shucker's Booktique, a Lobster Cove book from The Wild Rose Press. To celebrate, she's giving away five ecopies of The Shucker's Booktique, three copies of Shift Happens, and a $25 Amazon gift card. a Rafflecopter giveaway 
What led you to write this book?
My publisher announced a special project for a new series. They created a fictional town called Lobster Cove in Maine on the East Coast. For some reason, the idea called to me and I immediately got an idea that wouldn't leave me alone. So I jumped on it and joined the project. I loved being a part of the creation process for developing a fictional town and brainstorming with a group of amazing authors. 

I'd just moved from the West Coast of Canada, where I was born and raised, so writing a story predominately about the coast (albeit a different one) and the element of water helped me work through a lot of my homesickness. 

What do you hope readers will take away from it?
I hope readers will look at the ocean again with a sense of awe, wonder and love, if they don't already. The ocean is one of our most neglected and forgotten ecosystems when it comes to conservation and protection, even though it accounts for the majority of Earth's oxygen production, and if you believe in the theory of evolution, it's where life all began.

Share one surprising fact about yourself and/or the writing of the book.
I used to work as a fisheries observer for a marine research company and went out on commercial fishing vessels to monitor compliance to DFO (Department of Fisheries & Oceans) regulations, do biological sampling and estimate the proportional catch of species. Sadly, very little of this experience was used in writing this story! 

Sounds delicious, J.C. How about a sample?

Thump! Thump! Thump!

No! She gasped. It couldn’t be. The banging on the front door of the booktique had to be a figment of her imagination. She couldn’t will Lon into existence. Why would he come back? Especially if he was involved. Unless…cold ice prickled up her spine…unless he needed to eliminate her to take care of loose ends.

No. Crazy thoughts, Willa. He could’ve taken care of her the night before. No, her heart hammered against her chest for a different reason. But it didn’t matter. The knocking on the door wouldn’t, couldn’t be him.

Thump! Thump! Thump!

Could it? She clutched her hot mug in both hands and turned toward the doorway leading to the bookstore. From the kitchen in the back room, she had a clear view through the store to the front door, but not who stood on the other side.

“Willa!” Lon growled. “Wake up and let me in!”

Willa gasped and almost dropped her cup. The tea sloshed around and some spilled over her hands. It burned, but she didn’t move. She couldn’t breathe. Somehow the air got trapped inside her throat. Why was he here? What did he want?

Oh God, let it be me!

After her fiancé dumps her and her beloved Aunt Jenny goes missing, Willa Eklund travels to Lobster Cove with a broken heart to search for Jenny while running her bookstore. When a mysterious man visits the Shucker's Booktique on a stormy night drenched in rain and covered in mud, Willa's heart melts under his stormy gaze. She wants Lon and the answers he may have, but he also has a secret. Can Willa trust him?

Lon Devlin is a Tempest, a water sprite who can only take a human form during stormy nights. He rides the waves, lives by the tides, and nothing can hold him down, not even a beautiful woman. When he visits his mortal friend, he discovers she's missing and her intriguing niece has taken her place. He wants Willa, but he also wants answers. What happened to Jenny?

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday fun

I caught up on NPR's "Studio 360" files this week, including an interview with James Lipton.  Lipton, in case you didn't know, is a linguist and playwright who wrote the book on collective nouns--An Exaltation of Larks. It turns out a bunch of people in the late 1400s enjoyed  creating new collectives. They were the ones who came up with  pride of lions, leap of leopards, and murder of crows. (What do you call a pair of crows? Attempted murder.)

It was a delightful conversation, complete with Lipton's judgments on listeners' submissions--a salutation of yoga instructors. A deck of Trekkies. A rave of deejays. And my favorite, a hedge of investment bankers.

The game sounded like so much fun, I came up with a few of my own about the kinds of people I know. A pen of writers. A staff of musicians. A palette of artists. A skein of knitters. A bed of gardeners. A hush of librarians.

Now it's your turn. Got any collective nouns to share with the world?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Andy Cormier

Back in June the Rodgers Memorial Library in Hudson, NH, hosted a bunch of local authors as part of their anniversary celebration. Among them was Andy Cormier, author of The Great Deceiver, Shamblers: the zombie apocalypse, and The Winds of Change.  With only a little prodding, he agreed be interviewed on this blog. Andy is an avid reader, an author and songwriter, and graphic designer.  Welcome, Andy!

Tell us about your latest book, Shamblers. How did it come about? Did it change as you wrote and researched?

My latest novel is a zombie apocalypse book. It mixes horror and action. It came about due to the popularity of such titles. I decided it was a great idea to do a spin on the typical zombie plot, and I mixed it with a lot of treachery and betrayal amongst the main characters. It was just released on July 16th number of stellar reviews already.

The Great Deceiver is kind of a cross-genre blend. It started in 2002 as a short story. 
People liked it so much I decided to expand. The idea was very original and I planned to do a few things I have never seen in literature or movies before, so I knew I had to write it. I originally had a totally different ending, which wouldn’t have worked, and I added an alternate as an afterthought. It turns out many people prefer the alternate.

Do you have a favorite character? Why?

In The Great Deceiver I loved the main character (he is unnamed due to his heavy symbolism). He’s the focus of the entire book: it is kind of his memoir. I love how 
dynamic he is as the book moves on.

Who/what influences or inspires your writing?

I don’t know anymore. I think I inspire myself, I am driven to succeed and I enjoy doing it.

What authors do you return to again and again, if any? Where do you find new authors to read?

I haven’t been reading as much lately, but in the past I found myself grabbing as many of R.A. Salvatore’s books as I could. I usually find new authors by word of mouth or on the writing groups I belong to.

Do you have a writing routine/ritual? What distracts you when you’re writing?

Yes: I wake up, write as much as I can, and break once my head starts to hurt. I then repeat. Lately the HBO series Boardwalk Empire has been distracting me. I started it a few weeks ago and am compelled to see what happens next.

What do you like best/least about writing?

The best is when you finish putting an awesome quote in a book, or write a scene that is just mind-blowing. The least favorite part is the editing.

Advice for newbies?

Keep writing. Your first few stories are going to probably be really bad. Or at least need a lot of editing. Even with natural talent you will grow a ton the more you write.
Where has writing taken you that you never expected to go? Funniest/most exciting/most memorable?

I found out I am a “real sick person,” according to friends and family. I guess I have a macabre sense of humor, and some of the women in my stories get a bit mistreated. The funniest thing I did was a scene near the end of The Great Deceiver …I won’t ruin it, but I laughed for two days when I put it in.


Plotter, definitely: though I believe characters ultimately drive a plot. Memorable characters are more important than the plot. I wrote a fantasy series from the POV of 13 characters as it shifted, and 3 interweaving plots. The outline alone was 19 pages.

How do you deal with dry spells?

I find other things to do.

Do you have critique partners or beta readers? How do they help?

Yes, I have a few people whose opinions I rely upon and trust. They tell me where the dog died, so to speak. I learn more about my books from them than I do myself, and their input is critical.

Do you remember the first book you ever read or had read to you? First story you wrote?

It was so long ago I can’t. I was probably in the 2nd or 3rd grade. I remember a book about a teacher who was replaced by an alien/monster. I also remember a book about a magic ring that turned a kid into a dragon or something. I wish I could recall the titles, they’d be interesting to revisit. The first story I wrote was about a serial killer, though I spelled it “cereal” because I didn’t know any better. Lol. It also was more a guy running around committing random violence, so made no sense at all. I think I was in the 4th grade.

Thanks for answering all my questions, Andy. Readers, find Andrew Cormier’s novels at Amazon. Learn more about Andy Cormier and follow his blog at    

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Summer Reading

“I cannot live without books.”
~Thomas Jefferson

Like most of you, I suspect, I read constantly. My parents used to tell me I’d ruin my eyes if I kept reading so much. I’d say they were right, except that my brother, who doesn’t read much, has the same vision problems I do.

Anyway, my days are framed in books, morning to night, 24/7/365. I’ll read anytime, anyplace, but there is something special about summer reading. Those long, golden evenings call to me. Even more, I especially love the clear cool mornings, when I can sneak out of bed and spend an hour in my current alternative world before I have to face the demands of the day.

Which brings to mind an adventure. When I was a kid, I not only snuck out of bed, I snuck out of the house. I had a private little nook just out of sight from the house, and I’d wake at first light, tiptoe outside, and read until the neighbor let his dog out. That was my signal to slip back into bed before my household roused. To this day, I don’t believe anyone ever suspected. The memory is very sweet.

A couple years later, in a new home, I tried the same trick. It was a bit harder, because my dad had installed heavier locks after a rash of burglaries in the neighborhood. Still, the call of the early summer morning couldn’t be denied, and I hid in the dense shrubs at the back of the yard, engrossed in a book. Was it still The Black Stallion, or had I graduated to Ray Bradbury? I don’t remember.

I do, however, remember the uproar when my dad got up early and discovered the unlocked door. Alarums and excursions! Roust my siblings, scream and shout, call the cops! I stuck my finger in my book and ambled inside. Sheesh, I was right outside the door. Can’t a gal get some privacy?

Dad grounded me for a week. At thirteen, I welcomed the extra time to read, even if I had to do it in my bedroom instead of out on the grass. Oh, and I had to wash the dishes every night. Fortunately, I’d grown tall enough to prop a book on the windowsill above the sink. As I said, I’ll read anytime, anyplace. Especially in the summer.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Defenestrating Mule

The curse and the blessing, they're one and the same. 
      ~The Indigo Girls, "Fugitive"

I'm sure Amy Ray had a completely different situation in mind when she wrote those words, but they perfectly describe my relationship with computers. My own much less poetic description is, "Computers are like the opposite sex. I love what they can do for me, but I hate what I have to go through to get them to do it."

Sometime last night, a tree swaying in the wind leaned on a wire somewhere around here. At least that's my theory. The result was a series of brief power outages that stopped our clocks, paused the humidifier, messed up the furnace cycle, made the phone beep, confused the heck out of the DVR, and--apparently--turned my laptop on and off and on again.

All these lovely electronic devices that keep me on time, moisturized, warm, amused and in touch with the outside world went haywire. I can deal with most of them, although to be honest, the remote for the DVR must be approached with the proper incantations and burnt offerings.

Mule--and I'm sure you appreciate why I named the laptop thus--is another story. I always turn it off at night, removing the widget that transfers signals from my wireless keyboard and mouse. Always. Every night. I'm more likely to shut down than I am to brush my teeth. Mule was zonked out in his stable when I went to bed last night.

So why was his power light flashing this morning? Why, when I tapped the touchpad, did my desktop come up? Perhaps, I thought muzzily, my husband, he of the magic fingers, had turned it on when he got up. He often checks the weather on Mule rather than on his own machine before he goes to work.

Hubby claimed he hadn't even entered the office today. And Mule's light might have been on, but nobody was home. When I clicked on any of my icons, nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen for a very long time. At last a message appeared, informing me "the signal failed to transfer." I was advised to shut down using Ctrl+Alt+Delete or the power button. I tried both methods, and nothing stubbornly went on happening.

So I took a shower. Well, I shrieked and swore and sniveled, then took a shower. Dammit, Mule, I have work to do! People are depending on me. I'm depending on you, you thick-headed, literally half-assed creature. You see that window beside the desk? You know what happens when I stick you out there and let go? Think about it.

He of the magic fingers waited outside the shower curtain until I paused for breath. "It's up now," he said. "Everything works."

I poked my head out of the shower and breathed a seductive "Huh?"

"All I did was hold the power button down for three seconds or so."

See what I mean? Proper incantations and burnt offerings. Magic fingers help, too. Then again, maybe it was the threat of defenestration.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The GoPro(c) Technique

Recently I watched the 900th Formula One Grand Prix, a breathtaking spectacle of high-tech cars glittering under brilliant lights in the night-time desert of Bahrain. A feast for the eyes even if you don’t care about the intra-team rivalries or the fine details of aerodynamics or the constant jostling over rules.

But I digress.

The pre-race show featured a 20-second montage of those 900 races, dating back to the 1950s. What struck me was not the percentage of the drivers I recognized (a benefit of my age), but the progressive improvement in the images. From grainy black and white stills to handheld newsreels to helicopter shots to in-car cameras, we got closer and closer to the action. During the race, we were able to watch from just above the driver’s head as his car was speared by another and did a barrel roll.* The capability now exists, as in Ron Howard’s film Rush, to show a driver’s pupils narrowing and widening.

In other words, we’ve moved from telling to showing.

It’s one thing to tell the viewer that Esteban Gutierrez crashed; it’s quite another to show the sky rotating over the rollbar of his machine. Though I was ensconced on a comfy sofa, my head spun after that shot.

All of which is to remind you that this is the effect you want to create in your writing. Imagine you are a GoPro© camera attached to your character, seeing through her eyes, hearing through her ears. Even better, imagine you’re a next-generation GoPro©, with the capability to record every physical sensation--the racing heart, the roiling stomach, the aching muscles. And once you’ve done that, take it a much deeper step. We’ll call it an In-Heart camera, perhaps, one that portrays love, hate, anger, joy, fear, rejoicing.

But you don’t need a camera. You’re a writer. All you need are imagination and words. Go on--show the world.

* The driver’s reaction: “Whoa, what was that?” He climbed out unassisted and walked away safely.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Susan Coryell--A Red, Red Rose

Please welcome fellow Wild Rose Press author Susan Coryell.

Thanks to Nikki for inviting me to be a guest on your wonderful blogspot. 

It's great to have you here, Susan. Take it away!

Somewhere out there, I’m pretty sure, is a ghost in search of an author. See, I have never actually experienced the spirit world, though Lord knows I’ve tried. When my realtor husband listed a supposedly-haunted historic estate for sale, he said he was planning to sell the ghost and throw in the estate for free, though neither he nor I ever saw, heard, tasted, smelled or felt the spirit’s presence.

Still, the haunted estate inspired my latest book, A Red, Red Rose, a cozy mystery/Southern Gothic , published by The Wild Rose Press, 2013.  Twenty-year-old Ashby Overton travels to Moore Mountain Lake in Southwestern Virginia (based on Smith Mountain Lake, where I now live) to be an au pair to her 7-year old cousin, Jeff. Ashby has an ulterior motive: revealing family secrets and searching out her roots at the historic family estate, Overhome. Her first night in her room in the oldest wing of the house, Ashby is “greeted” by what turns out to be Rosabelle, an ancient family ghost. Ashby’s search for answers elicits more than she ever dreamed and she finds that some secrets, no matter how deeply-held, are meant to be revealed. She also finds a confidant in Luke, the stable boy. My novel involves mystery, history, romance and a ghost. I’m proud to report that A Red, Red Rose was nominated for a literary award by the Library of Virginia.

I would definitely choose Rosabelle, the spirit, as a favorite character because she was so much fun to create! Never having experienced a ghost, I relied on trusted friends who have successfully delved into the spirit world. With some advice from them, and a lot of imagination, I created Rosabelle. Amazingly, my dear spirit turned out to fit the exact definition of a family ghost, according to a certified paranormal expert who reviewed A Red, Red Rose after publication. Wow! That was a pleasant surprise; I thought I had mostly made up everything about my ancestral spirit.

To answer some of Nikki’s questions:
What authors do you return to and where do you find new authors?
For personal reading, I return again and again to an old favorite mystery author, Daphne du Maurier, author of Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, among others. I also enjoy reading new books written by my writing colleagues at L&L Dreamspell and The Wild Rose Press, as well as works authored by Lake Writers, my critique group, which I could not live without when it comes to revising and editing.

What do you like best/least about writing?
One great thing about writing is I can work wherever and whenever I find inspiration—love my laptop! I even take it to the dock in nice weather, and it always goes on trips with me. I find writing isolating when I am composing, and noise and interruptions make me cranky. The unexpected bonus I’ve discovered with my writing is meeting other writers—in person and online—through blogs and websites, Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter. Technology affords writers infinite ways to bond. Another definite plus is the opportunity to speak about my books and writing.  I lead workshops, hold signings, prepare panel discussions and do other presentations, from Virginia to Hawaii. A personal favorite was my participation in the Virginia Paraquest last spring. Among the witches, psychics, ghost busters and hypnotists, I mingled, somewhat out of my comfort zone, holding a fake long-stemmed red rose, and talking about writing paranormal fiction. I am delighted that they’ve invited me to return again to this year’s Paraquest. 

What else are you working on?
I’m excited about my next book—just sent the manuscript to my editor. Entitled Beneath the Stones, the novel picks up where A Red, Red Rose left off. Five years later Ashby is planning her wedding to Luke, her love interest in the first book. But, there’s a big problem: Overhome is in financial distress and it’s up to Ashby to save the estate from bankruptcy. While most of the original characters appear, a host of new ones become involved as a Civil War ghost tries to disrupt Ashby’s plans. I’m hoping The Wild Rose Press will pick up Beneath the Stones. Many of my lovely readers have clamored for a sequel. Of course, I am still waiting to meet my first ghost in person.

Talk about the first story you wrote:
My first attempt at novel-writing elicited a somewhat Disneyesque young adult mystery called Doubleheader. I never seriously tried to publish it—but I did prove to myself that I could carry out a long work with a beginning, middle and end. Loosely based on my twin brothers when they were teens, the novel involves a pitcher-catcher twin duo who telepathize their signals to one another. My “success” led me to write another YA novel, Eaglebait, about school bullies from the victim’s perspective. Eaglebait won two major awards: The NY Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age” and the International Reading Association’s “Young Adult Choice.” I’m currently revising and updating the novel to include cyber-bullying and planning to publish it through Amazon within the next few months.

What are your favorite non-writing activities?
When I’m not writing, I enjoy all that my beautiful lake home offers—kayaking, cruising, swimming and just dock-sitting-sunset-watching leisure. I also play at golf and stay fit with yoga and walking. My husband and I love to travel, especially when our grandchildren are involved.

Advice for Newbies:
Just keep reading and writing. Writers have to write—curse or blessing? I know not which.

It's been a delight having you here, Susan. Best of luck with your fascinating book!

Thanks, Nikki. It’s been fun blogging and I’d love to respond to any comments. Ghost-busters, welcome!
Susan Coryell

Contact Susan at:

Buy links:
To purchase A Red, Red Rose, use the links below.
The Wild Rose Press:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Audra Middleton and Hitchhiker

Please welcome my friend Audra Middleton, whose recently released Hitchhiker, from Champagne Books, is a real winner! It's good to have you here, Audra.
Tell us about Hitchhiker, Audra. 

Hitchhiker is something like a backward X-Files. It is about a group of FBI agents solving normal crimes with their paranormal gifts. My main character, Ainsley, has a supernatural ability that makes her a human surveillance device. She’s being recruited by this FBI freak squad, but is hesitant to join them due to her laundry list of insecurities.

How did it come about?

I had spent years writing my first novel, a fantasy, and I was looking to write something a little lighter, set in modern day USA so I didn’t have to create a whole new world. I decided to start by "writing what I knew," so I made my main character a sarcastic middle school teacher (I used to be one), and then for fun I gave her the ability to hitch a ride in other people’s central nervous systems. Naturally, with a talent like that the FBI would be interested in her. It just kept going like that, one idea building on the last until I had myself a quirky little novel.

What changed as you wrote or researched?

As I wrote it, I had realized I needed to develop my antagonist more. I ended up adding and revising several chapters as I spent more time in his head.
I love that twist on a popular TV show. Speaking of influences, what authors do you return to again & again? Where do you find new authors to read?

I love reading Beverly Cleary to my kids, and I enjoy reading Stephen King myself. I find new authors through my on-line critique group and through my publishing company, Champagne Books and their Burst line. I really enjoy reading indie work. It’s refreshing.

We are fortunate to have so many sources for good writing these days. Do you have a writing routine or ritual? What distracts you when you’re writing? 

I like to sit in my recliner with my laptop, giant dictionary and a cup of coffee. But as long as I’ve got a great character in mind, I can write anywhere. My main distraction to writing is life – laundry, my job, running my kids from one practice to the next. But you have to live to write.

I hear you! My kids are grown, but there are still so many distractions. What do you like best/least about writing?

I love it when my characters take over. That’s when writing is more fun than work.The most challenging thing for me as a writer has been putting myself "out there." Letting others read my writing, at first, felt a bit like getting naked in front of them. Once I got used to that, it was time to pitch. After that, I had to start marketing. Every step of the way I'm exposing myself to more people. It’s been challenging, but it’s a lot more fun to share my writing with people than with a file drawer, and that thought is what keeps me going.
A large percentage of the writers I know struggle (to put it mildly) with marketing. If we were naturals at it, we'd be selling stuff, wouldn't we? One a more pleasant note, what are your favorite non-writing activities?

I like to read to my boys, play poker with my friends, and relax in front of a good movie with my husband. I would add daydreaming, but I consider that part of my writing process. 

A lot of non-writers don't realize how important daydreaming is to the creative process. We may look idle, but we're working furiously. In those daydreams, what else are you working on?

I am polishing up a romantic comedy about a woman whose normal life unravels and as a result she ends up falling for a drummer, coming to terms with her unconventional childhood, and discovering that normal was never really in her best interest. I am also working on the third and final book in my fantasy series and a sequel to Hitchhiker.

I can see the t-shirt already--Normal is not in my best interest. Great tagline. Where has writing taken you that you never expected to go?  

I spent a good deal of time researching how to poison people for this novel, which isn’t something I’ve considered in real life. It’s harder than you’d think (if you don’t want it discovered).

(Shivers) Remind me not to make you angry. How do you deal with dry spells? 

To deal with writer’s block I try to edit sections I’ve already written, skip around and write fun scenes that have popped into my head but I’m not sure where they’ll fit in, or if I’m really stuck, I’ll sometimes read the dictionary. It seems weird, but interesting words can sometimes spark new ideas for me.

It's not weird. Dictionaries are among my favorite books. Do you remember the first book you ever read or had read to you? First story you wrote?  

The first chapter book I remember reading was a biography of Helen Keller. I sat in the recliner all day and read it start to finish. The first story I remember writing was about a giant cookie that comes to life. It won me a seat at the Young Author’s Conference that year.
Audra, thanks for spending the time to be here today, and thanks for your thoughtful answers to my questions. Readers, be sure to check out Hitchhiker at the links below the blurb.


Small town art teacher, Ainsley Benton, has the ability to see, hear, and feel what other people are experiencing, and now the FBI’s freak squad wants to use her “human bug” abilities to catch bad guys. Despite her fear of commitment, failure, and responsibility, Ainsley temporarily agrees to help this team of misfits, and ends up risking life and limb to investigate a conspiracy that may only be one of her schizophrenic co-worker’s paranoid delusions.

ContactAudra loves to connect with readers at or

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