Imagine That! Images for the Writing Life

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: January 30, 2014
Categories: Creativity, Inspiration
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Seville

The other week, home from a library book sale (which I love, love, love, Book Junkie—and now Bookseller!—that I am), I spread out my haul to savor. Cook books—yum! Art books—beautiful! And a travel guide to Seville (LEFT) and the region of Andalusia—one of those colorful guides, chock-full of intriguing photographs, that I can’t resist. This particular guide was in Spanish, and though I can figure some out (courtesy of my knowledge of Romanian), I mostly looked at the pictures. And I became lost in a reverie…

 

Graceful hands and swirling skirts of flamenco dancers…

Matadors in ornate, fitted suits…

A candle-lit procession moving at twilight through the streets…

An elegant store with shelves reaching to tall ceilings…

Which of “My Books” could these images illuminate?

One thing to know about me as a Writer is that I have several works-in-progress in the wings, waiting for their turn once the historical middle-grade novel I’ve mentioned here finishes its time in my writing spotlight. These are fantasy and fairytale retellings that I can hardly wait to finish and read myself. The stories are informed by various places, moods, and images. So, as I leaf through the Seville guide, I wonder: which of my future novels will best be served by the image of that elegant tall store? By the mood evoked in me by the movement of people in that candle-lit street?

Of course, the same images could be used in a very different way—as factual documentation—if I were writing a book set in the real Seville.

You probably already use images to support your writing. To inspire you further, here are some ways Scrivas capture helpful images.

You can have a bookshelf or section thereof devoted to a particular project. Scriva Liz I believe does so, with all the books she buys or endlessly renews from local libraries as she researches her fabulous non-fiction books.

You can store images online. One time Scriva Amber showed photographs she found on the Internet of people who looked as she envisioned the characters in her first novel.

You can make a binder book. Scriva Nicole photocopied and printed out in color so many images related to her book set in mid-16th century Flanders that she ran out of printer ink. Or you can tear out pages from magazines, as you come across people or places or other images that remind you of your story.

And perhaps more than one method will best serve your book.

Which do you like best, or want to try first—or next?

 

I don’t want to leave this post about a writer’s use of images without mentioning an important last one: the collage—be it on posterboard, accordion foldout, repurposed or artist’s book—where you imagine dreams or goals for yourself as a writer.

The collage can help focus you, or show you things may not quite have realized are important to you. It can be a snapshot of where you are now as a writer (“I will pursue my own way!” emerged for me at our Scriva January 2012 goals meeting); of goals; or of ridiculous, wonderful dreams that you barely dare dream but would be thrilled to see happen.

 

So this year, how will you use images to help further along your fantasy novel, or realistic story, whether fiction or non-fiction…or you?

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

Gift Giving

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: December 25, 2013
Categories: Celebrations, Inspiration
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Santa reading with globeThese last few days, with the Christmas season upon us, the melody of the song “Santa, Baby” played in my head. You know, the one where she tells Santa everything she wants for Christmas.

 

I didn’t much feel like making a list of what I would like in life or for Christmas: I’d get what I’d get, and anything else could just rest. And I thought of the original Christmas. Though yes, it involved Jesus receiving gifts from the magi, ultimately Christ’s birth was about Him giving: He came to give His life as a ransom for many (see Mark 10:45 or Matthew 20:28 in the Bible).

 

So I mulled instead what I’d like to give the world, through my writing. And I remembered again what some writers important to me have given me. Most of these writers impacted me starting in my childhood or adolescence. For example:

 

-Jules Verne, whose books of regular travel, more than those of science-fiction, marked me. One of my favorite books at the age of ten was The Long Vacation, the story of a handful of New Zealand schoolboys stranded on an island for two years; then there was The Amazing Adventure of the Barsac Mission, which I won as a school prize in third or fourth grade, where a group of Europeans find this amazing futuristic city in the wilds of Africa; or Around the World in 80 Days… From Jules Verne, I received a longing for adventure, for travel, the desire for strange lands, and the taste of strange names in my mouth. You have no idea how exotic names like “New York” or “Smith” were to an eight-year old growing up in Communist Romania.

 

La Medeleni (At Medeleni), by Ionel Teodoreanu. This three-volume novel by one of Romania’s early 20th century novelists traces the fortunes of a Romanian upper-class family and their estate, Medeleni. Because the first volume treats the childhood of the three protagonists, children read it; I devoured the next two volumes, too, which treat adult themes, and, though it broke my heart, it became one of the favorite novels of my childhood. As the vibrant Olgutza dies and her brother loses Medeleni, La Medeleni pierced me with the bitter-sweetness of life.

 

-Patricia McKillip and the Riddle-Master of Hed trilogy: While I am just now working my way through—and deciding about—her later works, this fantasy trilogy has been one of my favorite books and a regular re-read for me ever since I discovered it in high school.  The beautifully-written story with a marvelous plot is evocative of other stories lurking beyond those McKillip tells.

 

-Patricia MacLachlan of Sarah, Plain and Tall and so many other lovely books gives a sense throughout them all that all’s right with the world, and all will be right.

 

-Elizabeth Goudge, a mid-century British novelist (Pilgrim’s Inn, A City of Bells, The Scent of Water, and The Rosemary Tree have been among my favorites), gives the sense in her novels that relating rightly or other things in life can be difficult, but one can choose to do the right thing and thus create beauty and rightness in the world.

 

-Eleanor Cameron and The Court of the Stone Children, which I’ve loved since my early teen years (and which I just realized won the National Book Award back in the 1970s), gives a sense of the reality and intricacy of the past.

 

OK, I’ll stop here with my list of presents I garnered from others’ writing.

 

What I want to give others through my writing, in turn, includes much of what I have received myself: I want to gift the world with beautifully, tightly written, evocative books that give a sense of hope, of the beauty of life; of destiny, and of one’s life mattering. That it matters what one does…

 

Hmm. Writing this post clarified something for me. Checklists by Cheryl Klein, fab Scholastic editor and writer about writing, asks writers to consider “the point of the book”: what truth, emotion, concept, do you want readers to go away with from your writing? I think I have a better sense of what she means as a result of this exercise.

 

So what about you? What gifts have you received the whole year long, even your whole life long, from other writers? And what gifts, what lingering feelings, do you want to gift your readers with?

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

Continuing Thanks

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: December 2, 2013
Categories: Celebrations, Inspiration
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sunny day-near SuceavaOn a beautiful morning this June, my heart swelled with gratitude for God’s many kindnesses to me. I was leaving the Romanian countryside after a very special trip there with my mother. She’d had the courage to travel again though much older and frailer than when she’d last seen her birthplace. I felt privileged to be there with her.

 

It had not been a perfect trip, mind you. My smart phone, which I used as a recording device, had been stolen. I still ache to think of the many stories and interviews that have been taken from me. Yet that June morning I was just grateful. Overall my mother was well, we’d spent time with many wonderful people, the sun was shining after a month of endless rain, our train compartment was roomy and comfortable… Now we were heading to Bucharest where we’d stay with a lovely friend of mine and I’d do research in a very restricted archive before returning home to the States.

 

I saw how much I have been given in my life, gifts and graces big and small. I also saw my tendency to want EVERYTHING, rather than being regularly and profusely thankful for the much that I have. Supportive family and wonderful friends. Basic provision. Peace with God. So many beautiful things. Books, and time to read. My mother still with us. And, as someone once pointed out and it stayed with me, that bombs aren’t falling in our backyards. In short, peace on many levels. Peace.

 

I remembered that June day and my feelings of gratitude again before Thanksgiving. What a good way to live! Rather than getting hung up on things, even important ones, that I’d like but don’t have in my life, I feel rich when I review and delight in the many, many good things, big and small, that I have been granted. That’s not my default, but I’d like it to be.

 

In the Bible book of Lamentations, though Jerusalem had just been totally devastated by the Babylonians, the writer includes one of the best reminders for gratitude: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) Isn’t that amazing? New graces every day. We can look for them, the whole year long. Whatever may be lacking, we can give thanks for what we have and be richer and more at peace for it.

 

On the writerly front, my big thanks this year go to:

 

-MY CRITIQUE GROUP: for the Scrivas’ example of diligence and delight in writing; for seeking ways to encourage me and all of us to write; and for their support and compassion when my family passed through hard times this year.

 

-JERROLD MUNDIS, author of Break Writer’s Block Now!: for properly identifying my various reasons for not writing as the decoys that they are; for helping me detach from my Baggage Train (about which I blogged this fall); and for the reminder that it’s best to aim small when blocked or starting writing again, but to be consistent.

 

-DONALD MAASS, author of Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. I’ve thought of a few ways to apply his advice already that I am very excited about and know make my story stronger. I continue working through his books. If I can implement a fifth of what he advises, my novel will rock for readers, as well as for me.

 

-GREAT STORYTELLERS who have gone before and show me how it’s done. Right now two examples come to mind: The Sound of Music movie, which I saw again on Thanksgiving, and which reminded me that when you’re done with one important scene, you move on right away to the next important event. And the Harry Potter books, which I’ve been “chain-reading” over the last week or two, and which left me in awe again at J. K. Rowling’s weaving of sub-plots and just the general enjoyableness of her writing.

 

Thanks for staying alongside as I enumerate blessings. What are some of yours?

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

Shh! Writers at Work

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: November 1, 2013
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boy shhAt our fall writing retreat, Scrivas are quietly, intently—and sometimes quirkily—working. You’ll likely hear more later about some of our work. For now, briefly, the intriguing projects—and techniques—include:

 

-finalizing a non-fiction picture book for which field research was done in Italy a year ago

 

-“drawing the book:” with crayons, on large sheets of paper, getting a visual sense of a sequel novel

 

-reading history germane to a novel and deciding how tidbits of the past will be streamed into the story’s flow

 

-cutting and pasting (the old-fashioned way!) information gleaned from various publications about possible publishers for a couple of completed manuscripts

 

-pressing on with the final stretch of a much revisioned novel that the Scrivas can hardly wait to read in its entirety

 

What are you working on these days? And what quirky way of delving into your story do you want to try? In the next few days, tear yourself from everything you could be doing, park yourself next to a window looking out on autumn, and give time to your writing project. Tell those around: “Shh! A writer is working. “

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

www.sabinairascol.com

The Baggage Train: Lose 10,000 Tons This Week!

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: October 1, 2013
Categories: Basics, Challenges
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train, evergreens

My post title is a spin on Lose 200 Lbs. This Weekend, a book by decluttering guru Don Aslett. I’m not urging you to clean out your possibly overstocked personal library. (Though if you do, give me a shout: I’m starting a book selling business!)

 

The kind of weight we writers must shed is more esoteric. It’s the personal baggage we bring to our writing. To our writing times, our writing encounters.

 

Jerrold Mundis has written more than 30 works of fiction and non-fiction, including Break Writer’s Block Now! (subtitle: How to Demolish It Forever and Establish a Productive Working Schedule in One Afternoon-A Proven System.) In this book he describes “the baggage train” and reminds me to uncouple mine.

 

There is no such thing as writer’s block, Mundis convincingly argues. (Read his book, do the few exercises just as he directs, and you’ll see what he means.) What holds us up is only perfectionism, fear, and…the baggage train. The train consists of all the big things we wish to have happen through our writing. You know—fame, money, vindication, world peace, immortality…

 

It’s OK to have these motivations, Mundis says, but we must set them aside when we sit down to write:

With all these chained to you, one after the other, stretching off into the distance like a great baggage train, you’re not going to get very far. You may never even get out of the station. Because you’re not sitting down on a Monday morning to write for three hours—you’re sitting down to become rich, to become famous, to enlighten the world, to get your degree. And you cannot possibly do that. You cannot become rich sitting in front of your typewriter from nine to twelve on Monday morning. You cannot get your degree, become famous or enlighten the world.

            […] All you CAN accomplish is that day’s work, the simple act of putting words on paper. Nothing else is possible.”

 

So go ahead. Uncouple your baggage train, and just write. That you can reliably do.

At the end of the movie Soul Surfer, the main character says something like, “I came to surf, not to win.”

 

We writers can do the same. We can sit down just to write, to enjoy the shape and taste of words and images in our minds and then on the page.  Not to get the validation we’d like from some who may not have offered it, or to pay off our mortgage, to hold thousands spellbound with our entrancing, trippingly spoken words, or get embossed metallic stickers affixed to the covers of our books. Those things can come after—maybe. For now, we’re just living in the world of our story, and advancing in it, transferring it to the page so that others can experience it too. That’s much easier to accomplish when we’re not pulling 10,000 tons behind us.

 

*

10,000 tons is based on Internet information that a train can weigh up to 16,000 tons—and a train engine alone about 150 tons. Of course, train lengths, loads, and weights vary. So your personal baggage–and individual tonnage lost–may also vary.

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

www.sabinairascol.com

 

 

Facing our Fears

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: September 1, 2013
Categories: Challenges, Inspiration
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Twyla TharpI loved Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit when I read it months ago. I thought it was an essential inspirational book and workbook for any creative type, and wanted to return to it. I just did.

 

On pages 22-23, Tharp (left) exorcises her fears by naming* and looking at them, one by one. I decided to do the same. My own fears have held steady over the last few months:

 

-My book(s) will not be as good on the page as they are in my head.

-I am still not 1000% sure which pathway is best through the options of my story.

-My book(s) may not affect readers as intensely as some books affect me.

-My family may not be happy with what I did in books that are inspired by, or based on, family stories.

-It will take far longer to write my book(s) than I think it will, or than I think it SHOULD.

 

Examining my own fears:

 

My book(s) will not be as good on the page as they are in my head.

No, they may not be, and that’s a universal fear and reality. But I believe I can write, and I am willing to do the refining and polishing work to get my books as close as I can to my vision. And—in some ways, what I write will be BETTER than what is in my head. If you craft stories, you too know how happy ideas crop up WHILE writing, connections and twists that you hadn’t thought of before sitting down to set down, or flesh out, what you’ve been imagining. [* Hmm! I hadn’t thought of this before.]

 

I am still not 1000% sure which pathway is best through the options of my story.

Yet the more work I do on my book, the closer I am getting to the specific variant of my complex story that I want to tell. Scriva encouragements/exercises from a couple of months ago help. For example: Write down the scenes and components you absolutely MUST have in.  THEN figure out how to connect them, or the order they should be in.

 

My book(s) may not affect readers as intensely as some authors’ books have affected me.

Some works make me ache with their depth, craft, and beauty. Each writer’s gift is different, and I already know that my books will not be Shakespeare or the Bible. Yet I have rich tales to tell; ability; the readiness to do the work; the sense, honed through much reading, of what pierces deeply and what stays on the surface, or, worse, annoys. And I have the Scrivas, who will set me straight when I fall off the path or where I have blinders on.

 

My family may think I should have written differently the books that are inspired by, or based on, family stories.

That may be the case. So that I can write the books I want to, I’m holding myself separate from comments, negative OR positive, by keeping mum around family members about said projects as much as possible.

 

(In some way this last fear amuses me, and I think I shouldn’t have it, but I do.) It will take far longer to write my book(s) than I think it will, or than I think it SHOULD.

Yes, it will. Just get over it. And start now. Keep starting, as Neil Fiore, author of The Now Habit, says. Then one day, eventually, I WILL be done.

 

So what are your fears? What does examining them show you? What ends up being surprisingly helpful?

 

*

If you’re wondering, Tharp’s fears are:

 

1. People will laugh at me.

2. Someone has done it before.

3. I have nothing to say.

4. I will upset someone I love.

5. Once executed, the idea will never be as good as it is in my mind.

 

Sabina I. Rascol

www.sabinairascol.com

 

Reading Books, Writing Books

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: July 2, 2013
Categories: Basics, Inspiration
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open bookI love how my reading informs my writing and my writer’s mind. Here are several recent reads—novels, as well as books about writing—and the writerly issues they led me to think about.

*
-[A sequel to a novel I had moderately enjoyed; the sequel, I couldn’t be bothered to finish]
MOTIVATION
I felt several characters’ motivations were not clear or well supported. The main character did strong things without her motivation for them having been built up. An important supporting character only intermittently seemed to remember—and act on—one of her driving motivations. A minor character belied a motivation the author suggested for her.

Note to self: Make sure my characters’ motivations are clear, sensical, convincing, supported.

*
-Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Chapter 16, “Weaving a Story”, by Donald Maass
-Starters, by Lissa Price (illustration of the principle)
CONNECTIONS (and SURPRISES)
Connections between seemingly unrelated aspects of a story (characters, locations), weave it together more tightly.

Sabina’s corollary: Unexpected connections that make sense can result in satisfying surprises (as in The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner)

*
-Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, Chapter 13, “Public Stakes”, by Donald Maass
MAKING THINGS WORSE (ESCALATING)
We all know this principle. Yet reading it here clicked for me, leading me to a new way of thinking about the organization of my novel.

*
-The Mind of Your Story, by Lisa Lenard-Cook
CHRONOLOGY (BEGINNINGS, PACING)
Lenard-Cook has some interesting thoughts about chronology that I’m just dipping into. These are supported by cool graphs, which we Scrivas tend to like (see Chapter 10, “The Mind of Your Story”). I’m not sure if I agree with everything said, but the glimpse of her ideas about chronology is making me think hard about where exactly my novel starts and how it unwinds. As a student of Lenard-Cook’s said about story: “It starts here because it’s about this.”

*
So what are you reading these days, and how does it inform your writing?

-Sabina I. Rascol
www.sabinairascol.com

Wanted: Stories

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: May 31, 2013
Categories: Basics, Craft
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You know those ads in writing magazines that say, “Writers wanted?” In fact, we all want stories, even need stories, but what is a successful one? 

Going through my file of valuable writing advice, I came across an interview with Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story, that ScrivaAmber shared months ago. I liked what I read so much that I went out and bought Cron’s book.

I continue to refer to Wired for Story and to Lisa Cron’s definition of story.

“A story is how what happens (the plot) affects someone (the protagonist) in pursuit of a difficult goal (the story question) and how he or she changes as a result (which is what the story is actually about).”

Read the whole interview here. And happy crafting of satisfying stories to share with the world.

-Sabina I. Rascol

www.sabinairascol.com

 

Unsure? Try a Smorgasbord

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: April 30, 2013
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smorgasbordI know what my work-in-progress is about: war and friendship, status, wanting others’ approval, fathers, and family, and growing up… Because it’s about so many things, it’s been just a tad difficult nailing down the core of my story.

One exercise I inadvertently used in searching for my story core is The Smorgasbord. I decided to write a series of short synopses combining my story elements in various ways, to get closer to what my story is ultimately about.

The first synopsis (long) set out the material I already had drafted: my basic story, containing most of the elements above. The next synopses would be short paragraphs. They weren’t going to be anything important, I reassured myself. They would just explore directions. Thus I shoved my inner critic in a closet, slammed the door behind, and spit out my first new direction. I wasn’t sure about it. The Scrivas aren’t going to like this, I thought. It’s too obscure, including data from a country’s history which no one knows anything about. Yet I was just exploring directions, so I kept the draft. I wrote few more “treatments” over the course of some days. Whether I felt inspired or not, I continued playing with the weight, placement, and order of the different elements which are this story.

Something happened as I pressed on. The last couple of synopses felt different. This may be it, I thought! This may be the direction I want to go in as I mix and slant all my story elements: war and friendship, status, wanting others’ approval, fathers and family and growing up…

You may have a writing buddy, a spouse, or a critique group that you so trust that you want their version of your story. You want them to weigh in on the maelstrom roiling around in your head. I ended up sending all seven of my synopses to the Scrivas. What do you know? The Scrivas most liked the version I was most unsure about–and another that combined elements of it with my starting story.

As I mull over my work-in-progress and write it home, I just may include bits from the interim drafts. Some were far-out possibilities and others were written tongue in cheek, but they have promise. I continue to be on a Pixar kick and read David A. Price’s The PixarTouch: The Making of a Company. I learned there how they took story elements discarded from Toy Story to create the sequel, Toy Story 2.

The advantages of a smorgasbord are manifold. Giving yourself options which you’re merely exploring can send your inner critic on a long stroll letting you work in peace. It can give the trusted people in your life, whom you invite to comment on your story, an idea of where you think you’re going with your story. Then their versions of your story can be in step with the story you want to tell. And your setting out a smorgasbord may inspire others to try one too. I don’t know—was I avant garde? Or was there something in the air affecting several of us Scrivas? A month after I offered my smorgasbord synopses to my critique group, Addie and Ruth gave us variations of their works-in-progress for us to react to: Addie, a sampler with four versions of the first chapter of her boy-protagonist novel that she’s re-revising; Ruth, options about how to craft a short work  that will bridge the end of her Oregon Book Award-winning novel Blue Thread with the beginning of The Ninth Day, a sequel to be released this fall.

Call it a sampler or a smorgasbord, but try it. You may like it.

-Sabina I. Rascol
www.sabinairascol.com

Longing

by Sabina I. Rascol
Published on: March 29, 2013
Categories: Other Topics
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What is longing made from?

What cloth is put into it

That it does not wear out with use?

 

Gold wears out, and silver wears out,

Velvet wears out, and silk wears out,

Yet longing does not wear out.

 

The moon rises and the sun rises,

The sea rises in vast waves,

But longing never rises from the heart.

 

This old Welsh poem stayed with me since my late teenage years, when I found it in a novel I loved, Ann Moray’s The Rising of the Lark.

 

I thought of it recently when I glimpsed a slip of paper in one of my files of miscellaneous writing-related information. “Writers,” it said, “would $2,500 help? Oregon Literary Fellowship applications will be available in January 2008.” I was now a 2012 Oregon Literary Fellowship winner, but in the years since 2008, I had forgotten about once having picked up that Literary Arts announcement. Now my feelings from when I first saw that slip of paper came rushing back. I had felt longing. Not hope—just longing. It was, “Wouldn’t that be nice!” not “One day I’m going to do this.”

 

It made me think of years further past, when, back from a Fulbright fellowship in Romania, I was startled to come across information about Fulbright fellowships collected by me even longer before. I had considered a Fulbright for something entirely different, that never happened. Then I had forgotten about it. In that first context, the Fulbright idea had been a “Oh, that would be great—but I don’t think it will happen” thing. Later, amazingly, it did, though for a different project, in a different country. I had forgotten having longed for it before.

 

Some weeks ago I amused myself by deciding on the dress I would wear to an event that is so impossible that I would be shocked to attend it even as a guest. Yet in my mind’s eye, I move in folds of black lace towards the podium, about to give a speech. When that image flits across my mind’s eye, I chuckle at my temerity. Or I shake my head at myself: “Yeah, right.” But though I don’t believe it, regarding it ruefully or wryly, I let that picture be.

 

I am far from thinking that because I long for something I will get it. Had that been the case, I would be the most satisfied person imaginable, while in fact I continue to long deeply. Yet recently I felt fierce gratitude for all the longing I’ve known in my life. My writing will be richer and resound more deeply because I’ve longed and continue to long. That’s because we all long. Writing, like life, is about longing. So what if among my longings is a likely-impossible one of me, older, but still looking good, about to give a speech in a classy black lace dress?

 

What is longing made from?

What cloth is put into it

That it does not wear out with use?

 

-Sabina I. Rascol

www.sabinairascol.com

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