Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

Monday Musings: You Are Your Brand August 24, 2015

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 10:19 am
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When I received my college degree in journalism I thought I had a pretty good idea about what I wanted to do with my life. I’d had an internship the previous summer and was lucky enough to get a job via that opportunity. With my little Honda loaded down one hot June morning, I drove the long eight hours to my new home and job in Los Angeles.



While the work was fun, and I met a lot of great people, I realized after a year L.A. wasn’t for me. I packed up once again and headed back to Arizona without a job, or a clue, about what I was going to do next. Luckily enough a few months later the stars aligned and I landed a dream job in advertising. Now to a lot of people the world of advertising seems glamorous (and it can be at times), but really it’s a lot of hard work, late nights, and many, many weekends if you want to get ahead.



One of my first tasks in my new job was to help with an account the agency had just landed. It was a start-up and needed the works: an introductory campaign, a memorable tagline, an eye-catching logo, etc. The work was thrilling, especially watching the brand grow from the bottom up. I learned how copywriters formulated what they wanted to say. How the client reacted, and most important of all, how the public accepted the company (and the brand). Later, I went on to work in marketing and public relations and saw branding in a new light. With established brands it was all about keeping the integrity of the image. How in each and every situation we wanted the public to view that company.



What does this have to do with writing you may ask? Well, it’s simple – like a company, you as a writer are in charge of your own brand. How you want people in the marketplace to see you. This doesn’t just boil down to what category and genre you write in, but how you portray yourself as a person to the public at large.



Social media provides an amazing chance for writers to build their brand. Through avenues like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram, authors can share ideas, lines from their works-in-progress, cover reveals, even buy links to their books. In earlier days the only way you could promote a book was via an end cap at the bookstore, or by snagging a good review in a newspaper or magazine. Now there are countless opportunities to promote yourself and your work.



While the world had opened up in this great way, it has also generated a broad canvas for writers to damage their image and brand too. Recently, I’ve seen authors go off on long, angry tangents about industry issues. Watched as frustrated writers trying to land an agent, skewer a name or two. Even those who are participating in contests go off the deep end when their work isn’t selected.



It’s easy to get upset. These are real issues that mean a great deal to us, but in any and all of these situations there needs to be a cooling off period. A time to type a nasty rant into that “Tweet” box and then use that lovely out called “save draft.” The key is to measure how much you want to share, knowing every word will affect your brand. Personally, I’ve stopped following certain writers, and no longer buy their books, because their messages have turned angry, and in certain situations down right cruel. I can’t think of a worse way to damage your brand then by ostracizing those who once believed in you .



In my opinion there are many great writers who use social media to their advantage. They use Twitter, Facebook, and even their own websites, to build their image in a way that keeps their audience begging for more. Their posts aren’t only about their work, but about helping other writers. Some even share writing tips and insider information on their own paths to publication. They are careful about what they share and how they share it. Sure, a few have had their own moments of fury, but in the end somehow they’ve circled it back to how it affects their work, and what they want to bring to their readers.



Personally, I have a very solid idea of how I want to brand myself. I went into writing knowing it was going to be a long, hard road. I’ve worked in many difficult industries and learned that if you want to succeed you have to keep your head down, take a few knocks along the way, and keep going. When I started blogging, and being active on social media, I knew I wanted to be honest about my journey, but also take a positive stance on the experience. Sure, I’ve had my moments when I’ve let my guard down and shown my frustration, but it was measured and thought out – always keeping in mind how I want my readers to see me.



In the end, only one person can control your brand-you. Whether you are a seasoned vet, or just starting out, it helps to be mindful of how you want your readers to view you. In heated situations this may be difficult to remember, but if you want to be in the publishing game for the long haul, it helps to remember that every word, every image, is telling your reader something about who you are and how you write. Be mindful of what you share. In the long run, you will be much happier and so will your audience.



What about you? Do you think about your brand? How your readers see you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.








First Five Frenzy with Brent Taylor of Triada US, Inc. August 21, 2015


FFF SideWords




If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript. You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight. You examine the next few paragraphs hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.


The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript. It’s tricky to get just the right balance, but I hope by reading each agent’s comments you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.


Today I’m proud to share Literary Agent, Brent Taylor’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.





Amy: There is a belief among many writers that having a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an agent?


Brent: Very important. I am more forgiving for bad query letters than I am for bad writing samples. Because of the amount of queries I receive in a day, I have to move quickly – there are just so many other things going on. When I open a query letter, I skim to see the genre, category, and word count. Then, I jump straight into the writing. If a first line is weak, it’s not a good sign. That being said, I will usually suspend that prejudice and give it about five pages before I give up completely. If I’m really excited about the writing, then I’ll go back and read the query letter before requesting or rejecting.





Amy: Many times a writer is told to stay away from common openings like dreams, eating breakfast, riding in a car, etc. What are some common openings you recommend writers stay away from?


Brent: All of them. If you can describe something as “common” and “cliché,” then stay away from it. Of course, sometimes it’s not always that black and white, and you really have to stay true to your creative license as a storyteller. My best advice here is to just be really critical of where you start your novel. Ask yourself all of the questions: Does the story have to start here? Why does the story start here? Is there an alternate opening that makes more sense?


I see a lot of openings that are fine, but just not great. A great opening entices the reader with the voice or the writing, and then makes them ask questions about the protagonist and their circumstances.





Amy: When you’ve responded to a writer to request a partial or full manuscript, what was it about their first pages that piqued your interest?


Brent: It can be many things! Writing is very important to me as a reader and an agent, so a handful of good sentences alongside a fresh premise is usually what seals the deal that I’ll ask for a full manuscript. But sometimes I’m just intrigued to see where a story will go, or if I’m lukewarm about something, I’ll try to give it a chance and see if the writing and story take a turn for the better.





Amy: What are some common mistakes writers make in their first five pages?


Brent: Starting their stories in stagnant places. Placing the reader in scenes where there is no forward momentum.




Amy: What resonates with you most in those first pages? Voice? Pacing? Unique concept?


Brent: All of the above. I like books that are well-written, but also appeal to a wide, commercial audience. I want stories and voices that I’ve never encountered before. Pacing, however, is one of the biggest reasons I reject novels. If the writing impresses me, though, I’ll usually request a manuscript anyway, just in case everything clicks 25 pages later.



Brent Taylor joined Triada US, Inc. as an assistant to the agency’s founder in 2014. Prior to that, he interned at The Bent Agency. He represents a wide range of upmarket fiction for kids, teens, and adults: middle grade, young adult, graphic novels, women’s fiction, literary fiction, and crime fiction. You can find him on Twitter @NaughtyBrent.


For submission guidelines, please visit his Publishers Marketplace page:



W.O.W. – Writer Odyssey Wednesday with Brittany Cavallaro August 19, 2015




Passion. It’s what drives us as writers. It can come in many forms: music, food, art, and of course, books.


What I love about today’s W.O.W. with Brittany Cavallaro is she used her passion for Sherlock Holmes to write a Young Adult manuscript where the main character is the great-great-granddaughter of the famous sleuth himself. The idea of taking one of mystery’s greatest detectives and transforming his adventures into a modern day tale where his relative is now the lead is fascinating. It’s this passion that made her book, A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE, a standout, eventually attracting the attention of an agent and editor.


Many thanks to Brittany for sharing her writing journey today…



At what age did you truly know you wanted to be a writer?



I knew pretty young. I was always scratching away in notebooks, writing poems about ridiculous things (I have an actual notebook filled with poetic dialogue between Mulder and Scully; I have no shame), writing stories. I was really lucky that my parents paid attention to what I loved to do and supported me. Because of them, I took creative writing classes in the summer and eventually applied for and won a scholarship to go to an arts boarding school. In a way, I almost regret my single-mindedness, since it would have been really fun to chase down some other dreams at some point along the way (painting! marine biology!), though I’m sure I would have come back to writing eventually.



When did you complete your first manuscript?


Not until my MFA in poetry, actually. I’d written quite a bit before that, but I’d never compiled my poems into a manuscript. As for writing novels, other than a misfire when I was in high school, I didn’t attempt one until my twenty-fifth birthday. I remember lying on the couch, thinking about the summer stretching ahead of me—I was, and still am, in grad school—and kicking around an idea for a scene set against Lake Michigan, at my favorite waterfront dive up in Wisconsin’s Door County, and I began to imagine the disaffected, badass girl that tended bar there. That became my first manuscript, and the one I queried agents with.



How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered agent interest?



I was lucky. The first manuscript I queried agents with landed me mine (the incredible Lana Popovic at Chalberg and Sussman). She had such smart, incisive ideas for revision; I felt like we were speaking the same language. I also showed her the first forty pages of A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE, which she was excited about too, and I loved that she was interested in my other projects. This was back in fall 2013. We’d been planning on going out with that first full manuscript but decided in the end that I should finish writing CHARLOTTE, which I did in six crazy, obsessive, caffeinated weeks. That other manuscript is in a drawer; I’m not really sure if I’ll pull it out again. Though I loved it, it was definitely a starter novel.




Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query or does it take several tries before you land on the one you want to send?



My first stab at a query made me sound pretty stupid, I think, but I was lucky to have some agented and published friends who were willing to help me whip it into fighting trim. I listed comps to things I adored (Laini Taylor, Buffy) but that, until I actually wrote a query, I hadn’t realized had influenced my manuscript as much as they did. Thinking about those influences was a really useful exercise when I sat down to revise.




I love how you talk about Sherlock Holmes in the bio on your website. Did you always know somewhere deep down you’d write something involving him one day?


Oh God, yes. I’m a passionate Sherlockian and have been since I was a kid, though the most recent iteration of that obsession took root about five years ago, when I rediscovered the stories, the wonderful BBC radio adaptation, and the Jeremy Brett Granda series all in the same summer. I sort of walked around in a Victorian fugue state for months. That period spurred my writing a Sherlock Holmes murder mystery in poems, because I loved the language of the stories so much and wanted to steal some of it for my own work. And then, as the television adaptations began to come out, Sherlock and Elementary, etc., I began to think more about the process of adaptation. I love both those shows, but I got increasingly frustrated that none of them were willing to cast the genius role, the Sherlock, as a girl. I started writing A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE as both a love letter to the original stories and as a fix-it to address that frustrations.




Can you give us a short summary of your call with your agent, Lana Popovic? How did you know she was the right fit for you?


I knew absolutely when I got her long editorial letter before I’d even signed with her. It was like she was inside my own head, but smarter. She was able to pinpoint what I did well and what parts of the manuscript were broken and needed fixing. I revised and resubmitted, and though I had interest from other agents, I sort of said ‘yes!’ the moment she called to offer me representation. It just felt like an incredible fit from the get-go, and she’s been my best reader, and my stalwart champion, since.




The writing process is grueling and querying even more difficult. What one piece of advice can you impart to aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their dream?


Don’t be afraid to take a step back, if you need to, and recharge. After I finished the first draft of CHARLOTTE and a quick, intensive revision, I was sort of artistically useless for months. The best thing I did during that time was read for pleasure. I read everything, from the fantasy novels I loved as a kid to really fabulous new literary fiction, and I wouldn’t let myself analyze it critically or compare my own work to it. I just let myself enjoy it, and when I felt full and happy again, buoyed by all that reading, I was ready to go back to work.






Study in Charlotte



The last thing sixteen-year-old Jamie Watson–writer and great-great-grandson of the John Watson–wants is a rugby scholarship to Sherringford, a Connecticut prep school just an hour away from his estranged father. But that’s not the only complication: Sherringford is also home to Charlotte Holmes, the famous detective’s enigmatic, fiercely independent great-great-granddaughter, who’s inherited not just his genius but also his vices, volatile temperament, and expertly hidden vulnerability. Charlotte has been the object of his fascination for as long as he can remember–but from the moment they meet, there’s a tense energy between them, and they seem more destined to be rivals than anything else.

Then a Sherringford student dies under suspicious circumstances ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Holmes stories, and Jamie and Charlotte become the prime suspects. Convinced they’re being framed, they must race against the police to conduct their own investigation. As danger mounts, it becomes clear that nowhere is safe and the only people they can trust are each other.




Brittany CBrittany Cavallaro is the author of A Study in Charlotte, forthcoming from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins in March 2016. She is the author of the poetry collection Girl-King (University of Akron) and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She earned her BA in literature from Middlebury College and her MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she’s a PhD candidate in English literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She lives in Wisconsin with her fiance, cat, and collection of deerstalker caps. Find her at her website,, or on Twitter @skippingstones.



QUITE THE QUERY: THE NEVER SILENT by Audrey Lockwood August 14, 2015








If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few authors say writing their query took them almost as long as drafting their book!



Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences. But for those who don’t, I wanted to provide a resource so writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.



With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Audrey Lockwood. This great query connected her with her agent, Marlene Stringer.




Henry Thorp is a seventeen-year-old con artist working the Manhattan streets in 1847. Along with Thomas and Mary Doyle, his best friends and partners in crime, Henry swindles naïve travelers fresh from the docks—old, young and beautiful alike. But when Thomas is murdered, the only clue to his death is a ticket to board The Never Silent, a ship with a covert destination. Henry impersonates Thomas to take his place on the ship in the hope of finding his killer.


But Henry soon learns that Thomas kept one vital secret from him—he was part of an ancient society descended from the Norse who gained magic through the sea, and Thomas himself could hear other people’s thoughts. Now Henry must use every confidence trick he knows to convince an entire crew of magicians that he too is no ordinary human but instead a powerful reader. Between the risk of discovery, the peril of a murderer walking about the ship and the looming threat of pirates roaming the Atlantic, the next life lost could be Henry’s. He’ll need all his wits to solve Thomas’s murder and return home… to the streets he knows and to Mary, the girl he just might love.


THE NEVER SILENT is a 90,000 word YA historical fantasy. It could be described as Pirates of the Caribbean meets Holly Black’s WHITE CAT.




Fun Tidbit:


I found out about my agent (Marlene Stringer) from my critique partner when we traded agent lists. I randomly decided to research the agents with online submission forms first, and Marlene was top of the list. I really liked everything I saw about her. I sent in my query, and within a few hours she requested the full ms. A few days later she emailed again to set up the call! I was so impressed with her response time–I’d never had an agent get back to me so quickly–and to have her response be a positive one! I was almost sold solely based on her speedy response, and then we had a great conversation on the phone that convinced me the rest of the way that she was right for me.




Audrey Lockwood was raised on two types of books: math puzzles and stories of magic and fantasy. She graduated from William and Mary with a degree in mathematics, then promptly did a 180 in her career path to write novels. She loves to travel, preferably to places with ancient ruins to explore. She’ll try anything creative—including music composition, crocheting and chocolate making—but so far writing is the only thing to stick long-term. She’s mostly harmless, but has inherited a strong competitive nature that shows up around the board game table. She lives in Virginia with her husband, son and cat. You can find her on Twitter (@write_lock) or check out more on her website,





Filed under: Blog,Publishing,YA Fiction — chasingthecrazies @ 7:11 am
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The Breeders 4




I’m very excited to share info on the recent release in THE BREEDERS series written by my good friend, Katie French. In book four, THE BROTHERS, Riley continues on her mission to find her missing boyfriend and brother and unite her family for good.


“They tell me it’s for the good of humanity. That I’m saving our way of life with my body. They lie.”


Book Four in the award-winning, best-selling Breeders series.


Riley has survived madmen, deranged doctors, and false prophets. Her next task is uniting her family, which has been ripped apart by Nessa Vandewater, the Breeders’ enforcer. Her boyfriend Clay and brother Ethan are still missing. Only she can find them.


But on her way, Riley is stung by a scorpion. To ease her suffering, Auntie Bell shares the story of Riley’s mother, Janine, and how she escaped the Breeders.


Nearly twenty years in the past, Janine, an obedient Breeders girl, is nearing her seventeenth birthday, and the clock is ticking. She has two months to become pregnant, or she’ll be put out, sold into slavery . . . or worse. When her doctor informs her she’s infertile, she’s devastated. But some doctors lie, and one in particular seems to want Janine for his own . . .



THE BROTHERS is available for purchase now via Amazon.


Check out all the books in THE BREEDERS series here:



Katie2Katie French is the author of The Breeders series, a bestselling YA dystopian adventure available on Amazon. She’s a wife, mother, and teacher, but not always in that order. She’s represented by Amanda Luedeke of McGregor Literary. You can find her at her website, on Facebook, or Twitter.






Monday Musings: What I Learned On My Summer Hiatus August 10, 2015

Filed under: Blog,Publishing,writing craft — chasingthecrazies @ 8:27 am
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It feels really good to be back to blogging again, although I have to admit I enjoyed the break. When I was thinking about what I wanted to say in this post, I came up with a very fitting title, but it was so long it wouldn’t fit in the header. Before I edited it down, the title of this entry was, “My Summer Hiatus: What I learned from binge-watching Veronica Mars, being nudged from the circle, and dropping out of social media.” A mouthful, I know. But really, this title encompasses everything I experienced this summer and what I want to share today.



Topic 1: Veronica Mars



Three weeks. Three seasons. One movie. No joke.


My love for Veronica Mars knows no bounds.


From a writing perspective Veronica Mars is a case study in how to hit amazing storytelling marks. The character development was beyond incredible (P.S. – Keith Mars is the bomb!!) The thread of the mystery in each season was meticulous. But most important of all, even though the main storyline ended at the conclusion of Season 1, I was still dying to follow Veronica through her adventures and into the next season. This is a great feat in itself. How many first seasons have you binge-watched and then decided Season 2 wasn’t worth the time? For me, this has happened a lot.


For those writing a trilogy, VM is a great example of how to build interest in a story while still developing character. It taught me how to grow the personalities I’ve built, while still feeding off backstory. How to incorporate pacing and dialogue to draw in an audience. Oh, and how to create a smoking hot relationship. Hello, LOVE (Logan and Veronica!)


If you enjoy mystery, fast-paced storytelling, and are looking for a show with an incredible cast of characters, I highly recommend you watch Veronica Mars as soon as you can. As a writer, you will find it invaluable.



Topic 2: Being Nudged From the Circle (Why it’ll be okay)


Over the years I’ve made incredible friendships in the writing community. Like many friendships though they change over time. Some get stronger. Others fade away. When they fade away, it’s hard not to take it personally. You still want to be in that circle. To add value. Be asked for your opinion.


But sometimes people grow faster than you. Experience change. They find others who are on the same rocket ship toward success. It’s hard to admit you no longer belong. That your path may be slower. Realizing this may be the hardest thing to accept, but if you’re going to succeed you need to acknowledge that your friendship/skill set may no longer fit into what other people want or need. Accepting this is the key to moving on and finding others who are in the same place as you.


No matter what happens, it’s important to keep writing and reaching out to the community to make those all important connections.



Topic 3: The Highs and Lows of Social Media


As a blogger, social media has helped me build my reader base. Without Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr my posts would receive a lot less exposure. I’d be behind on industry changes, and clueless about new trends in writing. In many ways social media is important to a writer, but if left unchecked, it can also be harmful. Harmful? Yes, harmful and here’s why: social media exposes you to other writers’ experiences. And while many times this is a good thing, it can also create a sort of repressed anxiety and anger.


If you’ve been on sub as long as Writer A and they sell their book, you can’t help but wonder what you’re doing wrong. When Writer B just entered the query trenches, then quickly lands an agent, and you’ve been working at it for years, it’s easy to get down.


I know I’m always the one saying follow your own path. Don’t compare yourself. Everyone has a different journey. I still believe that, but I’m human, and doubt can creep in and be a seriously hurtful thing. Sometimes stepping completely away from the blitz of news and announcements can be a good thing, not only for your writing career, but also your mental well-being.




(My happy place – The Hotel Del Coronado)



As you can tell, even with a break, I never stopped thinking about writing. What my time away proved was that at my deepest core I am a writer. Stories will continue to churn in my head no matter how hard I try to repress them. My hiatus taught me that my love of creating will always be there, but I need to give my mind a bit of breathing room in order to let it flourish!



I hope you all had a fantastic summer. Can’t wait to see what fall brings!





 (My new favorite saying and life motto!)






If you ask any writer about the process of connecting with their agent (or publisher), the majority will say the most difficult part was querying. Not only the actual process of sending out the letters/emails, but formulating the query itself. In fact, I’ve heard more than a few authors say writing their query took them almost as long as drafting their book!



Some people have the talent of being able to summarize their book in a few sentences. But for those who don’t, I wanted to provide a resource so writers could learn what works, and what doesn’t, in a query.



With that in mind, I’m pleased to share today’s successful query from Tom Torre. This great Middle Grade query connected him with his agent, Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary.



I am writing you today seeking representation of my 54,000 word middle-grade adventure novel, COPERNICUS NERDICUS. It targets readers who are gamers at heart by bringing to life video game elements while combining the hilarious adventures of Michael Buckley’s NERDS series, with the robotic action packed pages of J.V. Kade’s BOT WARS.


Thirteen-year-old gamer, Copernicus ‘Nic’ Wilhelm, has one chance to win fifty thousand dollars and prevent his dad from losing his laboratory to the devious inventor, Geoffrey Zorn–The Digital Zone video game tournament. But when Geoffrey Zorn unveils a new virtual gaming console called EVO to be used in the finals, Nic only has a week to master a futuristic robotic fighting game.


Easy enough for Nic, that is, until the game fights back.


When EVO transforms into a short-circuiting attack robot, the term video game realism takes on a completely new meaning. With the help of his friends, Nic re-programs the rampaging robot, but that wasn’t the only problem. EVO was also installed with a brainwashing microchip by the vile criminal organization, C.O.R.E (Coalition of Rogue Engineers) in order to kidnap tournament contestants, including Nic’s best friend, and transform them into pilots for an army of kid-controlled robots straight out of the game.


With the police now controlled by C.O.R.E too, Nic and his friends must pummel their way through C.O.R.E troops using everything from stink bombs to slime cannons in order to rescue the contestants and discover proof of Zorn’s involvement in the mind control plot. Meanwhile, a fleet of robotic drones is preparing to invade Nic’s hometown of Twin Valley, and ultimately the world. Nic is in a race against time to put a stop to C.O.R.E and ensure the tournament goes on, before his gamer guile and new robot’s battery, runs out.



Fun Tidbit:


I revised my query a total of 8 times before I settled on this final version. I’m still not completely happy with it LOL. Don’t think I ever will be!


Final querying stats : Queries Sent : 62

Full Requests : 12

Offers of Rep : 3





TomTTom is an IT whiz by day (just think of one of those guys from Office Space), and a comic book artist, video game buff, and middle-grade writer by night. After a few stints as colorist in the comic book industry, he completed his first major middle grade novel, COPERNICUS NERDICUS, which combines his love for video games and robotic warfare. Under the wings of expert literary agent, DAWN FREDERICK of RED SOFA LITERARY, he is now in the “submission trenches” – submitting both COPERNICUS NERDICUS and his latest middle-grade conquest, LUCAS PEREGRINUS and the ESCAPE FROM MANUKI ISLAND.


When he isn’t locked away in his man-cave watching The GOONIES for the 347th time, or catching up on some geek-news on Kotaku, he’s probably busy cooking up some chaotic food dishes for his wife and his 100 lb doberman named Braveheart’s Dantes Inferno. Yes…that’s his dog’s real name.


Follow Tom on Twitter @CopernicusNerd and his blog




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