Chasing my crazy dream in the writing world…

Monday Musings: An Insider’s Look at Sun vs. Snow February 29, 2016

Filed under: Blog,contest — chasingthecrazies @ 6:41 am
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Another Sun vs. Snow is complete and I can’t tell you how happy I am at the results this year. Team Sun and Team Snow received a total of 120 requests! We even had a few ninja agents jump in, adding to our already incredible numbers.



Now that it’s over, I always use this time to reflect on what went right and what can be done to improve things for next year.



Yes, I’m already thinking about 2017. But see, here’s the thing, contests take a lot of work and time to plan. Hours are spent deciding logistics, dates, reaching out to readers, mentors, and agents. Not to mention actually writing the scores of emails, blog posts, and other types of communication involved.



What people see on the co-hosts’ blogs is the finished product, but it’s taken a lot of time to get to that point. So today, I want to share an insider’s view on what goes into making a contest a reality.




The Planning


Starting in late fall, Michelle and I start to discuss timing. We usually pick a date in early January, but things can vary depending on what else we have going on, other writing commitments, etc.


Once we nail down a date for the actual contest, we work backwards filling in the timeframe for what needs to happen. This includes checking to make sure no other contests are happening at the same time. We’ve had problems with this in the past and it’s important that there is not any overlap. This is also critical for reaching out to agents. Many times agents are overwhelmed with requests and they don’t want to spend all their time reading contest entries.


Once we decide on a date, we begin writing the emails – and there are A TON!


First, we reach out to our potential list of agents. This can take any where from a few days to a week, because again, research is involved. We have to look at things like who’s open to queries, who reps a variety of categories, but we also need to consider that whoever we choose is going to want/request from a wide range of entries.


When the emails are sent, we then wait on the responses. They can come within minutes, hours, or days. I must confess though, Michelle and I have been very lucky. The agents we’ve reached out to in the past have been great about wanting to participate in spite of their busy schedules.


While we wait on agent replies, we next need to consider who our mentors will be. Again, this involves quite a bit of planning. For me, I consider who I think will be open with working with a writer and has the time for it in their schedule. Even if I know and have a good relationship with a writer, I may not ask them if I know they are on deadline or have a book coming out soon. There also needs to be consideration of what category and genre they write in. We never know what entries we will pick, but Michelle and I need to have all our bases covered.




The Announcement


After a date is selected, it’s time to think about the announcement. Together, Michelle and I formulate a blog post, as well as discuss social media plans. Once we have things in order, we coordinate a time when we will both post. Sometimes this is not always easy as we live in two different time zones.




Social Media Blitz


Because there are so many contests out there now, Michelle and I want to make sure Sun vs. Snow stands out. In order for this to happen, we need to make sure we have exposure. Starting early on, we discuss how we will announce, where, and then the follow-up. One of the new things we did this year was include a series of two Twitter chats. Coordination is key because not only do we need to make sure we are available on a certain day, but our mentors are too.




Announcement Posts


When we announce both the mentors and agents it’s not as simple as posting it on Twitter. After a flurry of emails (again), we have to cull photos, bios, and social media links for both our agents and mentors. The information then has to be set into a specific blog post which includes adding text, importing images, and placing links. This year it took me close to two days to build the mentor post, and about three days to get the agent post correct. This is critical to our process because we know potential entrants are going to want to know who they might be working with and who will see their work. It’s critical for Michelle and I to make sure we have this all aligned so writers feel comfortable entering the contest.





The Submission Window


This is always an exciting day. It’s filled with a lot of scurrying around as we make sure our posts go up on time and that the rules are clear. It may seem arbitrary, but there are specific reasons why all writers must follow the rules. If the formatting is off, or we don’t know your category/genre, or word count it skews how we view your entry. Michelle and I want to make sure every writer is on even ground when entering Sun vs. Snow. Yes, there have been times when people have not followed the rules, but I’m glad to say those examples are rare.





Why Only 200 Entries?


This year we had to close the submission window after three minutes. You may ask, “why do you only take 200 entries?” The answer is simple: time. Michelle and I are very dedicated to this contest, but we both work, as well as write. We read each and every entry, and we find that 200 is a manageable number. It’s important to us that everyone who enters has a fair shot at getting picked.




Parameters for Picks


I wish I could say Michelle and I have some elaborate algorithm for how we pick our entries but honestly, we both pick based on very simple things:


  • What grabs us instinctually. Premise. Voice. Concept. And above all strong writing.


  • What are the participating agents looking for? I personally look at both their websites and #MSWL on Twitter to know what they want to add to their lists.


  • What’s happening in the marketplace. If we know that a certain type of genre is not selling (based on agent interviews) we may shy away from picking such a genre. This is not firm. Sometimes we come across a concept we love and include it anyway, but it is something we must consider.





Selected Entries & Mentors


Behind the scenes there is always negotiating going on. Usually it is pretty easy for Michelle and I to pick because we have very different tastes, but sometimes we come across an entry we both love and have to discuss who gets it. Because we’ve been doing this so long, it’s pretty easy for us to decide who gets the entry. That’s one of the reasons this whole things works: because Michelle and I are a great team! 🙂


Once each of us has our selected entries, major work is ahead. First, we have to decide which mentor gets each entry. Then we have to communicate with the mentors and send them their mentee’s work. And of course, we have to swear them to secrecy until the official announcement.


Like all the other big announcement posts, careful coordination has to be arranged so that posts on both blogs go off simultaneously. Again, Michelle and I not only have to take hours to format the post, but we also have to agree on a date and time when it will go live.




Inevitable Surprises


Ah yes, as much as you plan there are always surprises. This year we had a great little shock when one of Michelle’s picks received an offer from an agent prior to the final round. While we were all celebrating, there had to be a quick shift in things because another entry had to be selected. In addition, we needed to inform the mentor and hope they had time to work with the new entry. This year things worked out perfectly as the mentor was very flexible and willing to quickly accommodate the change.





Working on Final Entries


This year I decided to mentor two entries. The process for working with my mentees is simple: I note where I see issues, make suggested changes, and then send to my writers. Sometimes the issues are easy fixes. Others are more about asking the writer about plot points, goals, and motivations for characters so we build the strongest query and 250 possible.




Before the Final Post


While our mentors and writers are making their entries shine, we send out email reminders to our agents about the contest. Prior to the final post, we answer any last questions and prepare for the big day when we post the revised entries.





The Final Post


It may be surprising, but this is where the major amount of work for the contest is done. We have a set deadline for when the writers must return their final work. Sometimes it comes in formatted correctly (sometimes it doesn’t). When the format is off, there is a flurry of emails until the entry is fixed and returned. This may seem odd, but building that final post takes a loooong time. If the entry is even slightly off, it can mess up the entire flow.


This year it took me two and half days to build the Agent Round post. You may wonder why it takes so long, but for me there is a definitive process involved:


  • I check the entry for typos and other issues – missing words, punctuation etc.


  • Next, I double-check the date stamp to make sure it is the FINAL entry.


  • I check the tags, the headers, as well as the spacing to make sure each entry looks the exact same way.


With a total of 16 entries this process takes a long time, but it’s worth it when that final post goes up and the agents start to request!




The Agent Round


When that final post goes live everything is pretty much out of our hands. Now it’s up to the agents to decide what they like and what they want to request. There is a tad bit of worry that everyone will show up, but every year all of our agents appear and we love them for it.


While the agents are doing their thing, the work for the co-hosts is not over. We still have to watch the feed to answer questions, announce when agents arrive, and keep the positive interactions going. We also have to work with the agents behind-the-scenes to make sure we understand how they want their requested materials sent, and ensure that our writers are following those guidelines.




At Contest’s End


This is where we take a deep sigh of relief and celebrate! Agents have been very good to us over the last three years and have made a lot of requests. Those requests is what makes all the hours of organization and work worthwhile.


Yes, it takes a lot of time and energy to put Sun vs. Snow together, but it goes beyond sharing the entries with agents. It’s about connecting the community. Helping to link people who, hopefully, will go on to support and lift one another up as they move through the ups and downs of publishing.








Sun vs. Snow – Agent Round is Here!!! February 22, 2016

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Today is the day our 17 amazing agents can begin reading the Team Sun entries and making requests. Not only will they see the amazing entries here, but they can also make requests for Team Snow over at Michelle Hauck’s blog!



As the agents move through the entries, please remember that contests are subjective. Our agents have a definitive idea of what they would like for their list. If they do not request, it DOES NOT mean the entry was not worthy. No matter what happens, you’ve got to keep querying and NEVER GIVE UP!



Before Team Sun outshines Team Snow, here are some guidelines to remember:



There is no commenting in this round except for agents. Sorry, but no cheerleading as this may lead to an unconscious bias.



We are happy to see and retweet your thoughts and cheers over on Twitter under the #sunvssnow tag! That’s the place to hang out and have fun! I hope to see my Team Sun members present and waving their pom poms! We have some blazing hot entries that are going to completely melt Team Snow!



Watch both my and Michelle’s Twitter feed as we will be tweeting when an agent makes an appearance!



Agents will consider entries at both the blogs regardless of whether they are Sun or Snow fans. Michelle and I are hoping the agents go crazy with the requests! There is amazing talent on both our teams!



Good luck to all! And get out the shades and SPF 50 because the heat is coming for Team Snow!




SvS 1: A Song For Sarah McPhee – Women’s Fiction

Filed under: contest,Literary Agent,Publishing — chasingthecrazies @ 5:57 am
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Category/Genre: Adult Contemporary Women’s Fiction

Word Count: 83,000




My Main Character would use sun or snow to battle their biggest obstacle:



Snow. If the weather weren’t great in England perhaps more people would spend their time reading (this includes issues of Sixteen Magazine). People would opt to ride the tube instead of walk, and who doesn’t love some good reading material on public transportation? Further, since the country is not used to, nor equipped to handle, snow, a storm would surely keep people indoors.






Dear Miss/Mr. Agent,


When music lover and Bostonian Sarah McPhee transfers to the London offices of Sixteen Magazine, she expects the number of miles between herself and her old life to be enough to repair her crushed heart.


It’s been a slow process getting over her ex, who left her with no explanation and an abundance of self-doubt. Having always understood her life in terms of music – her childhood shaped by her father’s passion for sixties rock bands, and her adolescence influenced by Madonna and her older brother’s grunge obsession – she finds this stretch of time to be eerily silent. Convinced that a fresh start is what she needs, Sarah plants herself in a new city, where she immediately struggles with the ups and downs of starting over.


Tasked with saving the magazine from declining sales and subscriptions, Sarah quickly meets a range of new acquaintances. From getting lost (which she expected to happen) to being taught how to drive on the left side of the road (which she didn’t), Sarah learns, thanks to impromptu afternoon cocktails, an adventure through Hampstead Heath, and listening to old mix tapes, about getting over heartbreak and trusting her decisions. Discovering what makes her happy, however, may not be enough to keep her in one of the most exciting cities in the world. When job responsibilities escalate, and friendships are tested against new love interests, Sarah must realize what (and who) truly makes her heart sing before her work sponsorship ends and she is sent back home to a life she no longer desires.





First 250 words:



The airport shuttle rocks back and forth, and the teenager standing next to me with Muse pounding from his headphones keeps pressing into my shoulder without any notice. I want to nudge him, tell him to pay attention, but I don’t. Instead I stare up front to keep tabs on my gigantic suitcase stuffed on the luggage rack and mentally review its contents to make sure I didn’t forget anything.



My thumb rubs over my finger where I thought a ring would be by now. The skin is bare and dry and un-gloved even though it’s March. I didn’t even pack gloves, because it never gets that cold in London, right? Perhaps I should have thrown a pair into my bag just in case. Crap. What else should I have brought that I didn’t?



I have the essentials: my passport, Certificate of Sponsorship, and laptop with all my music, accessible in my carry-on, a backpack I’ve had since college. I tighten my hand over one of the shoulder straps, and suddenly I feel like a student, off for a semester abroad, or to an exotic location for Spring Break. I’ve actually never been out of the country, even lived more than twenty miles from where I grew up. I don’t have an aversion to travel. I just haven’t had a reason to go, or, more accurately, I’ve always had a reason to stay.



I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths.


SvS 2: The Poachers’ Code – Women’s Fiction

Filed under: contest,Publishing,Uncategorized — chasingthecrazies @ 5:56 am
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Category/Genre: Upmarket Women’s Fiction

Word Count: 88,000





My Main Character would use SUN to battle her biggest obstacle:



As a young girl, Sadie Kessler could taste sunlight. Lemony, with fizz. But as an adult, plagued by guilt from covering up a murder 30 years earlier, Sadie no longer sees (or tastes) the wonder around her. When she uncovers another murder linked to the one she concealed as a child, she knows its time to tell the truth. To resurrect her courage, she’ll need to bring the summer sun into the dark woods where she grew up — the woods where she hid a murder. There’s going to be a fight. And Sadie’s bringing the heat.






Dear Agent,


I am seeking representation for my debut novel, THE POACHERS’ CODE. Set in rural New Hampshire, it is about Sadie Kessler, a restless journalist seeking redemption for the murder she covered up thirty years ago.


Journalist Sadie Kessler discovers a murder linked to a crime she and a friend witnessed as children. A murder they chose not to report. Eleven-year-old Sadie stayed silent to protect the girls from the perpetrator — and to cover up crimes of their own. The girls vowed to remain silent and pledged a blood oath to The Poachers’ Code, a list of commandments they constructed to justify their actions. Torn between misplaced allegiance and the desire for redemption, Sadie spends the next 30 years avoiding her past.


Faced with the second murder, 41-year-old Sadie must confront her guilt. As she searches for proof of the killer’s identity, she rediscovers the sense of wonder she lost as a child and falls in love with a man from her past. But the ripple effect of Sadie’s thirty-year-old secret begins to threaten people she loves. When an illegal immigrant is falsely accused of the murder, it sets off a wave of anti-immigrant protests. Sadie’s best friend Marta, a Salvadoran immigrant, is trying to adopt her niece and nephew, both undocumented immigrants. The protests derail the custody proceedings and land Marta’s father in jail under threat of deportation. Revealing the shameful truth could threaten Sadie’s credibility as a journalist and jeopardize her new romance, but she must act before an innocent man is convicted of murder and the real perpetrator hurts someone she cares about. It is time to betray The Poachers’ Code.


Inspired by storytelling elements in Atonement and the movie Stand By Me, THE POACHERS’ CODE delves into the timely issue of immigration and will appeal to fans of Ann Patchett, Mary Kubica and Karen Katchur.




First 250 words:



Damp ink sizzled against Sadie Kessler’s lips, stirring the hunger she worked years to suppress. The freshly-printed police reports warmed her cheek with possibility. She slipped past the safety of her copyediting desk and ducked behind a wall of file cabinets in the back of the newsroom.


She kicked off her running shoes and spread the pages on the floor. The tease of story fluttered on her fingertips. Pressing her palms into the greasy carpet, she hinged up into a creaky downward facing dog and scanned the pages. Domestic disputes, disorderly conduct.


Sadie had feigned repentance when her editor sentenced her to four weeks writing the Sunday police log. But she couldn’t tamp down the giddiness simmering in her gut.


“I knew you’d be back here.” Marta peeked around the wall. She nudged the stack of incident reports with the pointy toe of her boot. “Sorry you’re stuck with that. Four Sundays seems harsh. Especially when it wasn’t you who screwed up.”


Sadie’s knees locked. Her heart stuttered. Marta stood above her, hand on hip, eyebrows raised. Sadie tried to soften her tight shoulders and flipped to the next page. Vehicle break in, identity theft.


“I know it wasn’t really you who transposed those names,” Marta said. “Why’d you take the blame? You hate writing the police log.”


“Does anybody else know?” Sadie repositioned her hands on the slick carpet and pressed into her throbbing left ankle. “I probably deserved it anyway for mistakes no one ever caught.”


“Your secret’s safe. For now.”



SvS 3: The Eternal Waitress – New Adult Contemporary Romance

Filed under: Blog,contest,Literary Agent,Publishing — chasingthecrazies @ 5:56 am
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Category/Genre: NA Contemporary Romance

Word Count: 69,000




My Main Character would use sun or snow to battle their biggest obstacle:



My biggest obstacle? Secrets. I feel like everyone around me has them tucked away in the shadows. I’d take hold of that sun by its flaming rays and shine it into the crevices of their veiled souls. After that I’d blast the shit out of the heavy snow that blankets my hometown. No need for all that white fluff; it’s just another concealer. We all know my town isn’t as pristine as the snowfall makes it seem.







After depleting her savings on a grand tour of Europe, Ashley dreads returning to wait tables at her hometown diner. The place crawls with ex-boyfriends, creepy customers, and phony friends. Not to mention the inescapable drama of small-town living. But the assurance of quick cash and a free place to stay with her best friend lures her back.



If that isn’t enough to keep her around, Ashley’s new living arrangements put her in close quarters with Kenny, her friend’s adorably irritating younger brother. Kenny’s loyal heart and charismatic personality offer solace to her wandering spirit.



Just as Ashley’s resigned herself to her small-town fate, a hot businessman drops in for breakfast and leaves with her number. He represents everything she’s always dreamed of – success, independence and escape. Though she loves the idea of skipping town with him, she can’t deny her growing attraction to Kenny who’s making small-town living look more and more appealing.



But it’s hard to find a fresh start in a place that harbors all the mistakes of your past. Ashley is forced to decide whether following her dreams means leaving town, or rediscovering what’s been right in front of her all along.




First 250 words:



New England weather. What a bitch.



I hunched behind the steering wheel of my rust-trimmed Honda. Snowflakes tumbled down around the car in their unique perfection. Once upon a time, I would have been enchanted by their glitter storm, captivated by the iridescent clouds that burst from the rooftops. But instead, I was resentful. The majestic journey of the tiny white flakes only ended in tragedy. They were destined to crash against my crusty windshield. To melt back into the mundane. Back into dirty water.



Oh God, my Pisces was out in full force this morning.



My hands gripped the wheel at ten and two even with the car in park. The leather felt slick beneath my palms, but I couldn’t work up the gumption to cut the engine. Once I got out, everyone would see me and I’d be committed. How many times had I promised I’d never go back to waiting tables?



My phone vibrated against my leg. Of course it was Hannah. I had to thank the stars for a friend who always knew when to pluck me from the gutter.



I slid a finger across the display and held the phone to my ear. “Hey.”



“Wake up. You gotta go to work.” Hannah’s voice sounded like it was being scrubbed down with steel wool.



“Thanks, but you’re an hour late,” I said, laughing.  “I have to be in now.”


“Shit!” Her voice cleared. “Sorry, Ashley. I thought you said you had to be up at eight. They won’t fire you on your first day though, right?



SvS 4: The Birds, The Bees, And You and Me – YA Contemporary

Filed under: contest,Literary Agent,Publishing — chasingthecrazies @ 5:55 am
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Category/Genre: YA Contemporary

Word Count: 77,000




My Main Character would use sun or snow to battle their biggest obstacle:



Lacey’s biggest battle is against abstinence-only sex education (if you can call that “education”). Not exactly weather-dependent. She wants her peers to practice safe-sex. She knows that sometimes, with the warm weather the sun brings, her friends might be feeling a little…friskier. But the same could be true when her town is snowed in. Regardless of the weather, she’d probably hand you a condom if you asked.







Dear Agents,


If you’re looking for sex advice, Lacey Burke might not be your first choice. She has no firsthand experience—she’s never even been kissed. She’d also probably get expelled from her strictly abstinence-only school in her conservative small town if anyone found out. Up until now, she’s been a straight-A music geek that no one even notices.



That all changes when she helps deliver the baby of a friend. Fed up with her school’s strict abstinence-only policies, and armed with the knowledge she’s acquired as a trained doula and from being raised by an über-feminist mom, Lacey takes a stand. Along with the help of her two best friends, Evita and Theo, Lacey starts an underground operation of handing out condoms, safe-sex advice, and pregnancy tests.



Before long, she’s keeping everyone’s secrets, including her own (read: hooking up with Theo behind Evita’s back). But when one of her classmates, a pregnant freshman, threatens to expose her and her friends if Lacey doesn’t help her keep the pregnancy a secret, she’ll have to choose between keeping her classmate safe and protecting the people she cares most about.



THE BIRDS, THE BEES, AND YOU AND ME will appeal to readers of FIRSTS by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn and SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA by Becky Albertalli.



First 250 words:



The phone call isn’t exactly unexpected. My mom always finds a reason to check on something. Did she leave enough milk for my baby brother Dylan? Does Charlie remember Nina’s music class? It’s obvious she just wants to know how the kids are doing. My stepdad Charlie knows this and when he sees her number on the Caller ID, he rubs his two-day stubble and takes a breath before he answers: “Hon, the kids are fine, but they miss you just the right amount, and Lacey and I are about to take them to the store to stock up on lunch fixings.” He pauses to roll his eyes at me. But then nods. “Here she is.”



He hands me the phone, and predictably as soon as I stop playing with my three-year-old sister Nina, she starts whining that she wants me to pick her up. Charlie scoops her up and carries her out of the kitchen.



“Hi Mom.”



“Hey, Lacey!” She’s chipper. Too chipper. “How would you like to witness your first birth?”



“Um. Are you forgetting I was there when Nina and Dylan were born?”



I know what she’s asking me. Just a few weeks ago, I took a workshop on being a birth doula, which means I’m trained to comfort and support women during labor and birth. My mom just has “this feeling that I’ll be great.” I just wish I could be as sure as she is. No amount of studying makes me feel ready to help someone with something as personal and important as having a baby.




SvS 5: Black Butterfly – YA Thriller

Filed under: contest,Literary Agent,Publishing — chasingthecrazies @ 5:55 am
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Category/Genre: YA Thriller

Word Count: 66,000




My Main Character would use sun or snow to battle their biggest obstacle:


As a government trained spy, Black Butterfly could kick anyone’s ass no matter what the weather is like. However, given the choice, she would pick snow. She’s not particularly fond of the hot weather, and a well-placed snowball could easily incapacitate her enemy.







Eighteen-year-old Black Butterfly wakes up on the Jersey side of the Holland Tunnel with only a snatch of nightmarish memories and an unsettling repertoire of violent talents. She must come to grips with her role in a series of terrorist attacks and discover her connection to a shadowy government agency before they destroy the new life she is trying to build.



Hours after the attacks, off-gridders from upstate New York find Black Butterfly and mend her wounds. She joins them as they travel on foot to a rally in Washington, D.C., and they begin to feel like the family she can’t remember—or never had. Bursts of memories begin to surface, offering insight into her dark past. Luke, a teen spy, attacks her at a rest stop and confirms her worst suspicions: Black Butterfly is a government spy and has put her new friends’ lives at risk simply by being associated with them.



Leaving them behind, she heads to the agency’s headquarters to save her friends, no matter what the cost. Faced with a choice of starting over or obeying the agency’s strict training, unreliable narrator Black Butterfly will keep the reader guessing if she’s on the side of righteousness or evil.



Complete at 66,000 words, BLACK BUTTERFLY is a YA thriller that will appeal to fans of SEKRET and TABULA RASA.




First 250 words:



I must complete this mission—the necessity born of strict training, ingrained in my brain and body. Nothing else matters. Not the smoke stinging my eyes, or the coughs shaking my body, or the sharp pounding from a blow to the head, by what I don’t know. It’s chaos, pure madness.



Certainly it doesn’t matter that my guilty conscience over the destruction of the greatest city in the world, a demise I helped orchestrate, kicks in. The head wound has knocked all my training instincts out of me. I shake my head to try and lodge them back in. I push down the guilt, tucking it deep in my gut, and recite the Agency’s motto in my head.



I am a soldier.

I serve the Agency.

It is my purpose.



Through the smoke, I watch Zhang leap over debris and dodge falling objects with more grace than I would expect of a skinny 5’5” diplomat who has probably never seen the inside of a gym. His briefcase waggles up and down as he navigates the terrain.



My lungs scream for fresh air, yet I stand and follow him. I should have no trouble keeping pace; I’m a highly trained soldier in the peak of physical shape. A sharp pain shoots through my skull. My legs nearly give out, but I stay upright and scan the devastation to find that Zhang has increased his distance on me.



Catching up with him is my only option.



Failure doesn’t exist, because then I won’t exist.



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