Saturday, September 27, 2014

Event Report: Lindsey Lane & Evidence of Things Not Seen

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Author Lindsey Lane launched her debut novel Evidence of Things Not Seen (FGS, 2014) last weekend at BookPeople.

Group hug -- Lindsey with Gene Brenek & Carmen Oliver.
Debbie Gonzales & Shana Burg chat at the refreshments table.
In the photo booth!
With Anne Bustard, a soon-to-debut novelist herself!
Teen actors prepare for the readers theater.
Ready to perform -- each reading a different voice included in the book; courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.
Lindsey's daughter is among the actors; courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.
Greg Leitich Smith and Ruth Pennebaker
Salima Alikhan, Vanessa Lee & Sean Petrie
E. Kristin Anderson & Kayla Olson
Cynthia Levinson & K.A. Holt
Liz Garton Scanlon, April Lurie & Frances Hill Yansky
Tim Crow, Kathi Appelt, Greg & Brian Yansky
Photo of Lindsey courtesy of Sam Bond Photography.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Cynsational News & Giveaway

Compiled by Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Promote Your Novel With a Two-Minute Version of the Story by Brian Yansky from Brian's Blog: Writer Talk. Peek: "It's easy to do. It's kind of fun. It's basically free."

Drowning in the Well by Laura Ruby from The Storyteller's Inkpot. Peek: "If this sounds like depression, it was a very specific sort of fiction-centered depression. What good is a story when the people around you are suffering? Shut up and make them something to eat! I had forgotten how nourishing stories could be."

On the Quilting of One-Liners (and Second Coming of Once-Dead Darlings) by Julianna Baggott from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "The bins are also important because they remind me that I don’t just have a bunch of blank pages to fill. I have something to fill them with. I don’t have to create from nothing."

The Villain's Big Reveal by Mary Kole from Peek: "Not only will this give your readers more to latch on to, it will give your hero more to work with when it comes time to face their foe."

Four Tips for Writing About Unfamiliar Character Issues from Elizabeth Spann Craig. Peek: "The folks who live with these issues deserve accuracy, respect, and empathy. It’s our job to get it right."

What Rejections Can Tell You by Chris Eboch from Project Mayhem. Peek: "If you have a strong idea and a well-written query letter, you may get a request for a partial manuscript. That’s a great sign that your topic is marketable."

Why the Opening of If I Stay by Gayle Forman Works from Deborah Halverson at Dear Editor. Peek: "Forman intrigues by triggering and stoking anticipation. Her chapter header is “7:09 a.m.”, setting up the expectation that a big thing will happen any minute."

IBBY Honors Inclusion of all Voices in Books From Around the World by Terry Farish from The Pirate Tree. Peek: "IBBY introduced their 2014 Honour List, a biennial selection of outstanding, recently published books honouring writers, illustrators and translators from around the world. The books were honored with this passionate Mexican celebration of trumpets and gorgeous illustration in this slide show..."

It May Be Perfectly Normal, But It's Also Frequently Banned by Rebecca Hersher from NPR. Peek: "Now in its fourth edition, the book has sold more than a million copies. Harris asks experts like pediatricians, biologists and even lawyers to fact-check each edition, to make sure updates to AIDS prevention information or birth control laws are accurate."

Sensory Fiction by Felix from MAS 565: Science Fiction to Science Fabrication. Peek: "By using a combination of networked sensors and actuators, the Sensory Fiction author is provided with new means of conveying plot, mood, and emotion while still allowing space for the reader’s imagination." Source: The Official SCBWI Blog.

Mental Illness Booklist for Teens by Pam from Strong in the Broken Places. Categories include: depression, bi-polar, self-harm, eating disorders, PTSD, disassociation, borderline personality disorder, OCD, anxiety, agoraphobia, and schizophrenia/paranoia.

The Advantages of Author Portraits by Simone Collins from Jane Friedman. Peek: "Having a portrait drawn from informal personal photos or selfies can save a significant amount of money. Some of the most popular portrait styles on ArtCorgi hover around $25–$45, making them far less expensive then traditional photo shoots with professional photographers."

The Dreaded Rewrite by Isaiah Campbell from Project Mayhem. Peek: "My stomach burrowed its way through my body and into the car seat. 'But that’s the whole book!' I said. 'If he doesn’t want my book, maybe I don’t want him.'" Notes: (1) Isaiah lives in New Mexico, but was "born and bred" in Texas; (2) post includes giveaway. See also You Should Always Carry a Notebook by Dawn Lairamore from Project Mayhem.

James Dawson: "There Are Too Many White Faces in Kids' Books" by Alison Flood from The Guardian. Peek "'In an ideal world, every title released would reflect a diverse world,' said Dawson. 'This doesn’t mean there should be a gay character in every book, but if every character in a title is white, straight, able-bodied and wealthy, that book is not reflecting the real world. Is this insidiously suggesting an ideal?'" See also Why Gay Characters Matter by Kristin Pekoll (Assistant Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom) from The Huffington Post.

Reservation Sunsets and Stephen King's Salem's Lot by Eric Gansworth from PEN America. Peek: "The small town culture of (Salem’s Lot, ethnicity aside, was nearly parallel to the reservation’s. A nosey writer like Ben wouldn’t be tolerated, but the reservation would have held a bounty of opportunities for an industrious vampire like Barlow. Some folks disappeared for days on end without raising anyone’s eyebrows, and a few roads were home to only one or two houses...)"

Cover Reveal: Rose Eagle by Joseph Bruchac from Lee & Low. Peek: "Set to be released next month, Joseph Bruchac has written an e-novella that’s a prequel to Killer of Enemies (Tu, 2013), titled Rose Eagle."

Cynsational Giveaway

This Week at Cynsations

Cynsational Screening Room

Summer reading PSA with animated art by Don Tate.

More Personally

Author-illustrator Divya Srinivasan at the launch for Little Owl's Day (Viking, 2014) at BookPeople.
Young reader-artists enjoy coloring tie-in pages to Little Owl's Day.
Congratulations to Katie Bagley for signing with literary agent Sara Crowe and to Sara for signing Katie! Here's to many books to come!

K.A. Holt with fellow author E. Kristin Anderson
Kudos to children's author K.A. Holt for her graceful handing of this CBS This Morning interview about having been questioned for letting her son play outdoors by himself. Note: I spent much of my childhood playing outside without constant round-the-clock supervision, which--among other things--was key to the development of my imagination.

Link of the Week: Touch the Hearts of Your Readers: Entangle Their Emotions by Tom Bentley from Writer Unboxed.

For educators, The Kid-friendly, Kid-maintainable Classroom Library by Nicole Hewes from The Horn Book.

See also 2014 Children's-YA Books by Austinites and 2015 Children's-YA Books by Austinites from Greg Leitich Smith.

Note: Visit Cynsations tomorrow for full coverage of Lindsey Lane's launch at BookPeople!

Personal Screening Room

Remarkable animated fan art trailer (by Stephen Byrne) for all of you "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer" fans out there!

This one's for all of you heading to YALSA's YA Literary Symposium this fall or the Texas Library Association conference this spring. Or who just love gorgeous photography and/or Austin!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Greg Leitich Smith will speak and sign at Tweens Read Sept. 27 at South Houston High School in Pasadena, Texas.

Cynthia Leitich Smith will speak on a panel "Where Are the Heroes of Color in Fantasy & Sci Fi Lit?" from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at YALSA's YA Literature Symposium in Austin.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Guest Interview: Author Dori Hillestad Butler & Illustrator Aurore Damant on The Haunted Library

By Dori Hillestad Butler
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When I tell strangers I’m a children’s book author, the first thing they often want to know is whether I am published.

The second thing they want to know is who is my illustrator? Where did I find someone to illustrate my books? How does that whole thing work?

The average person (i.e. someone who is not in children’s publishing) doesn’t realize that authors rarely have any say in who illustrates our books.

Most of us (with the exception of those who are both authors and illustrators) don’t know our illustrators or have any contact with them whatsoever. It’s up to the publisher to find and work with the illustrator.

Again, people are often surprised to hear this. “You mean you don’t tell the illustrator what to draw?”


Well...I do usually have a few notes to the illustrator for my Haunted Library (Grosset & Dunlap) manuscripts, but that’s because this is a chapter book mystery series and there are clues to solving the mystery in the illustrations.

Clues that never appear in the text. So I have tell my editor, art director, and illustrator what those clues are.

But I don’t say anything else about the art. I don’t tell anyone which scenes I’d like to see illustrated (not unless it’s a scene with an illustrated clue), and I don’t tell anyone what any of the characters or the town should look like. That’s not my job.

And that’s actually okay with me. I think it’s in an author’s best interest to leave as much to the illustrator as possible.

They almost always come up with things I wouldn’t have thought of on my own, and it’s always a nice surprise to see the art in my books for the first time.

I am especially happy with the work Aurore Damant has done on my Haunted Library series. It makes me very curious about her.

Who is the person who draws my ghost world even better than I see it in my own head?

So I decided to interview her for Cynsations and try and get to know her a little bit.

Dori: Hi, Aurore! Thanks for letting me interview you. Let’s start with where do you live?

Aurore: I live in Paris, France, not far from Montmartre.

Dori: Wow! Okay, truth be told I did actually know that already. But it’s about the only thing I did know about you before this interview. And the fact that you live in Paris just adds to the mystique.

So, are you married? Do you have kids?

Aurore: Julien and I are together for 10 years and married since 2012. We don't have kids!

Dori: How about pets? For our bios, you drew me with a dog on my shirt and you drew yourself with a cat on your shirt. I assume that wasn't coincidental?

Aurore: When our editor asked me to do your portrait, I found several pictures of you with a big black dog, and I assumed you were a dog person!

I'm totally a cat person. My cat's named Lois, she's 3, and she's the most mischievous cat ever.

Dori: Good guess! I am totally a dog person! But I like cats, too. I’ve been owned by three cats over the years. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Aurore: Hang out with my friends, play with my cat, go to the movies, have drinks, walk around Paris, shop, watch TV series, travel if I can... Pretty basic stuff.

But actually, I draw all the time... if I'm working on an interesting project, I don't mind drawing at night or during the weekend. I'm such a nerd.

Dori: Ha! Me too! What is your illustration background?

Aurore: I started in animation, I studied at Gobelins which is a famous art school that specializes in animation, based in Paris. I developed several TV series.

Five or six years ago I had some opportunities to do some freelance illustration work, and I enjoyed it very much. People trust me and give me carte blanche most of the time, which is awesome.

Now I do as much illustration as animation, and I love them both!

Dori: That’s very cool! And that explains the animated look (which I love, by the way) to the books. Can you say a little bit about your illustration process?

Aurore: Everything starts in my head. Generally, I have a clear vision of the character or the composition I want to do. I don't need to make a lot of tries before I find the right design, it comes on the spot. But I also use a lot of references, like old cartoons and old children books (Little Golden Books are the best).

When I'm happy with the rough design, I have to choose the style of the illustration. Black outline, color outline, no outline at all... same with the backgrounds. I have to find a good balance.

I work digitally on a Cintiq, which is a large screen plugged in to my computer, and I can draw directly on it, which is a real time saver and gives me a lot of freedom to explore various looks for my illustrations.

Dori: I didn’t give you a lot of physical description for most of the characters in the Haunted Library. How did you decide what they should look like?

Aurore: For Claire, I tried to fit her personality in the story. She had to look thorough, yet sweet. One of my references was "Coraline" from the stop motion film by Henry Selick.

For Kaz and the other ghosts, it was easier in a way since I never had the opportunity to draw any ghost before. So I could take a fresh start!

The only thing I hesitate is to give them a human appearance or make them with simple shapes like Casper. But I thought it would be easier to relate to them if they look humans. Then I had enough info in the story about their personalities to find a design that matches.

Dori: You absolutely did the right thing giving the ghosts a human form. That was what I had in mind. How long does it take you to illustrate a Haunted Library book?

Aurore: About five days for the roughs of the 30 illustrations, then two-to-three weeks for the final black and white illustrations. And two days for the cover.

Dori: Interesting! 

So it takes you about the same amount of time to do the art as it takes me to plan and write the first draft of one of these books. 

It takes me about a week to plan out the story and write the outline and then I like to have a month to write the draft: two weeks to write the draft and two weeks to revise it before I sent it in.

Here’s a random question. I’m liking you more and more with every question I ask, so I’d like to know if you and I could ever meet in person and hang out for an afternoon, what would we do together?

Aurore: We would go in a cozy cafe to enjoy a big piece of pie and homemade hot chocolate, and talk about our jobs and our life in general. Then we would go check out some old houses with great history, hopefully one of them would be haunted...

Dori: Wow! That is exactly what I would like to do with you! Maybe one day we can do that? Or should I say two days…once in Paris and once in Seattle!

One last question: If the series continues, what would you like to see happen? What kind of ghostly mystery should Kaz and Claire solve? Is there anything in particular you'd like to illustrate?

Aurore: I never really thought about that!

But I guess I would love to see them go in some spooky or weird places like an old fun fair, an abandoned house or a natural history museum. Or maybe have them solving a case during Halloween or Christmas, that would be fun!

Dori: Hmm…that would be fun! Especially the natural history museum! Well, we’ll see.

Thanks for letting me interview you. It’s nice to get to know you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Guest Post: Irene Latham on Author Infidelity: When One Genre Isn't Enough

By Irene Latham
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

When I sold my first novel for children, I was advised to commit myself fully–to set aside my fledgling poetry for adults writing, and focus 100% on fiction writing.

Since I'd previously published only one volume of poems – with a small press – I could see the wisdom in the advice.

My heart, however, did not.

Poems popped up everywhere, as they are wont to do, and I, being a lifelong wordcatcher, could not set down my net. I developed a habit of prose in the mornings and poetry at night.

My second book of poems was released around the same time I sold my second novel. I embraced the image of myself as “poet and novelist,” and found comfort in Walt Whitman's words, “(I am large. I contain multitudes.)” I relished having not just one love, but two.

And then everything changed. Two loves became three.

It happened when I attended an SCBWI-sponsored Poetry Retreat with Rebecca Kai Dotlich, where I learned that children's poetry is not all Shel Silverstein, wonderful as his voice is; I didn't have to be funny when what I like to write is beautiful.

That weekend I dived head-long into a collection of ocean poems. My fingers were at full tide for weeks. I wrote poem after poem. All of them for kids.

When I informed my agent, Rosemary Stimola, who originally signed me as a fiction writer and claims no expertise in the field of poetry, she replied, simply, “the world needs good poetry.”

And off we went, searching for an editor.

The first three collections we subbed didn't find a publishing home – and rightly so. It's one thing to write good poems, and another entirely to write a collection that hangs together, has a beginning, middle and end, and holds some appeal for the picture book audience.

Other things I've struggled with include avoiding themes that pervade my poetry for adults: romantic love, loss, longing. Tamping down the Wise Woman voice and approaching topics with a sense of wonder and fun and discovery. Flexing and stretching with rhyme as a poetic technique – one I use very little in my adult poetry. Using metaphor and similes that refer to a child's world (chocolate milk) instead of the adult world (morning coffee). I'm still learning.

Meanwhile, I've done my best to be attentive to those other loves. Some days it feels like too much – like I'm bubblegum run out of its stretch. Some days I can't blow a bubble to save my life.

I've learned to assign months for one or the other genre – for instance, this month is a prose month.

Some days other writing sneaks in – and that's okay. Being unfaithful requires both discipline, and the relaxation of boundaries. You have to be forgiving of yourself, open to what the universe is presenting you at that moment. Know that this means ready-to-sub manuscripts may come at a slower pace – and that's okay.

It helps to think of each genre as a relationship. Each of the sister-wives needs love and reassurance and affection. Each requires practice and patience. Trust that your heart is big enough for all of it – and more.

This month, as I deliver to the world my first book of poems for children, Dear Wandering Wildebeest: And Other Poems from the Water Hole, with illustrations by Anna Wadham (Millbrook), I'm at peace with my writing heart's infidelity.

I like to think of it not as a problem, but a strength. It's like being multilingual – and how marketable is that in today's world?

Ultimately it creates a writing life filled with movement and adventure.

I can't wait to see where the current takes me next.

Cynsational Notes

Irene Latham is a poet and novelist from Birmingham, Alabama. The award-winning author of three volumes of poetry for adults and two novels for children Leaving Gee's Bend (Putnam) and Don't Feed the Boy (Roaring Brook), she has yet to meet a genre she didn't like.

Her debut book of poems for children Dear Wandering Wildebeest (Millbrook) has earned starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal and was inspired by photographs taken by Greg du Toit, who submerged himself in a Kenyan water hole in order to best capture the animals drinking.

Two more poetry books for kids Fresh Delicious: Poems from the Farmer's Market and Summer in Antarctica will be released in 2016.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Guest Post & Giveaway: Mari Mancusi on When the Problem Is The Market, Not the Manuscript

By Mari Mancusi
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Ten years ago, when I began my publishing journey, I was under the assumption that if you wrote it (and it was good) it would sell.

Sell to a New York publisher.

Be stocked at Barnes and Noble and (sniff!) Borders.

Be discovered by readers.

Happily ever after, the end.

And it certainly seemed that way when my tween YA time travel novel, The Camelot Code, sold to Dutton/Penguin at auction in 2007. It was a sweet two-book deal and the editor was very excited about the project.

The gist was this: a teen King Arthur ends up in our world, Googles himself and finds out his true destiny, then decides he’d rather play football than pull the sword from the stone. And it’s up to our intrepid 21st century heroine, Sophie, to get him back in time before history is changed forever.

All was going well, until through a series of events, a change was made. The editor asked if I would do the second book in the contract first—as it seemed more “timely” – (and, of course, a time travel novel is supposedly timeless).

So I did—writing Gamer Girl instead. And when that was finished I went back to my precious Camelot Code, excited to finally finish it and get it out there at last.

But at that point, a year and a half after the original deal was made, the YA market had changed. Publishers had realized there were profits to be made on the so-called crossover audience (i.e. the adult readers) and YA started growing up—growing edgier and darker and deeper. And when my editor read my version of The Camelot Code, she realized she could not publish this book as it was and asked for a major revision.

To make matters worse, as I was revising, my editor moved houses. Then Dutton was reorganized into a boutique imprint that put out only a few titles a year. Many of the current authors were sent to Dial to finish out their contracts.

Me and my ill-fitting book, however, were dumped.

“No problem!” I said at the time. “I’ll just sell it to someone else!” Certainly a novel that sold at auction the first time would have some takers the second time around.

But I was wrong. No one wanted it. Everyone said, “It’s not middle grade, it’s not young adult. We don’t have a place for this book in our line.”

With Cory Putnam Oakes & Christina Soontornvat at Lindsey Lane's launch.
I refused to give up at first—scouring the Internet for YA publishers I might not have heard of and forwarding their names to my agent. To her credit, she was intrepid, sending out manuscript after manuscript, long after I’m sure she gave up on the book.

But the rejections still came in. Each one a knife, twisting in my gut. The worst part, I think, was that I knew it was a good book.

The problem was the market. No one was buying light, funny, tween. They wanted the next Hunger Games. And I was not going to sell this book by sheer force of will.

I felt like a failure. I felt like I’d wasted years of my life. I lost faith in the publishing world and I felt adrift in my career. If a book I felt so strongly about couldn’t sell, what made me think I could ever master this publishing thing? Yes, in the meantime, I was selling other books to other publishers, but The Camelot Code remained a big Excalibur in my side.

Then one day my husband took me aside. He brushed away my tears and reminded me of all the good The Camelot Code had brought me. The original advance money had allowed me to move to New York City, a lifelong dream, and the place I met him.

When the manuscript was rejected by my editor and I realized I wasn’t getting paid, I ended up moving in with him to save money, bringing us closer than ever.

And eventually, out of this cursed book, came the most precious blessing of all. My three-year-old daughter Avalon. Imagine—an entire human being—on this planet—all because of a publishing deal gone south. Of course I had to give her an Arthurian-inspired name, right?

Publishing can be a brutal industry. But roses can still grow in the cracks in the pavement. And it’s important for authors to look at the big picture. To remember that sometimes it’s just timing or trends or an editor having a bad day—not a reflection of the quality of your book.

Sometimes good books just don’t fit the mold.

And we can’t let that break us or cause us to lose faith in our work and ourselves.

Now, seven years after the original sale, I’ve decided to self publish The Camelot Code. To make it available to readers for the very first time. And who knows, maybe New York is right—maybe there’s no market for this tween book and I won’t sell a single copy.

But maybe they’re wrong. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to find out. That, in and of itself, feels like a bit of a happy ending.

Deanna Roy, Mari & Sam Bond chat Alternative Publishing Options with Austin SCBWI.

About The Camelot Code

The Camelot Code is available in print or digital formats on all major platforms, including Overdrive for libraries and Ingram. It is age-appropriate for 10+.

To purchase, see paperback at Amazon, paperback at Barnes and Noble, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, and Overdrive

All fourteen-year-old gamer girl Sophie Sawyer wants to do is defeat Morgan Le Fay in her favorite Arthurian videogame. She has no idea the secret code sent via text message is actually a magical spell that will send her back in time to meet up with a real life King Arthur instead.

Of course Arthur's not king yet--he hasn't pulled the sword from the stone--and he has no idea of his illustrious destiny.

And when a twist of fate sends him forward in time--to modern day high school--history is suddenly in jeopardy.

Even more so when Arthur Googles himself and realizes what lies in store for him if he returns to his own time--and decides he'd rather try out for the football team instead.

Now Sophie and her best friend Stuart find themselves in a race against time--forced to use their 21st century wits to keep history on track, battle a real-life version of their favorite videogame villain, and get the once and future king back where he belongs. Or the world, as they know it, may no longer exist.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Guest Post: Barbara Bottner on Miss Brooks' Story Nook (where tales are told and ogres are welcome)

Learn more!
By Barbara Bottner
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I am very opinionated, as a reader, a writer, writing teacher and coach.

I am also righteous, and stubborn about my opinions to the point of intolerance.

This attitude is what made me write Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t.), illustrated by Michael Emberley (Knopf). I like to use my own childish nature as a resource for picture books because it is always authentic and it is a good source for stories and always offers conflict.

In the first Miss Brooks book, Missy refuses to be seduced into reading by her over-zealous, inspired librarian, Miss Brooks. This is a parallel to me in my book club. I tend to be disappointed in many novels--good, award-winning novels.

While I long to leave my own writing and daily life behind, I need the work to offer an intense experience.

Make me love you or I will walk away and never turn back.

On the other hand, when I love a book, I love it like a girl loves her first boyfriend, her tutu, her grandmother. I will love it and reread it forever.

When I thought of writing a sequel to Miss Brooks, I knew I had to up the action. Thus, I decided that the still opinionated Missy would have to face an even more difficult challenge than liking stories. She, herself, would need to come up with one and it would have to be a doozy at that. She would have to stay in character of course, but in the creative arena, she could use her own imagination.

Learn more!
Thus, the school temporarily loses electricity due to a storm, and the clever Miss Brooks now can justifiably ask the children to invent their own tales.

I am lucky that Nancy Siscoe, my editor at Knopf, doesn't shy away from Missy's over-the top idea of a neighbor who keeps all kinds of animals in her basement, including a snake, and that in the end, Missy decides she is "dead, dead, dead" (then changes her mind).

I like darkness in tales, even for young readers. Do they never wish a younger sibling or cousin would be "dead, dead, dead'?' I believe that kids live at a very deep emotional level. If I were five, I would be tired of rhymes and adventures as a steady diet. I would want the occasional "off with their heads" moments.

I also love the story within the story--it offers another level of fantasy, while keeping the real life problems in the foreground.

Missy needs to face down a bully. She needs a tale to embolden herself, but one that will also put her nemesis, Billy Toomey, in his place. Stories about kittens won't do.

I try to use heightened issues for picture books in honor of my readers. We humans are a complicated, difficult tribe. I consider it my duty to reflect that in my books.

Never underestimate the power of a good story, or the complicated nature of even a very young child.

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