Review: I’m Not Dying With You Tonight, by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

I was skeptical how good this book might be because one of its coauthors, Kimberly Jones, had a video about racism and social contracts that went pretty viral after the death of George Floyd. Part of me thought this book’s popularity was hype surrounding that.

I was 300% wrong.

This book had me turning the pages as fast as I could from cover to cover. I finished it in 3 hours. While juggling 3 children under 3 years old. There are very few things I can accomplish quite to this degree, but I made this happen because the book was THAT GOOD.

The book follows two highschool girls, Lena and Campbell, through a night that began as a normal highschool football game, and became a nightmare of protests and violence.  Along their journey, they discover their concepts of race aren’t as black and white as they thought.  And of course, they’re two girls in highschool, so amidst all of the chaos, there’s a very realistic naivete about priorities and expectations that are continuously challenged throughout the book.

The vernacular is on point, both in dialogue interactions and the headspace of these girls.  It made me feel like I was really there experiencing all of this with them.  The descriptions are excellent, the pace is fast and engaging, and it’s funny.  Despite the mature themes of this book, the two girls’ interactions, both when they work together and when they clash, are funny.  I don’t remember a time when I felt like laughing and taking to the streets for justice at the same time.  Usually those two don’t mix, but the combination here would not let me put this book down for a second.

I highly recommend reading this book.  You will laugh, get angry, maybe cry, and your beliefs about race will definitely be challenged as you immerse yourself in the headspace of these two girls, one black, one white.  It’s a must read.

It can be ordered from Amazon here. 

 

 

Systemic Racism and White Ignorance: a Deep-Seated Coexistence

“This was a nice town before the blacks took over.” I heard this phrase more times than I can count growing up in the southern United States. As a kid, I didn’t think much about it. As an educated adult, I’m appalled.

Crime statistics are quoted repeatedly to justify the use of this phrase, and the idea that black communities are more prone to violence and criminal acts is as ingrained in the southern white belief system as is the Civil War was fought over states’ rights.  These crime statistics are not as “black and white” as they appear however, and it is worth a closer look between the lines.   

There are too many avenues to tackle about systemic racism, so I’m just going to focus on the role of the education system.

After the Supreme Court ruled that Separate but Equal was unconstitutional in Brown vs Board in 1954, school integration became a reality. Finally, black children had the opportunity to have the quality education that was denied to them under the Separate but Equal law, which had been anything but equal.   

Whites, appalled and wounded that their segregated system was under attack again (cause you know, they LOST the Civil War), removed their children from public schools and enrolled them in private schools at an alarming rate. The Southern Education Foundation shows a 120% increase in private school enrollment between 1950 and 1965.

Whites enrolling their children in private schools had multiple effects.

1) Many white families relocated to “whiter” communities to be closer to a private school–which over time led to a disproportionate amount of blacks remaining in the previous community.  A term dubbed “White Flight.”  

2) Funding for public schools now showing a higher number of black students was cut and redirected into white private schools or other public schools which still reported a higher white population.

But wait, you say.  Private schools are funded through tuition, not taxes or federal aid, so how could the funds be re-directed? 

While federal taxes are not allocated to private schools, local taxes can be.  Meaning, elected state officials had the power to allocate local tax funds away from public schools with growing black enrollees and into all white private schools.  Private schools, until the Civil Rights Act of 1965, could discriminate against race, and their tuition rates were far too expensive for most blacks (and still are to a disproportionate degree).  With this reallocation of funds, public schools, which were a beacon of hope for blacks, now had significantly less funding to deliver on that promise.  

3) Private schools have major flexibility in what they teach because the federal government doesn’t regulate its course content.  Many private schools have used this power to distort the true motivations for southern states to secede from the Union, teaching that the Civil War was fought for states’ rights, and conveniently leaving out the rest of the sentence which is “to uphold the institution of slavery.”  This lie has led to generations of misguided southern whites on the history of the Civil War, and perpetrated a false notion of white victimhood by both blacks and the United States government.  

The Mississippi Secession document signed in 1861 clearly states that the reason for secession was to uphold the institution of slavery, you can view it here for yourself. 

The educational victory blacks achieved over Brown vs Board would not be celebrated with the results they hoped for.  To further discourage and sabotage blacks from seeking better opportunities in whiter neighborhoods, local elected white officials directed law enforcement to police black communities more frequently.  Police brutality and racial profiling increased, and white supremacist groups such as the KKK ramped up their terrorist activities to ensure blacks remained disenfranchised from the rights and liberties guaranteed to them under the Constitution.

More police in black communities led to a skewed statistic of crime rates among black communities vs white communities. Blacks were more likely to be charged with a crime, whereas whites were more likely to be let off with a warning.  Today, blacks are still more likely to be charged with a crime than whites, even the same crime, as this study from the NY Times shows.

This increased police presence in black communities also directly translated to a decreased police presence in white communities, further skewing the reports of crime in black neighborhoods compared to white, and effectively creating the false assumption that black communities are unsafe and unfit for integration with whites–a view that spread across the US and continues to influence the perception of black populations today.

*It is important to understand that the smaller number of reported crimes in white neighborhoods does not prove that fewer crimes were being committed by whites, it only proves that fewer charges were being filed against whites.  A statement that is still true today.

To the average southern white going about their day, unconcerned with politics (as so many still are), and trusting in their elected officials to uphold the Constitution and their oaths of office, it appeared that integration with blacks threatened public safety and the infrastructure of their communities.  As funds were reallocated to whiter districts and public services disintegrated, it was too easy for poor whites to blame blacks than the people they voted into office.  

The “Take over of nice towns” by blacks was not a vicious white suppression movement, it was blacks seeking better opportunities for themselves and their children–the very essence of the American dream; the exodus of racist whites offended by blacks seeking equality; and the political manipulation of white supremacist officials directing funds away from communities increasingly less likely to re-elect them.  Communities, white and black across the south, were and are severely affected by these policies of systemic racism.

Sixty years ago, towns were more isolated, and it was harder to understand this racial divide and learn about the segregation motives of their elected officials. Now, in 2020, information is literally at our fingertips. There is no excuse now for whites, or any race, to not educate themselves about the history of racism in this country or the political track record and agendas of the officials in office.  

Systemic racism is not a black problem, it’s everyone’s problem. The policies enacted to suppress equality not only affect blacks, but also whites and other races–an overwhelming majority of them poor.  

*There is no excuse for white ignorance about systemic racism.

Please educate yourselves on the history of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.  Look up studies on crime statistics and police bias.  Research your elected officials, research election candidates.  All of these things are desperately needed to end systemic racism and repair our divided country.  All of these things are at your fingertips.  We no longer live in a bubble.  Technology has given us the power to learn, change, and grow as human beings, and as a nation.  

If hearing “Black Lives Matter” offends you, then you don’t understand systemic racism in our country, and you have not taken the time to learn about it.  Now is the time.

Every individual has a responsibility to help resolve issues that affect us all.  Let’s start with ending systemic racism. 

#BlackLivesMatter

Photo courtesy of @vegan_sloth and @grime_photography

Content – When To Cut

You’ve worked diligently on your manuscript for months, maybe years, every word is where it should be, all of your scenes written perfectly to tell the tale. Right?

Wrong.

As you go back through to tighten up your book, it’s natural to find a few things that don’t flow. Maybe an idea you weaved in that didn’t go anywhere. So you tweak, cut, rework. These things are not so hard to part with.

What about entire scenes? Or even plot lines? Or whole characters?

It turns out that the first version of my book, after several beta readers gave me feedback, did not have as cohesive an ending as I believed, and in order to correct this, I’m going to have to cut out and rework some sentimental material.

The main beta reader takeaways were: Too many characters to keep track of, the main characters are scattered all over the map by the end, there’s too strong of a cliffhanger for an ending, nothing is really accomplished, and it feels more like “part 1” instead of book 1.

Ouch.

I’ve done a lot of research into how to end a series book, and there are no hard fast rules. However, there is one overarching guideline: Accomplish something/ tie up a main plot point by the end, reader advised.

This has forced me to reconsider a lot of things that happen in my book, and I’ve come to realize that in situations like this, huge chunks of writing may need to go away. Forever.

Sometimes, especially if you’re writing a series, when you’re really attached to the cut material, you can move it elsewhere.  Sometimes in can be saved.

Other times, it just has to go.

“But that character I introduce there is really cool.” Or “that fight scene that happens because of x, y, z is super engaging!” Or “so much information is revealed here.”

I know. I get it. But how do these scenes contribute to the overarching goal of book 1 (or 2 or 3)? Are they really important, or is it fluff? Is it “look at my cool writing skillz”?  Or does it reveal too much at once?  Is it an infodump?

In my case, I think I can put most of what needs to be cut out in a future book, change some names, etc. Even if I can’t, I have to gulp down my sadness and start slashing and reworking because the end result will be worth it.

My book 1 will feel like a book 1, instead of a part 1. And to my readers who have to wait on book 2, that is an important gift to leave them with as an author:  The desire to know what happens next, but closure for the time they have invested.

To sum it up, as an author we need to come to terms with our purpose for writing.

Are we writing for ourselves?  Then keep all of your scenes exactly as they are.

Or are we writing to tell a story to other people, who will then want to share it with their friends?  Then we’re going to have to evaluate each scene, each plot line, each character, and do some cutting.

We’re all in this together.

Happy writing!

Revisiting Inkitt

Inkitt, the online publishing platform where authors can upload their book and get readers, reviews, and feedback for free! Inkitt might even offer you a publishing deal if it looks like it has best seller potential–based off of reader analytics collected every time your readers click on your book.

It sounds amazing. So how is it in practice?

A number of months ago I uploaded the first three chapters of my book, Isle of Elandia, to Inkitt to try it out.  I was able to create a synopsis, book cover, the works with their tools.  It looked very professional. 

Additionally, the online community they have is very interactive, and the site is easy to maneuver, and I was able to “review swap” with several readers and got two 5 star reviews. 

I ran into a couple of issues with Inkitt though.

The first was that I couldn’t find my book with their search tool.  After scrolling through pages and pages and pages of fantasy submissions, I could not find my book.  After typing it in by name, I still couldn’t find my book. I could, however, send a direct link to anyone from the author management page.  Inkitt’s search tool–even typing in the exact title–just would not produce my book.  BIG problem and seriously frustrating.  This tells me that the only books people are seeing on Inkitt’s site are the ones being spammed out by their authors so much that they bounce into that most popular bracket and end up on the front page.

Now, as a writer with a separate career and kids, I don’t have time to be glued to Inkitt’s community page review swapping forever until I get enough reads that a random person perusing the site will be able to find it.  And neither do a TON of other authors, so if you’re hoping to post your book on Inkitt to be read by millions of readers and become a bestseller by its own merit, you will be disappointed. You will have to put work in to bring awareness to it.

One plus Inkitt offers its authors is the analytics it captures, which reveals some important information.  Firstly, that my chapters are too long.  I currently have 95 reads of my book, according to Inkitt’s analytics. This is how many times someone clicked on it, so it doesn’t really mean that they read it.

The “binge rate”, aka, how many times readers continued on to the next chapter, just drops off after chapter 2.  In fact, only one person who started on chapter 1 continued through to chapter 3.  This could either mean that my book is terrible, or, taking into consideration other factors like chapter length, maybe they’re just too long.  Based off of the two reviews I have received on Inkitt, and the feedback from my critique group on the first 5 chapters of my book, I am pretty confident that my book is engaging enough to continue reading, so I think chapter length is a large part of this problem.

Another thing Inkitt also provides (I don’t remember them doing this when I started) are “tips and hints” in the draft area of your book.  One such tip is “books with chapter lengths that are 1000-1500 words have a significantly higher binge rate.”  Which makes sense.  If I’m sitting at my computer, I’m likely not on here just to read books, I’m likely doing 10 other things and am just taking a quick break, like a ton of readers on Inkitt. 

A 4000-5000 word chapter is just way too much to commit to in this day and age, and online reading platforms are a bit challenging to bookmark when you need to stop, unlike printed paperback books.

Another cool thing that the analytics reveal is that since January 2020, I’ve had an increase of 36 reads of my book, after having 0 for almost a year.  Why?  My guess, COVID-19 is pushing everyone to seek online entertainment. 

So!  I decided to do some revamping.  Luckily, each scene is about 1500 words, so I’ve split up my chapters into scenes to fit the suggested length, added more content, and updated my synopsis to see how much interest I get.  Hopefully, my “binge rate” will increase.

There are still some analytics that are not populating for my novel, and Inkitt’s help icon states that not enough data has been collected yet.  It also doesn’t tell me how much data needs to be collected, nor what it’s going to tell me, which would be nice to know. But I guess I’ll find out eventually whenever enough data is collected.

If you’re curious about Inkitt or my book, you can access it directly by clicking here Isle of Elandia and explore the platform further. And if you like, leave me a review!

Have you used Inkitt? Tell me about your experience in the comments!

Happy Writing!

Dialogue Tags and Reading Culture

The greatest literary works are drowning in dialogue tags, but a lot of authors today are ditching them where ever they can. Why? Shouldn’t we follow the example of the greats?

It depends.

To really understand why this norm has changed, you really need to understand the changing culture of reading as a pasttime.

Books written during the literary classic time, such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, even JRR Tolkien were often read aloud as a communal past time, making dialogue tags essential for the audience to understand who is speaking in the story. It would be virtually impossible to follow along otherwise, unless the reader was a spot on voice actor.

Now it’s a lot different. With the rise of TV, internet, and video games, reading a book as a group pasttime is a thing of the past. Books are now usually read quietly and alone, which make dialogue tags cumbersome and annoying to the reader when the context explains itself.

Many children’s stories are meant to be read aloud, and younger minds may be challenged to understand how certain written phrases inherently follow a pattern of character interaction. So if you’re a children’s book author, lots of dialogue tags will likely still be an absolute must to include.

For young adult and adult books, however, consider carefully where you use them. If the context makes it clear which character is speaking already, maybe consider leaving them out to keep the story moving at an engaging pace.

Evolution of a Manuscript: Part 2 – Microsoft Word to PDF

In Evolution of a Manuscript part 1, we discussed scribbling your first draft on the go with gmail (or anything else handy), and then transferring it to your computer to beef it up in your designated writing space. Now, the next step is to take that piece and edit, edit, edit, and edit again.

In this article, I’m going to take you through my process of editing through Microsoft Word and Scrivener, and show you the final product in 6×9, 10 pt font pdf – the closest visually I’m going to get to printed book form. Which is psychologically very satisfying to see as an author–like a glimpse into the future (because my book (and yours) will be published).

Here it is in Word:

me_gadnor_pt2_1

Immediately we see squiggly lines indicating bad grammar or misspellings. After fixing these, I was still highly unsatisfied with this opening. It doesn’t put me there enough, it’s too wordy, and I don’t feel like I am Gadnor the way that I want, and visually there is too much white space, it looks unfinished and it reads the same. Also, there are some disjointed sentences about Lithaneva–the “reaction was rooted in something far more complex than surprised guests”–just doesn’t seem very relevant, too vague and wordy and honestly, it doesn’t add to the story much, it doesn’t tell me anything about her. So, I go back to Scrivener, tweak, and here is what I came up with:

me_gadnor_pt2_3

This is much better, less white space, there is more happening in the scene. Now, with the addition of audience actions I can get a sense of the room, whereas before I was only getting very wooden “she did, he said” type things and little substance. I still don’t like the first paragraph. “Perplexed” sounds complicated, too much to digest within the first two sentences, and I’m still not feeling as though I am Gadnor. There also seems to be a disjointed organization of people and paragraphs. So, back to Scrivener, and this is what I come up with:

me_gadnor_pt2_4

There, now I feel like I have conveyed the awkward feeling well, you know the one where everyone in the room is waiting on someone to say something and they just don’t. I feel like I have captured that now, and I feel like I really am Gadnor. I have also (hopefully) managed to give the reader the sense that Gadnor feels partial to the Princess in a way that is natural, without having to actually state that.

There are some things I still don’t like. There is too much happening in the second paragraph, too many actions by too many people, and the “reveling in it” and “gloried at the spectacle” are rehashes of the same vibe. So, I tweak that a bit and call it good, and now here it is, edited to the point where I’m comfortable with a peer review, in 6×9 10pt font.

me_gadnor_pt2_5

It’s very satisfying looking at how it might appear when published. Don’t you think? I encourage you to try this if you haven’t already. When you get your scene how you want it, format it like this and just see how it looks. Read it over, make a change if you feel it’s necessary, and then keep going with the next scene.

Use this visual as a reward for your hard work and a sneak peak at when it all pays off.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. Feel free to post in the comments some of your own editing/motivational tricks.

Happy writing!

2020 – Week 12 and Covid-19

Welp, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks, my kid has been home because the daycare is closed, and even though I’ve been home a lot this week too, I haven’t been able to accomplish a whole lot story wise. I still haven’t met my last goal.

In fact, yesterday is the first day I’ve been able to sit down and revisit chap 7 sc 2. I made a few changes, beefed up one or two things, and since I was viewing it in word, I corrected a couple grammar issues it picked up for me. More on that in an upcoming post “Evolution of a Manuscript – part 2”.

With coronavirus having such a huge impact across the world, I’ve had to devote a lot of time this week to other things, but I’m ready to put my writing cap back on and get chap 7 completely knocked out!

So, my goal for this week is to get chap 7 sc 2 peer review ready, and complete the draft of chap 7 sc 3, which is still about 75% done.

Use the time you have at home in the coming weeks to your advantage. Start a blog, seek new inspiration, explore a different genre, or just capitalize on the time you have away from social activities to reinvigorate your muse.

As somber as it is, there are some truly things occurring around the globe. There are lots of photo galleries popping up on the web of before and after photos of normally crowded places. Take a moment to scan through some of them, or watch a couple youtube videos of people in seriously affected places, you may find something that inspires an idea.

Not to make light of the seriousness of our current time, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how unique it is as well. There may just be something about it that will spark your muse. So take a moment to explore, not just the world we live in, but the time we’re living in.

2020 – Week 10 and Tailoring Chapter/Scene Length to your Audience

I met my goal this week and tweaked my latest scene, chapter 7 scene 2 which is the subject of my “Evolution of a Scene” series, which you can read about here, and I also have my first draft of the next scene about 75% completed.

I don’t know if I want to tack this latest scene onto chapter 7 or start a new chapter with it. I’ll have to see how it flows and what the final word count is after I finish it. I don’t like making chapters too long, but I also don’t like starting new chapters if it doesn’t feel like a natural place to stop. This scene shows my characters leaving a location where they’ve been for several chapters, so in my head it feels more natural as a conclusion to a chapter than a beginning.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want my book structured: Chapters comprised of multiple scenes; or a chapter per POV/GoT style?

V12 was structured into chapters with titles, and was sectioned off according to a word length/event type formula which really wasn’t very accurate. For example, I had a chapter titled Thellshun, where 2 scenes took place in the realm of Thellshun, but since those 2 scenes were short, I chucked in a scene from another POV which took place in the Shallinath realm so that the chapter length was a consistent range with the others. So the chapter title only fit 2/3 of the chapter. A little confusing for the reader.

For consistency’s sake for v19, I decided to remove chapter titles and just use numbers (chap 1, chap 2, etc), and then base the length off of word count, between 4000-5500 words, which is usually 2 or 3 scenes.

This is a common way to parcel out a novel, I’ve seen it quite a bit and I like it as a reader.

But I also like knowing exactly whose POV it is when I enter the chapter, and the current setup isn’t as friendly in that department as I’d like. I may start a chapter with Gonivein, but before I’m done I’m back to Gadnor. So what? Well, doing that means that the first paragraph of every scene requires another introduction, which wouldn’t be necessary if each chapter was a unique POV.

The problem I have with POV chapters is the potential for inconsistent chapter length. Kelric’s scene might be 4 pages, but when I switch over to Gadnor, he has two back to back which are 4 each, so do I combine them into one 8 page chapter? Have the same POV in back to back chapters? What if one scene is only 2 pages?

All of these are options I need to weigh carefully. And a lot will come down to the flow of the finished product. Hopefully, a beta reader can provide me a recommendation. I may decide to send out a word count multi-scene version and a POV version to beta readers with some type of rubric so I can get a standardized feedback response, and from there determine which chapter format works best to heighten interest.

Why is this so important, you ask? The story is still the same, right? Well, like it or not, chapter structure can make a huge difference in how your reader experiences your book. If there’s a 20 page chapter looming ahead, I may get overwhelmed and put it off for weeks, and maybe never come back to it if life gets too busy, even if the writing is engaging and the story is interesting. Smaller chapters could remedy this.

On the flip side, it may be hard to keep track of placement in a novel if there are too many chapters. And varied length of chapters, personally, I find annoying. When I have a chapter that is 2 pages, and the next one is 11, I get a little bit twitchy. As a reader, there are certain things I would like to just expect ahead of time before I sit down to read, such as if I have time while I wait on my pizza to be ready to finish a chapter, consistency of length will give me that. Even though it doesn’t change the overall story much, it still can add or take away from the overall experience.

A good example of this is the last book I read, it was 140 pages in length, but there were NO chapter breaks. None. There were little squigglies to denote a change in scene, but it just wasn’t the same. I felt like I needed to read the whole thing in one sit down, which was just too much, and when I paused at a scene break I didn’t feel like it was a good stopping place. It just tilted my reading experience.

So. Moral of the story: chapter breaks matter. Scene breaks matter, chapter and scene length matter. So before you publish, consider carefully how your manuscript is structured, because regardless of how good your story is, how engaging your plot, how buttoned up your editing–your readers have lives outside of your book. Pauses and breaks should compliment your audience and the pacing of your plot.

My goal for this week is to go through the editing process for ch 7-2 and finish my ch 7-2/ch 8-1 scene and figure out where it needs to go.

Happy writing!

Evolution of a Manuscript: Part 1 – On-the-Go Scribble to Writing Space

I’d like to take you through my iterations of a draft, from first conception to final product.  I’ve chosen one paragraph to do this way and dissect–the opening of my latest scene as of 7 March 2020.  Hopefully, you will come to the determination that the final draft is a good one, and one that is as close as possible to being publish worthy.

Gmail draft:  Gmail is an excellent conduit for writing on the go.  When you’re not in front of your desk or designated writing area, gmail is at your fingertips anywhere and everywhere, and will save your muse’s life.  It’s accessibility from any device is a godsend.  Boring meetings?  Pull up your draft in Gmail.  Bad gas station sushi?  Pull up your draft in Gmail.  On hold?  Pull up your draft in Gmail.  Listening to your boss drone on in a meeting?  You get the idea.

Here is the conception of my on-the-go draft in Gmail:

me_gadnor

Rough huh?  Yea…

Here it is again, copied into Scrivener and polished up a bit sitting in my designated writing area–my lovely desk in a room full of windows with a view at my lovely garden–this an important distinction for every writer:

me_gadnor2

This is less rigid, a little more sensory, and a bit less disjointed, but it still feels choppy.  There are several bits that don’t flow as smooth as I want.  Also, the POV, Gadnor, comes off too creepy in the first paragraph, and the sentence about Princess Lithaneva being wary doesn’t exactly seem to fit–wary of what?  There really isn’t anything mentioned yet that warrants that reaction.  The last sentence is also very wordy and redundant.

Also, this draft feels like it’s from the POV of an onlooker, and my goal is to transport the reader so they become the main character, and this doesn’t quite feel like I’ve done that.

So, with a few changes with those bits in mind, here is what I came up with:

me_gadnor3

It’s not at all ready, but it’s on it’s way to becoming something I feel good about showing to the world.  I’ll sleep on this and take another look tomorrow.  Stay tuned for part 2 of Evolution of a Manuscript.

2020 – Week 9 and Using Music to Invoke Imagery

I did not meet my writing goal this week! Grr! I got about half of the scene tweaked, but not all of it, and no editing. So I’ll be spending some time this week doing just that and hopefully moving on to the next scene.

I had a critique meetup this past weekend and we spent several minutes brainstorming on writing strategies. One writer shared that she creates music playlists to listen to when writing certain genres or scenes, and that it invokes her muse more naturally and easily.

Before she said it, I hadn’t realized that this is already a method that has proven itself successful for me. The last scene I wrote with all the action was 90% contrived during my commute to work and replaying I See Stars “Ten Thousand Feet” over and over. For some reason, that song invoked some very powerful imagery in my head that I had to put on paper, and thus, my scene was born.

That was by pure accident though. Now that using music as inspiration has been brought to my attention by another writer, I can spend some time purposely putting together soundtracks to help invoke my muse with different types of scenes.

This is another benefit of having a writing group. You never know what tips and strategies you will learn. Writer groups are so awesome! If you haven’t already, find one. You won’t regret it!

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