Writing Report August 31, 2016

by Buzz on 31/08/2016

Recently I’ve been asked by several people (at Nerd Con and on Knowing Is Half The Podcast and other places) how I write my stories.

Good question.

Excellent question.

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Wish I had a fnckin’ clue…

Truth is, I’ve used every imaginable system / non-system in / on / outside of the book.[1] I’ve spent weeks carefully detailing a plot outline, I’ve whipped stuff up on the fly without any idea where I was going or what I’d find when I got there.

Generally, for any length work I need some idea of what my story is, where it starts, and where it’s going.[2]

For novels and longer stories I need to have at least the basic story arc in my head, who the main characters are, etc., etc., and of course, etc. It doesn’t have to be written out but I do need to know what the story is.[3]

I typically do a lot of polishing and rewriting on my lengthier stories. I’ll print up the first draft on 3-hole punch paper and stick it in a notebook along with several pages of lined school notebook paper, then wait 4 to 6 weeks before looking at it again.[4]

I do my rewriting and copyediting in red ink; extensive rewrites / new scenes / etc. are written on the lined notebook paper and dropped into the printed text where appropriate. I then enter those corrections & changes into my master text (actually, into a copy of the master text; never overwrite or throw anything away) and, depending on how I feel about the manuscript & story at that point, either print up yet another copy and repeat the process or do my final copy edit by reading the manuscript sdrawkcab.

Yes, you read that right:
Sdrawkcab.

It’s an old editing trick taught to me by a tricky old editor:
It forces you to look at everything word-by-word and helps you catch errors.

Assuming everything passes the smell test, I prep it for submission (if I’m sending it to a magazine or publisher) or e-book sale.

That’s for long form.

For short form — particularly those short-short stories & quasi-poems I refer to as “fictoids” or to poetry itself — the process starts the same but generally tends to be much, much more streamlined.

This is because I find the virtue of short stories and fictoids and poems to be their quick “get in / get out / quit muckin’ about” impact.

Few things annoy me more than a three thousand word short story that tells a story that could have been delivered in 800 words or less. It’s just padding, and padding is something I hate.

As with longer forms, I need to know what my story is, where I’m going with it, etc., but as a rough rule of thumb, once I have the opening and closing lines of a short story, everything else falls into place between them.[5]

I do very little rewriting of short works.[6] Once the idea is locked then it’s just a matter of conveying it in as streamlined a manner as possible.

How long does it take to write a story? A waitress once saw animation artist Wendell Washer doodling a cartoon of me as a story telling bear and asked him, “How long does it take to draw a sketch like that?”

“Forty years,” was Wendell’s reply.

His point being that it’s all your experience of your lifetime up to that point that makes any drawing or story or creative work possible.

But from concept to execution,
well, that can go pretty fast.

Case in point:
Last week I was shopping with my wife at the Nordstrom’s in Topanga Mall.[7]

Suddenly, and with no preamble or spur to my imagination, the following line popped into me widdle head:

“He was 19 years old when he killed his first German.”

Hmmm, sez I to meself. That’s nice. Sums up the gist of the story right up front even though I have no idea where that story may take me.

I jotted the opening line down on the phone and went back to browsing, intending to pursue the matter further when I got home that evening.

45 minutes later my wife was finished. I told her I needed to use the restroom and went into the gents’ facility.

While there the closing line of the story popped into said widdle head[8] and instantly the whole story laid itself out for me.

I mean everything in the story.

As soon as I washed up[9] I dashed out to Soon-ok and asked if she had any paper with her.

She had a small note pad, not much larger than a PostIt note, but no pen.

I dragged her across the mall to the target store and bought a pen, then we went out to our car and in the space of 35 minutes I wrote the first draft of “War Trophy” by hand.

I transcribed it that night, making a few very minor changes and tightening it up, then had it ready to go.

But go where…?

Ah, that’s a topic for my next writing report:
Where & Why I select various venues for various stories.

Suffice it to say, for a wide variety of reasons I decided ”War Trophy” would be better served immediately and on my own blog than in submitting it elsewhere.

So enjoy.

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[1] I enjoy reading other people’s “rules” or formulas for writing. Lester Dent is the go to guy for writing slam back action packed short stories, Michael Moorcock knows how to whip out a psychedelic slice of sensational sci-fi surrealism in just 72 hours. As good as their advice is, however, it’s also deadly; follow it too closely and you end up writing clichéd pastiches of other authors’ earlier / better work. Use it for inspiration and hints / tips, not a blueprint.

[2] Of all the various formats I write in, I like comic book scripting best. You are bound by a specific page length; unless you’re doing something for a very specific reason you are risking readability by going more than 4 – 6 panels per page or more that 25 words per panel (including all dialog / captions / footnotes / sound effects / signage that contributes to the story). I find it forces me to think very, very clearly about my story and characters, to pace out the flow of events.

[3] Or at least what I intend the story to be. More than once I find things swinging off in an unanticipated direction once I get the story up on its feet but that’s okay, I still have my original idea and if I end up going down a blind alley I can always backtrack to the point where things went astray and re-start from there.

[4] Actually I’m skipping two steps here: Spell and grammar checks in my computer, then run it through a program or website like Expresso to look for weak verbs / repetitive phrases / other weak writing. Spell checks and Expresso are not — repeat NOT — substitutes for human eyes & brains but they sure speed the process up by pointing out the most egregious mistakes quickly. Once I’ve done that then I’m ready to print.

[5] This is the primary difference between the longer works and the short stories; I can futz around with openings & closing of longer works all the way up to completion, but short stories tend to be very precise in how they start and end.

[6] Yeah, I know, you can tell…

[7] Well, she was shopping; I was sitting in an uncomfortable chair browsing on my cell phone.

[8] Go read the story to see what it was.

[9] I’m an artist, not a fnckin’ barbarian.

 

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War Trophy

by Buzz on 31/08/2016

Private First Class Wilbur killed his first German at 19 years of age. He was a seasoned combat vet at that point, wading ashore a month earlier at Normandy.

He never killed a man before though he fired his rifle in anger countless times and chucked his fair share of hand grenades.

But never at a human target, only at puffs of gunsmoke in gaping windows or furtive movement in bushes and trees. He’d seen plenty of dead Germans, of course, dead and disfigured by American small arms fire and artillery but never anyone he aimed at, never anyone he shot.

He’d seen plenty of dead Americans, too.

First Lieutenant Kyle had just led the patrol to the outskirts of Saint-Michel-de-Livet when they heard the bitter chatter of an MP 40 submachine gun and screams abruptly cut off. Lt. Kyle fanned his men out to enter the village down three narrow winding streets, signaling Corporal Dugan and Pfc. Wilbur to take the right flank.

The GIs on the left flank encountered the Germans first, and the air filled with the dull barks of Mausers dueling with the loud pops of M1 rifles.

As the battle raged two streets over, Pfc. Wilbur kept his eyes and ears focused straight ahead so that no Germans could encircle his position.

He turned the corner of the small street at the same instant a German turned it in the opposite direction. Pfc. Wilbur was so startled he jerked his trigger finger without thinking and, more by chance than design, put a bullet through the German’s heart at point blank range.

The German staggered back as if struck in the chest with a baseball bat. He fell on the street, cracking his helmet hard on the cobblestones.

He was dead but still conscious, at least for the moment. He looked at his chest in dismay, realizing his injury was fatal, then his eyes rolled back in his head and he lost consciousness and the last bit of life seeped from him.

The shooting on the other street stopped and Lt. Kyle began checking his men’s status. The patrol had been lucky: No dead, no injured, and three Germans killed.

Four, counting Pfc. Wilbur’s.

Pfc. Wilbur’s dead German seemed to be in his mid-thirties, husky with sandy brown hair. He was an unteroffizier, the rough equivalent of an American buck sergeant, and he carried an MP 40.

Cpl. Dugan, the platoon scrounger, stepped up and began rifling the German’s uniform. “Good shooting, kid,” he said to Pfc. Wilbur. Cpl. Dugan was 21.

Pfc. Wilbur stood there, somewhat dumbfounded. He didn’t know what to think, much less what to do. The possibility of killing a man face to face had always been present in his mind, but the possibility was now a reality and he didn’t know how to process it.

Cpl. Dugan handed Pfc. Wilbur the MP 40 submachine gun. It was a valuable souvenir and by right of combat, Pfc. Wilbur’s trophy.

Cpl. Dugan rolled the German over and opened his backpack. There was nothing of value in it, just a Bible in German.

Cpl. Dugan handed Pfc. Wilbur the Bible. Pfc. Wilbur slung his M1 over his shoulder and took the Bible in his free hand. It felt very similar in texture and weight to his own Bible.

He let it fall open in the palm of his hand. There was a snapshot tucked between the cover and first page, a picture of the dead German smiling with his wife and son and daughter. Father and son wore uniforms, there was a Christmas tree in the background. They seemed like a happy family and the enormity of what he had done struck Pfc. Wilbur at that moment. That particular family had now ceased to exist, and the family that survived would never know their happiness.

Lt. Kyle radioed for backup then came over to check Cpl. Dugan and Pfc. Wilbur. He glanced at the dead German without acknowledgement. Killing Germans was their profession. Lt. Kyle was 25.

“The rest of the Krauts retreated,” he said. “Company is sending up two more platoons to reinforce us. We’re going to take perimeter positions in the houses at the edge of the village ‘til they get here.”

Pfc. Wilbur, Bible in one hand, MP 40 in the other, followed Lt. Kyle. They passed a small public square where the bodies of three children and four women lay. Two of the women seemed to be scarcely out of their teens.

The four women were naked; they had been raped then shot as they tried to protect the children. Thirty-two 9mm shell casings nestled between the cobblestones, there were no 7.92mm Mauser rifle casings.

“Did anybody else carry a submachine gun?” Pfc. Wilbur asked.

“Nah, the other Krauts just had rifles,” said Lt. Kyle.

Later, Pfc. Wilbur traded the MP 40 for a bottle of scotch. He kept the Bible because it was hard to find toilet paper in the field.

WWII GIs

text © Buzz Dixon

 

 

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Knowing Is Half The Podcast: “Arise, Serpentor, Arise!”

by Buzz on 29/08/2016

Mi amigos Ray Stakenas, Robert Chan, and Gina Ippolito prove to be real gluttons for punishment and invite yrs trly back to the Knowing Is Half The Podcast to discuss “Arise, Serpentor, Arise!” Part One.

They shoulda known better, because only I can take a discussion on a single 22-minute episode of a five part serial and turn it into 90+ minutes of random gibberish.*

We start talking about Part One here and finish talking about Part One there.

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knowing is half the podcast

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*  AND I’M STILL NOT DONE YET!!!

There’s more coming re my new novel
“The Most Dangerous Man In The World:
The Lost Classic G.I. Joe Episode”

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H. Somerset Maugham On Why We Write

by Buzz on 26/08/2016

somerset maughn on writing

“We do not write because WE WANT to;
we write because WE HAVE to.”
— H. Somerset Maugham

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dragon on the hill

by Buzz on 23/08/2016

the new road
curls around the dark hill
like a fiery golden dragon
ascending to heaven

a year ago
it was just an idea

a year before that
not even a thought

what will it be
a year from now?

text © Buzz Dixon

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Writing Report August 21, 2016

by Buzz on 21/08/2016

A productive weekend.

I stumbled across a writing prompt that initially struck me as being pretty damn useless.

Writing prompts are tricky things.  Too often they’re just meaningless generic ideas (“Write a story about a cat!”) or too gimmicky (“Write a story about a cat but don’t use any vowels!”).  Finding a source of good writing prompts is always a blessing since a good prompt will light the fuse on an idea that can turn into a good, quirky story.  Most people / books / websites that offer prompts fall into the first two categories, but some of the better instructors / coaches can find or create prompts that give you just enough specific details to generate a vivid idea yet remain vague enough to let you explore that idea on your own.[1]

This particular prompt was a pretty generic one, but as I turned the phrase around in my head, I saw a not-very-obvious opening, one that I’m pretty sure violated what the original intent of the prompt was but who cares, it got the creative juices flowing, right?

I had the idea Friday night; Saturday we were visiting Soon-ok’s mom.  I took along a collegiate notebook with me[2] and starting writing at her apartment.

I completed about half the story there and the other half when I came home,[3] clocking in at about 2,000+ words.

It’s not a good story — not yet, anyway — but it’s a good idea for a story and the skeleton is there and mostly fleshed out, so it’s going to be merely a matter of transcribing it and working on it on the computer.

I have several other stories in my notebooks awaiting their turn at beings transcribed:  The aforementioned barbarian fantasy story, a one-act play, a couple of closet dramas[4], several fictoids, poems, and essays as well as a ton of free floating notes, all of which need to be transcribed and transferred to the particular story folders where they belong.

All this on top of the various books in their various stages of development.

Speaking of which….

I printed up the first draft of The Most Dangerous Man In The World so I can start polishing it over the next couple of weeks.  I did a very light format / grammar / spellcheck on it as I was prepping it to be printed, but not nearly as detailed as the one I’ll do on the manuscript itself.

I’ve found for longer works it’s better to print out a hard copy and then work on it with a red pen.  I print it on three hole punch paper and put it in a notebook with a number of lined school notebook paper in the back.

This was as I’m writing if I have any edits or additions that can’t be scribbled in on the margins, I write ‘em on the lined notebook paper and stick ‘em into the manuscript at the appropriate place.

(Short stories tend to not get that kind of attention from me; their virtue — at least in my eyes — is the primacy and immediacy of the story telling.  I do go back and proofread and polish, but typically just on the computer, not a hard copy.)

Anyway, I’m all lined up for The Most Dangerous Man…  I’ll tackle it as soon as I finish my edit on The Rustlers Of Rimrock.

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GI JOE 1st draft

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[1]  Back in the day we used to buy a copy of The World Weekly News, the ultra-low grade black and white red-haired stepchild to The National Equirer tabloid, and read it aloud at Ruby-Spears.  TWWN was the home of Bat Boy and such insane headlines as DOCTORS SUCKED THE FAT FROM MY BODY (which — surprise-surprise — actually turned out to be a factual piece on liposuction, which was just then coming into vogue); it was always good for a laugh and at least three or four story ideas.  Not a bad deal for $.25.

[2]  If I’m working in an office for a studio or publisher, I prefer yellow legal pads; you can scribble stuff out quickly, tear it off, and pass it along to the poor schnook who has to decipher your writing and enter it into the document or script.  For personal use I prefer the collegiate notebooks; you can’t tear the pages out easily, which discourages anusoids from helping themselves to something, and they’re easier to carry.

 [3]  I’ve discovered that whatever media I start a story in, I tend to prefer to finish it in that media even if I’m going to transcribe it to another format for final use.

[4]  That’s the technical name for ‘em:  Short stories that are told almost entirely through dialog.

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The Words Of The Prophets…

by Buzz on 20/08/2016

…are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls


WotP 14 Bob Marley

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Cover Your Eyes And Ears For The Killer Joke!

by Buzz on 19/08/2016

Okay, we’re going to follow the winding course of a joke, from its (possible) origin to its (possible) inspiration for “The Funniest Joke In The World”, a “killer joke” so lethally funny the listener / reader will literally die laughing.

Here are the strips (courtesy Steven Thompson’s Four-Color Shadows blogspot) for an eight week Li’l Abner continuity from Dec. 26, 1964 to February 12, 1965, officially credited to Al Capp but (possibly) ghosted by Bob Lubbers.

AAA

BBB

CCC

CCC1

DDD

EEE

FFF

HHH

Several variants of this basic idea exist, but the actual “killer joke” seems to have originated with Lord Dunsany’s “Three Infernal Jokes” in 1916.  Capp’s Li’l Abner used the idea in 1964; did he crib it from Lord Dunsany or was it an idea he originated on his own?  Monty Python’s version was first shown about 2 1/2 years later on Oct. 5, 1969, but while the Pythons were certainly aware of Li’l Abner did it serve as their inspiration or did they harken back to Lord Dunsany?

coda:  Hudson & Landry were a pair of Los Angeles DJs who had a string of novelty / comedy records between 1971 and 1974.  In their skit “The Prospectors” (a.k.a. “I Couldn’t Live Like That”) they appear to have appropriated Capp’s capper at the 3:24 mark…

thanx to Tom Spurgeon
The Comics Reporter
for the tip-off

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I Do Not Like The Other Executioner

by Buzz on 18/08/2016

I do not like the other executioner

He has no appreciation for the niceties of our business

The condemned are entitled to know their offence

They are entitled to be informed of the imminence of their death

They are entitled to prepare themselves, to appeal to their god, to set their mind in order, to think on their families for one last time

When I execute someone

It is with all the solemnity due the situation

They await me in a small room, handcuffed to a chair

I enter from behind, but step around to face them

I speak to them, call them by name

I inform them of the court’s decision

I tell them their hour is at hand

I give them a few moments to compose themselves

I listen to their last words

And then I execute them

I do so with quiet dignity

These may be criminals

Enemies of the people

But they deserve their humanity

Even at the end

My so-called colleague, however

Steps into the room behind them unannounced

Gun already in in his hand

And before they can turn to see who has entered

Blows their brains out

I have complained to the warden about the mess he leaves

But the warden has chosen

Not to get involved

In our workplace disputes

I have criticized my colleague

About his brutal methods

He shrugged and said,
“We want them dead. Nothing they say or do will change that. Why waste time? It’s not like they’re going to appreciate anything we do for them after we kill them. So why waste the effort?  Dead is dead.”

It is thinking like that

That makes this world

A less pleasant place to live

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I Do Not Like The Other Executioner

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© Buzz Dixon

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STFU, Preacher Man

by Buzz on 17/08/2016

Before we begin, let me state for anybody who thinks anything that follows is a back-handed reference to those in my own family — immediate and extended — who are ministers: NO. None of them have crossed this line.

I understand the concept of “hold your nose” voting and why many people find it distasteful. It is possible for people of goodwill to look at two or more flawed candidates for office (and gawd noze they’re all flawed to some degree) and come to entirely different choices about who should fill a particular office. A farmer who thinks Candidate A has a better grasp on agricultural issues would need some pretty compelling evidence that they’d be terrible at everything else to vote against his own self-interest. A city dweller who thinks Candidate B would be harmful to urban areas would need compelling evidence they’d be so much better at everything else as to be worth voting for.

As Robert A. Heinlein famously observed, you may never ever find anybody you want to vote for but I guarantee you’ll always find somebody to vote against.

And I understand that most people make choices for ultimately irrational reasons — and by “irrational” I do not mean “insane” but “emotional”.

“I do not like thee, Doctor Fell
The reason why I cannot tell
But this I know and know full well
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.”

So, as much as I might disagree with their reasons, I can understand a person deciding to vote for Donald Trump.

No, my peeve is with those so-called minsters of God who proclaim Trump is God’s anointed.[1]

There is a precise theological term for this sort of thing and it’s called bullshit.

I was all prepared to call out specific offenders by name, but the sad truth is that there’s just too damned many of them. Unlike Albert Mohler and Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention — two men with whom I typically can find precious little to agree with — who said they couldn’t endorse Trump without losing all claim to moral credibility, much less proclaim him God’s chosen candidate, we have numerous prominent fundamentalist and evangelical media hogs[2] spokespersons trotting out their hoary[3] rationales why voting for a twice-divorced three time philanderer with a history of compulsive lying[4] and a string of billion dollar bankruptcies in which he cheated business partners, employees, contractors, investors, and clients[5] is not merely a justifiable act but rather a mitzvah, a righteous deed, and one ordained by God.

The political aspect of this is not my topic for discussion, at least not in this post. I cannot imagine the set of circumstances that would convince the average voter that Donald Trump would make a superior president than Jill Stein, much less Gary Johnson or Hillary Clinton.

Rather, it’s the God damned naked greed and avarice and lust for power of the so-called “religious right” that rouses my ire.

And I use the term “God damned”
in its correct theological context.

What these bozologists have done is to wipe their asses with the Bible.

If you’re a Christian, I want you to take all the time you need to let that image settle in deep within your psyche. Imagine your favorite old family Bible, the one with the scuffed leather cover that’s been handed down from generation to generation.

Imagine this fat pink[6] perfumed crew of choir boys[7] slowly and gleefully ripping those thin-thin-thin pages out of that Bible and cramming them between their fat cheeks to wipe the filth off their bottoms.

Got that image in your skull? Good.

I want it there, and I want it associated with them, because I want you to understand that they have just led millions of people away from Christ, away from the Good News.

I don’t care how many Bible verses they cite, I don’t care how many theological exegesis they execute, I don’t care how many hours in prayer they have spent on the matter.

They have demonstrated to the world that they are no different from the other greedy power mad rat finks out there, and are in fact more contemptible than most because they are such blatant hypocrites.

You might be able to rationalize Trump as being the least bad choice[8] and maintain your integrity: Having a toe amputated is bad, but having a leg amputated is even worse; preferring to have a toe amputated over a leg may be Hobson’s choice, but if one of the two are going to happen, there’s no sin in preferring it to be the least traumatic.

But the people claiming Trump is God’s own anointed are not saying make the choice with the least potential harm; they are saying not only is losing your leg a good thing, it’s a Monumental Good Thing, and if you don’t cheerfully support said amputation, you are sinning against God and man.

Co-religionists, please…

You can sell that bullshit to the bigots and the cowards, to the fanatical and the fearful, but you can’t sell it to anybody with a pair of eyes and a pair of brain cells rubbing together.

They can read.

They can compare the actual teachings of Christ with the bogus crap issued forth from our contemporary Pharisees, and they can recognize the enormous disconnect.

This is not someone saying “hold your nose and vote for the candidate who will do the least harm” but rather a crowd of con artists telling us that the exact opposite of what Christ taught is what God wants us to do.

The unchurched[9] see through that phoniness. There is no way to win them back by convincing them the con artists are really holy saints of God; there is no way to win them back to the old and failing mainstream denominations.

There is a way to unite them in the community of Christian believers, but you can bet the heart transplant money on this: Whatever that way is, it is not going to resemble church the way North Americans have been doing it.

animated nightmare trump

[1] Fair is fair; I’m sure there are some people somewhere who have made similar claims about Clinton (in a country of 320,000,000 there has to be a few). But there aren’t as many and they’re nowhere near as vocal as the blasphemers on the religious right.

[2] I was originally going to type “media whores” but that would have been a gratuitous insult to sex workers worldwide, most of whom hold to a far higher ethical standard.

[3]  Not “whorey” and certainly not “holy”.

[4] A con artist lying in order to steal your money is lying for a rational reason (i.e., profiting off your loss), they will cheerfully tell the truth if it makes them money. A compulsive liar will lie even when the truth will suffice!

[5] And these are just the things that have been proven in courts of law; I’m not even touching the really salacious stuff!

[6] Mostly.

[7] Mostly.

[8] You’d be wrong, but you could rationalize it.

[9] More and more this is coming to mean not those who have never been exposed to the Gospel message — because c’mon, who hasn’t been exposed to it through sheer osmosis if they live in the US of A? – but rather those who grew up in the Christian community and now willingly walk away from it. Contrary to what the con artists would tell us, they are not walking away because they have been seduced by the blandishments of sin, but because they have seen first hand how most Christians and most churches have made no genuine effort to live a Christ-like life.

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