Saturday, July 8, 2017

Advanced Plotting Techniques With Chris Eboch from SCBWI 2017

I'm giving a workshop on "Advanced Plotting Techniques" at the SCBWI conference in LA today. Here's the handout for attendees.

Fast Start Options:
  • Start in the action, at a moment of change. Then work in the back story.
  • Start with two people on the page.
  • Start with a scene, with action and dialogue. Use description and summary modestly, and only if really needed.
  • Start in the middle of a fight or other conflict.
  • Start with a cliffhanger – something powerful about to happen.
  • The inciting incident – the problem that gets the story going – should happen as soon as possible, but not until the moment is ripe. The reader must have enough understanding of the character and situation to make the incident meaningful. Too soon, and the reader is confused. Too late, and the reader gets bored first.
  • Try starting with a small problem that leads to the big problem, or is an example of the main problem.
  • See also “Beginnings” Label below right

Plot Tricks:
·      Use the rule of three – the main character should try and fail at least twice before solving the problem on the third try. In long works, use this for each challenge.
·      Increase the complications – at each step, more is at stake, there’s greater risk. If each scene has the same level of risk and consequence, the pacing is flat and the middle sags.
·      Up the ante – offer a better reward or more serious consequences.
·      A time deadline increases tension.
·      Give it a twist – new information that changes everything but still makes sense (Darth Vader is Luke’s father).
·      If you get stuck on “What happens next?” try looking from the antagonist’s POV. What are they doing to stop your character? Other characters can also add complications.
·      Keep your chapters short, and make sure every one has dramatic action.
·      Use the Plot Outline Exercise from Advanced Plotting (Kindle on sale 50% off July 7-14)
·      More important and dramatic events should be written out in detail, others can be summarized.
·      Use shorter words and sentences to speed the pace.
·      See also “Plotting” Label below right.
·      See also “Cliffhangers” Label below right


Story Analysis Resources:

Chris Eboch’s book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer. If you struggle with plot or suspect your plotting needs work, this book can help. Use the Plot Outline Exercise to identify and fix plot weaknesses. Learn how to get off to a fast start, prop up a sagging middle, build to a climax, improve your pacing, and more.

Get Advanced Plotting from Amazon (Kindle on sale 50% off July 7-14).

Chris offers novel critiques for $2 per page ($100 minimum). Contact Chris for details and recommendations.

Chris Eboch is the author of over 40 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.



Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Kris Bock writes action-packed romantic suspense involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasurefree at all e-book retailers – follows a treasure hunt in New Mexico and has been called “Smart romance with an Indiana Jones feel.”

Counterfeits starts a new series about art theft. What We Found is a mystery with romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. Whispers in the Dark involves intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page

Friday, July 7, 2017

Earning a Living as a Writer, with Chris Eboch SCBWI 2017




I'm giving a workshop on "Earning a Living As a Writer" at the SCBWI conference in LA today. Here's the handout for attendees.

Trade Book Advances: $2000-$30,000 and up. May take several years to receive all payments. Difficult to control or predict sales. Some small publishers do not pay advances.

Royalties: Passive income that can last for years. Requires a royalty agreement that earns out. May take years after the book sale. Difficult to control or predict sales.

Work-for-Hire Books: Flat fee (usually), quick turnaround time, assigned topics. Pays from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Good for building a resume. Can be steady income.

Self-Publishing: Upfront costs, especially with images. Potentially passive income for years. A way to make use of unsold manuscripts. Very tough market, especially for middle grade and younger. Create something unique and in demand.  Know how you’ll reach readers.

Magazine Articles: Generally low pay for children’s magazines, but can be several hundred dollars. Make use of your research from other projects. Build a resume, show expertise.

Educational Test Passages/Assessment: Can be good pay for small jobs ($60-$400 for less than 1000 words). Requires ability to write a variety of genres, topics, and targeted grade levels. Mainly seasonal work. Those with teaching experience could write test questions.

Teaching: Community colleges, senior centers, summer programs, etc. Online: correspondence schools, webinars. One-on-one mentoring. Often low pay but builds resume/authority.

Critiques: Requires experience as an editor/teacher as well as a writer. Reputation counts. Pay can be $25-$50 an hour or more.

Copyediting/Proofreading: Requires specific expertise and training. Can be excellent money.

School Visits: Pay varies greatly. Helps market your books. If you’re not a well-known author, focus on what you’ll teach kids – help them do better on tests, foster love of reading, tie in to science or social studies curriculum.

General Info
Making a Living from Writing? – Chris on sources of income.
Laura Purdie Salas shares her 2014 income and sources.
How to Be a Healthy, Happy Freelancer/Writer 
Marlo Garnsworthy at Wordy Bird Studio shares great advice on time management, organizations, clerical work, accountability and other practical aspects of running your own business.
The SCBWI discussion boards have sections on work for hire, self-publishing, magazines, contracts, taxes, and more.
Upod: “a place for freelancers to support, inspire, amuse, inform, advise, celebrate and hire each other.” (I have not tried it.)
Kelly James-Enger “Dollars and Deadlines” blog on ghostwriting, articles, etc.
The Well Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman
Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Bob Bly

Time management:
Programs such as Slimtimer track your hours per project (I have not tried it.)

Work for Hire/Test Passages
Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career, by Nancy Sanders
Writing Children’s Nonfiction Books for the Educational Market, by Laura Purdie Salas
Evelyn Christensen’s list of Educational Markets
Writing for the Education Market: job leads on WFH, inc test passages
PARCC Samples of test passages: under the Assessments tab, see "practice tests" and "released items"
Get Curriculum Development Jobs: job postings in curriculum development


Education Writers Association has job listings, mainly full-time in-person
Linked In has a freelance job search site now.  

Magazine Articles
Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers, and Children’s Writers and Illustrator’s Market list possible magazines. The SCBWI “Magazine Market Guide” is in The Book, included with membership. Get magazine samples at your library, school, or house of worship; requests sample copies from the publisher; visit publishers’ web sites – many have online samples.
List of Magazines for Children with links to the websites from the Monroe County Public Library

School Visits
Skype An Author Network for online visits
School Visit Experts: advice on programs and biz tips

Chris Eboch is a popular writing teacher who gives workshops around the country. She writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages, with over 40 traditionally published books for children.
Chris Eboch’s book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer. If you struggle
with plot or suspect your plotting needs work, this book can help. Use the Plot Outline Exercise to identify and fix plot weaknesses. Learn how to get off to a fast start, prop up a sagging middle, build to a climax, improve your pacing, and more.

Get Advanced Plotting from Amazon (Kindle on sale 50% off July 7-14).

Chris offers novel critiques for $2 per page ($100 minimum). Contact Chris for details and recommendations.

Chris’s novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.


Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Kris Bock writes action-packed romantic suspense involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. The Mad Monk’s Treasurefree at all e-book retailers – follows a treasure hunt in New Mexico and has been called “Smart romance with an Indiana Jones feel.”

Counterfeits starts a new series about art theft. What We Found is a mystery with romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. Whispers in the Dark involves intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page.

Advanced Plotting Kindle #Sale - Improve Your Writing for Less Than $3

“The Plot Outline Exercise is a great tool!” 

Advanced Plotting is 50% off for the Kindle – only $2.99  from July 7-14.

Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer: you’ve finished a few manuscripts, read books and articles on writing, taken some classes, attended conferences. But you still struggle with plot, or suspect that your plotting needs work.

This book can help.

The Plot Outline Exercise is designed to help a writer work with a completed manuscript to identify and fix plot weaknesses. It can also be used to help flesh out an outline. Additional articles address specific plot challenges, such as getting off to a fast start, propping up a sagging middle, building to a climax, and improving your pacing. A dozen guest authors share advice from their own years of experience.

Read the book straight through, study the index to find help with your current problem, or dip in and out randomly — however you use this book, you’ll find fascinating insights and detailed tips to help you build a stronger plot and become a better writer.

Readers say:

This really is helping me a lot. It's written beautifully and to-the-point. The essays really help you zero in on your own problems in your manuscript. The Plot Outline Exercise is a great tool!

I just read and—dissected—your well written  book: Advanced Plotting. It's now highlighted in bright orange and littered with many of those little 3M sticky labels.  GOOD JOB. There are too many just-for-beginners books out there. Yours was a delight.

Advanced Plotting is helping me to be more focused, to stop and ask the right questions, to dig deeper.

Get it now at Amazon. Advanced Plotting is free with Kindle Unlimited, or pick up the paperback for $9.99 and add an e-book copy for only $.99. 


Chris Eboch is the author of over 40 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting.


Monday, May 8, 2017

Cliffhangers in Picture Books #NaPiBoWriWee

If you did NATIONAL PICTURE BOOK WRITING WEEK - #NaPiBoWriWee - with Paula Yoo, you should have manuscripts in progress. Before you submit any, make sure they're as strong as possible.

When we talk about cliffhangers, most people think of the chapter endings in novels. But even a picture book can have a sort of cliffhanger. Take a look at these first few pages from Police Officers on Patrol, by Kersten Hamilton and illustrated by R. W. Alley.

1.    Uniform! Badge! Radio! Police Officers, getting ready to go!
2.    Squad report—Sergeant Santole. “People need help! Let’s rock and roll!”
3.    A broken light might cause a crash! Who can help? Who is fast?

Hey, look at those last two sentences — they make a cliffhanger! The first three pages act as a sort of chapter, ending in the cliffhanger question, “Who will help prevent the crash?” This 144-word picture book has three of these episodes, each with its own cliffhanger. If you write picture books and have been told your work is "Too quiet," or if you have trouble writing a picture book under 1000 words, study Kersten Hamilton to see how much action a skilled writer can pack in to a few words.

Let's look at an even trickier example, a nonfiction picture book, Blind Tom: The Horse Who Helped Build the Great Railroad, written by Shirley Raye Redmond and illustrated by Lois Bradley. This is the story of a blind horse who worked on the transcontinental railroad. Here's an excerpt from a few pages in:

     But the workers needed help. They had to move heavy iron rails and spikes, which were piled onto flatcars. The cars were very hard to pull.
     What do you suppose could help pull the flatcars?

—Again, a question acts as a cliffhanger. We turn the page to find out the answer...

     Horses!

This page continues with some new information, ending in yet another question. The entire narrative follows this kind of question and answer format.

In both these picture book examples, questions act as cliffhangers. If the reader thinks she knows the answer, she'll turn the page to find out if she's right. If she doesn't know the answer, she'll turn the page to find out what it is. Kersten Hamilton notes that with novels, the questions at the chapter ends are implied. With picture books, the author asks the questions outright—you are teaching children how to read and understand a story.

Questions aren't the only possible cliffhangers, of course. Action or other dramatic moments can be used, just as in novels. In Stellaluna, written and illustrated by Janell Cannon, Stellaluna gets separated from her mother. One early page ends like this:

     By daybreak, the baby bat could hold on no longer. Down, down again she dropped.

Of course we are going to turn the page to find out where she lands.

Illustrators can use cliffhanger techniques as well. According to another writer, David Weisner said that in his award-winning wordless picture book Flotsam, he used images as cliffhangers. Take a look at the book and see what you think.

Exercise: Grab a stack of published picture books. Go through them slowly, looking for the cliffhanger moments. How many are there? How do they work to encourage the reader to turn the page? If you don't find a cliffhanger, could you rewrite the text to add dramatic tension to certain moments?

Chris Eboch is the author of over 40 books for children, including nonfiction and fiction, early reader through teen. Her writing craft books include You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers, and Advanced Plotting. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page.

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

Remember the magic of bedtime stories? When you write for children, you have the most appreciative audience in the world. But to reach that audience, you need to write fresh, dynamic stories, whether you’re writing rhymed picture books, middle grade mysteries, edgy teen novels, nonfiction, or something else.

In this book, you will learn:

How to explore the wide variety of age ranges, genres, and styles in writing stories, articles and books for young people.
How to find ideas.
How to develop an idea into a story, article, or book.
The basics of character development, plot, setting, and theme – and some advanced elements.
How to use point of view, dialogue, and thoughts.
How to edit your work and get critiques.
Where to learn more on various subjects.


Whether you’re just starting out or have some experience, this book will make you a better writer – and encourage you to have fun!

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Long Road to Short Fiction, by Catherine Dilts

Welcome guest author Catherine Dilts! A mystery novelist, Catherine offered to share her experience writing short fiction. (If you would like a guest spot on this blog, leave a comment.) Here's Catherine:

The Long Road to Short Fiction

One tidbit thrown into the avalanche of advice given to new writers is, “Write and publish a short story to draw attention to your long fiction.” As though short fiction is a stepping stone to the ultimate goal, the novel.

My journey to short fiction began precisely in that manner. I was seeking an agent and/or publisher for my novel-length fiction. I had cranked out half a dozen horrible novels up to that point, and had finally written something I had hope would be publishable.

There came that advice again. The pearls of wisdom I’d ignored years ago. Write a short story, get it published, and agents and editors will notice you. THEN you can get your novel published.

But I wasn’t interested in short stories. I liked reading, and writing, novels. I finally decided to heed the advice when it came from a successful short story author. I was concerned about taking time away from my novel-length writing, but I could at least test the waters.

I attempted writing several 700 word short mysteries for a women’s magazine, Woman’s World. They were all rejected, but I learned several valuable lessons.

Writing short is hard! Mark Twain is attributed with saying, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Writing a successful short story, as opposed to a novel, turned out to be nearly as time consuming, and considerably more difficult.

Writing short stories is liberating! When writing a novel, or a novel series, you are tied into a setting and characters for a long time. Perhaps years. Short stories offer more opportunity for creativity and spontaneity. You can play with off-the-wall characters, different points of view, noir, humor, or whatever strikes your fancy.

Writing short stories is rewarding! If you are a small press, Indy, or self-pubbed author, kudos if you’re turning out a novel a year, and even more so if you’re making a profit. In a recent article, one multi-published short story author spelled out in cold, hard numbers the financial aspects of writing short. For some of us, writing short fiction may be just as financially rewarding as writing novels.

Short fiction is a thriving art form! From traditional magazines, to e-zines, to anthologies, short stories are enjoying a revitalized status in the fiction world. I have listed below some of the current outlets. In order to write short, you need to read short. Treat yourself to a steady diet of short fiction, and I’ll just bet you become addicted.

I no longer see short stories as a stepping stone to that loftier goal, the novel. Writing short stories taught me how to be concise. How to make every word count. How to write a coherent plot that drives to a logical conclusion.

After several false starts and failed attempts, my first fiction sale was to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine in 2013. I have since had five more published by AHMM, including "Unrepentant Sinner," appearing in the May/June 2017 issue on sale now. My story "The Chemistry of Heroes" is a Derringer finalist.

If you are one of those writers who believes you can’t write short, I challenge you to give it a try. I didn’t think I could, or wanted to, write short stories. Now short fiction is my personal success story.

Mystery Short Story outlets:

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine
Mystery Weekly
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
The Strand
King’s River Life - mystery section - novel reviews and short stories
Women’s World - a short mystery in each issue
Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine
​Bouchercon - annual anthology
Mysterical-e
Flash and Bang - annual anthology by SMFS

Catherine Dilts is the author of the amateur sleuth Rock Shop Mystery series, set in the Colorado mountains. Her short story “The Chemistry of Heroes” (May 2016 - Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine) is a Derringer Award finalist. Watch for her story “Unrepentant Sinner” in the AHMM May/June 2017 issue, on sale now. Catherine has a day job as an environmental regulatory compliance specialist. You can learn more about Catherine at http://www.catherinedilts.com/.

Monday, April 24, 2017

#NaPiBoWriWee - Developing Your Picture Book Ideas

I discussed Finding the Seeds of Stories for STORYSTORM. When brainstorming, it's fine if you think up quick, basic ideas that need a lot of development – you’ve still met the challenge! But you may want to spend a little more time developing your idea before trying to write a draft for National Picture Book Writing Week (#NaPiBoWriWee, May 1-7).

(The following is excerpted from You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. The book is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback. That book and Advanced Plotting will provide lots of help as you write and edit.)

Developing an Idea

Once you have your idea, it’s time to develop it into a story or novel. Of course, you can simply start writing and see what happens. Sometimes that’s the best way to explore an idea and see which you want to say about it. But you might save time – and frustration – by thinking about the story in advance. You don’t have to develop a formal, detailed outline, but a few ideas about what you want to say, and where you want the story to go, can help give you direction.

You can look at story structure in several ways. Here’s one example of the parts of a story or article:

·    A catchy title. The best titles hint at the genre or subject matter.

·    A dramatic beginning, with a hook. A good beginning:

– grabs the reader’s attention with action, dialogue, or a hint of drama to come

– sets the scene

– indicates the genre and tone (in fiction) or the article type (in nonfiction)

– has an appealing style

·    A solid middle, which moves the story forward or fulfills the goal of the article.

Fiction should focus on a plot that builds to a climax, with character development. Ideally the character changes by learning the lesson of the story.

Nonfiction should focus on information directly related to the main topic. It should be organized in a logical way, with transitions between subtopics. The tone should be friendly and lively, not lecturing. Unfamiliar words should be defined within the text, or in a sidebar.

·    A satisfying ending that wraps up the story or closes the article. Endings may circle back to the beginning, repeating an idea or scene, but showing change. The message should be clear here, but not preachy. What did the character learn?

·    Bonus material: An article, short story, or picture book may use sidebars, crafts, recipes, photos, etc. to provide more value. For nonfiction, include a bibliography with several reliable sources.


Take a look at one of your STORYSTORM ideas. Can you start developing it by thinking about story structure in this way?

You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers is available for the Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback

AdvancedPlotting is available in print or ebook at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or in various ebook formats at Smashwords.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Writing Nonfiction Books for Children: Market Research for #NaPiBoWriWee

#NaPiBoWriWee - National Picture Book Writing Week – is coming up, May 1-7. Perhaps you already have some ideas from STORYSTORM (formerly known as Picture Book Idea Month). If your ideas include nonfiction topics, you’ll need a good understanding of what editors are buying. Even if you are writing purely for your own enjoyment, or to share your memories with your family, studying other children’s literature will make you a better writer. It may also inspire new ideas!

The following is excerpted and adapted from You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.

Hit the Library

Maybe you are already an avid reader of recent children’s nonfiction. If so, great! If not, it’s time to start. You’ll learn a lot and get to enjoy wonderful stories at the same time. The library is an excellent place to explore children’s lit, but make sure you look for recent books or magazines. Styles have changed over the years, so it’s best to focus on books published in the last five years.

Try keeping notes on what you read, if you don’t already. Did you enjoy the book? Why or why not? What aspects did you think worked well, and what could have been stronger? The patterns you pick up will tell you something about the children’s book industry, but they’ll tell you even more about yourself. Maybe you are attracted to humorous articles for younger kids. Or perhaps you love picture book biographies with poetic language. If you are going to write, why not write what you love to read?

If you want to write for publication, you can also start researching agents and publishers here. When you read books you love, or ones that seem similar to your work, make a note of the publisher. You may also be able to identify the author’s agent in the acknowledgments, or from the author’s website. This will help you learn which publishers are producing what type of books. When you have something appropriate to submit, you’ll have a list of agents or publishers that are suitable.

Book Markets

Are you most interested in picture books? There are important differences between a picture book and an article, so you need to know which you are really writing and all the elements a picture book needs!

To prepare to write a picture book, you might review several of your favorite books, or see what’s new at the library or bookstore. It wouldn’t hurt to check out some of those magazines as well. They’re still a good source for understanding the interests and reading abilities of children at different ages. Plus, you might try comparing some magazine stories and some picture books to see if you can identify the differences.

Briefly, picture books are usually under 1000 words, often under 500 words, although nonfiction picture books may be up to 2500 words or so. They should have at least 12 different scenes that can be illustrated. Look for similar books at the library or bookstore and see who publishes them.

You’ll also find nonfiction in Easy Reader books, which are designed to help kids learn to read. They use simple vocabularies and short sentences, appropriate to a particular reading level. They may be a few hundred words long or several thousand words, depending on the reading level. Often they have a few illustrations, maybe one per chapter. Some publishers specialize in this kind of work, while others do not produce these books at all. They may also be called early readers, early chapter books, beginning readers, and so forth. For more on this kind of book, see Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Beginning Readers and Chapter Books, by Nancy Sanders.

Educational nonfiction, typically aimed at the school market, covers all school ages up through high school. Topics are usually chosen by the publisher based on what schools need. If you are interested in this kind of writing, the process is a bit different – you’ll probably need to submit a resume and writing samples instead of a manuscript or proposal. Then the publisher will contact you when/if they have a project appropriate for your skills and interests. You can submit new material every year or two when you have an expanded resume or fresh writing samples. You can still identify these publishers and get a feel for their preferred style by browsing books in the library.

Think about how to organize your notes so they’ll be useful in the future. Should you keep a reading notebook, set up a spreadsheet, or use color-coded index cards? Find a system that works for you.

Market listings:

Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market

Magazine Markets for Children’s Writers

Book Markets for Children’s Writers

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) provides members with THE BOOK, which includes market surveys and directories for agents. The quarterly SCBWI Bulletin provides market updates.


Stop by next Wednesday for more advice on writing work for hire educational nonfiction – or subscribe to get posts automatically and never miss a post. You can use the Subscribe or Follow by E-Mail buttons to the right, or add http://chriseboch.blogspot.com/ to Feedly or another reader.

You can get the extended version of this essay, and a lot more, in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. Order for Kindle, in paperback, or in Large Print paperback.

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