Category Archives: Novel Writing

Creating Characters


I have been working on a new project for a while. Not getting as far as I had hoped. It takes me forever to get into my story. This project, I have been working on the plot and characters at the same time. Most of my stories start with an idea and then I try to find characters who might fit the situation.  I am neither a plotter or a pantzer, I am somewhere in between. (A pantzer is someone who doesn’t plan their novel, they sit down in front of a computer and write.) I am not a pantzer because I get too distracted with too many choices. I try to make as many choices about the story up front.

I chose this photo because it describes how I feel about my characters at this point. You can see the face but it is still part of the background. I need to pull them out of the background to make them living, breathing characters; well as living and breathing as you can in a novel.

I have been filling out forms and answering questions about my characters and they are beginning to feel more real. I write a little and build my characters a little at a time.  On the other hand, while I develop characters, I also start developing the plot. Once I know my characters better and I know what they want and need and their motivation, then my story starts unfolding.

Some of my friends say that their characters talk to them. I really wish it was that easy. When they say their characters won’t leave them alone and keep them awake at night,  I so want to tell them that there are drugs for that, but I don’t.

I am aware that I make my characters speak and they will not say or do anything that I don’t want them to say or do. There is a point though part way through the book where I write a scene and it feels wrong. Something isn’t right. Most of the time when that happens it is because I tried to force my character to do something to fit the plot. I hate when that happens. Usually in the books I read it happens at the end. It feels like the author got tired of the story or they had to have a certain word count and instead of editing the third act, they stick in a – the end- too soon. But that’s a later blog post about revision.

I still struggle to find my method of writing. Each project is a little different. I’ve never found  ‘the formula’. Maybe that is why I love to hear other writer’s talk about their process. Do you have a certain process you follow with each book? Would you like to share your process here? If you are a published author, would you like an interview on my blog where you could tell us about your latest book and a little bit about your writing process? If so, comment to let me know.

Though I read daily, I haven’t completed anything since our last post. So many books, so little time. I always have a few books that I have read a little but not completed. I usually go back to the one that pulls me back and the others wait until I am done.  I do read to improve my own writing. Some of my writer friends say they no longer enjoy reading because they read as a writer. I am not there yet. I still enjoy escaping into a good book.

How is your writing going? Do you have questions about the process or trying to work through something with your current project? Feel free to comment and if I don’t know the answer, I am pretty sure I know someone who does.

I mentioned last time about a bullet journal. My next post will be about getting organized and I will share the planner that I am using.

Hope you have a great week writing and reading.



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Writing, Reading, and Work

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Post Killer Nashville Conference: I left the conference bursting with writing motivation. Couldn’t wait to get started with my new project and then life slams a pie in my face. We had 5 hours of overtime last week. We have 10 hours of overtime this week. I work four ten hour days to have a three day weekend every week. I do this to allow me time to write. Today it didn’t happen.

Since I can work from home sometimes, I decided it was bad enough I had to work on my day off and there was no way I was going into the office to do it, so I got up at 5:30 and was sitting in front of the computer at 6:15 in my pajamas. I thought I would work until 12:15 and then only have to work one extra hour a day to finish my overtime before the weekend. Then I got to thinking that next weekend is a holiday weekend and I really didn’t want to work late on Friday, so I decided to work an extra hour. Well per company guidelines, if you work longer than 6 hours, you have to take a lunch. I ran down to the kitchen to see what I could fix fast. Looked like I was down to peanut butter and jelly but the bread was a little iffy, even if I toasted it. So I ran back upstairs, pulled off my pajama bottoms, put on the shorts I’d worn the day before, a bra, and my pajama top – no need to put on clean clothes to run to the fast food drive through and besides I couldn’t fit in a shower and lunch too. Ran a brush through my hair and took off for the drive thru. Hurried home, ate my lunch at my desk while I continued working.

But then, I got stuck on a piece of work that took me 15 minutes into the next hour. I figured I might as well work another hour and then only have 2 hours left to finish before Friday. So my plan to be done by 12:15 PM stretched out to 2:45 PM. When I was done working for the day I hurried up and showered and dressed. This is why I could not work from home every day. I felt like a sloth.

I really wanted to start either working on my new project or edit a little of my manuscript I finished before my trip to Nashville but I couldn’t with a good conscience sit down to write until I made a trip to the grocery store. I then remembered that I would be working late a couple nights this week and for my husband’s sake decided to make him a nice dinner tonight because who knew what the rest of the week would hold. 11 hour days do sometimes wear me out.  I hurried to the store, came home, stuck a ham in the oven, and then turned on Netflix. I know, I could have sat down and started working on my book but I really needed a little break.

By the time I finished watching my show, it was time to finish fixing dinner. We ate and then I did the dishes and then I remembered I wanted to get my weekly blog post out so here I am. It is now going on 9:00 PM and I have no energy left to write. But I will. Since I only have two eleven hour days and two ten hour days this week, I am sure I will get something done. If not, I have saved my weekend. Since it is a holiday weekend, I am fairly sure I will have all three days free, rarely does the company allow us to work overtime on a holiday because it is time and a half. My only fear is that we will have ten hours of overtime again next week and I will then lose one of the following weekend days to overtime but I won’t know until Thursday. I will think positive thoughts that somehow the overtime will vanish and I can reclaim my days off.

In the meantime, I have been developing my new project a little. Writing notes down about the characters and plot ideas. Here are the things I know. I want to develop a mystery series. I want my protagonist to be a female private eye. I haven’t decided on her name yet but here is the background so far. Her mother died when she was a child. Her father raised her alone. He was a cop, so she followed in his footsteps. He died while on duty and she questions his death. She questioned the wrong person and lost her job so now she is a private investigator. This idea didn’t come from a headline in the paper or a television story, it was just an idea that I’ve been mulling around for a while.

My first story will be about a missing teenage girl. There will be a continuing thread about her investigating her father’s death. I plan to use the title – Finding Faith. The missing teen is named Faith and I hope to use it for both her name and my protagonist finding faith in herself, somehow. It is a working title. Publishers don’t often use the working title but for now, I like it.

Here is one of my research books I will be using, one of many. Robert Randisi edited this book and I think he also founded The Private Eye Writers of America. I sat with him and his wife at the Saturday night awards dinner at Killer Nashville. He is a very prolific writer. He has written a book a month since the 1980’s. To be honest, he looked really tired that night. Even if I could, I don’t think I would want to push myself that hard but if it’s working for him, I can’t knock it.

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And here is what I am currently reading. Some how I do find time to read. I think it’s essential to any writer to read. While work and everyday life seem to suck the energy from me, reading helps motivate me and Julia Keller is one of my favorites. I think this is her fourth. It is set in West Virginia, her protagonist is a prosecutor who isn’t trying to convict someone, she’s trying to convict the right someone so she conducts her own investigations while going to trial. I don’t know that much about the law and whether every thing is correct but I do know her books are a pleasure to read.

Last RAgged Breath

If you write, how do you begin a project? Do you start with the plot or the characters? Feel free to share your methods. I am truly interested in the craft of writing. I think it is amazing that someone can come up with a story out of no where and everyone seems to have their own system.  I think it can take a writer a long time to find what works. I also think it changes. Each project is a little different and what worked for one book may not work for the next.

Well it’s bedtime and tomorrow I have to do it all over again.

Until next time, keep writing and reading.


Writing with a Few of My Friends

Winter snow 2015

“Molly the pit bull used to sit in the chair just behind me while I worked at my desk. She never commented on the writing, but since she loved everything I did, her presence did give me a sense of (unearned) security about it.” Billy Mernit

As you can see from my photo looking out my office, I am spending the day inside. It has been snowing since yesterday evening. Last I heard we were supposed to get 10 inches. I think we’ve passed that prediction. I have been having a very enjoyable day at home, catching up with laundry, reading, and writing.

I belong to a closed on-line community – The Perley Station Writer’s Colony. I have only actually met the one person who started this group. The rest I have come to know, a wee bit, online. We are there to share ideas and motivation and several times a year we do something that we call Writer’s Camp. We started the first one for this year today. It runs for the entire month. We set our own personal goals. They can be whatever we feel we need. We don’t judge, we just support. I am getting back into the habit of writing and it feels good. When I am not writing, I feel off. Unless you write, you probably wouldn’t understand. But I feel like I am again in a good place and writing is an important part of my life.

I easily write short stuff, stories, articles, columns but when it comes to a large project, I get overwhelmed and abandon them. This is the year that I plan to stop that bad habit. This year I want to complete at least one project but would like to complete more. That will entail more frequent writing so my goal this month is to write every day. I am using a book – 90 Days to your Novel. It has a daily chapter of advice and exercises. It starts out with 28 days of questions to answer regarding your story. You do it by free-writing for five minutes with each question. He suggests you write for two hours a day by doing the daily assignment as well as additional questions that can be found at the back of the book. I am committing to doing the daily assignments. That takes me at least an hour. I do feel that the questions are helping me with the story. They guide me so that I dig into what the story and characters are really about. On day 29 I will actually start outlining.

I have tried Nanowrimo over the years and have completed a 50,000 word projects but when I got done with it I always felt like it was just 50,000 words – never something that could ever be a story.. I am willing to take longer to develop a story that really has some feet on it. And I think by starting out this month writing every day will help me to develop that habit.

The writer’s in this group are at all levels. Some are published, some are not. Even though we haven’t met, they feel like friends. So like the quote above, they give me a sense of security. We don’t judge but we are there for each other to answer questions and to cheer each other on. I do have the feeling they could be like a pit bull from the quote above, grasping and never letting go until you do reach your goals. I am so grateful that Theresa invited me to be a part of this group. I feel as though I belong and that is a good thing. So this month, I will continue to press ahead and even when February is done, I will keep moving forward one day at a time until I get to the end of those 90 days. When I reach that goal with a completed project, I know my writer friends will be there to help me celebrate.

What else have I been up to?

Well did I say I’d been reading? I finished a friend’s book this week. “Yip/Tuck”. A cozy mystery by my friends Sparkle Abbey. I have known them for many years. We belong to a couple local writer’s groups and I am very proud of their success. In the last few years they’ve published through Belle Bridge Books six novels and they have a contract for two more. I would love to have something like that to show for my effort. Because I’ve watched their success, I know it’s possible, so I keep writing…

Do you have something you do to keep moving forward with your writing projects? Do you have someone to support you and make you feel like it’s all worthwhile? I feel like this is my year to shine. I know it will take a lot of work and I feel like I’m ready. Is this your year? How are you going to make it happen?

Until next time,






Unlock Your Dreams With a Little Help From Your Friends

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“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.” – Anais Nin

I have jumped back into my writer’s groups this year. Yesterday was the first meeting of 2015 for both Iowa Romance Novelists and Sisters in Crime. Both meetings involved setting goals and preparing ourselves for the journey of completing a new project this year.

I am Co-President of IRN and so will be very involved with that group this year. Our theme for the year is Finish the Book. We had a presentation that helped us identify the different things that may be holding us back. Way too many to list here but I thought it was interesting that even the published authors struggled with many of the things that are keeping the rest of us back.

Each month we will focus on a different aspect of getting our book done. We also have a new reward system set up. We have a list of goals to choose from. We choose only the ones we want to focus on. They have to be a little stretch and they involve several categories from reading to attending classes, conferences, workshops, writing so many minutes a day or pages per day, critiquing, and many others. If we accomplish 4 of the 12 listed goals, we will get a $10 Amazon card, 6, $25, and 10 $50. It looks to be an interesting year.

My Sisters in Crime group started out the year with Creating a Dream Vision. Our new President Jordyn Meryl brought all the supplies and members brought plenty of enthusiasm and magazines. Jordyn also brought each of us a VIsion journal. We spent the afternoon cutting out inspirational images to paste onto our Dream board. It could be just to help you with your life dreams or for your manuscript. I chose to start making it for my current wip. Will maybe post a photo of it when I get done.

All in all it was very inspirational. Today I have managed to make my list of characters and start my book bible. That is the binder I use for my project. I will continue to do character sketches this week and aim to have them done by next Friday. I printed off photos of my characters for both my vision board and my book bible. Plan to hang my vision board next to my desk. By end of month, I plan to have my outline complete so that I can start writing with my online campers, a closed writers group at Perley Station Colony Writers in February. I plan to set a weekly writing goal and get the first draft done as quickly as possible. I don’t plan to have it totally done by the end of February though. Iwill give myself at least a couple months for the first draft.

Have you started any new projects for 2015? Do you have any pre-writing rituals that you use before you start writing?

Are you struggling along on your own and would like some help? If you are in the Central Iowa area, IRN and SINC are always looking for new members. IRN meets the third Saturday of each month at the Urbandale Library this year from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. We have monthly programs, critique, and we are there to help and support. SINC meets the same day each month at Smokey Row Coffee Shop from 3:00 to 5:00. You can visit but if you are interested in becoming a member, you will need to join the National Organizations as well as the local chapter. Writing can be lonely, we can help.

Until next time,

Keep writing!



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Posted by on January 18, 2015 in Novel Writing, Writing a Novel


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How To Get the Most Out of a Writers Conference III

Hopefully you’ve had a wonderful time at the conference and you’re pumped to start writing. That is usually how I feel after several days in that environment. This year, I have scheduled an extra day off work to catch up at home and devote a day to writing before I have to go back to the day job.  It is my treat to me.

Now take a breath, unpack, and do those things you have to do after a few days away from home. Before you settle into writing, take a few minutes to evaluate your experience.

Pull out your goal sheet you prepared before the conference.

  • Did you meet your goals?
  • Were there some that you did not meet?
  • What was the best memory?
  • What did you learn?
  • Do you need to follow up with a pitch session?
  • What would you do differently next time?
  • Would you want to attend this conference again?


Hopefully you had a wonderful experience networking and plan to keep in touch with some people you met. Might friend them on Facebook. And did you share your blog site so they can start following you there too?

Well this is the last post about conferences. I hope it helped with even one new idea.

I will be attending the Spring Fling in Chicago in April. Hopefully I will see some of you there.

Next week I will list more conferences happening in June to allow you time to sign up.

April will be all about plotting. My local chapter of RWA, Iowa Romance Novelists,  will have a program “Plotting without a Net” with Leigh Michaels speaking. Leigh is a multi-published romance author who has also taught classes at the community college in Ottumwa as well as the Writer’s Workshop in Iowa City. If you live in the Des Moines area and would be interested in checking us out, we meet the third Saturday of every month at the West Des Moines Community Center on the second floor from 10:00 to 1:00. Hope to see you there.

Keep writing forward,



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What can I say?

Have to apologize. This summer got away from me. I have been dealing with some health issues and have let my blog and my writing slide. I haven’t totally quit writing. I have been trying to develop a new story. I got no where with it.

I am feeling better and now I am getting that old desire to sit in front of my computer for hours and make up things. My idea I have been struggling with doesn’t seem to want to come together but I do have one of my stories that I abandoned that seems to be calling me. It has some characters that I love and when I shared them with my critique group in the past, they seemed to like them too.

Take the Sweet Home Alabama premise, toss in a couple little old ladies from Keokuk Iowa who like to play the slots, a female impersonator named Merci and set it in Vegas. That is what I will be working on for the next few months. I managed to outline the story from beginning to end and have started writing. I have only a couple scenes that I will use from when I worked on it before. One where the heroine meets Agnes and Frieda on the plane to Vegas. Their seats get mixed up and the two old women are sitting on either side of the heroine. She offers to switch seats but one of them says that they couldn’t do that. If the plane crashed they wouldn’t be able to identify them. Freida is shorter and has a matronly figure. Agnes is thin and was once a looker. Agnes has outlived three husbands so far. Each one left her a little better off financially.

I had a chance to pitch this story to a couple agents a few years ago and got some positive feedback.

Plan to blog at least once a week. I won’t be doing Nano this year but I am part of a closed online group with an author friend so will be participating in our own November Writing Camp. I have already decided what my goal is. We just post our progress and chat. It’s fun and less stress.

If you are planning to do Nano, I wish you luck and happy writing.

Until next time.



Posted by on October 22, 2013 in Novel Writing, Uncategorized


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I is for Ideas

“A writer is someone who begins by trying to catch insights as fireflies in a jar, but in the end needs to see them pinned to the page.” –Jane Yolen

I struggle trying to de-clutter my life of the things that really are not important, mainly because after so many years it’s easy to accumulate a lot of stuff. Let’s face it; closets, basements, and attics can only hold so much.

As a writer, you have permission to collect and keep all the ideas you can come up with forever.  By organizing and saving your ideas, you have them when you need them.

Ideas like fireflies will escape unless you save them. I usually keep a notepad in my purse. Like my keys I like it in one spot so I can find it. Most of the ideas never go anywhere but the ones that do are handy.

I try to organize my ideas in one folder in a file cabinet because no matter how many notepads I have, you can bet I will lose some of them.

Before I have to worry about saving my ideas, I have to be able to come up with them. I get inspiration from everything around me. Movies, books, newspapers, magazines, people on the street, at work, at the mall, on my commute, on the phone, like a sponge I soak up everything I see, hear, taste, smell, touch. I never know what will inspire me. Maybe it’s the scent of wildflowers on a morning walk, or geese flying in a v pattern, coyotes yipping in the moonlight, the lonely sound of a train in the distance, white crosses along the highway, the taste of summer tomatoes, and the feel of sand between my toes on the beach.

We could never use all of our ideas but if you have enough, you can sift through to find the gold.

This week I read ‘Sarah’s Key‘ by Tatiana De Rosnay.  It was a very good story. It pulled me in and wouldn’t let go until I finished it. It is about an American living in Paris and married to a French man who discovers a secret about his family. Won’t say anymore for now because I want to review later this week here.

Now I am reading ‘Stalking the Story’ How to Find Your Screenplay’s Story with Help from TV’s Greatest Detectives by Jay Douglas.  Just picked it up so will review it later too. Though it is for screenplay writers I figured, I could probably pick up a few tricks for novel writing too.

May you have a productive week writing and an enjoyable week reading.


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Posted by on July 7, 2012 in Novel Writing


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B is for Backstory

“A writer is a man who, embarking upon a task, does not know what to do.” – Donald Barthelme

If you have ever started a story and got stuck in that first act and couldn’t go on, maybe it’s because you never really understood what happened before the story starts. Knowing where to start can sometimes be confusing. Do we go back to the very beginning or do we jump in with the action. Most times you will start with the action but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what happened to get the characters there. The key word is know. You need the information to put all the pieces together. You don’t necessarily need to share that information with the reader. At least not all of it. The important stuff can trickle in with the telling.

I shared this other little trick in an earlier post but I think it is worth sharing again, in case you missed it the first time. Determine the back story of each of your characters. Go back a month before the story starts with each character individually. What was the character’s goal, motivation, or conflict at that time? What was going on in their life? Determining that information for the secondary characters and antagonist and suspects or victims, depending on the genre of book you are writing can help you develop sub-plots.

I hope the past week has been a productive writing week. I have to admit I spent more time reading than writing. When life throws me a curve it’s easier for me to escape into a book than push myself to write. As some of you know, my brother passed away so I have been dealing with his loss. I also had a medical procedure at the end of the week. Everything turned out fine but these little personal detours seem to wreck havoc on my writing goals. It boots me out of a healthy writing mind set and it takes me a little while to climb back in the saddle and point that pony toward my book’s completion.

No matter what happens though, if I stay away from writing too long, I get that urge that won’t leave me alone until I sit down and put some words together.

If you live in the Des Moines area and are looking for a writing group, Central Iowa Fiction Writers meet the third Saturday of each month at the West Des Moines Community Center in Valley Junction at 10:00 AM.  If you have an interest in mystery writing or reading, Sisters-in-Crime Iowa meets the same day at Smokey Row Coffee Shop at 3:00 PM. Maybe I’ll see you there.

May this be a productive week for all of us. Look forward to seeing some of you Saturday.

P.S. Finished ‘Get Fluffy”. Now I gotta get it autographed.



Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Novel Writing


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A is for Alliteration and Antagonist

“Also, avoid all awkward or affected alliteration.” – William Safire, How Not to Write.

I apologize for not posting last week. I forgot and by the time I remembered, it was this week.

I thought it might be fun to use the alpha bet for my posts, kind of like Sue Grafton did with her mystery series. So this week my letter is A. I used the quote on alliteration because I thought it hit home exactly why more isn’t always better.

I didn’t really want to discuss alliteration. The A subject I wanted to talk about is antagonist. How is your antagonist behaving? Is he/she causing enough conflict in your story? I picked up a little trick from one of my writing books recently while working on my own story. It was suggested that to come up with enough disasters in your plot, you should keep track of the things that bring havoc to your own day. List everything, running late, spilling coffee, breaking a leg, getting a flat tire, missing the bus, whatever happens to make life a little more difficult for you. Then take those experiences and pull some out and expand them to a scenario you could use in your story. The final suggestion was to take a character and go back to a month before the story begins and make a list for them at that time of their life to help you build sub-plots. It was suggested you do this with all your major characters, including your antagonist.

That idea came from the book ‘Write Now-Mysteries’ by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson. It has tips from authors that include exercises you can use for your own work.

Another little tip is – The Daily Writing Tips. Google it and then sign up for them to send you daily tips. They are great. I will share some of the lists in future posts.

Just remember this week is A for Antagonist.

Have a good week and get something written.


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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Novel Writing


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Creating Character


“I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.” Stephen King

No matter what genre you are writing, I think this is true. Mr. King may literally turn the monsters loose but I believe all writers, no matter what genre, need to torture the characters. Otherwise why would anyone want to continue reading.

I have read that character is half of what is needed for story. The other half is plot. Without both there is no story. A story may be character driven but without plot, there is no story. A plot driven novel may have characters that don’t change so much from book to book because they are often part of a series. Those characters are developed well but the reader may not find out everything about them in the first book. I do believe those characters reveal more slowly over a series.

Creating characters is fascinating. Whether they are completely fabricated or created piece by piece from real people, kind of like Frankenstein, the choice is up to you. How many of you have been tempted to model a victim or a villain after someone you are not so fond of? I know I have. Even with that seed of someone you know though, my characters tend to become their own people, so those real life templates get buried in the work. How do you create your characters? Do you start with a seed of an idea and write or do you spend time filling out background and bio information? Do you do personality tests on your characters? What is your secret to creating characters?

For more on character – don’t miss this week’s IRN meeting. Leigh Michaels will be speaking about ‘Character Secrets’. Don’t know about you but I can’t wait.

Talk about interesting characters, just finished reading ‘Dark Side’, by Belinda Bauer. I want so much to tell you about this character but it would ruin the book. Just trust me that this is a worthy read, if you like mysteries. It has the feel of Midsomer Murders which is one of my favorite shows. An inspector that no one seems to like but who has moments where I actually did like him. The story is about a village in England where older women are being murdered. They are all burdens to their families so there is the possibility that it could be any of the family members who are doing it. Of course the killer is crazy but they can’t come up with solid clues. Officer Holly is the local police who bumbles his way trying to help. He too has a family member who has become a burden. His young wife has MS and now he spends most of his time worrying about her. Lots of twists and turns and a shocker ending. I did start figuring it out before the end but I still felt satisfied. This author has been added to my list of authors to watch.

Also my friends Sparkle Abbey’s second book in their Pampered Pet mysteries just came out the other day. ‘Get Fluffy’. Plan to get my copy very soon. If you haven’t read the first, ‘Desperate Housedogs’, you need to get moving.

See you Saturday and keep writing!



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