Category Archives: creativity

How To Keep Writing When You’re Drowning in Chaos


by Lillian Csernica on February 18, 2019

Hi there. Today I will tell you how to keep up that word count and move forward with your creative life regardless of how crazy your everyday life has become.

What are my qualifications for this?

  • My older boy is an invalid requiring R.N. level care. We have two R.N.s. One has been on vacation. That means I fill in when she can’t be here.
  • My younger son has high-functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder. He attends community college, and he has a lot going for him. Even so, he needs supervision.
  • My mother has been having a series of medical crises since last summer. She’s back in the hospital again after having a heart valve replaced. The insurance is running out and time is against us in finding other caregivers for her.
  • Me, I have Major Depressive Disorder, I don’t sleep much, and I’m not getting any younger.

Having said all that, I can also say that I keep writing. I have three stories coming out in three different anthologies in the next few months. Marketing my novel proposals continues. When I sold my pirate novel, I did it with the help of an agent through traditional publishing. I liked that a lot and I’d like to do the same with my fantasy novels and my historical romance series. We’ll see what happens.

What is my secret? Simple. The ongoing chaos that I live in every day provokes powerful emotions inside me. Love and hate. Joy and grief. Depression and exultation. I’ve never been a halfway kind of person. These emotions are often so big inside me I have to let them out. I have to get them down on paper, get them out of my head, give them somewhere to go.

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And so I write. Maybe not every single day, but three out of five, I write.

Am I angry? My characters fight.

Am I frightened? My characters either hide from or face what frightens them.

Am I sad? My characters talk about it. They fight about it. They do something stupid or something brave or something that just makes it stop hurting for a while.

Whatever emotion is strongest within you, WRITE ABOUT IT.

Personal journal. Vignette. Short story. Chunk of a novel. Whatever size you need.

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No matter how good life is, no matter how bad life gets, WRITE ABOUT IT.

This is how you keep writing. This is how you keep from going under.

Writers commit alchemy every time we put our feelings into words. We take that heavy leaden weight of emotion and through our imaginations we transmute it into the pure gold of storytelling.

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P.S. Why are all the quotations from Ray Bradbury? When I was in grade school he was the first writer to set my mind on fire. Dandelion Wine showed me that I could imagine on paper and make use of everything going on inside my head. The day I finished reading Dandelion Wine was the first day I knew I wanted to be a writer.

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How To Edit My NaNoWriMo Roughdraft?


by Lillian Csernica on January 16, 2019

2069836It’s time to clean up the NaNoWriMo novel. I have several intense scenes, some good action, and two or three potential plotlines. How do I clean this up? Where do I start?

First, I have to finish typing in all the handwritten material created during my coffeehouse marathons. That allows me a certain amount of editing, but mostly I just want to get all of the manuscript on disk. It’s comforting, really. I hadn’t realized just how much I did write and from so many different characters’ points of view.

Second, I need to figure out who the hero of my story is. Since this is meant to be a Kyoto Steampunk novel, the obvious choice would be Dr. William Harrington, main character of all but two of the seven short stories in the series. Who changes the most over the course of the story? Is it Dr. Harrington, or is it his daughter Madelaine?

(Yes, I did say seven. The latest Kyoto Steampunk short story, The Badger Epidemic, will appear in Next Stop on the #13, available at Clockwork Alchemy 2019!)

page_1_thumb_largeAt the Night of Writing Dangerously, we all received tote bags which included a copy of Save The Cat! Writes A Novel by Jessica Brody. This book is God’s gift to the novel writer, thanks to Ms. Brody’s skill at breaking down and explaining in detail the fifteen story beats that are essential to a strong, successful story. Given what Ms. Brody demonstrates, I know I face crucial questions in sifting through my roughdraft to find the moments that match some or all of those fifteen story beats.

Having done a bit of flailing around while I did my best to achieve my daily word quota, I’ve written a lot of material that could take the story in at least half a dozen directions. Lining up the scenes I’ve written in something approximating chronological order should point the way toward further complications and rising action. While I often work from plot outlines, this time I’ve been extrapolating from the events occurring in the Kyoto steampunk short stories. The consequences of some of those events are now catching up with Dr. Harrington, Madelaine, Constance, and Nurse Danforth.

The novel length has allowed me to introduce new characters, three human and three non-human. The humans are members of the British expatriate society in Kyoto, all of whom have some degree of power to affect the course of Dr. Harrington’s stay. Of the three non-human characters, two are earthly gods while the third is a monster of uncertain provenance. There are few things I enjoy more than squeezing poor Dr. Harrington between the pressures of Victorian social etiquette and the unfamiliar rules that govern the gods and monsters of Japan.

Third? I don’t know what will happen next. I’m just as excited to find out as I hope my readers will be!

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New Year, New Releases!


by Lillian Csernica on January 2 2019

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Happy New Year!

 

Two of my stories have found new homes which are now available.

In The Power Behind The Throne, Ti Song, Celestial Lady, First Daughter of the Emperor, longs for more than tea, embroidery, and a secluded life. When she discovers the secret of her brother’s success in battle, she knows it’s the key to her freedom.

 

 

 

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The Wheel of Misfortune has suddenly appeared on the streets of Kyoto, chasing Dr. William Harrington with lethal intent. With the help of the Abbot of Kiyomizudera, Dr. Harrington must go back to the early days of his career as a physician and right a wrong that has haunted him for ten long years.

 

Best wishes for 2019. May it bring us all much happiness and success!

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How Not to Build a Gingerbread House


by Lillian Csernica on December 19, 2018

 

 

Hi there. Right now I’m spread thinner than Nutella on the last three pieces of shortbread. Mom will be out of the hospital the day after Christmas. Tomorrow I have three appointments, then my younger son takes his first test for a new belt rank in tae kwon do. And then there’s all the Christmas prep to keep doing.

I need a laugh, and by some strange bit of good fortune I happened across something I wrote years ago at this same time of year. For your Yuletide entertainment, I present it to you now.

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How Not to Build a Gingerbread House

Never ever attempt to make a gingerbread house with somebody who’s never seen one before and yet, thanks to his control freak tendencies, immediately mutates into an expert on the art.

It’s difficult to sustain an intelligent argument about the precise technique of using industrial strength icing to glue peppermint candies, gummi bears, M&Ms, and gumdrops to the various flat and angled surfaces of a gingerbread house. Believe me, we tried. Too much icing. Not enough icing. The grouping of the gumdrops on the roof lacked the right balance of colors. The little candy canes lining the walk to the front door weren’t maintaining their lines with military precision. And the windows. This is where things almost got violent. Making window panes out of pretzel sticks might seem like no big deal, but when you’re dealing with a man who thinks we should have been using a carpenter’s balance, you’ve entered into a whole new realm of the bizarre.

Then came the argument over building the chimney out of Pez candies, licorice bricks, Jolly Rancher cinnamon bites, or graham crackers iced in proper brick and mortar formations. I’m not much for drinking, even during the holidays, but by the time I was about halfway through this delightful holiday pastime, I was ready to forget the eggnog and go straight for the brandy.

At last our masterpiece was complete. It resembled nothing so much as a perfect 3D schematic of what would happen if the two of us EVER tried to share the same living quarters. The yard was a wreck, green icing spilling onto the graham cracker walkway like rank weeds erupting through broken concrete. The cast off wrappings of Hershey’s Kisses, peanut butter cups, and Lifesavers lay strewn across the porch, revealing us for the white trash we really were. The snowman in the front yard listed like the drunken uncle at the wedding reception. It was a mercy that we never had to bother with the inside of the house. I shudder to think what horrors would have been dissolving in there. Gummi coke bottles piled in the corners…silver foil gum wrappers wadded up in the little black licorice fireplace…cotton candy webs hanging from the corners of the ceilings…. It would be just too heartbreaking.

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I can’t recall now what became of that gingerbread house. I know it sat on my kitchen table for some weeks during that holiday season. And as for the man himself, my partner in committing this crime of both taste and art? No, it was not in fact my husband. This was another man, whose story must wait for another time.  This fellow is no longer among the living, so that time will probably be Halloween.

 

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Nevertheless, I Persisted


by Lillian Csernica on December 3, 2018

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Hi there. I’ve tried at least twice to write blog posts since last we met. Got interrupted, fell asleep, had family crises. Never a dull moment.

People who aren’t all that familiar with writing think it’s a great job you can do at home whenever you feel like it. For those of us who are regular, habitual writers, it’s often like that one nightmare where no matter how hard you run, you can never quite reach the thing you’re after. We struggle to find or make the time to write. Then we struggle to produce our desired word count. We sit there second-guessing ourselves, and that’s before the actual editing process starts. Then we rinse and repeat, pretty much every single day.

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NaNoWriMo — Yes, I participated this year. What’s more, I am now the Municipal Liaison for the Santa Cruz County Region, along with a nice woman who handles the UCSC campus which is a city unto itself. This meant I hosted the Kick Off Party, I was there for the Tuesday night write-ins at the library, and I organized the final celebration. Details below. Did I win? Yes I did. 50, 141 words written mostly by hand in my notebook at my favorite Peet’s. So now there is indeed a novel in the Kyoto Steampunk universe.

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Training two new aides for Michael — We have been fortunate enough to hire a second RN and two new aides for Michael. Now that he’s out of school, he needs people to help him fill his day. There are no day programs available to accommodate someone as medically fragile as he is. Michael is a grown man now, and my joints aren’t getting any younger. I am deeply grateful for all the assistance we receive.

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Mom in the hospital, then heart surgery — My mother has been in the hospital for weeks now. She has Stage 4 kidney failure. Home dialysis never did go right. The MDs switched her to hemodialysis after the whole ER panic in August. Unfortunately, MRSA is a tenacious affliction. In the course of treating that, the cardiologist discovered Mom had a weak mitral valve in her heart. This led to a twelve hour surgery to replace the valve. Mom is about to turn 82 come January. I have no words to describe how frightened and stressed out I’ve been during all this. Mom is improving, but it’s at an incremental pace.

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The Night Of Writing Dangerously — The big NaNoWriMo fundraiser. Thanks to the generous donations of my writer friends, I raised the required amount to attend NOWD. What a blast. I drove to San Francisco, found my $12 parking space (thank you, SpotHero!), and made it to the Julia Morgan Ballroom on time. The next eight hours were full of writing and food and jokes and prizes and meeting other writers. I needed a great night out and this was definitely it.

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Thanksgiving — With Mom in the hospital, this was a bittersweet event. She wasn’t at her usual seat at the table. She didn’t make us all wait while she took photos of the food sitting there on the table getting cold. She didn’t make us pose and then sit there until our smiles wilted, resulting in the usual expressions of mild sedation. Those habits might annoy me, but they’re still part of our family tradition, dysfunctional though it may be. We did have a great dinner, cooked by my husband. And I am very thankful Mom is still with us.

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John’s cake looked better.

John’s birthday — Given that we were running back and forth to the hospital and taking care of Michael (fewer caregivers on the weekend, especially major holidays), we stretched John’s birthday out from Friday through Sunday. Chris took him to Dave & Buster’s on Friday. I took him to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald on Saturday along with various other fun stops. On Sunday we had his party with his custom made birthday cake and a pile of presents. My baby is now 20 years old. Next year, Chris plans to take John to Las Vegas.

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The Thank God It’s Over party (NaNoWriMo) — Once again I dressed up and headed out with my bag of NaNoWriMo swag and the prizes for the Bingo sheets we all filled out and various other little mementoes of the month’s adventures. Woodstock Pizza in Santa Cruz is great. The heaters out on the patio kept us cozy while we ate and drank and read from our novels and made the people sitting nearby wonder who all these crazy people were. NaNoWriMo is my happy place in the midst of all the stress I live with daily.

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Mercury might be in retrograde right now, but we did it. Every single one of us who did our best during NaNoWriMo is a winner. I’m exhausted, and I’m still worried, of course, but life is good.

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Coming up next: It’s time to answer this year’s letters to Santa Claus! I already have eight waiting for me!
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#NaNoWriMo 2018 Begins!


by Lillian Csernica on November 1, 2018

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Oh my stars and garters. I’ve been going like a maniac for days now. Friday–Halloween party. Saturday–trip through a Haunted House. Sunday–groceries, laundry, pizza, as well as prepping for the Kick Off Party. Monday–the Kick Off party! Tuesday–taking John to tae kwon do. And of course Wednesday was Halloween!

People ask me how I get any writing done. It’s simple. I do it whenever I get the chance. On Tuesday I was sitting there with my notebook on my knee writing while John was out on the mat with his tae kwon do class. At this point I’m busy typing in everything I wrote during #nanoprep in October. Still, I must keep writing every day. That’s the deal.

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We’re going to EuCon again this month. John is once again in charge of the Art Bus. This means five days on the road. It will be a real challenge making sure I hit the daily quota when my brain is fried from driving for hours or working the con. I’ve already proven I can write in my sleep, so I might need that skill again and soon!

Then there’s John’s birthday and Thanksgiving! The excitement never stops!

I’m going to write. Every day. A whole new book.

To all my fellow WriMos out there, I wish you all the best as you embark on your journeys of creativity.

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#nanoprep: A Night To Remember


by Lillian Csernica on October 20, 2018

Through the generosity of my supporters, I have raised enough money in donations to attend The Night of Writing Dangerously.

This is one of the highlights of National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. I have been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2014, but never yet have I had the pleasure of attending The Night of Writing Dangerously.

This is the year I go and spend the evening with my fellow writers at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in San Francisco, CA. We will eat and drink and write and revel in the knowledge that we are among people who share our passion for the written word.

NaNoWriMo HQ has announced that this will be the last year for this event. That makes me twice as grateful to the wonderful people who have made it possible for me to attend.

The Night of Writing Dangerously is right up there on my Bucket List. I am now serving as the Municipal Liaison for Santa Cruz County. When I volunteered, I committed to the goal of raising the donations necessary to attend this magnificent event. I hope my success will inspire other members of my Region to do the same. It would be so wonderful for a big group of us to travel to San Francisco together so we can share this amazing evening and all that it includes.

If you think you’d like to give it a go, there’s still time. NaNoWriMo begins on November 1st. The Night of Writing Dangerously will be held on November 18th. Attendance is limited to the first 225 people who raise the money and RSVP, so get started right away.

I hope to see you there!

 

 

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#nanoprep: Beware the Early Burnout!


by Lillian Csernica on October 1, 2018

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This is for all you Planners out there. The ones with the notebooks and the index cards and the color-coded little arrow Post-It notes. You know who you are. You can’t wait to plow through all those research books and make a gazillion notes. You love to chase down the other books on the bibliographies, hunting for the exact name of that one piece of clothing, or why on earth those people would be willing to eat that substance under those circumstances.

I share your addictions and I feel your pain.

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I think of myself as a plantser because in October I’m in Planner Mode. Research, outlines, scene cards, character sketches, maps, coinage, ad infinitum. When I was little, everybody stressed the importance of learning how to color inside the lines. So when I start a new novel project, I have what amounts to a compulsion to create those “lines,” the clearly marked spaces that I will fill in with backstory and location data and a list of crazy potential plot twists.

Then, come November itself, I go nuts, writing all out like a true Pantser. Each day I throw myself at that word quota and write like hell, living in fear of midnight. If everything goes well, all that material I absorbed during October will mingle and blend in the depths of my imagination. The words will come gushing out into the pen or the keyboard, and the story will take shape!

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What if all does NOT go well? What if all that research and all those notes and all the brainstorming uses up all the energy you had for doing the actual writing?

This is a very real danger. I’ve heard some writing teachers warn against talking too much about new ideas. All that wonderful pressure to get the story written can dissipate if you spend too much time talking and not enough writing.

The other danger is spending so much time and energy on your idea that when it comes time for the actual writing, you’re already bored. Over it. Burned out. That’s not a fun place to be when you’ve got 30 days and 50,000 words waiting on the horizon.

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Prepping for NaNoWriMo is very important for all the obvious reasons. You need to have some idea of who you’re writing about, where the story happens, and what the stakes are. My advice is to do enough prepping so you can see the signposts but not every pothole along the way. Give your imagination enough room to consider the many different combinations of the ideas you’re mulling over.

Remember three essential guidelines:

  1. Write everything down. EVERYTHING. A piece of dialog. One character’s opinion. What kind of horse the bad guy’s sidekick dreams of owning.
  2. One day’s writing is not set in stone. You don’t like the way that scene came out? Do it again from another character’s point of view. You’re so frustrated you just want to burn down the whole super spy skyscraper? Do it! Let’s see how those fancypants S.H.I.E.L.D.–wannabes handle that scenario!
  3. Keep everything. Sure, you’ll make choices. That’s good. Just keep all the other stuff. You never know what might come in handy around Day 15 or Day 26. And who knows? All those bits and pieces might help you figure out the sequel!

 
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Reblog: How to Use Index Cards to Outline Your Book


by Lillian Csernica on September 20, 2018

Megan Burgess has some excellent ideas that may come in handy as we all keep prepping for NaNoWriMo!

via How to Use Index Cards to Outline Your Book

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September 20, 2018 · 12:14 am

How To Prep for NaNoWriMo!


by Lillian Csernica on September 11, 2018

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Yes indeed, November is on the horizon. Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, it’s time to give at least some thought to how you’ll spend the 30 days of raw, unbridled, all out creativity that is NaNoWriMo!

This year my adventure takes on a new level of involvement. I am now one of two Municipal Leaders for Santa Cruz County. I’ve already been at work discussing write-in dates with the local librarians and making reservations at the restaurant where we traditionally hold our TGIO Party. And yes, there is also the Night of Writing Dangerously, NaNoWriMo‘s fantastic fundraiser!

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo three times now, and I have won every year. I admit I am a planner, but only up to a point. When it comes to making the daily word count, there’s a certain amount of leaping off the high dive and just going for it. You get some amazing stuff appearing on the page when you just go all out, especially during word sprints. Those are great fun, especially when you’re sprinting as part of a NaNo group.

These are a few ways to get a good grip on what you want to write about. They are handy to fall back on even if you start off strong then find yourself losing inspiration partway through.

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SCENE CARDS

First, write down every scene idea you have. Remember, when you change location, time, or point of view, you start a new scene. Even if you have just fragments of ideas about one incident here and one incident there, write them down. 

Second, get yourself some index cards. I prefer 4×6 so I have plenty of room to make notes. These are the important items to  list for each scene. Opinions about these items differ, so your mileage may vary. If you want to get fancy, you can even color code the cards by character, location, Part One, whatever works for you.

A basic scene card includes these elements:

POV.  Antagonist. Goal. Obstacle. Disaster. Decision.

If I seem like a Luddite because I’m talking about paper and pencil vs. Scrivener, well shucks. I work better when I can handle what I’m working with. I can make a story map with my scene cards, take a photo of it, then move scenes around as I please. This works for me. We all have our unique process.

 

IMPOSSIBLE DREAM/UNBEARABLE DISASTER

Brainstorming is your friend. Your main character wants something, right? How many completely outrageous ways can you think up for making that happen? For guaranteeing your main character total victory? No holds barred. Go as far and as crazy as you can.

Next, think up all the nasty, gruesome, heartbreaking, evil, and totally unfair ways you can stop your main character from ever getting near that goal. Again, push as far and as hard as you can. Never mind logic or reason. Blow the roof off the place! Wreck the joint! Just make sure your hero or heroine cannot possibly succeed.

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THE 20 QUESTIONS APPROACH

Think up 20 questions that will tell you facts about your character that nobody knows. Maybe not even that very character! I’m not talking about the usual getting to know you stuff. Why does the taste of chocolate make your character sick? Do they prefer snakes or spiders? What happened to their favorite childhood toy?

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GO BIG, GO BAD, GO BALLISTIC!

Come at your story from a different angle. How far is your main character willing to go to achieve that goal? Never mind what a sane, law-abiding, reasonable person would do. I’m talking all-out, eleventh hour, John Woo stuff. 

But wait, you say. You’re not looking to write the latest Jason Bourne-type blockbuster. You don’t want your hero to rank up there with the cast of The Expendables. You’re writing a nice, mellow, introspective literary story.

More power to you. Bear with me for a minute while I explain why the methods I’m suggesting will work just as well for literary fiction as they will for a story that fits into the world of genre protocols.

In one of my many efforts to combat my clinical depression, I participated in a day program. My favorite therapist would begin his “class” by explaining that the work we did with him would only be effective if we committed to it 125%. Why? Because 100% wasn’t good enough. We had to reach beyond our present ability. We had to work harder, to stretch farther, to make a greater effort. Only then would we grow. Only then would we really change.

Think beyond the obvious possibilities. Go wild. Push harder and farther. Abandon the limitations of linear thinking. You will transcend the predictable and open up new options for what happens when your main character finds themselves at the crux of unbearable pressure.

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PROWLING AROUND PINTEREST

When my brain gets jammed, I like to wander around Pinterest. It’s a largely visual site, which is what appeals to me. The writing articles might hand you the solution to your dilemma. The costume resources are wonderful. The creepy stuff is fun to explore. If your mind needs a rest, go look at something soothing like birthday cakes. Halloween is coming. Pinterest is a gold mine of decorating ideas. Sometimes we need to take a break. Pinterest is a lot of fun.

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