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Month In Review (November 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its eleventh month of articles for 2013 from this year’s multi-national line-up of novelists.

Writing Teen Novels contributor Elizabeth Wein is attached to two novel writing retreats in November 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

Thank you to all the contributors, to everyone who has been reading the articles and those who have connected with Writing Teen Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

Articles for November 2013

How Martial Arts Benefit Me And My Writing by April Henry

Using Varied Narrative Styles And Formats In A Novel by Paul Volponi

On Categorising Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Why I Write Young Adult Novels by Beth Revis

You Need To Love Your Characters by Lish McBride

How Do You Know If An Idea Will Develop Into A Good Story? by Bernard Beckett

Planning And Writing A Novel by Monika Schroder

To Outline Or Not To Outline? by Kashmira Sheth

Nurturing (And Protecting) Your Story Idea by Diane Lee Wilson

Novel Titles And Covers by Carolyn Meyer

Time And The Publishing Process by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Keep Writing: The Importance Of Finishing Stories by Andy Briggs

Handling Disappointment To Be A Resilient Writer by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Different Types Of Plot In Fiction by Kate Forsyth

My Tips For Writing Novels by Pauline Francis

Guiding A Reader’s Experience Throughout Your Novel (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Marketing Your Teen Novel On A Small Budget by Laurie Faria Stolarz

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.

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Writing Teen Novels
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Why I Write Young Adult Novels, by Beth Revis

Eventually, someone always asks me, “Why do you write YA? When are you going to write an adult novel?”

I try not to snort too loudly in their direction.

The thing is, it’s not like it’s an accident that I write Young Adult novels and it’s not like I’m just going to quit. YA is not the training wheels of adult literature.

In fact, if I may get on my soapbox for a moment, it’s my opinion that what makes YA a genre actually has little to do with the main character’s age. It is, in fact, the least important aspect of the genre. What makes a YA novel YA is: a fast-paced plot, dynamic characters and a character who is discovering his or her place in the world (this is where the age of the character tends to come into play).

These are the things I love in the books I read. I want a page-turner. I want excitement. The key here is a character who changes and, for the first time, sees his or her place in society.

An author friend of mine, Alan Gratz, defined the difference between YA and middle grade novels as this: in a middle grade novel, the main character still sees the world as it directly relates to him or her. The novel will focus on the main character’s family, for example, or perhaps the community – but the focus is pretty tight within those constrains. A YA novel, on the other hand, may start in a close location, but the main character must realize who he or she is in the world. This can be as simple as first love, or as complex as saving society (alternatively, it can also be as simple as saving society and as complex as first love).

In all honesty, I constantly question myself in my world. Is what I am doing important? Can I make a difference? Should I just give up? In all honesty, I hope I never quit questioning myself. I don’t have all the answers. I’m still trying to find my place in the world.

That is why I write YA – and why I will probably only ever write YA.

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Beth Revis’s author website: www.bethrevis.com

Beth Revis’s bio page

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Across the UniverseA Million Suns (Across the Universe)Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)    Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyWinter TownGlowDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

Writing Teen Novels
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Month In Review (August 2013)

Writing Teen Novels has reached the end of its eighth month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of novelists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Writing Teen Novels contributor Elizabeth Wein is attached to two novel writing retreats in November, 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

Thank you to all the contributors, to everyone who has been reading the articles and those who have connected with Writing Teen Novels on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Tumblr, or via Novel Writing Quotes on Facebook or Google+.

Articles for August 2013

Tips For Writing Page-Turning Novels by April Henry

Creating Teenage Characters For Novels by Diane Lee Wilson

My Journey Of Writing And Publishing My First Novel by Mandi Lynn (guest article)

Not Treating Teenage Years Merely As Preparation For Adulthood In Your Novels by Bernard Beckett

The Importance Of An Authentic And Unique Voice In Teen Novels by Monika Schroder

Bringing English 101 To Your Novel by Beth Revis

Should You Self-Publish Your Book? by Paul Volponi

Three Act Structure For Novel Writing by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Characters And Story Development For Novels by Laurie Faria Stolarz

My Writing Process For ‘The Wildkin’s Curse’ by Kate Forsyth

Writing ‘Evil’ Characters In Teen Novels by Elizabeth Wein

Overcoming Writer’s Block by Lish McBride

Writing Dialogue In Novels by Carolyn Meyer

Sustaining A Plot With Obstacles And Sub-Goals (Secrets Of Narrative Drive) by Sarah Mussi

Getting Story Ideas And Writing Them Into Novels by Pauline Francis

Writing Stories In Different Formats by Stephen Emond (graphic novelist)

Comparing Teen Fiction And Adult Fiction by Sam Hawksmoor

The Benefits Of Taking A Break When Writing by Kashmira Sheth

On Age Ranges For Novels by Andy Briggs

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‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Novels in Australia.

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Writing Teen Novels
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Writing Novels About Teens For Teen Readers, by Bernard Beckett

When writing a piece of fiction, we try to do something more than achieve an external description of the world. We want to engage with it in a way that feels like a depiction from the inside. We’re digging, if you like, towards that which is essential. If you write about teenage characters for a teenage audience, you are backing yourself to be able to tell them something both fresh and authentic about their own experiences. That’s not without its difficulties. They are, after all, the world experts on being teenagers in the twenty first century. They know the quality of their experiences better than adults do and for as long as there have been teenagers there have been words to describe the way they feel about the adults who don’t understand them: phoney, bogus, try-hard, fake, lame… Clearly my own list stalls somewhere in the nineties, but you get the idea.

So how are writers to bridge this imaginative gap and capture something of the rawness and immediacy of the teenage years? One obvious way is to do your writing while you’re a teenager. The Outsiders stands as one of the enduring titles at the junior end of this genre. As a school teacher I’m amazed to see how well fourteen year olds still respond to it. To an adult reader the cliché and sentimentality can get in the way but to the teen they translate readily into truth and drama. Nick O’Donnell’s Twelve is another book written by a young author that catches some essential quality of being young that perhaps is out of reach to the older writer, ditto Less Than Zero. For all their flaws, they do smell like teen spirit (and again, see how quickly our references age us).

There are other ways around the problem. One doesn’t turn twenty and magically lose all recollection of the previous decade. Adolescence passes more quickly for some than others, and I don’t mind admitting that I actively resisted adulthood well into my twenties. Many fine writers - I think, for instance, of John Green - have managed to stay in touch with the energy and quirks of the teenage mind, at least at first. Aging slowly does appear to be a feasible strategy, and one I’ve certainly leaned fairly heavily upon, but time is insistent and sooner or later both these strategies are doomed to fail. No matter how you dress or how carefully you keep up with the language and musical trends, one day you’re going to be an old person writing about young people. Then what? A popular option is to rely upon memory, or up close observation of teenagers. How many writers of YA come to the genre from a background in school teaching, or are prompted to write in the genre as their own children hit the teenage years? The trouble is, and I speak as a writer who has worked in high schools for the last twenty years, I don’t think this approach actually works.

Memory is not a static thing. We don’t recall events, we interpret them, and next time we try to access the recollection it will have been tainted by the previous interpretation. As we grow old, we lose touch with our youth. That’s just the way it is. In its place, we construct a story, and for all the many things such stories have going for them, authenticity isn’t one of them. So too with observing teenagers. You’re watching from the outside, focusing them through the adult lens, and no matter how bang on your external representation might be, that’s not the yardstick against which the novel will be judged. My interactions with students now are different than they were twenty years ago. Not necessarily better or worse, but different.

This is not to argue that older writers shouldn’t write for teens, but to do it well I think an important truth needs to be faced. The further we move from our own teen years, the less capable we will be of capturing their essence. To ignore this is to pour forth into that already overflowing pool of inauthentic, patronising and disconnected YA fiction. If I look back over my own novels, the ones I wrote in my mid twenties when I was just starting out as a school teacher have a particular energy I’ve never been able to recapture. When I wrote about the hopeless infatuations, the social fears and longings, I was writing about something that still lurked within. This is not to say they are my best novels; all the flaws of early apprenticeship are there to see. However, they had something that is lost to me now and understanding that is, I think, crucial to continuing to work in the genre.

Luckily, teenagers don’t wish to read exclusively about the teenage experience any more than teachers are going to limit themselves to reading books set in schools. A great deal of writing for teens sits within other established genres, be it supernatural romance, fantasy, sci-fi or crime. While they will still mostly feature teenage characters, the issue of authenticity is less pressing, the success of the story doesn’t hinge upon it in the same way. The very best of it produces work of depth and beauty without pretending to reflect the teenage world back at its readers (think Mark Lanagan’s books or MT Anderson’s Octavian Nothing books). Part of the reason I’ve moved into sci-fi/metaphysical novels for a bit is to do with these different demands. Similarly, at the higher end of the teen range, those novels that explicitly retell the teenage experience through the adult voice have an absolute place and, for my money, represent the finest pieces of YA writing. So there’s hope.

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Bernard Beckett’s author website: www.bernardbeckett.org

Bernard Beckett’s bio page

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AugustGenesisNo AlarmsRed Cliff     SparkGirl, StolenKeeping Corner

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On The Inspiration For My Teen Novels, by Laurie Faria Stolarz

People often ask me what inspires me to write.  The answer is that inspiration comes from all over, especially if you’re open to it: stories you hear about, snippets from the news, a really dishy reality TV show, an argument that you overheard at the local coffee shop, fortune cookie messages, dilemmas without answers, a person you encounter at the supermarket, a situation that occurred at the gym…

The point is that ideas are everywhere.  Pick one that gets your creative juices flowing.  Don’t write about a topic because you think it’s popular or timely.  The market is ever-changing: blood-thirsty vampires today, vegan-loving serial killers tomorrow.  Plus when you consider that once your book gets accepted for publication it’s often a year or more before it comes out, who knows what the market will dictate then.

Here’s how inspiration struck for some of my teen novels:

Blue is for Nightmares

The inspiration:  My readers

I was inspired to write my first novel, Blue is for Nightmares, because I wanted to write a book that would have appealed to me as a young person, namely one that had a blending of suspense, romance, drama, and dark humor.  I wasn’t a big reader as a young person, and so I wanted to get reluctant readers excited about reading.  Blue is for Nightmares was the product.

Bleed

The inspiration: A theme that interested me.

I really wanted to explore how the decisions we make everyday – even the smaller ones – can affect others in ways we may never even consider: the decision whether or not to pick up the phone or let the machine get it; the decision of walking to someone’s house versus taking the bus; or of taking a walk by a cemetery rather than at the beach; and how the outcome of those decisions can have a domino effect, affecting other people’s lives… including the lives of people we may not even know.

The book starts out with one girl (Nicole) grappling with the decision of whether or not to betray her best friend (Kelly) by going after her best friend’s boyfriend (Sean) while the best friend is away. We see how the effect of that decision plays out, affecting all the other characters in the book.

Project 17

The inspiration: A news article.

I sold Bleed in a two-book deal with Disney/Hyperion Books for Children.  Time was ticking and I needed an idea for the second book – fast.  One day when I was flipping through a local newspaper, I came upon an article concerning the controversial teardown of one the nation’s first mental institutions, which was considered  to be a historic landmark – one that was also rumored to be haunted.  I imagined a group of teens breaking in to the hospital on the eve of the demolition to film a movie.  The idea inspired me to write my novel Project 17.

The Touch series

The Inspiration: Past success and my love for series books.

Following the success of my Blue is for Nightmares series, in which my main character is plagued, and then empowered, by her premonitions, I wanted to continue working in the supernatural/paranormal genre.  Like in my Nightmares series, I wanted to explore the idea that we all have our own inner senses and intuition, and how with work we can tap into those senses and make them stronger.  I started researching different types of supernatural powers and discovered the power to sense the past or future through touching objects.  The concept fascinated me, so I wanted to bring it out in a character and show how sometimes even the most extraordinary powers can also be a curse.

In my series, Ben, the new boy at school, is rumored to have accidentally killed his ex-girlfriend.  He ends up completely reclusive as a result, getting home-schooled by tutors and not leaving his house.  Flash forward two years and Ben wants a shot at normal life again, despite his powers.  He enrols at a school a few hours from his hometown, where no one knows him or his past.  Then everything goes awry when he accidentally touches Camelia, the main character, and senses that her life is in danger.

My current work-in-progress

The inspiration: A nightmare I had.

I rarely have nightmares but I had one that felt so real and scared me to bits.  I didn’t talk about it for several days afterward.  When I finally felt able to share it, I told someone who immediately said that it needed to be a book.  I agreed and sold it to my editor last year.  I’m currently working on the draft.

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Laurie Faria Stolarz’s author website: www.lauriestolarz.com

Laurie Faria Stolarz’s bio page

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Blue is for NightmaresBleedProject 17Deadly Little Secret    Tarzan: The Greystoke LegacyAngel DustBlack and White

Writing Teen Novels
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Why I Love To Set Novels In British Columbia, by Sam Hawksmoor

Choosing British Columbia as a location for my novels is practically cheating. What’s not to like about mountains, beaches, the Pacific Ocean, fiords, a sophisticated city in Vancouver with at least 1000 great restaurants, a choice of theatres and cinemas, skiing on Grouse Mountain in winter and walking up the Grind in summer.  Then there are the Whistler Mountains, the huge winding Fraser River that snakes down from the wine country and through the vast forests towards the Pacific, the amazing islands in the gulf and the vast splendour of Vancouver Island.  It’s the best place to live on Earth.

In 1886 Vancouver was the newest city on Earth and in June that year it had burned to a crisp. So everything starts after that date. Everyone wanted a piece of the action and Vancouver has always been about real estate and immigrants.  The town where my family still lives have street and shops signs in Korean now.  The face of Vancouver is Chinese, Korean, East Indian and of course First Nation and the original settlers from England, Scotland and Europe. This dynamic mix is transforming the culture and wealth of British Columbia.  There are two great world-class universities, UBC and Simon Fraser, busy producing future business and scientific leaders.  Just below UBC you can enjoy the best skimboarding in the shallows once the tide goes out. Twenty years ago I was inspired by a quirky event on that very beach when walking with my dog and came across a pair of shoes with someone’s feet still inside them!  It made its way into a novel I wrote under another name (Mean Tide) when I relocated to London.  ‘No experience wasted’ is my motto. Sport is threaded through life in BC, where the bike is king and sailing and kayaking practically compulsory.

This leads me to Vancouver and British Columbia’s dark side: the gangs, the drugs, the violent crime and family breakdowns as people struggle to live in some of the most expensive real estate in North America.  You only have to stroll to the edge of the tourist area of Gastown to Hastings and come face to face with undesirable types and see the mask slip from the face of paradise.  It’s an immediate reality check and drugs in particular draws in teens. No city is without its bad side, but this is spread right across the province and there are causal links to this, from bikers to teen runaways, inadequate parenting, poor role models and more. Yet it’s also full of ambitious kids, good kids and generous kids who want to make their mark on the world. Some of them even survive the terrors and pressures of high school – a literary genre I wouldn’t dare to contribute to.

All this is why British Columbia is the most perfect location for me as a setting for Young Adult novels.  Everything happens in British Columbia and it is full of possibilities.  The tragedy is that most publishers haven’t been there, can’t see it and moan if your book is set anywhere but the UK or USA.  I would love to set a novel in Cape Town for example – another fantastic city with mountains and possibilities - but they shake their heads and just mutter that Africa doesn’t sell.  There’s a lot of location prejudice.  They are wrong of course.  Think of your favourite movies and there’s a good chance some of them were shot in Vancouver: from Twilight to Juno, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Butterfly Effect and Hot Tub Time Machine.

One of the best sights I ever had was sailing back from Vancouver Island past Galliano Island. A forest was on fire on the island, aircraft were bombing it with water and the smoke trail went on for miles, as a pod of whales went right by. My niece Tabytha and I sipped our wine, amazed, and along came the best sunset ever.  That’s life in British Columbia, and that’s where my heart lies.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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The RepossessionThe Hunting     Necromancing the StoneAngel DustTarzan: The Jungle Warrior: Bk. 2Code Name VerityDeadly Little Voices (a Touch Novel) (Touch Novels)

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Voice In Teen Novels, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

I get asked a lot in my classes on writing how I make the voice for the teenager ‘authentic’. I think my answer is frustratingly esoteric, but it works for me: I don’t try to sound like a teenager at all. I don’t try to include current slang, or fads, or anything that actually separates me from teens.  I’m a generation older than they are and there isn’t anything I can do about that. Their youth, their teenaged rambunctiousness, their clingy jeans and their weird hairstyles — if I get bogged down in all that, it alienates me from them too much. In other words, I can’t be really authentic in my YA voice if I think of teenagers as the “other”.

Instead I try really hard to get down to the basics, and simply imagine a young, inexperienced person stuck in the situation I’ve created for them. I focus on creating a real, whole character who behaves in all the unexpected, strange ways people behave when they’re confronted with the challenges of life.

Some writers have a totally different take on this question, and they’re not wrong. Many YA writers I know spend time with teens just so they can listen to the way they talk, notice their clothes, and their many changing fads. This can be a good approach too, but I would suggest that even writers who are observing and studying young people, when they’re in the task of writing, are still thinking of their teen characters as people first. Probably all those anxieties about linguistically masquerading themselves fall into the background when they’re drafting.

My only caveat with this approach is that if one tries too hard to sound “current,” one could end up with a book that doesn’t age particularly well. Imagine reading a book written during the 1970s when all the kids were saying, “Far out,” and “Groovy.” Do you want to read that book now? I’ll bet you if you take a look at the books that have endured over the decades, you’ll find that none of the characters sound like the cast of The Brady Bunch.  If plain old lovely English is good enough for the likes of Judy Blume, Madeleine L’Engle, and Katherine Paterson, it is certainly good enough for me.

Besides, there’s so much more to voice than shallow, faddish verbiage. If you get the concerns of a young person right, their frustration with the limits to their own power, their inexperience when dealing with oftentimes adult issues, their very human fears about not being strong enough or pretty enough or smart enough… If you hit all these notes right, the voice takes care of itself. The concerns of a teenager are, in the final analysis, not too different from the concerns of an adult. Where do I belong? How can I be happy? How can I find love?  Who am I? The older I get, the more I realize that we are all like children, continually bewildered by a random, unpredictable, chaotic world, no matter how old we happen to be. If a writer remembers that, s/he can create believable characters of any age.

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Amy Kathleen Ryan’s author website: www.amykathleenryan.com

Amy Kathleen Ryan’s bio page

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On Getting Story Ideas (and Developing Them Into Finished Stories) by Diane Lee Wilson

“Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” That’s a question I frequently get from aspiring writers and one that, frankly, surprises me. Because gathering ideas is truly the easiest part of writing a teen novel. Developing them into a finished story is quite another matter.

Viable ideas for your novel are everywhere. Literally. If you maintain a keen interest and a sensitive ear you’ll find possibilities in a “human interest” story in the newspaper. In a conversation with a stranger. In an unusual photograph in a magazine. In a “throwaway” line from an old movie. If, as a writer, you’re truly alert to the bits of stories all around you then you will find more stories to tell than you have years to live.

Keep in mind that you’re going to craft your story for a teen audience so focus on those themes or settings that will most appeal to this age group.

Now, how do you keep track of all these gestating ideas and which ones do you nurture first? For me, I always have a completely unedited “idea file” in progress. This manila folder regularly accumulates intriguing clippings, photos, and random scribbles on notepaper (often jotted down in the middle of the night when “brilliance” seems to appear). Most of these thought fragments have never blossomed into full stories. But sometimes a theme begins developing (a place in history or a particular character type, for example) and I’ll extract all this pertinent inspiration and assemble it in its own “story file.”

When I’m between projects I’ll also take the time to edit my “idea file”. If I’m no longer struck by the wonderful possibilities of a certain piece then it has lost its magic for me, and I crumple and toss it without regret. You don’t have to hold onto every single story idea; there are many, many more in the world around you. Trust me.

So how do you identify the best ones? The very best idea, the one to which you should apply all your energy, is the one you’re constantly turning in your mind, the one that makes you jump out of bed in the morning and want to start writing. It’s the one that lights the creative fire inside you.

As all writers know, however, self-doubt can creep in and all too easily dampen that fire. Maybe there’s another story that’s better, you begin to think. Maybe I should be working on that one.

Well, here’s where you have to balance inspiration with determination. Re-evaluate what got you started on this teen novel of yours. Do you still believe in that idea? If so, then dig down and find the determination to carry your idea through to a complete novel.

If you truly find yourself staring into the dark, though, perhaps it’s only temporary. Perhaps you need to put your story on the back burner for a while and let it develop at its own pace. I think most writers have several story ideas incubating at the same time. I, for one, always have two or three projects in various stages of maturation lined up behind the one on which I’m working.

Although I consider myself a fairly disciplined writer, even my project line-up can change. As an example: I have compiled research for an intended novel that now fills an entire file box. Relevant books have been acquired, notes organized, character descriptions fleshed out, even a few early chapters have been written. I like this story. I want to write it. But twice now, some other project has pre-empted my creative fire and assumed priority. Most recently this happened when I was reading a newspaper article and turned the page to find a striking photograph that I immediately saw as the climax of a story. At the same instant that I was acknowledging that “THIS is my next story” I was bemoaning the fact that I would once again have to set aside the story with the huge file box. Oh well. Hopefully I have enough years left in me to return to it.

Determination to complete a story can always be mustered, but inspiration, especially when it presents itself in full flame, should never be ignored. Follow your instinct.

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Diane Lee Wilson bio page

TracksRaven SpeakBlack Storm Comin'FirehorseBefore I FallMentors, Muses & Monsters  : 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their LivesThe 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Insider Secrets from Hollywood's Top Writers

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