Animal Planet: Brand New Me


All of my Konigsburg books include animals. I’m not sure how this happened, it just did. Starting with a diabolic cat and a sweet-natured Chihuahua in Venus In Blue Jeans, I had a greyhound in Wedding Bell Blues, a mostly coon hound puppy in Be My Baby, and a largely Maine coon cat in Long Time Gone.

Brand New Me

When I got to Brand New Me, I knew I’d have to have a pet to keep the tradition going, but I wasn’t sure what animal to use. My older son had just gotten a part-Papillion puppy and I toyed with that idea. But it came across as too similar to Senor Pepe from Venus In Blue Jeans. I could have done another cat, but I’d just done one in Long Time Gone, and I wasn’t sure I could come up with one that differed a lot from Arthur (I’m coping with a couple of part-Maine coon cats myself, and that tends to color my outlook). At lunch with the DH and my younger son one day, I grumped about how hard it was to come up with the right pet.

“Why not an iguana?” my son tossed out. Why not indeed?

Now, mind you, I’ve never owned an iguana. I’ve never known anyone personally who’s owned an iguana. I’ve never even been closer to an iguana than the other side of a zoo enclosure. Still, it seemed like a neat idea, and a nice departure from dogs and cats.

First of all I had to find out what it takes to have an iguana as a pet, and apparently it takes quite a bit! They need an even seventy-degree temperature year round, which means they can’t live outside in the Texas Hill Country, where temperatures soar in the summer and there’s occasional snow in the winter. So my hypothetical iguana had to live in a cage of some kind in her owner’s house (her owner, by the way, is my hero, Tom Ames). Then there’s the food question. It turns out iguanas are herbivores, which meant Tom didn’t need to run around catching flies for her (fortunately, since he had other things on his agenda). Finally, there was the question of how much interaction iguanas have with their owners. While there are some YouTube videos of owners carrying their iguanas around on their shoulders and treating them sort of like parrots, the general consensus is that iguanas are not exactly cuddly. In fact, on the Web you’re find several pics of stitched-up iguana bites that testified to the virtues of leaving your iguana in peace.

Having established my iguana in residence and figured out what its cage looked like (courtesy of several iguana cage images I found online), I had to figure out what to do with her after that. All my pets have had roles to play in the plot. Senor Pepe, the Chihuahua, helped to rescue the heroine. Olive, the greyhound, made the hero feel at home in Konigsburg. Sweetie, the coon hound, was attacked by the villain. And Arthur, the Maine coon cat, demonstrated the inadvisability of tripping on a Maine coon cat’s tail.

It took me a while, but I finally figured out how my iguana would fit into the plot—trust me, she does. Her name is Doris, by the way.

And here’s a brief introduction to Doris:

The living room was cool and dark, the light of the setting sun reflected through the side windows. Tom stepped inside and turned on a lamp. From somewhere nearby, Deirdre heard an odd scratching sound, like insects running across a wall. She glanced around the room with a quick shiver.

One corner had its own light. As she moved closer, Deirdre realized it was actually a cabinet, only not exactly. The walls were made of plywood on three sides. The front was something transparent—glass or Plexiglas. She could see a couple of shelves inside, with what looked like tree limbs propped against them. Ivy hung around the edges and bright lights illuminated the sides.

Tom stepped beside her. “So this is who I wanted you to meet. The friend I live with.”

She shivered again. “I don’t see anybody.”

“She’s hiding.” He stepped closer to the cabinet. “Come on Doris, come out and meet the nice lady.”

More scratching sounded from the upper part of the cabinet. Then a large lizard emerged from the shelter of the shelves. Her body looked like it was covered in tiny polka dots that Deirdre assumed were scales. Her head was a deep green that shaded off down her body into moss and brown, ending with a long striped tail. Small spikes ran down the edge of her spine from head to tail. Her long toes were tipped in curving claws, the origin of the scratching sound as she edged carefully down the branch that angled closest to the door.

Deirdre licked her lips. She had no intention of getting any closer. In fact, she wondered if she could possibly move back a bit without being insulting.

He turned toward her, grinning slightly. “Don’t worry. She’s not free range. She stays in here most of the time, although I give her a shoulder ride every now and then.”

The lizard, Doris, raised her head, setting her wattles trembling, and regarded him with black peppercorn eyes. For a moment, Deirdre thought she looked almost affectionate. Probably projection.

“Have you had her a long time?”

He shrugged. “A few months. A customer owned her—she belonged to his girlfriend who took off and left her. He was getting ready to take her out and let her loose someplace in the hills. That struck me as a really lousy idea for everybody involved, especially Doris, so I said I’d take her off his hands.”

“Did you build her…enclosure?”

He grinned again. “It’s a cage. And no, she came with it. Don’t know if the girlfriend built it or if she inherited it like I did.”

Deirdre inched closer. Doris stayed on her branch, watching her carefully, as if she’d head back up to the shelves in an instant if Deirdre started to pose a threat. “What does she eat?”

“Iguana chow.”

Deirdre narrowed her eyes.

“Iguanas are herbivores. She gets alfalfa and other greens, like kale. And she’s very big on nopal. Probably reminds her of home.”

“Cheaper than a carnivore.”

“Yeah, the most expensive thing about her is temperature control. She can’t get too cold or too warm, which pretty much means she has to live inside, at least in Texas.” He gestured toward the lights. “Those help. And there’s a heater.”

“And she’s a female?”

He shrugged. “Haven’t a clue. Supposedly males have bigger pores on their rear thighs, but I didn’t particularly want to hoist Doris up to find out.”

“So you just decided she was a she?”

“Hey, I’ve got a fifty percent chance of being right.”

Blurbing


If I were given a choice between writing a synopsis and writing a blurb (and believe me, that’s a horrible choice), I’d go with the synopsis. Synopses are basically summaries, and most of us have some experience with summarizing. You’ve got three or four pages for the whole thing, and your main job is to pick out the major incidents of the plot without getting too bogged down in detail. And, of course, you have to make the prose flow without constantly saying And then. They’re not fun to write, but I can usually knock one out in a couple of hours.

Away
Away

Blurbs, on the other hand, suck.

Blurbs are the copy found on the back of print books or at the front of ebooks. They’re also the copy that shows up in ads for the book and on Web pages. While you have three or four pages for synopses, you’ve got three or four paragraphs (at most) for the blurb. And the language has to be sort of “peppy.”

Basically, you’re writing ad copy, and for those of us who have never been in the advertising or marketing business, the process can be excruciating. My first impulse is always to overdo the peppiness. I use many, many exclamation marks!!!!! I may use italics with abandon. If I’m blurbing a paranormal romance, I emphasize danger, danger, danger. And if it’s contemporary romance I usually go for hot, hot, hot.

After I’ve read over the first draft and started to groan, I settle down and try again. This time I try to think about what’s really going on in the book. What’s the real reason a person might enjoy reading it?

The extreme brevity of the blurb means I’m never able to include everything that happens in the book, but I try to suggest the major themes, or at least some of them. Chances are, though, I’ll end up leaving out something crucial just because I have to.

Sometimes publishers rewrite blurbs for better or worse. Back in the Samhain days, they had a blurb writer who was worth her weight in gold. But smaller presses like Soul Mate rely on their authors to come up with the blurbs, for better or worse. So when I wrote the blurbs for my Folk trilogy, I could pretty much know they were going up on Amazon word for word.

When I did the blurb for book 1 in my Folk Trilogy, Away, I wanted readers to know about my main characters, Grim and Annie. And I wanted to set up the basic conflict in the book. Annie’s urgently searching for answers: why did her brother disappear, and why has he come back now? Grim actually has some information that could help, but he’s sworn to secrecy. Yet as the situation becomes more perilous for both of them, he finds that he has to break his vows and tell Annie what’s going on around her. It’s a lot more than she can take in, but in the end their relationship makes them both stronger. Here’s my blurb.

His job is keeping secrets, but she needs the truth.

Grim Morrigan, Guardian of the Ward and part-time private detective, polices the Folk, the clans of fairies who live in the foothills outside Denver. But his main job is concealing their true nature from the mortals around them.

Enter mortal Annie Duran, who hires him to look for her brother Richard, missing and presumed dead for ten years. Annie has seen Richard in the parking lot of the nightclub where she works. Now she wants answers, and Grim’s supposed to find them.

The quest for Richard ensnares both Grim and Annie in a sinister conspiracy involving kidnapped women and outlaw magic. But they also discover their own overwhelming attraction to each other. When Annie herself disappears, Grim’s need for answers becomes even more urgent. With the help of a dissolute prince and a motley crew of unlikely fairies, Grim confronts a rebellion among the Folk. And it may take more than just magic and luck to save both Annie and Grim this time.

Five Reasons to Read Saison For Love


1. It’ll make you hungry for some interesting things. For some reason, several of my books include a lot about food and drink (maybe because I like both), and Saison for Love is no different. My heroine, Ruth Colbert, owns a deli/lunch counter that serves the goat cheese she makes. Ruth’s a whiz with sandwiches and her chef, Peaches, is a baking gem. I guarantee some interesting ideas for breakfast and lunch.

Saison for Love

2. It’ll give you a quick introduction to craft beer and its delights. A lot of readers tell me they don’t drink beer. While some people may actually have solid reasons for not wanting to drink, I think some people avoid craft beer just because they don’t know much about it. In Saison for Love, you’ll learn a bit about the beer-making process and a lot more about what makes some beers really tasty. You might be inspired to visit your friendly local craft brewer and let her pour you a few.

3. The “bad boy” hero is the one who wants to settle down. Liam is the love ’em and leave ’em type, getting ready to leave Antero for another job five hundred miles away—the classic “bad boy,” in other words. He doesn’t expect to fall for his sister’s friend the cheese maker at the last minute, and when he does, he isn’t sure exactly what to do. But he knows what he feels for Ruth is different, and he knows he’ll have to find a way to make this relationship happen, even if it means changing his plans and, ultimately, his life.

4. The heroine thinks she’s having a fling, right up until the moment she tries to end it. Ruth’s the level-headed type: single mom, business owner, early to bed/early to rise. Falling for Liam doesn’t fit with her self image, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. While Liam is sure about the two of them, Ruth is skittish, and an unexpected visit from her long-absentee ex doesn’t help matters. Ruth shows you what can happen when head and heart are locked in a battle royale.

5. The heroine’s daughter is precocious, articulate, and sometimes infuriating. In other words, she’s a kid. Twelve-year-old Carol is caught in a genteel battle between her parents, and she has a definite point of view of her own. Part of her strategy involves getting Liam to date her mother, something he’s only too happy to do. But when push comes to shove, Carol’s got a few hard decisions to make. And she makes them like most kids, caught between wanting to be independent and wanting to be somebody’s treasured daughter.

Music and Silence: Wedding Bell Blues


At the end of Finder, Emma Bull’s author bio has a neat thing: the soundtrack for the book. She lists the songs she listened to while she was writing, and it’s pretty extensive (also, from my point of view, sort of obscure). Bull is obviously one of those writers who likes to listen to music while she writes. I had a creative writing teacher who was like that once—he always used the same Mozart concerto, and when it reached a particular passage, it was his cue to begin writing.

Wedding Bell Blues

I’ve frequently wished I was like that, too. It seems so cool—listen to the music and it jiggles your brain right into the story. Unfortunately, I can’t do it. When I write—and when I read—I need quiet. It’s always been that way for me. I’m one of those annoying people who will tell you to quiet down in the library, or ask you to turn down your music if you’re related to me and you’re in the room next door to my study. I don’t need absolute silence, of course. If I did, I’d never get anything done. Outside my study window, for example, I’ve frequently got some energetic finches cussing each other out. But that’s the kind of music I can always manage to blot out.

I think part of the problem is that when I listen to music, I like to listen to it. I want to hear the words along with the rhythm. That leads to some conflicts with my DH when I turn on my iPod in the car—he likes a soft background mutter, while I like it loud enough to listen to what’s being sung. One of the joys of Texas singer-songwriters is their lyrics, and I want to hear them.

That doesn’t mean I sit in rapt silence while I listen, as you do in a concert hall. But the things I do while listening usually take a different part of my brain than reading or writing—playing computer solitaire, for example, or chopping onions. When I write, I need to concentrate, and the music seems to be filling the same channel in my brain as the words I’m trying to find.

Music can put me in the right mood for writing, though, even though I turn it off when I actually start work. And those songs sometimes show up in the books, as a sort of thank you to the artists for helping me get going. James McMurtry’s Red Dress shows up in Wedding Bell Blues because I wanted a really sexy song for Janie to dance to, and that song definitely qualifies. Joe Ely’s Cool Rockin’ Loretta is in Venus in Blue Jeans as a dance-around-the-shop-feeling-good song, which it really is. Some writers, like Jennifer Crusie, seem to include songs and singers in their books they want to clue you in on, like Dusty Springfield or Kirsty MacColl. If my references to McMurtry and Ely make people go out and listen to their stuff, I’d be delighted. 

But I still can’t listen to music when I’m actually writing. For that, I have to listen to the music playing in my head! So I wish I could give you the soundtrack for my books. I wish there was a soundtrack for my books. But I can’t. My mind just doesn’t work that way.  You’ll have to be satisfied with listening to the music my characters listen to. Apparently, they don’t have the same problems that I do!

So here’s a sample of what I mean. This is what the characters in Wedding Bell Blues, my second Konigsburg, Texas book are hearing. All of them are available on Spotify if you’d like to hear a sample.

Emmylou Harris, “Cattle Call”

James McMurty, “Red Dress”

Lyle Lovett, “If I Needed You”

Patsy Cline, “Faded Love”

Ray Wylie Hubbard, “Without Love (We’re Just Wastin’ Time)” (actually, Cal doesn’t specify a song, but Ray Wylie talks about playing this one at a wedding reception)

Willie Nelson, “Yesterday’s Wine”

Enjoy!

Finding Mr. Right Now On Sale


Finding Mr. Right Now, the first book in the Salt Box Trilogy, will be on sale for 99 cents from August 10-17 at all the usual outlets

Animas, Crested Butte, and Vinotok


Unseen and Found, books 2 and 3 in my Folk Trilogy, both take place at least in part in a Colorado mountain town, Animas. In Unseen,  the town is having its annual Fall Festival. When my critique partner read the first chapter, she asked me where on earth I’d gotten the idea for the characters parading through town in outlandish outfits, along with stilt walkers and a hairy monster. I wish I could have told her it was all a product of my writerly imagination, but the first chapter of the book is actually a fairly accurate picture of the Vinotok Festival parade in Crested Butte, Colorado.

Unseen
Unseen

Vinotok is an imaginative recreation of a genuine European fertility festival, and Crested Butte puts it on more or less annually. I say “more or less” because some years the festival is more popular with the locals than others. One year a fight over parking led to the cancellation of all but a couple of events. The first time my hubs and I visited Crested Butte, we sort of stumbled on Vinotok by accident, but we’ve managed to visit it deliberately since then. At the end of the festival the town celebrates the “burning of the grump,” a symbolic burning of everybody’s peeves (or something—Crested Butte was always a little vague about what the grump actually meant). I worked both the parade and the grump into Unseen, but I made the latter a lot more sinister than it actually is.

At the moment, Vinotok, like everything else, is on hold until the pandemic eases. But if you’d like to go to Vinotok in the future and want some details, you may have your work cut out for you. Vinotok usually takes place in September, but the locals can be cagey about just when. While they don’t mind you stumbling upon the parade and the “burning of the grump” without meaning to, as we did, they’ve become a little prickly about making it a tourist attraction. Some citizens now refuse to let anyone know when or if the festival happens

If you’d like to see some pictures of the festival, this site has some lovely shots. And having seen two or three Vinotoks, I’m a fan. It struck me as the perfect festival for some members of the Folk to wander into, and I had a great time making that happen.

Behind the Scenes With Wild Love


Writing Wild Love, the third of my Brewing Love books, involved research—pleasurable research, but research nonetheless. When I first moved to Colorado a few years ago, I didn’t know much about beer. I mostly drank the big commercial brands like everybody else, and I didn’t drink much of those. But Colorado is craft beer central—we have over 200 breweries in the state—and you can’t live here without learning something about beer and brewing.

Wild Love

With the help of my hubs and my sons, great beer-drinkers all, I started experimenting.

Right off the bat I discovered I’m not much of a hops head. Super bitter IPA’s do nothing for me. But I also discovered the IPAs that are made with Citra hops, which have a lovely citrus taste that sometimes shades off into something slightly piney. I’m now enough of a beer head that I check the menu descriptions for Citra. If it’s there, I’ll order some IPA gladly.

I’ve always loved the really substantial types of beer like stouts and porter. I’m also a sucker for anything with coffee or chocolate (if you’ve never tried a chocolate stout, you’ve got a treat in store). After a while I started checking out wheat beer and red ale; Scotch ale is great too. On the other hand, I’m not crazy about fruit beers like apricot ale or raspberry wheat. They seem a little one-note, and you can get tired of them quickly.

The first two books in the Brewing Love series, Love On Tap and Saison For Love, both center around particular types of beer. In Love On Tap, Bec Dempsey, the heroine, is brewing a very special imperial stout (it shows up in Wild Love, too, just as a reminder). Saison, the beer Liam Dempsey crafts for his lady love in Saison For Love, isn’t as light as, say, a wheat beer, but it’s got a lot of carbonation, which makes it crisp. In Saison for Love, Liam flavors his saison with basil, which is a little unusual but not unheard of.

When it came time to do Wild Love, I needed to come up with another beer that could be special and unique to my hero. It also had to be something that would knock people’s socks off. My hero, Colin Brooks, has been away from Antero Brewing for a while, and he’s lost the trust of two people he cares about: Bec and Liam. He needs to brew a beer that will earn their approval and maybe bring him back into the fold. That’s a heavy duty for any beer, but Colin manages it with the help of the woman he loves, Peaches Guidry, the local pastry chef. The beer he makes is sweetened with honey, and Peaches helps him find just the right strain to give it that extra punch.

It helps that whenever he’s near her, he has honey on his mind.

She stared up at him, blue eyes wide. And then she nodded.

Honey. Cloves. She smelled like all the sweet things in her kitchen, sugar and spice and everything nice. Very, very nice. She tasted sweet, too. His head swam as he moved his hands to her shoulders. He really hoped he was back to his usual strength, because he had a feeling making love to Peaches would take some stamina.

He ran the tip of his tongue gently along her lips and her mouth opened beneath his. More sweetness, a honeycomb, fragrant and delectable.

I’ve enjoyed working with beer while writing the Brewing Love Trilogy, although I’m still trying to convince people that beer and romance can go together as naturally as wine and romance. I’ll miss Antero Brewing and the people there. Here’s hoping in some alternate universe they’re still brewing something tasty.

And I’d invite you to try stopping by your local craft brewery on your own if you get a chance. If you can manage to visit when they’re not super busy, the person who’s pouring is usually happy to steer you to brews you may like. And they’ll tell you everything you want to know, along with some things you wouldn’t think to ask. It’s definitely worth a shot.

And if you can do it in a lovely mountain town with some really tasty brewers on hand, so much the better.

Same world, new characters, what makes a series?


Found, Book 3 in my Folk series, has been nominated for a Prism award by the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal  chapter of Romance Writers of America. To celebrate, let me tell you a little about the series itself.

Found, Book 3 of the Folk trilogy

I’ve written lots of series in my day, both contemporary (Konigsburg, Texas; The Salt Box Trilogy; Brewing Love) and paranormal (The Ramos Family; The Folk). I always enjoy putting a series together because it requires working at both micro and macro levels. At the micro level, each book has its own story and its own characters. I lean toward series where each book works individually, where you don’t have to read the entire series to make sense of an individual book. But an effective series will also work at the macro level as well. The books will be related. At the very least, the same characters will appear from one book to another, and perhaps the same themes will come up as the series progresses. In the case of the Folk series, there’s also a macro plot to go with the micro plots. A central puzzle continues from one book to the next as the characters try to unravel a conspiracy against the government of the Folk. But the fact that this macro plot is present in all the books doesn’t make them hard to read out of order or on their own. I think that’s very important for a series. The books have to work together and they have to work separately.

The standard for series characters is that the hero/heroine of one book will appear as secondary characters in another book. This tradition allows authors to develop intriguing secondary characters, knowing that they’ll eventually have their own books. It also means that if the author experiences a typical problem—a character who suddenly turns out to be a lot more intriguing than one originally thought—there’s a remedy close to hand. Make that character central in another story.

Setting in a series is fairly easy to work with, or at any rate it was for me. I set the Folk in places I know well: the foothill suburbs of Denver where I live (the setting for Away and Found) and a fictionalized version of Crested Butte where I’ve spent a lot of time. The more complicated part of the setting is created the world of the characters. The Folk are supernatural beings, but I wanted them to lead fairly ordinary lives. Still, there were differences. Folk men and women live in separate compounds, for example, and children are frequently abandoned by their fathers. Once traits like that are introduced, authors have to keep track of them. That can be particularly tricky in long series, and it’s the reason so many of us create “Bibles” to record our decisions about the series world early on, along with mundane things like the names of minor characters. Series are a lot of fun to write. You can return to characters who intrigue you and you can expand a world by creating as you go. I have occasionally written books that were supposed to be “one-offs” but they seldom stay that way. I’m always stumbling over characters who deserve to have their own stories, and places I want to visit again. Fortunately, I can usually do just that.

Found Nominated for Prism Award


Found, Book 3 in the Folk Trilogy, has been nominated for a prestigious Prism Award by the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of the Romance Writers of America. The book is one of three nominees in the “Light Paranormal” category. The Prism Award ceremony will be held online this year.

Beer Romance


So I’m sitting at my table at the big Shameless Book Con sale with copies of my Brewing Love series spread out in front of me. A browsing shopper pauses. “What are these about?” she asks. “They’re about a craft brewery in a Colorado mountain town,” I explain. “The brewmaster is the heroine of the first book, Love On Tap, and her brother, who also brews, is the hero of the second book, Saison For Love. They’re both trying to get their brewery back on its feet and find a little romance along the way.” “Oh,” says the browser. “I don’t like beer.” And off she goes. Sigh.

There’s this prejudice about beer: it’s not romantic. Wine is romantic. Champagne is romantic. Even whiskey is romantic (go figure). But beer? Not so much. Maybe it’s all those “bro” commercials featuring guys watching football and getting soused. Maybe it’s the image of beer as part of masculine rites of passage. For whatever reason, nobody seems to think of beer as part of a romantic evening. Add to this the fact that American beer manufacturers seem to have given up on marketing beer to women, and you can see that beer’s a hard sell in the romance department.

But I live in Colorado, aka Craft Beer Central, and I’ve seen lots of women drinking beer, serving beer, and brewing beer. Moreover, I’ve seen lots of couples nuzzling over their steins and grabbing their growlers to go. In real life, in other words, beer is just as likely to lead to romance as any other form of alcohol.

I got interested in doing a series built around a craft brewery as I started visiting some of the local breweries in my town. It takes less time to brew most beers than it does to make wine or whiskey, and it’s not as expensive to establish a brewery as it is a winery. Thus a lot of craft brewers are young people with a talent for brewing and a yen to share their unique beers. That’s the situation with Antero Brewing, my mythical brewery in the equally mythical Antero, Colorado (full disclosure: Antero bears a striking resemblance to the real Crested Butte). Antero Brewing was founded by a brother and sister duo, Bec and Liam Dempsey, along with their good friend and financial backer Colin Brooks. But Colin took off after a couple of years, along with his money. Love On Tap dealt with Bec’s struggle to keep the brewery afloat based on a barrel of imperial stout. She gets some help from Denver brewpub owner Wyatt Montgomery, who manages to save Bec from disaster while the two fall in love. In Saison For Love, Liam confronts his own crisis when he tries to find a way to stay in Antero and convince his own lady love, Ruth Colbert, to give him another chance. In the end, he wins by brewing a special saison just for Ruth.

Wild Love, the third book in the trilogy, begins with the return of Colin Brooks. Bec and Liam are both justifiably furious with him for leaving them in the lurch. And to compound his problems, Colin has lost all the money he had to invest. He has to prove himself to the Dempseys and everyone else associated with Antero Brewing. It’s a tough situation, and the only thing Colin has going for him is Peaches Guidry, baker extraordinaire and collector of lost souls. Colin must prove himself to the Dempseys and show Peaches he’s worthy of her love. And beer plays a big part in his journey to redemption.

So here’s the thing: these are books about people facing tough situations and coming through. And finding love along the way. You can read them even if you don’t like beer. On the other hand, if you’re open to some new tastes, you can find out some bits and pieces about beer and how it’s brewed and how it can make food taste a little better and love work a little more easily.

Beer and romance. Trust me, it’s a winning combination.

Wild Love can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Google Play.  

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