Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Anything but Cozy

Books should come with ratings, like movies.

As a reader, I'd mostly select R-rated titles, like I do with movies. Not because I love sex and violence, but because I like stories that push the limits of conventional expectations, and I find that most authors who push those limits don't limit their characters to polite language.

I would steer away from G-ratings, or anywhere I might encounter a bakeshop mystery or a cat named Fluffy. Not because I hate cats or cupcakes, but because I feel like I'd be less likely to be challenged or surprised by those stories—and I like to feel both when I read.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a book that should have been rated. Great story, compelling characters, but lots of people were repulsed by the brutality of the rape scene, and more. I would choose to read it again in a heartbeat—in fact, an R-rating would have likely made me pick it up even sooner than I did. But others could have saved their time, money, and sensitivity and spent them instead on a book that was more up their alley.


As an author, my promotional goal is to connect my stories with MY readers. I don't want to offend the wrong audience with Clare's foul mouth and adventurous love life. I want to put these books in the hands of readers who actively enjoy a bit of urban edge in their detective fiction.

Partly, this could be a geographical issue. I'm writing in Canada, where like Europe, foul language isn't something most people blink at. In the United States, perhaps because of the religious influence, more people take up arms against bad words.

Which is fair enough—I like that we live in a world with such varied taste. It means I can write in my voice, a knitting mystery author can write in her voice, and Quentin Tarantino can push violence to his own limit. And it's why I like the rating plan.

Using movie ratings, I think my Clare Vengel series would fall somewhere between PG-13 and R. There's no violence or brutality. They're fun, fast reads. My teenage cousins are allowed to read them. But they're anything but cozies.

Do you agree that books should be rated? I'm not talking about creating an official ratings board with all the ensuing headaches and bureaucracy. I'm thinking of an honor system where the publisher estimates the content and sticks a rating code on the cover—to help a book find its true audience.

If books were rated, where would your preferences lie?


Robin Spano's latest novel, Death's Last Run, explores the death of a New York Senator's daughter on a ski run in Whistler, BC. Publisher's Weekly calls this book “engaging,” and “a believable tale of estrangement, love, lust, greed, power and revenge.” For more information, including reviews and sample chapters, click here.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Editing Success: How Do You Measure It?

Dear Potential Client,

Thank you for your recent e-mail, under the subject line “doctoring,” that sought information about my editing services by asking, “May I ask how many novels you have worked on that have been published via traditional routes?”

Of course you can ask. You have every right to. But in my experience, when a potential client starts out with this question, it ends badly.

It's sort of like going into a clinic because you know you need a diet for your health, and asking the dietician what her measurements are and what she weighs before she has a chance to find out anything about you and your needs, and how she can help you be the best version of yourself.

Or to embrace your subject line metaphor: not all people seek out doctors for the same reason. If your goal is to get rid of your cough, and the doc says the only way to do so is to stop smoking and start exercising, and you institute a new plan of walking home from work but feel you've earned the right to sneak cigarettes on the way, your emphysema will not be a reflection of the quality of help you received.

Like dieting, publishing success demands diligence applied over the long haul. You must learn the industry, polish marketing and business writing skills, network extensively, and forge the kind of can-do attitude and inner resilience that can see you through what may be years of rejection. As a developmental editor, I can't control any of that.

Image via BusinessOnLine
Reality is, getting an agent or receiving a traditional publishing contract has always been for a select few. That’s one reason “the long haul” is effective—eventually, competition from debut authors with your commensurate level of increasing skill will drop away.

What I can do: help you develop that skill. You will grow in your appreciation of story and gain experience collaborating with an editor. You will experience that rush that always comes when your writing grows in both confidence and nuance. I will honor your creativity by delving deeply into your project and analyzing the best structures for supporting its meaning. In my experience, it is those who treasure these benefits—as opposed to those who are looking for the bottom line—who have what it takes to go the distance.

A warning: “going the distance” often means hiring me for another edit, since once you’ve gone in and made changes, it is possible that you’ve unwittingly introduced new issues that must be addressed. Like any learning, it’s a process, and your dedication to it is key.

So, dear potential client, let’s start again. Maybe you could tell me a bit about you, your manuscript (a paragraph synopsis including genre would be fine, since I don't work with all genres), and your publishing goals?

I appreciate your indulgence. The art of writing means very much to me, and I am looking to work with people who feel the same way. Like any art, writing will demand more of you than you have the right to demand of it. The unexpected rewards will enrich your life.

Since I've only been editing for seven years, and my clients vary wildly with regard to both skill and their ability to devote time to their craft, not all of them have yet published—but those who seek this goal are significantly closer. If your measure of success is the rapid accumulation of money from book sales by the end of this year, we may not be the best fit. Not because it’s not a lovely dream—it's one that motivates many of us. And not because I don't want to bother sending off the results list you requested, in time. But starting off an inquiry with results does not point the spotlight where it is most relevant: on your manuscript, and the effort you are willing to spend to make it the best it can possibly be.

If you are excited by what I have to offer, I look forward to hearing from you. If not, please understand, as I have come to, that not every writer/editor combination is a good fit. I truly wish you the best of luck on your publishing journey.

Signed,

Your Developmental Editor

P.S. For our readers: what is your measure of success, whether in writing, publishing, or working with an editor?



Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation service specializing in effective storytelling. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, is due out by Sourcebooks in January 2014. She blogs at The Fine Art of VisitingConnect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Twitter Don'ts

If done right, social media can be an effective tool for selling books. A while back, when I began to write seriously, I set up a Twitter account and tweeted four times daily. Some swore that was too much, but it seemed to work for me. My tweets were often about a blog I'd written, an aspect of writing, or one of my books.

When the Facebook revolution began, I followed the masses to the pretty and popular place. A page on Facebook looked almost like a website, but could easily be updated. I could post longer messages than on Twitter, plus more pictures.

@MorganMandel
I was really getting into the Facebook scene, when lo and behold, I was surprised to learn from fellow-author, Bob Sanchez, that Twitter, which I'd thought had become unpopular, had regained steam. Not only that, Bob, as well as many other authors, were successfully using Twitter to promote books. Shonell Bacon posted an article here, called "Using Twitter to Promote Your Book".

And, now, back to my experience - 
Although I kept my Facebook account and faithfully updated it, I began to pay more attention to Twitter. In the process, I learned a few things about what not to do. For the most part, I follow my own advice, but do make exceptions. Below is a list of my don'ts and personal exceptions.

Don't:
1. Don't waste time on inconsequentials. Meals, movies you've seen, what your dog or cat looks like or does, yours or someone else's health problems, relationship problems, those are topics best for Facebook's personal page, if you wish to share them at all. My exception is award shows for music or movies. I love tweeting about what people are wearing, how they're singing, or what songs or movies won or lost. It's like a virtual party, where we can share joys or disappointments.

2. Don't get political. I confess to breaking that rule at times, but not often. Many people feel strongly about politics. Being on the other side can raise a red flag and make them unfollow you. Now, there are some authors who make it their business to strongly impose their political views everywhere and at anytime. Depending on their type of books and audience, doing so may work for them. However, to reach a large audience of as many readers as you can, it's best not to get mired in politics.

3. Don't heavily endorse or make fun of a religion. If something of major concern is happening, and it impacts religious news and views, such as recently when the new Pope was elected, I sent out some tweets, but for the most part, I steer away from posting my religious views, and don't make fun of what others believe.

4. Don't follow weird people or ones with gimmicks. I get lots of notifications about followers who are touting methods to gain enormous amounts of Twitter followers. I also see notifications about followers who promote ways to make money. Then there are followers who look strange or even a bit lewd. I don't follow them back. They are of no use to me.

5. Don't follow people who don't follow you back, unless you have good reason. There are people out there who will follow you on Twitter, and once they've snared you as their follower, will unfollow you. Thanks to services such as http://justunfollow.com or http://friendorfollow.com, you can weed these tricksters out and unfollow them, so as to make room for true followers. It makes little sense to waste your precious follower count on those who don't see what you tweet. As with anything else, there are exceptions. You might like to follow someone who is noted for offering advice about writing or another topic you're interested in, or you might like to follow a news source.

Maybe you know a Twitter Don't I've not listed here, or would like to comment on one of the don'ts I've mentioned. I invite you to do so below.




Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My Dreams. Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse.  Romantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two Wrongs. Twitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Chick Lit Faves 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Making a Thriller (Continued)

We continue with our story seed featuring Dick, love interest Sally, bossy Jane, jealous Ted, and the meteor streaking toward earth. If we select the Thriller and Suspense skeleton, the overall story problem becomes the catastrophic danger that must be averted: the meteor.

If we choose the Psychological Thriller, there is a cat and mouse battle between Dick and Ted or Jane. Dick isn’t certain who the enemy is, but if he can’t identify him/her in time, the meteor strike erases the possibility, along with the entire cast. Sally's life could be threatened by the antagonist. Alternatively, Dick is forced to solve the mystery of the meteor strike location. Was it a space rock or something more nefarious? Can he prove it?

If we choose the Religious Thriller, Dick could be a priest or religious scholar. The plot involves a religious prophecy or the meteor is somehow tied to biblical history. Perhaps Dick finds the Arc of the Covenant actually contained a piece of meteor that bestows supernatural power to those who hold it. Ted or Jane acts as the antagonist intent on finding or keeping the power. Sally’s love for Dick makes his choice difficult to make. Will he have to sacrifice himself for the greater good? Is he willing to put her aside for the sake of truth?

If we choose the Supernatural Thriller, otherworldly elements are mixed in. The meteor strike could involve paranormal activity or superhuman power. Perhaps the meteor gave Dick superhuman strength or gave the antagonist the same. How does that change Dick’s relationship with Jane or Sally? Either Ted or Jane serves as the danger to one or all. Stopping the antagonist may require Dick to acquire superhuman strength of his own or just enough keen intelligence to find Ted’s weakness.

If we choose the Techno Thriller, the meteor strike takes on the flavor of technology gone awry. Perhaps Ted has figured out a way to steer meteors or a defense shield has been tampered with so humankind is no longer protected from meteor strikes. Dick must figure out a way to thwart Ted and save them all as Jane frets and Sally pines.

In a Thriller, the important thing is to convince your audience of the mortal threat to the cast. You can utilize twists and turns and choose any kind of ending you like: up, down, or up-down. Make the reader worry about the outcome and they will be thrilled.

For additional posts in this series check out:

Making a Thriller Part 1

Dressing Up Your Romance

Is It a Love Story?

Shifting Point of View

The Central Question


Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How to be a Weaver Bird - And Write a Great Story

Are you a peacock or a weaver bird? Some writers - peacocks - flaunt their lovely words and beg us to admire them. Others are weaver birds, patiently building a structure that’s serviceable but dull.


Some preen. Some delve.

Or so I’ve discovered from three years of judging the Writers’ Village story competition. Who wins the prizes? Peacocks or weaver birds? Neither. The cash goes to those who combine both colour and craft, preening and delving - with flair.

Here are three fast ways to blend colour and craft and write a best-selling story - or, at least, win a cash award in a story contest:

1. Draft it quickly

You have a plot idea, right? A few dramatic events? A snatch or two of dialogue? Scribble it all down as fast as you can. Don’t wait for the ‘right’ words to come to you. Clichés, stagy incidents, clumsy expressions? Welcome them. They’re fine. Just get the tale written!

Then throw it in a closet for a month.

Pluck it out with a sniff, tone it down and tune each sentence so it sings. The job should now be easy.

‘She rolled her eyes to heaven. “Joe,” she spat. “You are a lying bastard!”’

That’s formulaic. Boring. What are you really trying to express?

‘Camilla toyed with her bread stick. She wouldn’t look at me. “Is there somebody else?”
I tried to smile. “Of course, not.” I leaned back in my chair.
“That’s what you said before.” The bread stick crumbled in her hand.’

Now the incident, underplayed but loaded with body language, has gained depth.

2. Knock out the ‘show off’ language

Peacocks love to display their metaphors, fine sensibilities and erudite tropes. Tropes?  ‘Tropes’ is itself an erudite term. They wouldn’t buy it at WalMart. Why didn’t I simply write ‘tricks of style’? Because I was showing off.

‘Show off’ writing stops the reader. It says: ‘forget the story. Look at me, the author.’ In commercial fiction, we are allowed to use just one show-off expression per thousand words. More than that and our name is Umberto Eco and the reader loses the plot.

‘Literary’ works are another matter. If our name is Umberto Eco we can strut our ego in every line. Alas, our name is not Eco.

3. Firm up the structure

A good story is a ‘globed compacted thing’ (Virginia Woolf). Every word, incident and exchange of speech should support the plot. Is your structure strong? Does your story cling close to the plot? Is your first paragraph arresting and the close emphatic and clear?

Does the reader finish your story and sigh? Like somebody who has just consumed a filet de bouef without a shred of gristle?

True, you can end with a mystery or question but the reader must feel: ‘nothing could have been added or taken away from this. The story works.’

Here’s a tip. Give your tale to a friend who has no cause to love you. Ask: ‘Does it work? Can you spot my deliberate howler?’ Bless them when they frown and chortle and ask you: ‘What’s the point of all that silly chatter between Joe and Madge? Why does Joe dump her? Why doesn’t Madge protest? And what, exactly, is the wretched story all about?’

It’s music to your ears. We’re all too close to our own story to spot passages that do nothing or are obscure to the reader. Or, for that matter, stories that make no sense at all.

Just apply that three-step process. Add flair. And you’ll be points ahead of the average story contestant. Gulp, I might enjoy your story. I might love it so much that I read it three times. Worse, I may even have to pay you a cash prize!


 Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at: Writers-Village.org/Academy-intro

Monday, April 22, 2013

How do You Refill Your Well?

What do you do when you feel like you are "at the end of your rope," with no more to give? Writer and artist Julia Cameron writes in The Artist's Way that each of us has a well or a reservoir of energy and creativity that we are continually drawing from in dealing with the stresses and the demands of our lives.

But if we are always taking something out, we will eventually run dry. That's where I have been many times. When I still lived in Washington, after writing my first two novels, intense marketing, traveling, taking care of my home, hubby, and cat, as well as my various writing groups, and completing numerous editing jobs, I suddenly found my well dry. Even though the sun was shining (and that usually gives me lots of energy), I had no energy, no ambition, no creativity and no desire to do anything or go anywhere.

So I took an afternoon off, drove to my favorite beach park on Puget Sound and just sat by the water. I watched the seagulls swooping and fighting over tidbits, listened to the gentle lapping of the water, gazed at the white-blue cloudless sky and the glittering sea. I read a little, walked some, jotted down a few words in a notebook. I thought a little, but mostly I just "was."

The next day, I awoke with amazement—I had more energy, I could think, and I was eager to do things again.

I've done this before, and I seem to forget to "stop and smell the roses" when I'm in my busy, frenetic rut. Nature refills my well and helps my creativity.

Now that I live in north-central Arizona, I have other vistas to enjoy—the awesome “Granite Dells” between my new home and Prescott, great hiking trails, several lovely lakes nearby, the birds and bunnies out on our “back acre,” and sunshine—the wonderful sunshine!

What do you do to refill your well?



A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in North-central Arizona. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

Friday, April 19, 2013

World-Building 101: Geography and History

Because Modern Fantasy fiction comes in so many flavors, it’s virtually impossible to come up with a definitive recipe for writing The Perfect Fantasy Novel. What I propose to do, in this and subsequent posts, is to examine technical strategies for producing a good fantasy novel regardless of sub-genre.

One of the first distinguishing features of a fantasy novel is that it takes place in a setting defined by the imagination of the author. Where (as in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) the setting is completely detached from the mundane world as we know it, the author must reckon with the sub-creative process known in the trade as world-building.

World-building entails “realizing” your fantasy world by endowing it with features analogous to the world we know. These features include geography, history, languages, culture, and technology. As a general rule, the more “concrete” your fantasy world in terms of these attributes, the more convincing the setting becomes to your readers.

As demonstrated by Tolkien, one way to “realize” the geography of your fantasy world is by mapping it out. (I fondly remember poring over the fold-out maps of Middle Earth in the hardback editions.) Map-making has always been a feature of my own creative process – partly just because I enjoy it, but also because it lends solidarity to the fantasy world I’m trying to create. While I wouldn’t necessarily insist that every fantasy writer should map his/her world, I would certainly recommend it – especially if the plot calls for large scale action, like a war between rival powers.

Map scanned from print edition of Caledon of the Mists by Deborah Turner Harris (click to enlarge)

Even if your plot doesn’t involve armies on the march, a map is a handy device because it enables both you and your readers to keep track of the action. You don’t have to be an artist: even a rough sketch showing compass orientation and relative distance in travel time between various locations can make a world of difference when it comes to plotting out character movements.
Hand-drawn maps for Caledon of the Mists by Deborah Turner Harris (click to enlarge)
Another way to render your fantasy world more realistic and concrete is to work out those aspects of its history which have shaped the political environment your characters live in. This is often best accomplished by starting with the immediate situation and working backwards. For example, suppose the setting for your story is an island. Suppose your main character is a conscript pressed into service by the local aristocrat who’s planning to make war on a rival aristocrat on the other side of the island. To account for this situation historically, set up a chain of imaginary questions and answers:
Q: What’s the source of this rivalry?
A: Aristocrat A’s wife ran off with Aristocrat B's.

Q: Why did she run off?
A: Because she’d been married against her will in the first place to cement an alliance between Aristocrat B and her family who come from the neighboring mainland.

Q. Why did the family want this alliance?
A: Because Aristocrats A and B are both corsairs, and her family was sick of getting plundered. Etc., etc.
This kind of thinking sharpens your sense of how your world works and how your characters think. Working out these mechanics can help eliminate continuity problems at the source.

But of course, geography and history aren’t everything. In our next installment, we’ll be considering culture, technology, and nomenclature.



Debby Harris is an independent editor living in Scotland. Please visit her website for more information about her editing services and fees.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Writers as Artists?

Bas relief from Mamallapuram, India

When we first moved to Colorado, we rented a tiny studio apartment while we went house-hunting. One evening, our landlords invited us up for a glass of wine and some conversation. She is a sculptor who works primarily in stone. She mentioned that it was interesting that we were both artists.

Frankly, I'd never considered myself an artist, but we discussed our creative processes. There's an old saying that in order to carve a block of stone into an elephant, you simply chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant. In writing, you keep adding until you get the elephant.

If writing were like sculpting, it would mean being able to change what comes next, but not what came before. Scary. Really scary. I mean, I know authors who sell on synopsis, but when they write the book, it's all different. As long as it's good, there's usually no problem.

When the sculptor asked how I created a book, what my preparation process was, did I outline the plot, or develop the characters, I answered that I knew very little when I first started writing.

She said she worked the same way. She might have a very simple sketch—no more than a line drawing, when she started, and a vague idea of the finished product, but the actual sculpture was dictated by the stone. She starts working and lets the stone show her the way.

That sounds very much like my own writing style. I joked about how my characters were always surprising me, and that the discovery was as much fun as the final product. On that, we were in total agreement.

But imagine if you started writing your book and couldn't go back to fix things. Once you chip away that piece of marble, it's gone and you can't reattach it to the sculpture. I don't think there is such a thing as a 'first draft' for her. Some artists might make models first, using a different, "less valuable" kind of medium, but she likes to get right to it.

I remember going to a RWA chapter meeting, and as we shared where we were with our writing since the last meeting, one woman said, "I'm on Chapter 30 and have only 5 chapters left to go." I was flabbergasted. How did she know what was going to go into each chapter, and that much in advance? How did she know her book was going to be 35 chapters long? My last book ended up going on for about 4 chapters more after I was writing what I thought would be the final chapter. And my editor asked me to expand. Glad I wasn't a sculptor!


What's your writing style? Discover as you go? Outline? Do you know your entire book's structure, including how many chapters, before you start?

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Inspiration or Perspiration: Which is Most Important?

Well, of course, we know it’s both. Anyone who has undertaken the daunting task to actually write and complete a book knows that no choice really exists.  I wrote in January about Inspiration, but this one is more about her evil twin: Work. 

Yes, you need the initial inspiration to even talk yourself into starting. And, often, that beginning breath of the gods will take you a long way—through the opening, into the major conflicts, your oh-so-well-drawn characters jumping to life and racing around the first turn and even (hopefully) into the backstretch.

Image Courtesy of http://www.horse-races.net/clip/
 Ah, we love that muse, and prime her in every way we can think of! We feed her with all the sweet nothings whispered into her ear, with the promise of carrots at the end of our writing day. And she always responds. At least initially. 

And then, often, we run smack dab into a soft spot on the rail. Sometimes writers hit a wall but, usually, it’s more of a bogging down. Where did all that momentum go? 

It jumped straight off the track and landed in the soggy infield of slaughtered dreams.

I can’t begin to recount all the stories I hear from writers regarding this. Some try to press through, floundering as if with one leg tied behind their backs. Jockey-less. That writing muscle cramped up as in a lactic-acid meltdown.  So very many writers quit here altogether, or begin another book, only to at some point stop that one and begin another...  I hear often, “I was so inspired, I wrote 20,000 words in nothing flat. But then the trail went cold and now I can’t write until I get another breath of it.” 

Phooey! As professionals, we all know this is when the perspiration part comes in. We know all too well that while amateurs rely on inspiration, professionals know that fortitude and courage must now take over. If a deadline exists, well, we whip ourselves in the rump and spur that pony on. The feed bill has to be paid! 

And I actually think this is the best-case scenario—you have no choice but to press on. Because it’s oh-so-easy to stop and bemoan the lack of inspiration to write. But that is only a trick of the mind. 

I often suggest a couple of things here. The very best is to take one of your major characters out of the book and into a scenario that occurred a decade before. Or in childhood or adolescence. This piece isn’t to be included in the book, but it can be a short story you can sell down the road. Just take her away and include none of the rest of the characters, putting her into a scenario with a huge conflict. Begin writing her there and follow her where she takes you, with no attention to your prose or structure or anything, but rather, stream-of-consciousness. Not only will this cleanse your palate, but you’ll also learn something about her you can use in the book, once you get back to it.

Another is to just write something entirely different, even if it’s a response to Dear Abby. Just write. 

And then, circle back to your book. Write. Take the last passage you have, and go. It may be awful. It may take your story a way you ultimately toss. None of that matters. You don’t care that this workman-like prose doesn’t have the zing of the inspired brilliance of before. That’s not the point. The point is you’re doing it. 

Somewhere, along the far turn, you’ll find yourself racing again, getting ready for the homestretch, the breath of the gods back in your face, the finish line in sight. And often, you won’t even remember when you turned back on.

Because as Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

With this latest release, award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has five traditionally-published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at: MaloneEditorial.com

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Mild Case of Conjunctivitis


Hello, dearies! You’ll forgive my slovenly attire today, won’t you? Donna Reed might have pulled off the pearls-and-heels look whilst cleaning house, but your Style Maven has better luck with jeans and T-shirts.

Especially considering what was under the fridge; egad.

It was at some point during my third cappuccino break that my mind started wandering down the to-do list. “Laundry, dishes, lunch, aaaand …” And I gave up right there, I must confess, thanks to the sidetracking effects of conjunctivitis.

Not pinkeye; it’s not my shade at all. I mean I was captivated by those lovely little words that connect clauses and sentences. They’re more important than you might think. In fact, the Chicago Manual of Style devotes quite a bit of space to the subject. For the sake of a fresh espresso and some dust-free clothes, we’ll pare it down to a few paragraphs today.

Conjunctions can range from simple, one-word examples such as if, and, or but to elaborate phrases like as though and provided that. Most conjunctions fall into one of two classes: coordinating and subordinating. According to the CMOS, coordinating conjunctions “join words or groups of words of equal grammatical rank, such as two nouns, two verbs, two phrases, or two clauses.”

An example of the use of a coordinating conjunction would be Do you plan to loan this dress to her or to me? Subordinating conjunctions introduce clauses that are dependent on the independent clause, as in My tailor promised that he could mend that sleeve.

Hm. Methinks I need a mocha after that little bit of insight.

There are adversative conjunctions, which denote contrasts, such as Her jewelry is cheap but effective. You’ll also find distinctive conjunctions, which provide contrasts. I can’t decide between the heels or the flats. There are also copulative conjunctions, which don’t mean anything like what you’re thinking. They’re used to denote additional facts. Shopping for a cocktail dress was no less stultifying than the party itself.

Dear me, I’m in need of a long soak and a nap. Oo, I think I've just found a new kind of conjunction: restorative! Enjoy the rest of your day, and remember, a well-turned phrase is always in style!


After the Great Dust Bunny Eviction, 
the Style Maven was rewarded for her efforts with a heretofore undiscovered cache of yarn. When not dreaming of the perfect Fair Isle, she can be found thumbing through garden catalogs, circling typos and pondering the merits of French Breakfast radishes.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Starving Artists

The Poor Poet by Carl Spitzweg
I have a four-year-old grandson who I think is musically talented. In fact, I think he is gifted, although I suppose it is remotely possible that I am a tiny bit prejudiced. But what is my grandson doing in a blog post about writing? 

He’s here because I want my grandson to live a happy and fulfilled life, and I fear that he will begin to hear those voices in his head shooting him the very same line of BS that I got when I first knew I wanted to be a writer. These voices are familiar to all American artists, whatever their art form.

Art is just a hobby, not a profession. You can’t make money at music, writing, acting, painting, etc.  – unless you are really really lucky and become Beyonce or Dan Brown or Judy Chicago – you have about the same chance of becoming rich in the arts as you do of winning the lottery. Make sure you train for something else to fall back on, because you will need it. People who try to become artists are immature Peter Pan types who don’t want to grow up and face the real world. Most artists end up broke or mooching on their relatives. Artists are selfish types who are always looking to others to support them. Arts are an extra.


Do any of these sound familiar to you?

One of the things I find ironic and infuriating is that the same negative messages are true for athletics also, yet sports does not get this treatment nearly as often or as stridently as the arts do. Children are encouraged, even expected, to try their hand – and other body parts – at sports.

What if we encouraged budding artists the same way? Arts are the heart of any society; we need artists. What if we actually compensated artists for their contributions to society – and not just the tiny percentage who manage to rise to the top? What if painters and sculptors and poets and trombone players made as much money as corporate executives and engineers and doctors?

What would have happened if Mozart, Beethoven, Shakespeare, Van Gogh – or to take American examples,  Yo Yo Ma, Ray Charles, Meryl Streep, Ansel Adams, Ernest Hemingway, Toni Morrison – what if they had given in to those negative messages and gave up their dreams? Our society would be unrecognizable if there were no artists. In fact, our society would be dead without them.


What if my grandson were encouraged to become a musician? Would that be so bad? Would he really be condemned to starving in a garret? What if we encouraged children to explore and develop their artistic side? Perhaps we would have a nation of art lovers, instead of money lovers and sports fanatics.

Perhaps that would be just as good, or maybe, just maybe, even better.


Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 40 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit http://www.primary-sources.com/.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Heed the Warnings and Survive the Storm

Amidst blizzard predictions and admonitions to stay inside, I contemplated the whimsies of springtime in the Rockies and their similarities to the writing profession. Meteorologists warn of pending storms, share survival techniques, and urge us to carry emergency packs if we venture out during dangerous conditions. In like manner, editors, publicists, designers, fellow writers, BRP, and more warn of potential snares along the writing trail, pass on techniques for circumventing those dangers, and urge us to form support networks for emergencies that threaten our writing progress.

All this is great—but it works only if we heed the warnings, prepare for the storms, and have a contingency plan. Are we excuse makers or listeners? Let’s consider some mindsets that send us into inclement writing weather without protection against the elements of failure.

This is my story. Only I can tell it the way it needs to be told. Do you believe your story is one-of-a-kind, a topic that has never been addressed in book? It has been stated on good authority that nothing new exists under the sun. However, the same story can be told in myriad ways. Your presentation, not your story, is unique. Just remember that certain techniques have been shown to keep that presentation consistent and on track, no matter what the weather.

Have you created character sketches? Unless you are blessed with the rare gift of total recall, you may have cousin Matilda skinny and green-eyed in the beginning of the story and fat, bespectacled, and brown-eyed in the climax. Or the single, childless friend of the protagonist may inexplicably show up with a husband and three biological children in chapter thirteen.

Did you make an outline? Every twist and turn need not be detailed on paper—and your story may not follow it in its entirety—but an outline provides a starting point and a path to guide you through the challenging first pages of your book until your characters take over and dictate their story to you. (Of course, you have to keep an eye on them so they don’t go too far afield.) Unexpected digressions may lead you down a cobblestone walkway that didn’t make it into that outline, but don’t let that unnerve you. Keeping your characters true to themselves and the main thread of your story in sight allow for occasional side trips as long as they relate to the story and move it forward.

I don’t want to share my work with anyone until it’s copyrighted. I’m afraid somebody will steal it, so don’t even suggest sending it to an editor. It’s amazing how often I’ve heard a variation of this from writers of poorly executed manuscripts. (Yes, after guaranteeing in writing the safety of their intellectual property, I have edited their books.) Bottom line: professional integrity dictates that an editor never compromises an author’s work in any manner. This is a good reason to ask an unknown editor for references, and check them out. Or ask members of your writing group to recommend someone. Remember that “professional editor” is not synonymous with high school English teacher, college professor, or Aunt Mary—who just loves a great novel.

I was pretty good in art when I was in school. Why should I pay a cover designer to do what I can do myself for free? As an agent of free choice, you just freely undermined your first great marketing tool. Your book cover is your calling card, and you never get a second chance to make that first impression. Cover designers know how to create a relevant cover that will appeal to your target audience. They know what they’re doing. And they know the market. Chances are you know neither.

Why do I need a publicist? With a million plus books published annually, the market is overwhelmed. Most new books are almost as visible as that proverbial needle in a haystack; so, at the very least, consult with a pro who knows how to reach your audience. She can point you in the right direction if you’re determined to do your own marketing.

Do you heed the warnings? Have you tried going it alone and found you needed a team? What advice do you have for newbies who are just dipping their toes into the writing pool? Yes, we’ve touched before on these issues, but they bear repeating. We want all our followers to weather the storms and find success on their writing trails.

Linda Lane is finishing up the last of her editing jobs and chomping at the bit to get back to her works in progress. Soon her new website, lindasbooknook.com, will be completed, and all readers and writers are invited to stop by, stay awhile, ask questions, share stories, and become a part of our new writing community.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Getting It Right

If you're stuck on how to spell a word, you can turn to a dictionary. If you want a word that's more specific than the word in your head, you can look in a thesaurus.

Sometimes, though, you may feel that what you need can't be found in a book. For example, one of the characters in your book is a police officer, but you, personally, know nothing or very little about being an officer or following police procedures. If you have time, you can probably find a class on police procedure at your local college or junior college. You might also know someone who works for your local police department who can help you with information or an answer to a question.

Before you do that, though, do some research. The police or contact person with the police can't give you the answer you want unless you know what you want. You're going to have to narrow down your question. Rather than asking how police investigate a crime scene, try to narrow it down to specifically what you need to know.

To narrow down your question, you can turn to books. For example, I have a textbook called Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures and Forensic Techniques. It's the second edition and it's pretty old (1993), but I still check it first for the basics.

For most subjects, it's fairly easy to do research. And sometimes you can ask experts, either in person on online.

For example, there's a guy online who can be a good source: Lee Lofland --   He has a Writer's Digest book called Police Procedure & Investigation. You can also check out his blog, The Graveyard Shift

You may be thinking that you don't really need to do the research because your editor will catch any mistakes. Unless your editor is an expert in police procedure -- or whatever your topic is -- she probably won't catch it. There are plenty of things that your editor will catch, from spelling to commas to punctuation to characters who change names mid-book to the overall story line. Unless you hire and pay an editor or researcher to do the work, it's up to you. Even if you can afford to do that, though, it's good for you to know as much as you can about the topic or job or setting.


Helen Ginger
is an author, blogger, and the Coordinator of Story Circle Network's Editorial Services and writing coach. She teaches public speaking as well as writing and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its fourteenth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Angel Sometimes, and two of her short stories can be found in the anthology, The Corner Cafe. Her next book, Dismembering the Past, is due out in Spring 2013.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Time Out For a Little Fun

Here we are looking at the middle of another month and it seems like just last week I posted something just for fun. This week, I found two comic strips that seemed worth sharing.


The first one is from Pickles:

Earl is busy plunking away on an old typewriter when Opal comes in and asks "What on earth made you decide to write a memoir, Earl?"

"I just thought it would be a shame not to put down on paper all the wisdom that I've acquired over my long lifetime."

"So how much longer do you think it'll take you to put all that wisdom down on paper?"

Earl pulls a page out of the typewriter with a flourish. "All done!"

"Wow, almost a whole page."

What Opal doesn't understand is that sometimes a whole page is a major accomplishment, isn't it?

This other one is from Pearls Before Swine:

Goat and Pig are having coffee and Goat asks, "What are you doing, Pig?"

"Reading this text from my neighbor Bob. He's the one Rat's always fighting with."

'"What did he say?"

"That he wants to be friends."

"Oh, yeah? What's he propose?"

"He's asking if we think we could handle getting some coffee together."

"What a nice gesture. You should tell him you'll treat him."

"Oh, that would be so special. I'll do it."

Then Pig sends a text message to Bob: "I'll… treat you."

All of a sudden Pig says, "Oops."

Goat asks, "What happened?"

"Autocorrect."

The autocorrect message reads: I'll threaten you.

Goat says, "That's a slightly different message."

"Oh, look. He has a special message back."

So, as Heidi wrote here last week, be careful of word usage. 


Maryann Miller
is a novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her latest release is Stalking Season, the second book in the Seasons Series. The first book, Open Season, is available as an e-book for all devices. To check out her editing rates visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. Sometimes she plays on stage, but she does avoid computer games as much as possible.
 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Punctuation - Is There Any Point To It?

What do new authors hate even more than agents who don’t acknowledge their manuscripts? The apostrophe! Why? It’s like a Christmas gift from an uncle with poor taste. They don’t know where to put it.


That was clearly the dilemma of councillors in Mid-Devon this month when they ruled to banish all apostrophes from the county’s street names ‘to avoid confusion’. At a stroke, or lack of it, they have turned ‘Baker’s View’ into ‘Bakers View’, a haiku of enchanting ambiguity.

Does ‘Bakers View’ still mean a view once taken by Sir Samuel Baker, the Victorian explorer, after whom the street was named? Or a stance traditionally assumed by local bakers at the summer solstice when they gather to view the rising of the dough? Or does it now mean nothing at all, like a novel by Martin Amis?

Yes, punctuation matters!

It’s also a dilemma. If we get it wrong as authors, agents won’t read beyond our cover letter. Get it right and somebody in a different culture will chide us for illiteracy. Because punctuation is not a science. Like spelling, it varies with the culture.

For example, do we use single quotation marks for reported speech, or double ones? Americans favor double quotes; British authors use single ones. So nested quotations can become as challenging as a computer algorithm. A Brit author might write (and I quote): ‘“According to Fowler, ‘it is not always necessary to place quotation marks around an “odd” word’,” he said.’

A New York publisher would attempt to transpose those quote marks into ‘American’ usage, go mad and strike out the entire sentence in despair.

And should we put a comma or colon in front of quoted speech, as in: ‘he said, “Good morning.”’? An academic would use a colon, American novelists a comma, and British authors - taking their cue from James Joyce - might use neither. After all, the ‘open quote’ mark is perfectly adequate by itself to indicate the start of a speech statement. A comma or colon is superfluous, a mere tic of culture.

For a look at the accepted American use of quotes Heidi Thomas posted an excellent article here in her Grammar ABCs series.

Commas are great rogues in other respects.

Until the 18th century, most literary works were written to be read aloud and a comma indicated where the reader should draw breath. (That’s why every line in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales breaks in the middle. Breathe in!) As more people became literate, and literary works were written increasingly for the eye, the comma became an instrument of logic not voice. It marked the rational units in an argument.

But some authors still write for the voice and use commas in the way that Chaucer intended. ‘He wandered down the path, and plucked a rose.’ Modern copy editors, especially in America, would strike out that comma. Superfluous! they’d cry. But is it? Not at all. It modulates the cadence. A comma is an instruction to the voice, and it can licitly appear before a conjunction, or anything else, as here.

The punctuation war grows fierce when debating the allocation of full stops in reported speech. Nobody would deny that, in a sentence entirely enclosed in quotation marks, the full stop or period should come before the final quote mark, as in the following sentence. “Here is an example.” But what if the sentence contains other matter before the quote? In that case, a Brit would put the full stop after the quotation mark. For example: ‘He said, “This is an example”.’ An American would write: ‘He said, “This is an example.”’

The American usage is neater but the British form is more logical. The purpose of a full stop is to close a unit of meaning. So it must go at the end of a sentence. Mustn’t it? Our variances in usage are perverse. A tic of culture.

The semi-colon is an endangered species.

At least there’s one punctuation mark on which both Americans and Brits are in total agreement: the semi-colon. That’s because neither of us use it any more. Apart from a few apocryphal glimpses in John le Carré novels, the semi-colon has vanished from the English landscape along with the colon. No doubt, the predation of copy editors is to blame. Upon sight of a semi-colon, they reach for their style books, shoot it down and insert a full stop.

All readers of The Blood-Red Pencil should make a stand against the tyranny of style books and insert a semi-colon in their stories at once. At best, it might improve the cadence of our tales; at worst, it will reward our copy editors with gainful employment.

What do you think about punctuation? Does it really matter, provided our meaning is clear? Or should we follow the style books in a quest for rigor?


 Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at: Writers-Village.org/Academy-intro



Monday, April 8, 2013

Using Twitter to Promote Your Book

Last week, I released my first novella, Saying No to the Big O [Amazon | Smashwords].


Instead of reading a book description, you can view the trailer for SN2BO below.


As I began promoting Saying No to the Big O, I thought about how I would use Twitter in the promotions. I tweeted the obvious posts that brought people to my Website to read the novella's description, to watch the trailer, to read a sample, and to read commentaries I wrote on the novella, but I wanted to do something that was fun and intriguing and that would be a challenge for me. Back when I was promoting my mystery Into the Web, I pulled several lines from the story and tweeted them along with the link to purchase the novel. Tweeting lines from the story generated a lot of interest. Many people messaged me to talk about how much they enjoyed the tweets, many retweeted the lines, and others went directly to the purchase link to buy a copy of the novel.

With the success of the tweets, I decided to do it again for Saying No to the Big O; here are a few of those tweets:

  • “I’m a sexual person. I sleep with a lot of men. Have done so for a long time. A week can’t change what’s me.”
  • “Perhaps if you were happy, you wouldn’t look around thinking everyone with someone was boring.”
  • “I can be any man’s type.”
  • “We don’t do coffee, Daph. And we definitely don’t do much talking. We have sex.”

I wanted to find lines that would pull potential readers in. I wanted them thinking, "Who is saying that?" "What's going on in this scene?" "Why would s/he say that?"

Anyone that uses Twitter knows that it can be difficult to say one "good" thing in 140 characters. I enjoyed that challenge, scouring the book to find a line, a phrase that might be good enough to quirk an eyebrow and get a reader clicking to learn more about the story.

I plan to do more scouring soon for more lines from the story, and I also plan to write some character sketch tweets to give readers some insight into the characters of the story. I'm also thinking about generating tweets in the voices of some of the characters, too.

As you promote your books, what are ways in which you use Twitter?



Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both academically and creatively while also interviewing women writers on her popular blog, ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. In 2012, her second mystery, Into the Web and her short story "I Wanna Get Off Here" (in the short story collection, The Corner Cafe) were published. Her first novella, Saying No to the Big O, was published April 2, 2013. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University ... and trying to find the time to WRITE.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Countdown to a Book 7: Five Tips for Getting Blurbs

This last month was a reminder that publishing is not for the faint of heart, the faint of spirit, or anyone who had trouble selling her assigned box of Girl Scout cookies.

photo credit: pam's pics- via photopin cc

Now…ahem…a few years later, I have once again donned the sash, it would seem—only this one says “Author”—and I find myself knocking on the digital doors of esteemed strangers, begging them to lavish their nonexistent spare time and goodwill upon an untested product, without even the promise of a sugar high in return.

And so began, this past month, the cringe-worthy task of begging for blurbs.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the process.

1. Aim high.
How high? High enough to draw attention and bring you an audience (you’ll want a blurb worthy of your personal anguish in asking for it), but just below the mega-stars’ “no blurb” policies. Yet it can be a trick identifying authors in that sweet spot. Amazon rankings may offer some clue—in general, a rank of fifteen thousand in books is a heck of a lot better than seven million, for example—but the rankings are fickle, subject as they are to the latest giveaways and promotional trends. The only sure-fire way to know whether an author is “worth approaching” is to ask your publisher to check BookScan.

2. Use any interpersonal means available to you.
The more direct and personal the request, the harder it is to turn down. In order to dampen the influx of such demands, busier authors protect their time by making themselves notoriously difficult to contact. If an e-mail address or website contact form is not an option, many authors do have direct messaging enabled on their Facebook fan pages (although perhaps not after this post).

3. You are not alone.
My editors, my agent, and I divvied up the work according to our connections. But consider other lifelines as well, such as your friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend network; someone may be willing to forward your request to the author’s personal e-mail account. Asking the author’s agent or editor to forward the request may feel like a last resort, yet even these intermediaries may be allies, with their own marketing reasons to suggest that the author say yes.

4. Re-frame “blurb begging” in a way that will allow you to feel better about it.
My inner Girl Scout has been in such turmoil that I finally reframed this goddawful task in a way that made me love it. While asking for the blurb, I decided to use the request as an opportunity to pay homage to the authors who have influenced my life and my writing. Then, if I’m turned down (as happens most of the time), the note was still a major success.

5. Are you pre-book deal? Make connections in your genre now. 
I didn’t—and I regret it. As a generalist who enjoys cross-fertilization, I’ve networked with writers in a wide variety of organizations, conferences, forums, and loops (note the diversity of the Blood-Red Pencil contributors), and among them are several with bestselling titles—but almost none of them in the women’s fiction/book club fiction/"accessible literary" market I am targeting. Honestly? I knew one—and thank goodness she agreed to write a blurb! What I'd never stopped to consider is that blurbs must come from the writers who are most like you. This is a matter both of taste and marketing savvy. Not one of my readers will care if a bestselling YA or horror or crime writer likes my work. Even within my genre, not all women’s fiction is created equal—someone writing historicals, for instance, would confuse the heck out of their own readers by endorsing my contemporary work.

So here’s where we are: we’ve sent out our requests, I’ve paid homage, the ARC deadline of April 22 looms, and…we wait.

Ah well. Traditional publishing is one long lesson in “Control what you can and surrender the rest.”

Oh yeah, and waiting.

And second-guessing yourself: Could I have maximized my chances of getting a blurb by sending along a box of Girl Scout cookies?

How about you? Considering the type of story you write, if you could pay homage and obtain a blurb from any writer in the universe—who would be your heart’s desire? And which Girl Scout cookies would you send?

Just catching up? Here are links to the other posts in this series:
Countdown to a Book 1: Joining Hands
Countdown to a Book 2: Pitching
Countdown to a Book 3: Getting My Agent
Countdown to a Book 4: Developmental Editing
Countdown to a Book 5: All About Image
Countdown to a Book 6: From Writer to Author



Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," details the traditional publication of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks in January 2014. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Grammar ABCs: U is for Use

I have several word pet peeves. One is “snuck”, which I have written about previously. Another is 9 a.m. in the morning. (Think about it! As opposed to 9 a.m. in the evening?)

My word of the month is “Utilize”. Utilize is one of those fluffed up, pretentious, supposedly intellectual “dollar” words that people use when they want to sound smart. Many times we see it in PR copy: If you utilize this product, you will be better/stronger/smarter/richer etc. But I often see it in plain old prose: He utilized the rake to clean up the yard. Aw, come on.

There is a perfectly acceptable, three-letter word you can “use” instead. That’s it—USE. He used the rake to clean the yard. If you use this product you will___. Simple. Utilitarian. Easy. And do NOT use the even fluffier, more pretentious verb form: “utilization.” Ugh.

Here are the definitions of the two words:
Use: take, hold, or deploy (something) as a means of accomplishing or achieving something; employ—Oxford English Dictionary.
Utilize: to make or render useful; to convert to use, turn to account—Oxford English Dictionary. It implies taking something and using it for an intended purpose (convert to use).

“Utilize” is a legitimate word, borrowed from French, and has specific uses, usually in scientific writing. It is used in contexts in which a strategy is put to practical advantage or a chemical or nutrient is being taken up and used effectively.” For example, according to the American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style, you might hear “utilize” properly used in a sentence such as If a diet contains too much phosphorus, calcium is not utilized efficiently.

But if you are a regular person writing a regular sentence for advertising copy or a novel, you should probably just stick with the word “use.”

How do you feel about use/utilize?


A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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