Tag Archives: writing process

The Prodigal’s homecoming – Keogh’s voyage

Self-Publishing: What used to be the last resort of an amateur writer is becoming Plan A for many professional authors wanting more control over their creations — and more revenue from their sales.  For a growing number of authors it’s at least Plan B. That is, we initially published with a traditional or independent press but soon felt we could do a better job ourselves, selling the book for less (and keeping all of the revenue instead of the standard ten to fifteen percent). Of course there are production and marketing costs — which are large — but fully under our own control. Authors as publishers — it’s becoming the new norm.

One such author is S.K. Keogh who is pleased to announce The Prodigal, book one of The Jack Mallory Chronicles, has recently been re-released — this time with Leighlin House Publishing, an imprint she owns and operates. Book two, The Alliance, and  Book three, The Fortune, are already sailing under the Leighlin House banner. The fleet is together now, with Keogh at the helm.

If you’re new to S.K. Keogh’s historical fiction, the stories are realistic adventures set in Colonial America during the age of piracy. Rousing good reads, they feature the anti-hero protagonist Jack Mallory — along with other compelling and complex characters, both male and female.

Susan (S.K.) and I have long been supportive of each other’s work. I asked her to share some of her thoughts and experiences on writing and publishing with us, in conjunction with the news of Prodigal’s re-release.

 

WHEN YOUR [BOOK] CHILD RETURNS HOME

S.K. Keogh

I’m sure my writing journey is similar to that of other writers of my generation (I’m 52). Growing up, I was an avid reader, and that interest naturally morphed into a desire to write my own stories. First young adult, then Westerns, then contemporary, now historical. None of my early works ever made it to the world of publishing, of course.

Back then submitting a novel to publishers meant writing query letters (the physical kind you sent through the U.S. mail, not the electronic kind) to the myriad of publishing houses, most in New York City, after scouring the thick Writers Market listings for someone interested in your genre. (Nowadays you can’t even query a New York publisher without an agent to do it for you.) Then, if you were lucky, an editor would request to see your manuscript, and you’d cram that ream of paper into a box, say a prayer, and mail it through the U.S. postal service.

Much has changed since those days, and I’m not just referring to the process of querying. Now the publishing industry has shrunk to three options for today’s writers: get an agent who can query the handful of big publishers (who won’t invest much time or money into you because you are an unknown); directly query small publishing houses (who have even less money for promotions than the big houses); or self-published.

In 2012, my historical action/adventure novel, The Prodigal, was published through a small press. I won’t go into all the gory details, but let me just say it wasn’t what I expected. My displeasure grew over the years, so I decided to start proceedings to reacquire my rights to the novel. I’m happy to say, I succeeded and have just re-released The Prodigal under my own imprint.

Yep, independently published, just like the two novels that follow The Prodigal — The Alliance and The Fortune.

To me, with a lesser-read genre like nautical fiction written by a relative unknown, independent publishing is a viable option. Small publishers take most of your money and give you very little in return. You might as well keep your rights, publish your work with the cover and content you want, work your tail off to promote it (which is what you would do even with a small press), and collect the majority of the profit yourself. Why shouldn’t you? You’re the one who did all the work. Research is costly. Promoting can be costly. Writing is not easy. And neither is publishing.

But that book is your baby, your blood, sweat, and tears. And sometimes it’s better to keep it at home (self-publish) then let it go out into the wide, wild world of indifferent publishing houses. There’s nothing wrong with that. I know I’m happy that my baby came home.

The Prodigal

A story of relentless pursuit, betrayal, and revenge:

As a young boy Jack Mallory knows horror and desolation when James Logan and his pirates murder his father and abduct his mother. Falsely accused of piracy himself, Jack is thrown into jail. He survives seven years in London’s notorious Newgate prison and emerges a hardened man seeking revenge.
His obsession with finding his mother’s kidnapper drives him to the West Indies where he becomes entangled with a fiery young woman named Maria Cordero. With a score of her own to settle with James Logan, she disguises her gender and blackmails Jack into taking her aboard his pirate brig, Prodigal, in his desperate search for Logan. Their tumultuous relationship simmers while Jack formulates a daring plan to rescue his mother and exact revenge upon Logan for destroying his family. But Logan has no intentions of losing what he now treasures more than life itself—Jack’s mother, Ella.

 

Find out more about the Jack Mallory trilogy and forthcoming works on S.K. Keogh’s author website and on Goodreads. Follow her on Facebook and as @JackMallory on Twitter.

 

 

 

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Stretching Silver Through Blue Haze

Stretching Silver Through Blue Haze

— a marriage of poetry & visual art

 

Stretching Silver through Blue Haze is a collection of 38 poems by Lawrence Gregory and 21 photographs by Birgit Gutsche, of Taos, New Mexico.

82 pages, 21 photographs softbound; Shanti Arts, 2017

 

I was first introduced to (and became enamored of) Lawrence Gregory’s poems in Steamboat Springs Colorado, where I heard him read Hutterite Strawberries (included in the book), a sensual recollection of an incident one summer in Montana. The newly released book was my first introduction to Birgit Gutsche’s award-winning art — her elemental imagery ranges from beautifully and elegantly stark to playful.

The publication might be classified as an illustrated poetry book but is perhaps better described as a moving juxtaposition of poems and images, a metaphorical dance of observations, a conversation of memories between lovers who have long known each other.

For me, Stretching Silver Through Blue Haze is a way of seeing, of observing, of remembering. Noticing is all that really mattered, Lawrence writes in the poem This November Day (included).  His writing reveal an inner tension, a coupling of desire and regret, a landscape of longing.

I asked Lawrence and Birgit to tell me more about what inspired this book and how their collaborative process worked, as poet and photographer, as partners, as husband and wife.

Lawrence responds:

I didn’t write a single poem to respond to or elaborate on a photo that Birgit had taken. But as I went through the process of choosing poems (and re-working most all of them to one degree or another) I sometimes flashed on one of her images. Indeed, the more I worked on the collection, the more I’d flash on her photos. This was partly to do the fact that Birgit and I were reviewing her portfolio a lot at this time as she worked on her website; submitted work to publications; applied for admission to galleries; etc. She was getting herself established in the Taos art scene at the same time I began the book project. So, there was a lot of that energy flowing in the household ethers.

So, that was part of it. But perhaps a more significant factor leading to the collaboration, is the fact that so many of the poems came out of experiences the two of us shared…experiences I noted in journals and that she recorded with her camera. I think it’s totally understandable that so many of her photos seem to “fit” with the poems. It may, indeed, be serendipity. But I’ve a hunch there’s more to it. We’re both expressing a certain soulful/visceral response to experiences we shared. Shared experience but processed individually.

I also need to mention many of the poems in this collection are a direct reflection of Birgit as my muse. Yeah, she’s definitely my muse. One of them, anyway.

At some point in the process I asked Birgit if she’d be willing to let me use some of her photos; she wholeheartedly agreed. I had some specific images in mind for certain poems; for others, I asked her to suggest a few possibilities . . .There were, of course, quite a few poems I did not want associated with a photograph. Also, there were a couple that I felt begged for an image that did not exist. So, I read those poems to Birgit and asked if she’d be willing to go out and make an image that fit. What she came back with was stunning.

What I think is fascinating about this book is the way it illustrates the fact that Birgit tends to think and communicate pictorially. She reveals her soul — dare I use that term in this day and age? — in her images. At the same time, her photographs invite the viewer to consider something deeply personal. I, on the other hand, am a verbal communicator — with a lot of silence thrown into the mix. We have a strong relationship but we definitely encounter communication difficulties at times. Sparks do fly!  I find the whole thing, our life journey together — our travels, our marriage, this book — to be such a rewarding endeavor. Incredibly strenuous, too!  It’s really rather miraculous, actually.

Lawrence, can you tell me more about your writing process?

Definitely solitary. Messy as hell. For me, a poem can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months. Actually, all the poems in the book took my entire life to write. If we are writing honestly, soulfully — there’s that word again — we must bring to the writing desk all of who we are . . . else, why even bother? And who we are is all we have met in life.

It’s remarkable how seldom I sit down with the idea that I am going to write a poem about a specific idea. In fact, I’m not sure that has ever happened. Instead, I’ll sometimes just start jotting down (seemingly) random thoughts, or let myself go into a stream of consciousness riff until something starts to take form. And then I’ll play with that for a while. Sometimes I’ll wake in the middle of the night hearing a (seemingly) random phrase or sentence — often it seems nonsensical — which I’ll scribble down in a small notebook I keep on the bedside table. And then at some point, I’ll sit down at my desk and “write to it.” Maybe the line ends up being the first line of the finished poem (rare). Often, I’m convinced it will be the last line (that, too, rarely turns out to be the case.). Usually, it ends up living somewhere in the middle. And then there are the occasions when the initial line, the words that sparked the flame, vaporize . . . but that’s okay because they served a crucial purpose as a prompt. One thing is certain, as cliche as it sounds, once I’m in that writing zone the poem does indeed take on a life of its own. And I’ve gotta say, sometimes I’m not at all comfortable with what is coming. It can be hard to lean into that discomfort, but it’s a necessary part of my process. It’s both an engagement with anxiety and a letting go of fear . . . fear on a couple of different levels.

I employ the structure of poetry because it helps in the distillation process. So much of my writing is about coming to terms with something: a complex event; an unsettled state of being; or asking a question for which I have no answer. It can be hard to get to the essence of thoughts, feelings, doubts. But, somehow I can get there — or at least get closer — by creating a boundary of sorts, a vessel to help contain the energy lest it dissipate or overwhelm. That’s the value of utilizing specific poetic forms, like a sonnet, a haiku, and so on. Strange as it may sound, that requisite discipline often helps me accept and even celebrate the uncertainty, insecurity and equivocal nature of everything.

The process can be maddening. Tapping out the rhythm. Counting beats, arranging stressed and unstressed syllables. Feeling the rhythm. Choosing one word over another can be an agonizing process. Do I use a comma here, or allow a line break to serve that purpose? Is that really what I mean? Listening. Listening. Listening. Lots of reading out loud too. That’s so incredibly important for my process: reading what I write out loud . . .

I keep a journal rather religiously . . . have done so for 30 years. A daily practice from which I occasionally mine a nugget or two. But usually those pages are used to clear out the dross; jettison a bunch of bullshit insecurity, righteous indignation, etc . . . the kind of stuff so many people post up on Facebook or spew forth in a Twitter-storm these days. I write all that stuff down in my journals . . . most of which I’ve burned.

Early in the process of writing a poem, I’m restless. I’ll take frequent breaks to go outside . . . cut wood; shovel snow; walk; tinker with one thing or another.  Less frequently I’ll sit at my desk staring out the window for hours. I realize now, after years of doing this, that on those evenings when I say to Birgit in frustration that I didn’t get a single thing written, that I wasted the entire f^*k*^g day at my desk . . . those turn out to be necessary days to my process. Don’t ask me why. But I know it’s so. I do all the initial work with a number 2 pencil and yellow legal pad. Once I feel like I’m getting close — like the poem is getting close — I’ll sit down at my computer and “finish it.” At that stage, I’ll sometimes sit at my desk for hours and hours . . . I’m not so restless then. Eventually, I print off the finished draft and read it out loud again. And always I find the first printed version is not finished. But eventually, it’s finished. Abandoned, actually.

Birgit is always the first person to see a “finished” draft. To be specific, she hears it . . . I always read it to her. I can tell instantly what she thinks; how she feels about it. And from time to time she mentions something that doesn’t feel quite right. And it’s remarkable how often the thing she mentions is the thing I wasn’t quite comfortable with!

I next send the draft to my son. (Not always, but almost) You know he’s an incredibly talented artist, but he’s also a terrific writer…better than I am. He is wonderfully supportive, but he won’t hesitate to tell me what he thinks. Interestingly, he rarely offers suggestions about craft. Instead, he will not hesitate to call me out on the premise. He’s sometimes incredulous that I feel a certain way or that I have suggested something or other. But that’s fine with me. It’s healthy, in fact. Healthy for my work; healthy for the relationship he and I have.

Linda: Your writing and Birgit’s photography evoke a strong sense of place. How important is geography to your process?

Lawrence: PLACE is crucial, for me at least. For Birgit, not so much. (I think she’d be fine with me saying that.) I wither in an urban environment. I slip into a depressive funk the moment I arrive in the midst of traffic-choked “Anywhere USA” with all the fast food restaurants, big box franchises, sirens, billboards, etc. Nature and open space and silence are essential to my process, to my life. I love the fact that we live in a place without a Starbucks, Burger King, Petsmart, Best Buy, etc.

Linda: Birgit, can you tell me something of your artistic process? How much is “eye” and “soul” and how much is craft?

Birgit: Although I used (B & W) film in my very early years, I ​create digital photography now. The principles of film photography still support my technical approach. The symmetry and proportion of a subject or scene speaks to how an image is eventually composed. Why I might choose one subject over another is personal and often draws upon history, memories, and a sense of irony.
Explaining (my) creative process might be as challenging as describing the circular cycle of creative life and, thereby brings to light another question yet — would I be at all drawn to the same images if not for our specific relationship? Much of what I “see” informs our conversations and indeed the result of much of our conversation actually presents to me images in my environment. Arguably, some I would not otherwise have seen. Lawrence is one of the most well read academics I have known. He has added layers of moral, spiritual, political, economic and social texture to my own thought processes and hence, has affected what I see through a lens. Although there has rarely been a direct intention to facilitate or even imbue the other’s artistic medium, our ethers tend to both collide and intermingle.
 
Linda: Beautifully said Birgit, and worth pondering further: the effect of specific close relationships on our writing and our art. Which photographers do you credit as influences?

Birgit: Sam Abell was my first and most influential artist of photography. His life work of creating thought provoking images remains an inspiration today. Other, but by no means all, notable photographers and spanning a great many photographic statements are Cig Harvey, Fred Herzog, Vivian Maier, Dorothea Lange, Platon, S​e​bastiao Salgado.

 

Linda: To see more of Birgit’s work and for upcoming and past exhibits, please visit her website  www.birgitgutsche.com

Lawrence’s first reading of Stretching Silver Through Blue Haze will be in Taos, New Mexico at the Historic Taos Inn (Friday May 26, 4:30-6:00 pm) where Birgit’s photography is on exhibit.

 

 

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Walking through the words

How we write: Reflections on writing, walking, and words.

I write to discover and I walk to explore. Walking, I’ve found, helps me see things in a new way. Walking generates ideas. Today, Easter Sunday, 2017, I walked with my smart phone and recorded thoughts and observations along with snapshots of what inspired them.

Cairn: a stack of stones purposefully arranged like words in a sentence; a signpost marking the way when the trail is obscure or non-existent. Writer’s block: No trail, no compass, no cairn to guide. Or worse, complacency — no reason to explore.

You can write the truth but you can’t write the whole truth. The very act of writing is one of exclusion, choosing one word over another. A word is an X-Acto knife eliminating the possibility of all other words in that particular place. Sometimes its hard to write because of this exclusion, this leaving behind feels like forgetting. By choosing to tell this story this way, I’ve aborted countless others. Yet if I don’t write, nothing is born, nothing remains. I grieve for the world’s lost memories and all the unborn stories.

 

Each sentence we write, each paragraph, re-creates a past, one of many pasts, saving it from oblivion. But saving it for whom?

Back home, it’s time to start dinner. I’ll put the ideas I’ve collected in a vase of water in hopes of preserving them. Maybe I can work them into a story, an essay, a poem, later tonight…  But I know they won’t last forever, which makes them even more beautiful somehow.  — Linda Collison 4/16/2017

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The Notorious Captain Hayes; a conversation with author Joan Druett

Joan Druett

The American-born seafarer William “Bully” Hayes was a notorious celebrity in his own lifetime and in the century after his death became the antihero of numerous accounts, novels, secondhand memoirs — and a Hollywood movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Michael O’Keefe.  At least two Pacific watering holes have called themselves Bully Hayes — one in Hawaii and one in New Zealand.

Much has been written about this 19th century adventurer, accused of countless cons, crimes, swindles and brutalities — some true, some embellished, some pure fiction. Overshadowing his misdeeds, or perhaps driving them, is the portrayal of Captain Hayes as a charismatic and dauntless character —  an enduring, mythical,  antihero.  This image was created largely by the popular media of his time, says maritime historian Joan Druett. Her latest book, The Notorious Captain Hayes; The Remarkable True Story of William ‘Bully’ Hayes, Pirate of the Pacific, is the most definitive biography written about the man, the myth, the legend. The author has spent years reading everything in print about Hayes, studying contemporary newspaper articles, letters, diaries, ship logs and shipping lists in an effort to separate fact from fiction.

The result? An objective but very engaging popular history of a sea captain, trader, showman and blackguard known for his many dupes and crimes — some mere swindles — others abhorrent (rape, coercion, and blackbirding — the transport of poor refugees as cheap labor). Joan likens the mythical Captain Hayes to Hollywood’s Captain Jack Sparrow. The bad guy we love, an enduring archetype.

JoanDruettJoan Druett is an award-winning author of numerous maritime history and nautical novels, and a former Fulbright Scholar. She is married to Ron Druett, a maritime artist who has illustrated many of her histories. They live in New Zealand. Here’s a conversation we had via email which gives some insight into her writing process:

Joan, what was the most surprising discovery you came across in your research for The Notorious Captain Hayes?

That he was so likeable! One chronicler of the many yarns told about this rogue wrote that he was “as charming a rascal as ever broached a keg or stolen port,” and everything I read about him — no matter how thunderously critical — confirmed this image.  It was little wonder, really, that he became magnified into the Robin Hood of the Pacific Ocean, because he was a-larger-than-life, charismatic figure. And yet the way he cheated people was truly shocking.”

In your preface you say “There was a lot of garbage written about him” Can you elaborate on your process of separating fact from myth?

By going through the newspapers of the time, including many shipping lists, I was able to build up a detailed timeline, and prove that he had an “alibi” for many of the farfetched yarns.  The first was that he took over the ownership of the clipper bark Canton during her voyage to Singapore in July 1854, but the shipping lists of the San Francisco papers had him in command of another ship on the Californian coast in July 1854. So he was innocent of that particular crime. And there were many other stories that were founded on idle gossip.  As well as this, Bully Hayes loved to tell tall tales about himself, and these were embellished and repeated all over the Pacific.”

You liken the myth of Bully Hayes to the now iconic Disney antihero, Captain Jack Sparrow – a great comparison and one which helps to explain his appeal.   Can you compare Captain Hayes’s him to any real life celebrities?

“It’s the combination of wickedness and likeability that makes Jack Sparrow a fictional version of Bully Hayes — that and the touch of humor.  And it is that combination that makes Bully Hayes stand out from political crooks and Wall Street pirates.  None of them as attractive as he certainly appears to have been.”

Your artist husband Ron has illustrated some of your past work. Did he have an artistic or other role in the making of the Bully Hayes biography?

“No.  The designer, the publisher and I had fun making up the jacket, as we wanted it to look like a “wanted” poster, and Ron had fun watching us at work.”

Joan, I’m an admirer of you work; your nonfiction is lively and your fiction has a sense of realism and historical accuracy. Do you have a preference?

“I used to say that I put on weight when writing nonfiction and lost it when writing novels.  How true that was I am not sure, but historical novels are very hard work.  Enjoyable, but not as easy as researching material, thinking about it, and then using it within a nonfiction framework.”

I’d hardly call researching material and writing a legendary man’s story easy. How long have you been researching Bully Hayes?

“Fifteen years!  I started in 2001, by reading everything in print.  Then I moved to newspapers.  As you can imagine, my eyesight kept on giving up on the job.  Trawling through microfilms isn’t fun. It was digitization that made the job possible.”

Hilo Bay

While reading Joan’s book this weekend on my e-reader I was reminded of a personal story associated with the myth of Bully Hayes and the long list of boats he became associated with — boats with evocative names such as Otranto, Black Diamond, Ellenita, Shamrock, Lotus, and many others — many of which came to a bad end. When Bob and I moved to Hawaii we bought Topaz, a 20-year-old sloop in need of some work, anchored off Hilo. I well remember closing the deal on the shores of backwater Reeds Bay, Bob writing the check to a scruffy, roguish, charming American sailor named Hayes. (We weren’t bilked: the boat was sound, had clear title, and we enjoyed many years sailing her). Our man Hayes immediately bought another boat named Pumpkin Patch and purportedly sailed to New Zealand with his wife and young daughter.  This was in 1993. After that, we lost track of him… Somehow –unfairly — I associate him with the legendary Captain William “Bully” Hayes, who died more than a hundred years ago but whose name and reputation lives on in the islands of the Pacific.

Follow author Joan Druett on her World of the Written Word blog.  For more information about her books, please visit  her website,  and Old Salt Press.

 

 

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White witches, pirates, and night walkers, oh my!

HHSW%20Spread[1]

“To fight pirates, you use a pirate. Acorne will suit very well.”

“And you think you can trust him?”

“I do not trust him in the slightest. Which is why I want you to keep close eye on him. It will stick in your craw like a fish bone, but I want you to see he stays alive, finds me that casket, and…”

— from On The Account by Helen Hollick.

Ever dream of spending a summer at sea? If you missed the boat this year, you can still create your own virtual summer cruise by reading a selection of entertaining nautical-inspired fiction. One of this summer’s best salty beach reads is On the Account, volume 5 in Helen Hollick’s Sea Witch series, a succession of adventures in which the seasoned author spices adult pirate fiction with fantasy and racy romance. White witches, pirates, and night walkers, oh my!

Set in the early 1700s, the Sea Witch stories are grounded in history but Hollick’s make-believe world is charmed with some characters who command varying degrees of supernatural abilities. Jesamiah Acorne is a roguish merchant trader and captain of the Sea Witch. His wife Tiola is a witch; her dear friend Maha’dun, a beguiling night walker with a heightened sense of hearing — and an inherent fear of water. And then there is the murdurous Cara’mina, Lady of the Night Walkers who complicates matters exceedingly.  A lost wife, a casket of diamonds, a bone stone pendant, a past affair, a love child — Acorne’s quest in On The Account leads him out of a Briston gaol and into deep and treacherous waters.  Meanwhile, Tiola has her own troubles staying alive and keeping her husband from being killed.

Hollick writes in an engaging, seemingly effortless style; her characters spring to life through dialogue and plot twists. I like that Tiola has her own adventures (and friendships) apart from her husband and co-protagonist — even though they are trying to reunite. (And what woman hasn’t wished she could send messages telepathically to her mate, and even read his mind? Well, not ALL of his thoughts…) But Jesamiah won’t be subdued, though he loves his Tiola. He’s an anti-hero, an adventurer — and we forgive him his occasional indiscretions. As for the wily night walker Maha’dun, he tries his best to steal the show.

About the author:

Helen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. She wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, before discovering past lives in historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, she became a ‘USA Today’ bestseller with Forever Queen,  fiction based on the life of Emma of Normandy. Helen is Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews. Check out her website  Helen Hollick’s World of Books.  

But it’s the ocean that connects Helen and I. I had the pleasure of meeting her in London; we were both on the nautical historical fiction panel at the 2012 Historical Novel Society Convention — along with authors Margaret Muir, Rick Spilman and David Davies. What I’ve learned from Helen is to have confidence in your characters, be bold in plotting, and take chances — lots of chances. As Helen says, you must write the book you want to read. I admire her ability to capture character with dialogue and her craft at weaving a good story.

On The Account, book 5 of the Sea Witch Series is available on Amazon. I believe I spy a sixth book in the offing…

OnTheAccount-2016-promo-OutNow-WEBCaptain Jesamiah Acorne is in trouble. Again. Arrested for treason and smuggling, believing his beloved ship, Sea Witch, lies wrecked on England’s North Devon coast, his only hope of escaping the noose is for someone to quash the charges. That someone turns out to be his ex-lover – but there’s a price to pay. He needs to find a boy who has disappeared, and a valuable casket that more than one person wants to get their hands on. When people start getting murdered and Barbary pirates kidnap his wife, Tiola, his priorities rapidly change – but who is lying about what? Is returning to piracy a wise idea? Is Tiola having an affair with her mysterious Night-Walker ‘friend’? Meanwhile, Tiola has her own battle to fight – keeping herself and Jesamiah alive!

 

August 2014

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