Comics, Community, and Kickstarter

I’ve been writing prose fiction for a lot longer than I’ve been writing comics. I graduated from Columbia University in 2000 with a degree in writing/literature, and I published my first short story in August 2002 in the now defunct Skyline Literary Magazine. I didn’t publish my first comics story until 2018 (in Constellate Literary Journal w/Marika Brousianou). Like many writers—especially prose writers—I am an introvert by nature, and the collaborative, community nature of comics creation was difficult for me when I first started writing comics.

There were certain people who helped me with that aspect of comics creation and who made me feel like a part of the community, which is why the We Suck At Comics kickstarter from Wayward Raven is an important project for me.

When I attended my first New York Comic Con, I went to a networking event at Twins Pub, and it was there that I met many members of my comics community.

Now, I’m the type of guy who sits at the end of the bar, maybe with one or two close friends, and sips his beer or scotch while watching the game. I’m a wallflower at parties, and there is not enough alcohol on the planet to get me to dance. So, as you might imagine, a networking event among strangers was not the ideal situation for me.

As the night went on, the crowd started to thin. I have an unusually high tolerance, so I remained. A few people started to talk to me. Among these were Alex Sapountzis and Mark Frankel, of Wayward Raven, and Sebastian Bonet, an artist for Inbeon, among other places.

I ended up talking—and drinking—with them until the bar closed, and by the end of the night, I not only made new friends (a rarity for me), but also felt like I was a part of a comics community.

In the coming years, my comics community would expand each year at the Creator Aftercon event at Twins. I met Johnny C who invited me to contribute to his Movie (p)Review Show, Marika Brousianou with whom I collaborated on both that first comics story and my latest book, and so many more.

I have three stories in the We Suck At Comics anthology, two of which are collaborations with Alex, and a third which was illustrated by Tyler Carpenter.

My stories appear alongside stories by Mark, Johnny C, and Sebastian, as well as Jeff Rider and Joel Jacob Barker, both of whom I met at subsequent Creator Aftercon events at Twins.

We Suck at Comics, like any comics anthology, is a community effort, for me it is more than that. It is my community’s effort.

Without the encouragement of the aforementioned creators, I probably would not be writing comics today. I am honored to appear alongside them, and would be honored if you would support the kickstarter.

You can support the kickstarter by clicking here:

We Suck at Comics Kickstarter
Panel from Sit TweetCivil, by me and Alex Sapountzis
A page from Freedom, by me and Tyler Carpenter

On Discipline

I had shoulder surgery back in 2010. I detached my labrum, got misdiagnosed, and then spent a full year doing the wrong kind of physical therapy which made my injury worse. When I finally was diagnosed properly, my shoulder was so messed up that the surgeon who fixed it told me I’d never be able to do a push-up again.

At the time, sports was a big part of life. I was doing martial arts three times a week, playing and coaching basketball, and going to the gym regularly. Needless to say, I was extremely frustrated by the way the injury was restricting me. One day, I expressed these frustrations to my chiropractor, who, in response, gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received: If you can’t do the best thing, it doesn’t mean you have to do the worst thing. If you can’t do the best thing, do the second best thing.

I might not be able to do certain exercises, but there were others I could do. Working on the chest press machine might not be great for my shoulder, but it wasn’t as harmful as push-ups; I might not be able to train in the style of martial arts I had been training in, but that didn’t mean I had to quit martial arts: I might not be able to rest as much as the doctors would have liked, but I didn’t have to push myself to the level I had pre-injury.

I think about that advice a lot.

There is a tendency among writers to have an all-or-nothing mindset. Write every day. Hit your word count, or else. Post x amount of times a day on social media. update your blog on weekly, on the same day, at the same time. Finish a full novel during nanowrimo. Aim for 100 rejections a year.

There is tendency to give up if we don’t achieve our goals. If we miss our word count one day, it tends to snowball. If we don’t write one day, we might not write for a few day (weeks?) as we wallow in shame and self doubt. If we don’t finish that novel in November, we put the project aside as a failure and to add it our ever-increasing pile of unfinished manuscripts.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Some days life happens. Some days, writers block happens. Can’t write your 750 words today, maybe only write 400, or 150, or 50. Can’t write at all today? Send out a submission or two. Do some research. Even read a book with a writer’s eye.

Only write 23000 words during nano? That’s 23000 words you didn’t have before. There’s no law that says you have to finish your novel by The end of November, or December, or the following November, or, if you’re George RR Martin, 10 years from now. Just don’t throw it away. Make incremental progress over time. Write many words some days, fewer words others.

That is what true discipline is. It’s not always doing the best thing, or even the second best thing. It’s about not doing the worst thing; not doing nothing. Will there be days you cheat on your diet? Yes. Will there be days you can’t train? Of course. Will there be days when you don’t write? That will happen too. The most important thing is to keep going, to make incremental progress over time. If you take two steps forward for every step back, you’ll reach your destination eventually.

Where to Buy Into That Darkness Peering Locally

Into That Darkness Peering, written by me and illustrated by Marika Brousianou, is now available for purchase at two local book sellers.

You can get the book—for a limited time only—at Theodore’s Books in Oyster Bay, Long Island from now until Halloween. Signed copies are available on their Halloween table toward the front of their store.

The book is also available at Escape Pod comics in Huntington, Long Island in their small press/indie section. It is always nice to support a local store instead of a big corporation, so if you are local and can buy it from one of these two merchants, please do.

If you are not local, the book is available on Amazon.

Writers on Writing: New York Comic Con 2022 Edition

This past weekend, I attended New York Comic Con. While I did not have a table this year, which was unfortunate because I have a new book to sell (you can help me make for it by buying it here), I was able to attend the various professional panels aimed at writers. This year’s slate of high-profile writers was particularly strong, especially in the fantasy department were Terry Brooks, Brandon Sanderson, and Diana Gabaldon offered insights into their writing processes and careers. Below, I have collected the advice I found most helpful and interesting from both the top names and from the many other writers who paneled, and loosely organized that advice around a number of themes. I hope you find them as helpful and inspiring as I did.

Writing Process

Me and Brandon Sanderson

If you’re writing process isn’t working, then change your process–Chuck Wendig

When faced with an overwhelming amount of editorial feedback or critique, change something small. Changing something small reminds you that you have power over the piece–Peter V. Brett.

You can write a novel in a year writing 400 words a day. That’s about 1-1/2 double spaced pages–E. Lockhart.

The only feedback you get until you publish is that wordcount number adding up–Diana Gabaldon.

Who do you listen to? A really good editor. Anyone else, I’ll listen to an see if they have anything valuable to say, but you get a lot of feedback from people who don’t know anything. You’ve got to stand up for yourself–Terry Brooks.

The best feedback is from people who already like your work but who want something slightly better– (in my notes, but I didn’t write down who said it).

Take something you love and put it in a different context. I loved Faulkner. I wanted to put the way he dealt with class, the rich and poor, in a new element. Tolkien’s structure seemed like the perfect structure for that rich/poor dynamic–Terry Brooks.

Write out of order to avoid writing block. Move to a different part of the book, either to an exciting part or to an easy part–E. Lockhart.

I usually go through about 10 drafts–Karen McManus.

On writing comics: I write differently if I know the artist, if it’s an artist I’ve worked with before. If I’m workin g with a new artist, I’ll describe more—Jimmy Palmiotti.

Plotting vs Pansting

Terry Brooks giving me some writing advice.

I don’t write in straight lines. I don’t write with an outline either–Diana Gabaldon.

There is no such thing as plotting or pansting. Every writer does both. They are tools. If you don’t use both, you’re not using all the tools available to you as a writer–Brandon Sanderson.

I always start backward. I know the whydoneit and the whodoneit, and then plot backwards–Kara Thomas.

I tend to start with the big idea, but I’m not sure what it means–Karen McManus.

Plotting is like a Jenga tower. If you take one small thing out, the whole tower can collapse–E. Lockhart.

Character Development

The “Titans of Fantasy” panel l-r: Sanderson, Brooks, Gabaldon

We are all people. People make dumb decisions. It’s ok for characters dumb decisions because that’s what real people do. That makes characters feel real–Wesley Chu.

Sanderson’s second rule: flaws are more interesting than characters themselves–Brandon Sanderson.

I did what most writers do. I gave the character a flaw or two–E. Lockhart.

As the character’s power increases, their power becomes more evident–Brandon Sanderson.

I try to include “good” characters who have to deal with mental illness. Most of American media is like if there’s someone with a mental illness in your book, they’re probably the bad guy. We need to change that–Dan Wells.

I consider the antagonist and the villain as two separate characters: The villain is evil. The antagonist prevents the characters from getting what they want, but they should be relatable. We should be able to understand to understand them. Our main character could end up going in that direction. One example is Ms. Marvel. There are villains in that show, but the parents are the main antagonists. Another is Lord of the Rings. Sauron is the villain. He’s pure evil. Gollum is the protagonist, but what decisions got him there? We can see ourselves making those same decisions–Brandon Sanderson.

Villains don’t have to be villains from the start. They just have different agencies—Karen McManus.

Designing Plots

Meeting NYT #1 bestseller Wesley Chu, with whom I discussed writing Martial Arts.

The thing that bugs me most is repeated plot arc. Too many writers write the same plot over and over again. It’s as if, because they were successful with the first one, they just hit the reset button on book 2 (or series 2, or season 2) and write the same thing again–Brandon Sanderson.

The mystery needs to matter to the character, not just to the reader who is trying to figure out the mystery. There have to be character consequences for the reveal–Karen McManus.

Don’t have your conflict shoot your reader’s empathy for your character in the foot–Brandon Sanderson.

All mysteries have a reveal. Not all mysteries have a twist–Kara Thomas.

Point of View

Best Advice I’ve received as a writer panel w/ Chuck Wendig, Naomi Novak, Wesley Chu, Terry Brooks, Peter V. Brett

First person turns on how interesting the voice of the character is–Brandon Sanderson.

If you’re writing a scene, and you know it’s a good scene, and it’s an important scene, but it’s just not working out like it should, change the point of view. You’re probably writing it from the wrong perspective–Diana Gabaldon.

Writing Rules

Mystery/Thriller panel w/E Lockhart, Karen McManus, and Kara Thomas.

You should violate every rule–Terry Brooks.

The value of rules is that they make you look at your writing and analyze it in a technical way–Naomi Novak.

All writing rules are bullshit–Peter V. Brett.

But bullshit fertilizes–Chuck Wendig.

All writing rules amount to “don’t write badly.” They attempt to turn an art into a science–Naomi Novak.

Use writing rules like cooking, not baking. There are rules like ‘don’t dump in the whole package of salt’ and recipes are important when you start, but eventually you don’t have to follow the recipe exactly, unlike baking. You’re going to be tasting, adding more or less flavor according to preference. There is a preferential aspect, a matter of taste–Chuck Wendig.

50 years ago, the rules were different. 50 years from now, they’ll be different too. Trends come and go. What’s commercial comes and goes–Wesley Chu.

Pitching and Finding an Agent

How Not to Succeed in Comics Panel w/ Scott Snyder and Brian Azzerello

Querying sucks–Wesley Chu.

I was at a party once and an agent asked me what my book was about. I [was hesitant to share my book because of all the big authors he represented]. He told me “You don’t refuse books; I refuse books. If you want your book published, you have to put your work out there–Peter V. Brett.

I was trying to write to the market. It wasn’t until I wrote the books I wanted to read as teenager that I was able to sell my work–Karen McManus.

Reading

Joe Illidge at the Comic Book School Editors on pitching and professionalism panel.

Read outside your genre. Find the things that people do well in those other genres you love to read. They have skillsets and ideas we don’t have. Find out what they do and bring that into your own genre–Terry Brooks.

It’s not a matter of genre, it’s a matter of patterns–Diana Gabaldon.

You have to read mindfully and critically–Chuck Wendig.

Everything you read impacts you–Terry Brooks.

One of the things that makes us most worried as writers is that we’re going to copy someone else, and yet we’re an amalgam of all we’ve read and experienced. We need to look at what’s influenced us and tear it down to the emotions and then build it back up into something new–Brandon Sanderson.

General Advice

Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells

When you work with people you like, all of your bad decisions seem good–Brian Azzerello.

Writers need to experiment. Writing the same thing for a long time would be a mistake–Terry Brooks.

Find people who you can tell the truth to, and who will tell the truth to you–Scott Snyder

You’ve got tp challenge yourself. You can’t rest on your laurels–Terry Brooks.

On imposter syndrome: I picture myself reading my book in front of a whole crowd at Yankee Stadium, and 60 thousand people are going “boo!”–Scott Snyder.

Sometimes, the magic works–Terry Brooks.

Influence people in a positive way. Give them an experience in space and time–Terry Brooks.

In the final analysis, your work is your brand– Joe Illidge.

Humorous Comments

How do I title my book? Poorly–Dan Wells.

On giving a 5 minute answer to a lightning round question: Have you seen the size of my books? That was fast for me–Brandon Sanderson.

I enjoy the process of writing. Once it’s done, I couldn’t care less. Except for getting paid. I enjoy that–Terry Brooks.

——-

Final Thoughts

There was so much variety in the advice given at nycc this year. Each of the writers took their own path and some of them disagreed with each other. There is not one way to succeed, there are many. Find the advice that speaks to you and implement it. It is, ultimately, comforting to know that their are so many paths to success.

On Illustrated Poetry, Nick Offerman, and Following Your Dreams

The great Nick Offerman offers this gem of advice in his memoir: Paddle Your Own Canoe: Not everyone will like the cut of your jib, but many others will. One simply needs to seek those others and somehow trick them into buying tickets to your production of Gangsta Rap Coriolanus.”

This colorfully worded sentiment goes against much of the advice offered to aspiring creatives, which involves things like chasing trends, researching the right key words and hashtags, and writing to the market.

While I would never advise a creative not properly research the market, there is, too, a value, in making the weird thing you want to make, market and trends be damned. Make the weird thing. Find your people. Create your own market.

I found Offerman’s words particularly inspiring as I read them just as I was preparing to release my book Into That Darkness Peering, a collection of gothic horror poetry and flash fictions, written by me and illustrated by Marika Brousianou.

This book, which just came out last week, is comprised of fully-illustrated, stand alone pieces. It is an illustrated book, but not for children. It is not really a straight poetry or fiction collection, but it’s not a graphic novel either. I was really hard to choose categories and key words for it on Amazon and Lulu.

What it is, is really cool. It came out beautifully, and, yes, it is the perfect time to release a book of gothic horror tales. right on time for Halloween.

I’ll drop a few sample images at the bottom of the post, and if you want to check it out, the book is available on Amazon in print and electronic formats. It is also enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so you can read it for free if you subscribe to that service.

It may not be gangsta rap Shakespeare, and I may not be Nick Offerman, but I hope you, my own band of miscreants and weirdos, will give it a chance and buy it.

Publishing News: Into This Darkness Peering Now Available for Kindle Preorder

Into This Darkness Peering, written by me and illustrated by Marika Brousianou is now available for preorder on Amazon Kindle. The book, which will be released in print and Kindle Unlimited soon, features 32 full-illustrated gothic horror poems and flash fiction pieces.

You can preorder your copy now leading up to the official release on August 26th.

Preorder your copy by clicking any hyperlink or image in this post, or by clicking here.

Here is the official book description, along with some sample interior pages.

Peer into the darkness of midnight and the macabre with these 32 illustrated gothic horror poems and micro-fictions. From the dark, enchanted forest, to the furthest reaches of cosmic space; from the collective memory of myth and story, to monsters conjured from our own subconscious minds, these are the tales of the abyss. We invite you to gaze beyond the boundaries of reality and into the nightmare realms. Join us if you dare…

Interior page, Into This Darkness Peering
Interior page, Into This Darkness Peering
Interior page, Into This Darkness Peering

My Ultimate Fantasy Questing Party

Last week, I promised to reveal my ultimate fantasy questing party. The rules of the exercise were covered in that post, but to summarize the rules for this exercise briefly, the party must consist of nine members (like the fellowship in Lord of the Rings), be selected from fantasy literature (books, including comics, not movies, tv, or other mediums), and consist of only one member from each book or series (no doubling, Gandalf and Samwise could not both be included, for example). The party would go on a hypothetical high-fantasy quest, involving magic (rather than technology). It was a more difficult task than I thought, and it taught me a lot about the types of characters to which I gravitate. (Apparently, I am a big fan of talking animals. Who knew?) It was a fun exercise, and I encourage those of you who have not yet tried it to do so, and to post your traveling parties in the comments.

A few notes before I reveal the members of my questing team:

–There were some difficult decisions, some of which I explain in the comments. When unsure of which character to include, I often considered the role the character would play within the group: hero, mentor, muscle, friend, foil, etc. My team would have a better chance to succeed if all of these traditional roles were covered.

–I also considered team chemistry. How would the members interact with each other? Who might like or work well with whom? Who would, potentially, not get along? Who would improve the party’s moral in the tough times, etc. Ultimately, these questions are subjective, but then again, so is this entire exercise.

–I only included characters in series that are completed. Therefore, though I love many characters in Marlon James’ Dark Star trilogy, the series is not yet complete, and therefore I have not included any characters from either of the first two books. I do not know what will happen to those characters, so I cannot yet include them. Same for George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice (remember we are dealing with books exclusively, not the TV program).

–I also did not include any characters from series with which I, personally, have not yet finished reading. For example, I came late to NK Jemisin, and am in the middle of her Broken Earth series. I loved the first book. It was one of the most literary fantasy novels I’ve read in a good long while, but I have not finished it, and therefore I do not know the fate or development of the characters. The fault is mine, but, alas. Maybe my list will change in a few years.

–I strongly considered both Sherlock Holmes and Abraham Van Helsing. Each of these characters would be brilliant on a quest, however, neither really comes from a fantasy novel, even though Van Helsing does come from a speculative novel.

–The most difficult omission for me was Dune. Though there are many fantasy elements in Dune, ultimately it is more of a scifi universe than a fantasy one. Thus, no Paul, no Gurney, no Lady Jessica, no Stillgar, etc.

–My final cut, so to speak, was Sir Tristan. Le Morte de Arthur is the godfather of the genre, but I decided to stick to more modern titles.

–It goes with out saying that these choices are based on the original, literary depictions, not any of the versions from various adaptations.

Without further ado, here are my nine:

Iorek Byrnison (His Dark Materials): An armored polar bear is the ultimate enforcer for my traveling party. He is strong, principled, and though he does manifest a daemon, he has as much soul as anyone. He also has smithing skills, which will come in handy. Iorek is the ultimate protector for my hero, and even though it meant I couldn’t include Lyra, including him was an easy choice.

Lucy Pevensie (Narnia): She will be the young heroine of the quest. I’ve been reading the Narnia books with my 8 year old daughter at bedtime each night, and rereading the books as an adult, it is clear to me that Lucy is the best character in the series. She is brave, smart, and true. She is willing to stand up to and go against her older siblings when she knows that she’s right, and yet she’s humble and isn’t seeking power. She also possesses a magical healing potion, which will certainly come in handy on any quest.

Tenar (Earthsea): It takes a lot to give up power, to go against the conventions of society in the name on right, to abandon the only traditions and systems you have known–the very systems that have brought you power–to do what your conscience says is right. Tenar does all of these things. This was a tough one for me, as I really wanted to use Ged Sparrowhawk as my wizard, but there are many great wizards throughout fantasy literature. There is only one Tenar.

Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings): The ultimate friend. Sometimes the obvious choice is the right one.

Belgarath the Sorcerer (The Belgariad, etc.): Perhaps some of you can relate to this: There was a writer whose books were essential to my falling in love with fantasy. I read all of their books in high school, mostly as they were being published. It was just the second fantasy series I read. It fanned the flames of my nascent ideas about wanting to be a writer. Later, as an adult, I found out some very disturbing things about the author. I try to separate my nostalgia for the books from my opinion of the person who wrote them. No, it’s not the one who immediately springs to mind for most of you. It’s David Eddings. Anyway, Belgarath is just as powerful as any other classic wizard. He has the same types of powers, and generally fits the archetype, but he’s more down to earth and fun. You’d rather have a beer with him than with Gandalf, for example.

The Fox (The Little Prince): “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ‘Nuff said.

Lu Tze, The Sweeper (Discworld): There are many fine choices across Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Sam Vimes would probably be the most popular with his blend of street smarts and combat experience, but Angua the Werewolf, DEATH, Granny Weatherwax, or even Rincewind (sometimes running is the best option) would make fine choices as well. Ultimately, Lu Tze is my choice. He is a 6000 year old Time Monk who does not hold rank in the hierarchy of the order. He just sweeps floors (hence The Sweeper). Yet those who know, know his kung fu–snafu to be precise–is better than anyone else’s. He is irreverent as well and would make a fine mentor and foil for Belgarath. Anyone who disagrees should remember rule number one.

Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride): Book Inigo is much like the movie version, except there is way more background about his father in the book (which is at least as hilarious and awesome as the movie). A skilled sword master should balance out the fighting skills in the party. With Iorek as the brute strength, The Sweeper as the unarmed combat specialist, and Inigo as the skilled swordsman, all phases of battle are covered. Also, much like Samwise, Lucy, Tenar, etc, Inigo is principled as well.

Door (Neverwhere): The last choice is always the hardest. I had planned on including a character from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I’ve been doing a reread since the show came out, and it is reminding me of how much I love that particular fantasy framework. The question is, who to pick. Dream is right out. He would get bored and leave. He prefers to quest alone. Death has other responsibilities. My favorite character in the series is Hob Gadling, but while he does bring a wealth of experience, I don’t think he quite fits. I would have loved to include Barnabas, Destruction’s sarcastic talking dog, but that seems like overkill the way my party is currently constructed. We already have two other talking animals. Destruction himself is really interesting. He has abandoned his position in the Endless, and is living as a mortal, almost. He writes poetry, paints, and cooks. He seems like a good guy, and everyone seems to get along with him. The problem is that as the embodiment of destruction, destruction follows him around. People die. Things get destroyed. We don’t need that hanging over the quest. Therefore, I decided to pivot to another Gaiman work, Neverhwere. Door has the ability to open and create doors. That is a skill that will no doubt come in useful on a quest.

So, how did I do? Let me know in the comments.

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Who is your Ultimate Fantasy Questing Party (Part 1)?

With the release of Prime Video’s Rings of Power, I’ve been rereading a lot of Tolkien recently. Tolkien was the writer who first sparked my interest in writing, and hanging out in Arda, whether in the pages of his books or through the portal of an onscreen adaptation, always leaves me wiser and happier than I was before. Revisiting Middle Earth has also reminded me of one of the great debates I used to have with my nerdy friends (such as they were) in my youth: If you had to pick the ultimate fantasy traveling party to go on a magic-filled quest, who would you include?

A couple of ground rules:

  1. For the purposes of this exercise, we are going to assume that you are building your party to go on a traditional fantasy quest, like the one described in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Your quest will consist of an epic, episodic adventure, involve a magical object, feature a mentor, etc. A nefarious, evil entity will try to thwart you, and you will probably lose at least one companion along the way. There will be magic. There will be monsters. Your hero will change over the course of the journey. The FATE OF THE WORLD will be at stake.
  2. For the purpose of this exercise, your party will consist of nine. Why nine? First, because we need an equal number for the sake of comparison and evaluation. If every party is the same size, the game is fair. Why nine specifically? Any number would, technically, do, but we’ll go with nine in honor of the nine walkers in the Lord of the Rings. These things tend to be traditional.
  3. The members of your traveling party MUST originate in a fantasy novel or series of novels. Graphic novels are ok for the purpose of this exercise; TV shows and movies are not (use the books upon which they were based).
  4. You may only choose one character from each book or series. Choose wisely. If you choose Gandalf, you will not be able to also include Samwise Gamgee. If you choose Hermione, no Harry Potter, etc.
  5. We’re using traditional high fantasy as our setting. Magic is ok; technology is not.
  6. Consider the different archetypes traditionally found on a fantasy quest. You need not use all of them, but they exist for a reason. A party of Gandalf, Ged Sparrowhawk, Dumbledore, etc, might seem really powerful and cool, but there is a reason why we don’t see many such parties in fantasy novels. Who will play the role of the mentor? The hero? The muscle? Which characters will be able to use magic? Which will not?

I will post my answer next week in this space. Truthfully, the members of my party will likely change many times between now and then. In the meantime, please put yours in the comments. I might even include some in next week’s blog. I look forward to hearing your ideas.


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