I Love Stories

BellesLettersIICov2And essays. Which is why I love anthologies. The first anthology in which I was published was Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (University of Alabama press 2012). The editors were Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed. And now Jennifer has just edited (with her husband Don Noble) a collection of short stories (these are all fiction) by 37 Alabama women writers called Belles’ Letters II (Livingston Press: The University of West Alabama).  Belles’ Letters I was published in 1999.

I got a signed copy of Belles’ Letters II this weekend at Ernest & Hadley Books in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was there for a reading and signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. The two Alabama authors who contributed to this book were there to read and sign at the event—Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed. It felt like we had come full circle, with me as editor and

Susan Cushman, Jennifer Horne, and Wendy Reed in front of Ernest & Hadley Books, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Susan Cushman, Jennifer Horne, and Wendy Reed in front of Ernest & Hadley Books, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Jennifer and Wendy as contributors. I couldn’t be more proud of this book, and of them. Or more thankful for our friendship. We spent the weekend talking shop over coffee at Wendy’s kitchen table, another visit around Jennifer’s table, and a stroll in her backyard overlooking a lake in Tuscaloosa, drinks and dinner at local bars and restaurants, and I returned to Memphis on Sunday feeling revived.

Back home today I am diving into this new collection with much appetite and enjoyment. It’s fun to read stories by three of the contributors to A Second Blooming and six contributors to Southern Writers on Writing, the anthology I’m currently editing (coming from University Press of Mississippi in 2018). It’s so encouraging to see all these gifted writers taking time to contribute short pieces to anthologies. As Madeleine L’Engle said, “We all feed the lake.” And these authors are feeding an important lake—one that I believe will become historic. A lake filling regularly with contemporary Southern literature.

Anthologies aren’t just for breakfast any more. They aren’t just something to keep on a table in the living room and pick up when you only have a few minutes to read and don’t want to dive into a longer book. They can be as satisfying as any main course. As I was beginning to read from Belles’ Letters today, I found that it didn’t matter that the stories weren’t connected. That they didn’t have a theme. It only mattered that they were well written, excellent samples of the fine craft readers have come to expect from such authors as Pulitzer Prize winner Shirley Ann Grau, Harper Lee Award winners Fannie Flagg, Carolyn Haines, and Sena Jeter Neslund, and best-selling authors such as Gail Godwin, and Lee Smith. Each story left me wanting more—and scrolling down the table of contents like a kid in a candy store, selecting my next treat.

The-Pen-and-the-Brush-260x381My spring/early summer book tour is over, and I’ve got about six weeks to regroup before events for Cherry Bomb (my novel) start up on August 8. I had initially planned to get lots of words on the page for my new novel during this break from marketing, and maybe I will, but for now I’m content to slow down and read. To refuel. I couldn’t be happier with my “to read” stack in my office. I added another interesting book to the pile, another one I picked up at Ernest & Hadley this weekend: The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteen-Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein (translated from French by Adriana Hunter).

 

9781524741723The other treasures I acquired at this wonderful new bookstore in Tuscaloosa, Alabama were two copies of Chelsea Clinton’s children’s book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. (I’ll be sending those to my four granddaughters in Denver soon.)

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to my stories. And I don’t mean soap operas.

Take Care

clift cover v6b- approved cover.inddSome time last year Elayne Clift invited me to contribute an essay to an anthology she was putting together. It was going to be about women caregivers. Ironically, I was already working on my book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I thought about contributing an excerpt, but I chose something different. I sent her a shorter version of an essay I had published in the Saint Katherine Review (Volume I, Number 2, 2012) about my last days with two people I loved dearly, both dying from cancer. “Watching” now appears as one of twenty-six essays in the collection, Take Care: Tales, Tips, and Love From Women Caregivers, edited by Clift. I’m so pleased to see this essay get new life in this book, and hopefully find many new readers. It’s a story that’s very close to my heart, and as I read it again now—nine years after I wrote it and five years after it was first published—memories of those precious but difficult days with my father, and then with a dear friend, as they were dying, seem as vivid as if they were happening today.

Clift is the perfect editor for this collection, as she learned early in her life what it meant to be a caregiver, as she explains in the preface to Take Care:

My own experience with caregiving began at an early age. My parents had married late, and while my two siblings and I were still young, both our father and mother suffered from chronic and often debilitating conditions: asthma and depression respectively. By the time I was in high school and my older sister had married, I had taken on may of the demanding tasks of caregiving, including carrying out the responsibilities that keep a home going and take care of (and worrying about) my younger brother. After our father’s death, looking out for my mother’s best interests and ensuring her care became paramount tasks that went on for many years until she died at the age of 86.

Clift did all of this while being married, raising two children, completing a graduate degree and doing volunteer work with underprivileged women. A Vermont Humanities Council Scholar, she is an award-winning writer, journalist and workshop leader, a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, and a regular columnist for the Keene Sentinel and the Brattleboro Commons. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other publications.

I wasn’t familiar with the other contributors but as I read their bios and essays, I quickly realized what good company I am in. I’m honored to be part of this collection. I especially love Patti See’s “Joyful Mystery.” Her blog, “Our Long Goodbye: One Family’s Experiences with Alzheimer’s,” has been read in over 90 countries. Helen Dening gives us five helpful tips for communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s in her essay, “Lessons from My Mother: Communicating with Someone You Love Who has Alzheimer’s Disease.” Deborah Marshall, an art therapist who works with grieving hospice families, contributes three wonderful poems. Karen Clark, who received her MFA at the City College of New York once owned a bookshop in New York and now edits, proofreads, is a contributing editor for two anthologies and is at work on a novel. Her essay, “Roar Above the Hum,” made me laugh out loud and clap my hands, as she tells the story of accompanying “Corine” to dialysis and hearing her stories of her life as a civil rights activist in the sixties, founding a school in Africa, and eventually becoming the principal of a failing Harlem school and turning it into a showpiece. I could go on and on, but I hope you will get this book and read these inspirational stories for yourself!

You can purchase Take Care HERE, or on Amazon.

Southern Writers On Writing: Peer Review

peer-reviewIt’s so much fun editing an anthology. I had a great time last year editing A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press). And now I’m in the throes of editing Southern Writers On Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018) and the fun never ends! Especially when working with another wonderful university press. So here’s where we are:

A few months ago I invited the contributors and received 26 wonderful essays and a foreword. I worked with each author on edits, grouped the essays into sections by themes, found quotes to head up each section, wrote an introduction, acknowledgements, and table of contents, and sent the manuscript off to the press in March.

Next the press sent the manuscript to “outside readers” for “peer review.” The readers they selected for this work were given specific questions to answer as they reviewed the manuscript. Here are some examples (with excerpts from the readers’ responses):

Does the manuscript make a significant contribution to this field of study and/or the general market for this type of book?

Yes, I believe the manuscript does make a significant contribution to the field of southern literature…. I think this book will appeal to academics, particularly those teaching creative writing, southern and contemporary literature, and it will also appeal to up-and-coming writers who are looking for experienced direction, inspiration, support, and a reason to believe in themselves and keep putting their own words and stories on paper!

Yes! Just what I was hoping for! Here’s another one:

Please evaluate the author’s style of writing and organization of material:

All the essays in this collection are strong and well-written and I enjoyed reading every one of them…. The styles vary, but I consider this variety a huge plus offering would-be writers an opportunity to experience different writing styles and voices, and hopefully find a voice, story, and approach to writing that speaks a little louder to the reader and his/her own unique experience.

Again, I am so happy with these readers’ responses! One reader made very specific suggestions as to the organization of the essays, and even did line editing throughout the entire manuscript, which I’m using now as I make revisions and corrections before returning the manuscript to the press for their editorial work to begin. Here’s another one:

To your knowledge, is the information in this proposal available in published form elsewhere?

I’m not aware of any such book. Some individual southern (and non-southern) authors have published books that talk about their own writing, but there’s not to my knowledge a collection of essays such as this. I find that pretty amazing!

I found it amazing, too, when I researched the topic before starting work on this book.  Another reader said,

… young writers are most interested in learning from writers who aren’t necessarily big names, but who are successful in publishing now… as opposed to writers like Faulkner, Welty, Tennessee Williams, etc. This book is a solid response to that need.

MS Logo 300There are a total of ten questions on the readers’ questionnaires, and I found most of their observations and suggestions extremely helpful. I’m even strongly considering changing the title from So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing, to simply Southern Writers on Writing. The original (longer) title was inspired by the TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance,” but not everyone will get that, and as one reader pointed out, some people might think it’s the writers in the book thumbing their noses at the readers, which isn’t the case at all! If you’re reading this and have a different idea for a title, please let me know!

Of course the proof of the pudding was that all readers strongly recommend that the book be published. I did a peer review for another university press a year or so ago, and was sad to have to say “no” to this question in response to the manuscript I reviewed, knowing that the author would be disappointed to be turned down by the press. But that’s what peer review is for.

So now you know more about what goes on “behind the scenes” when a university press publishes a book. The peer review process is an important step in protecting the integrity of the press, and in helping make the books they publish excellent. I’m so thankful to be on this journey! Stay tuned….

So Y’all Think You Can Write

Y'all notebookFour months ago today I queried University Press of Mississippi for an anthology I wanted to edit—So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing. They jumped on it and we signed a contract right away. They asked me to have the complete manuscript to them by April 1. Today I sent them the completed 73,984-word manuscript, with 26 essays by southern writers (women and men) from ten states: Alabama, Washington, DC, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. (I’m kind of proud that Tennessee has 8 contributors, the most from any state, with Alabama having 6 and Mississippi contributing 5.)

Y'all insidePutting this collection together was so much fun. Alan Lightman wrote the Foreword! The essays were so polished that my work as editor wasn’t difficult. I had a great time grouping them into sections with themes, finding quotes to go with each section, writing an essay myself, and writing the introduction. SNEAK PREVIEW: Here are the contributors. If you aren’t familiar with their work, just Google them, buy one of their books and get to know them. They’re all amazing writers. We even have a few poets in the group.

Julie Cantrell

Katherine Clark

Jim Dees

Clyde Edgerton                                                                                               

W. Ralph Eubanks           

John Floyd                                               

Joe Formichella                                   

Patti Callahan Henry

Jennifer Horne                                   

Ravi Howard

Suzanne Hudson                                   

River Jordan

Harrison Scott Key                                                                                               

Cassandra King                                                                                   

Sonja Livingston

Corey Mesler                                               

Scott Morris

Niles Reddick

Wendy Reed

Nicole Seitz

Lee Smith                                                                                    

Michael F. Smith                                   

Sally Thomason

Jacqueline Trimble                                   

M. O. (Neal) Walsh

Claude Wilkinson

It’s gorgeous outside! I think I’ll go for a walk before heading out to dinner with a friend, followed by my first ever experience attending an opera—“Pirates of Penzance” is playing at the Germantown Performing Arts Center. Have a great weekend, everyone!

So Y’all Think You Can Write

a246a2cd0ad0d04274d89e2735814011A couple of months ago I announced that I am editing another anthology, So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). With a foreword by Alan Lightman and essays by 25 Southern writers, this collection is going to rock. I’m like a kid in a candy store, thrilled as the treats (essays) arrive in my email box. And what a joy to edit these pieces by such accomplished authors. (Not much editing needed!)

The essays aren’t due to me until February 1, but I’ve already received and edited eight of them, and written “one-liners” to save for the introduction. So today I’m sharing those one-liners (sometimes two lines) as a teaser for the collection. If any of them interest you, Google the author and buy one of their books!

Clyde Edgerton brings his teaching skills to bear in his didactic essay, “Three ‘One Things’,” encouraging writers to use craft to make their fiction work.

The prolific mystery short story author John Floyd writes about the South he loves as a place of contrasts, with a rich oral history that offers much fodder for writers in “In the Land of Cotton.”

Harrison Scott Key invites the reader to “sit in the cockpit of my soul and soar through the atmosphere of me” as he discovers the need for humility and transparency in “The Meek Shall Inherit the Memoir: Then and Now.”

Corey Mesler writes about how agoraphobia informs his work ethic—spurred to creativity even as he is chained to his desk and a solitary lifestyle.

In “A Life in Books” Lee Smith reveals what she calls “the mysterious alchemy of fiction,” declaring that writing fiction—living in someone else’s story—healed her grief after the death of her son.

Mississippi author Michael Farris Smith attributes his initial inspiration to Barry Hannah and Larry Brown, and later William Gay, Richard Yates, and Harry Crews. But he shares that it was ultimately perseverance and hard work that got him published in “Keep Truckin’.”

Sally Palmer Thomason counts Maya Angelou and Willie Morris among the gifted Southern authors who helped her gain a greater appreciation for her chosen homeland after leaving California for Memphis, Tennessee in “How I Became a Southerner.”

In “On the Baton Rouge Floods of 2016 and My Nostalgia For the Half-Gone,” M.O. Walsh muses on whether Southern writers have a stronger bond with place and a greater sense of loss.

Can’t wait to read the rest of these essays, and to put them together into a collection.

Dust Jacket Copy for Cherry Bomb!!!

Dust-jacketI hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! I’ve shared lots of pictures on Facebook, so I’m not going to bomb my blog with our family Christmas images, but we are having a wonderful time in Denver with two of our three “kids” and their families, including our four granddaughters (which is why I didn’t do a blog post on Friday). We’ll head back to Memphis tomorrow where I’ll continue work on all four books in their various stages of editing, production, and marketing.

I’m excited to share this wonderful blurb written by my publisher, Joe Lee, for the front inside cover of my novel Cherry Bomb. It appeared on the Dogwood Press blog, Friday, December 23, 2016. Check out the other authors featured there, including my friend John Floyd who is a wizard with short stories. His latest book is Dreamland.

Thanks for this wonderful blurb, Joe! (This will be a hardback book with a dust jacket cover. We’re working on cover art now, so stay tuned!)

In the same way that a good bookseller can get you excited about reading a book (as our Mississippi booksellers do so well), good dust jacket copy does the same thing — how often have you read the flap cover and said, “Gosh, I’ve GOT to get this!” With that in mind, here’s the dust jacket copy for Susan Cushman’s debut novel, Cherry Bomb, which I can’t wait for us to roll out next October:

            By the tender age of sixteen, Mary Catherine Henry has lived through enough horror to last a lifetime. Sexual abuse at the hands of her cult-leading father, abandonment by her drug-addicted mother (who nicknamed her Mare), and several spirit-crushing years with a dysfunctional foster family convince her that life on the streets will be easier, somehow, than what she’s always known.

What keeps Mare going is the budding artist inside her, and the sleepy Southern town of Macon, Georgia, doesn’t know what hit them when colorful graffiti “bombs” begin appearing on abandoned buildings—Mare even dares to decorate a Catholic church with a highly provocative message. The young runaway signs her work CHERRY BOMB, attracts the attention of the local media, and is soon caught—but not by police.

 A photographer for Rolling Stone learns of Mare while on assignment, finds her, and befriends her. So does a reporter for The Macon News and, eventually, the priest of the parish whose walls Mare defaced so angrily. Their efforts help earn her a scholarship at prestigious Savannah College of Art & Design, where she studies under legendary Abstract Expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning. It’s a wonderful mentoring relationship … until Mare and Elaine discover they have much more in common than a love of art. And that bond, which forces both women to deal with pain and anger from their repressed pasts, threatens to tear them apart.

With a mix of remarkably visual characters and an intricate, compelling plot rich with intriguing religious imagery, Mississippi author Susan Cushman has penned a powerful debut novel that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page. You’ll never forget Mare and Elaine … and you’ll never look at religious icons—and street graffiti—the same way.

 

Wow! Doesn’t that make you want to read the book? And you can support Susan before then by picking up a copy of Tangles and Plaques (A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s), which will be released in several weeks by eLectio Publishing.

Tangles and Plaques COVER ART!!!

Tangles and Plaques cover artWhat a journey this is—working with four publishers at various stages for four different books being published in 2017 and 2018. I’m so thankful for these opportunities, and I’m learning a lot about the business as I continue in the editing phase for some and enter the pre-publishing and marketing phase for others.

Today I received cover art from eLectio Publishing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. I love the way the tangled yarn fades from bright colors to almost black and white below the title line… just as memories fade for those suffering this disease. Good job, eLectio!

I appreciate each person involved in this complex process—editors, publishers, graphic designers, and marketing professionals. Although I chose not to work with literary agents (after an unsatisfactory experience) I’m learning my way without them. What that means is that I’m giving up on book deals from the big houses, like Penguin Random House, Harper and Collins, and Simon and Schuster (and big money) but what I’m gaining is more control, and more personal involvement in the process. So, if an agent sees one of my books and wants to take me on, I’ll listen to her pitch. But for now, I’m a happy camper.

 
Watch for more news about Tangles and Plaques in February.

 

Cheers!

Quadfecta!

Today I’m feeling incredibly blessed. Yesterday morning I signed a contract for my novel, Cherry Bomb! My publisher is Joe Lee at Dogwood Press in Brandon, Mississippi. Not only is Joe a publisher, he’s a journalist, author, and editor. He has guided me through the manuscript with great care and understanding and I’m thrilled with the book it is becoming.

beer pongSo why “quadfecta”? I was checking to be sure that’s the word I’m looking for when I came upon this hilarious definition:

A legendary beer pong shot that lands on the tops of four cups simultaneously. Considered the rarest shot in the game, topping even the trifecta 2-cup knockover-and-sink, and simultaneous 6-cup game-ending double bounce-in. Counts as 4 cups and has never happened in recorded history of the game, despite being theoretically possible.

Okay, so this isn’t about beer pong, but it’s about my publishing news, which now includes 4 book deals!

Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (eLectio Publishing, February 2017) is a collection of essays culled from sixty posts covering almost a decade of long-distance caregiving for my mother, who died from Alzheikmer’s this past May. The book will show that the tangles and plaques aren’t only in our brains, but often in our relationships.

A Second Blooming the Women We Are Meant to Be (Mercer University Press, March 2017) is also a collection of essays, but this time I’m the editor. Twenty women authors write about second bloomings in their lives. For some it’s second marriages, or second careers. Others write about physical or mental trauma, loss of a loved one, incarceration, rape, and a difficult journey to sobriety.

Cherry Bomb (Dogwood Press, October 2017) is my novel. Cherry Bomb chronicles the lives and suffering of three women whose fates are unexpectedly intertwined: MARE, a teen graffiti artist emerging from a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her cult-leading father and foster parents; ELAINE de KOONING, an Abstract Expressionist artist whose interactions with Mare dredge up painful memories of a shameful past; and SISTER SUSANNAH, an artist and nun whose reclusive tendencies belie her deep connection to the world around her. All three women’s lives converge around a weeping icon of St. Mary of Egypt, a 5th century prostitute whose awakening to grace leads her to ultimate salvation.

So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). I am editing this collection of essays by Southern authors (men and women) writing about their craft. With a Foreword by Alan Lightman and previously published material by Pat Conroy and Lee Smith, the anthology will include over twenty five new essays by some of the South’s best (well-known and lesser-known) writers.

Cassandra and Susan Sq Bks Nov 2016I had a great time celebrating last night with my husband in Oxford. First we toasted my news with martinis on the balcony at the City Grocery Bar. Then we went to the Thacker Mountain Radio show at Off Square Books. It was an awesome show featuring great music and authors Cassandra King (reading from A Lowcountry Heart, a collection of Pat Conroy‘s words on Writing) and George Plasketes. Jim Dees did a great job hosting, as usual, and I was happy to get a copy of his new book, The Statue and the Fury – A Year of Art, Race, Music and Cocktails(Nautilus Press). We had a wonderful time visiting with Cassandra and George and others at the after party, before heading over to the Inn at Ole Miss for a weeknight sleepover.

This afternoon I’m driving back to Memphis with my spirits lifted by time spent with these creative people. And of course, the news of my quadfecta. So here’s a question: If you don’t like beer, can you play with vodka or tequila?
Have a great weekend, everyone!

Columbus Day: Cars, Computers and Cousine

This will be quick because I’ve been away from the house since 9:30 a.m. (and just got home at 3) and have lots of work to do on novel revisions…. But just for fun, here’s what we’ve done so far this Columbus Day: (federal holiday so my hubby is home)

venzaCars

We just bought my 2014 Toyota Venza, which we had been leasing for three years. Paperwork took almost 2 hours… kind of like being in a lawyer’s office with so many forms and copies! But it’s done now, and I still love my car. Toyota discontinued the Venza, which is crazy, so I guess I just bought a collector’s item.

FullSizeRender-1Computers

We both have Macs and we both have issues with them. I’ve had mine since 2009 and Bill got his in 2011. The folks at the Apple Store (which is a half hour or more away and hard to get an appointment and sometimes you still have to wait) told me about Computerlab of Memphis when I went in a few weeks ago. We LOVE the owners, Jeremy Winsett and Laurie Jenkins. It’ a small mom and pop business run by really smart and friendly people. We both got the help we need and they didn’t make us feel stupid. Check them out at 685 N. Mendenhall Road if you live in or near Memphis.

CharCousine

Char! My favorite restaurant in Jackson, Mississippi just opened a second venue in Memphis. Today was actually their opening day, and we went there for a delicious lunch. We had a great visit with the owner, Ben Brock (from Jackson) and the decor, service, and food were great! Check them out at 413 S. Highland, in the new “Highland Row” building, just south of Central.

Home now and back to work on novel revisions. And then I’ve got two manuscripts to critique for tomorrow night’s writing group. However you’re spending it, Happy Columbus Day!

Cherry Bomb Update: Finding the Right Editor

editingAlmost a year ago I did a post in which I vented a bit about my frustration with the editorial process a literary agent was putting me through for my novel, Cherry Bomb. This agent kept saying she loved my book, but then she would send it to yet another editor (at about $750 each time) for another major overview. I spent a couple thousand dollars on these overviews, and now I wonder if the agent got a cut of that, since I paid her and she paid the editors.

More importantly, the overviews I received back were often contradictory and vague. Sure, some of it was helpful, and my novel is probably a better book because of my efforts to respond to those overviews, but after 3-4 of them, I began to feel that this agent and I didn’t have the same vision for my book. And also that working with editors in this manner seemed like something that could go on forever.

And so I parted ways with the agent and decided to query small presses instead. You already know this, if you read my blog regularly. But today I’d like to give you an update, since I recently alluded to a pending book deal. I’m working with a publisher who is also an editor, and we’re going through the manuscript together, one chapter at a time. While I don’t always agree with his suggestions, they are always specific and easy to understand. I can respond to them quickly, and revisions are coming along smoothly. I believe we are working towards a contract, and I’m so encouraged to finally find an editor whose style is so helpful. (And did I mention there is no fee?)

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Joanna Penn talks about the importance of finding the right editor. Here she describes some of the things she likes about the one she’s working with now:

She gets my style of writing, and she understands my violent streak and doesn’t try to rein in what makes me me. What she does do is help me to craft a better book by suggesting structural changes and then doing detailed line edits.

That’s how I feel about the editor I’m working with now.

 

David Kudler, writing for the Huffington Post, has a lot to say about editors, but I took encouragement from his closing words:

You are writing a book because there is something you have to say, some knowledge or wisdom to impart, some experience to which you want to lead the reader.

An editor is your partner in making that happen, helping you to say precisely what you want to say in the most effective, affecting way possible.

So, today my editor and I are over half-way through the manuscript and picking up speed and efficiency as we move forward. Stay tuned for the big reveal! (And thanks, always, for reading and commenting, here and on Facebook.)

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