Writing and College Apps

December 26, 2011 at 8:29 PM | Posted in Life, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Advice | 6 Comments

As teenage writers, we have to deal with another obligation other writers don’t have to deal with as much: college. And our futures. How can one possibly find time to write when there are other issues like having a life, getting straight A’s, and completing activities that boost one’s impressiveness to admissions counselors?
Hey, don’t give up on writing just yet. The simple fact of it all is: colleges want to see your passion. If writing is your passion, stick with it! And besides, it can help your academic standing as well. I’ve listed some practical, real-life examples that could also further your acumen as a writer.



  1. Milk the CR/Writing portions of the SAT. These two sections were my biggest point-getters; math was my downfall. Still, you have that smug sense of superiority when you see the brainy math children struggle with the nuances of the English language. These reading and writing sections count for 2/3 of the test, after all!
  2. Self-study for the AP Lang/Lit tests. Your school doesn’t offer the class? Take matters into your own hands. Buy a few study guides, look them over during winter break, and talk to your counselor about ordering the tests in January, once you get back. The tests themselves are not hard if you’re naturally a good writer and voracious reader; AP English isn’t a class that needs to be taught as much as, say, AP Chemistry. It does cost money to take the test (some schools offer it for free—I know mine did), but getting a 5 and letting colleges see your intrinsic motivation is priceless.
  3. Become a leader and a writer. Does your school have a newspaper? A literary magazine? A yearbook? Get involved! If it’s too late in the year, ask about writing freelance. There’s always next year to apply for a staff position, and by then, the adviser will have built a good impression of you. You have a definite advantage over your peers when cranking it up for deadlines, soliciting businesses for ads (hey, you’ve been selling yourself in query letters, haven’t you?), and writing tight, informative articles. You’re already ahead of the learning curve, so it’s time to shine. Oh—and if your leadership helps your publication win competitions, all the more power to you.
  4. Look for writing-related internships or jobs. Some papers hire teens to do freelance reporting. Others print a mini-newspaper written by teens, for teens. A few even look for contributors to neighborhood-themed blogs. Thanks to the convenience of technology, you can often update a blog from the comfort of your own home. When you take the ten or fifteen hours a week that you once devoted to mindlessly scrolling on Facebook and put it towards something useful, you can see results that’ll help you get into college.
  5. Don’t give up! Colleges like to see you stick with a hobby—so even if agents didn’t like your first manuscript, don’t give up on writing entirely. Do what you can to build up your resume while staying involved, even if that means writing short stories or poems. Who knows? Winning a prestigious award would be a great way to demonstrate your skill. And if all else fails, self-publishing doesn’t hurt either; I know a girl who self-published a book and put that on her resume. Hey, though it might not count for anything in the literary world, it’s still something.



On Perceived Snobbery

January 22, 2010 at 11:25 AM | Posted in Op-Ed, Writing, Writing Advice | 6 Comments

So my schedule this semester rocks. I’m taking two English classes – Myths of Britain and Intermediate Fiction I – an Arabic class that is turning out to be way cooler than I thought it was going to be, and my very last general curriculum requirements. It makes me ecstatic. Because after this semester (or so the hope goes) the only classes that I will be taking are classes that I want to take and am not required to take. I will be filling up my mind with all these lovely things that I want to fill my mind up with. Like I said – it makes me ecstatic.

But something about my creative writing class hasn’t been sitting well with me for the last couple of classes. I couldn’t figure it out, not for the life of me. My professor is pretty kick ass, my classmates are pretty amazing. There is nothing wrong with this class.

Except, you know, writers are snobs.

Now, before you all jump on me with all kinds of indignant shouts and protests, let me finish! Or correct myself. Writers have a reputation of being absolute snobs. When a person who is not a writer thinks of a writer, they imagine the starving artist, the person who has a superior insight into the human condition, the person who has been gifted by some divine light to put life on a page for all (or some) people to view with a renewed sense of being.

But I’m a writer, and I certainly am not any of those things. I have a talent (maybe) but I practice, a lot. I read, a lot. And I don’t think I have a superior insight into anything. I write what I know, what I feel and what I learn. I write what I imagine, what I fantasize and what I imagine other people fantasize. And I don’t like being put into a category that is elitist and snobby.

And that’s what bothers me most about this class. Because, accidentally (or purposely), the professor and my classmates have put themselves up on a pedestal. They have decreed (yes, it is a strong word) that they and their writing colleagues and better, in some form or another, than the common man. And that doesn’t sit well with me.

Do you guys ever feel that way? Am I weird to feel this way? Please – do tell!

Posted by Sumayyah (Cross posted to The Raven Desk)

A Message from Monica Gellar

January 15, 2010 at 7:05 PM | Posted in Life, Writing, Writing Advice | 5 Comments

Who is this lady that is not you? you all may ask. That is Monica Geller. And she has a message for all you college writers that are returning to school. She knows that you have your time cut out for you. You’re probably taking four (or five, if you’re really insane) classes. You might have a job that sucks ten hours out of your week. If you’re really cool, you probably have to go to the gym at least once a week. Then there’s friends (please, tell us who invented them?). And papers. And studying. And of course, your highest priority, the writing.

But how do you plan on balancing such a hectic lifestyle. How will you do all of that, sleep, eat and keep a tight grip (or loose, your choice, really) on your sanity.

Monica Geller is here to solve your problems with a simple suggestion. PLAN. Preferably with a color coded schedule that works in bathroom breaks, snack breaks and eating times (sleep is flexible). Because if you do not plan, at least a little, you will never have time to do anything of value or merit. Your life will be one huge mess after another  and you will never get anywhere.

So Monica Geller implores you to planSchedule. Have a vague idea of what your day is going to be like. Or all is lost. Really.

Posted by Sumayyah (Cross posted to The Raven Desk)

Book Club ~ We All Fall Down

January 5, 2010 at 10:59 AM | Posted in Life, Reading, teen fiction, Uncategorized, Writing, YA | 2 Comments

Now, I know some of you have been looking forward to a review of We All Fall Down for this month’s book club post. Perhaps a Twifty will post one in the review section of this site soon. But for this post I thought we should instead take a moment to remember the author.

Robert Cormier, born in Leominster, Mass., once described himself as “a skinny kid living in a ghetto-type neighborhood wanting the world to know that I existed.”  For writers like us, getting the world to know we exist is pretty darn important, but I don’t think anyone should take Cormier’s quote and think that is all writers desire. There is power in the story that is stuck in your head, stories like We All Fall Down, an edgy read that leaves nothing out in pursuit of telling the story Cormier imagined. Sometimes, there is nothing we can do but let that out on the page. And very few of us do it as well as Cormier.

As to why he tunneled this energy into young adult fiction? He wanted to show us the “strength of young adults—their resilience, their ability to absorb the blows teenage life delivers.”

Mr. Cormier died on November 2, 2000, but he’ll be forever remembered by young adult writers everywhere.

On the lighter side, some things you might not know:

He wrote a book called “I Am The Cheese” and thus wins Race’s award for most fantabulous book title.

The Chocolate War, one of his most beloved books, has a sequel, called Beyond the Chocolate War.

When you try to Google his name and first start to type “Ro…” Google Chrome immediately assumes you want to search for rotten tomatoes.

Now, this is a book club post and when you end your moment of silence for Robert Cormier take a look at this book down here. I know for a fact is it a popular read and I hope you all have fun with it. Look for the next book club post near the beginning of March!

The Book Thief.

Photos from here and here.

Quotes and info taken from: site.


Self Doubt

December 23, 2009 at 2:14 AM | Posted in Life, Writing, Writing Advice | 3 Comments

I usually don’t blog on Tuesdays aside from the teasers, but I’m not writing either, so I figure, why not, right? I’m sitting in my friend’s room, blasting music, and staring at a scene chart that was going so well until recently. I’ve been staring at this scene chart for the past two days. I’ve been trying to restart The Scion for the past two weeks. Up until a couple of minutes ago I had no idea what my deal was.

Then it hit me: I’ve been slumming in the ghetto of self doubt. -faints in shock-

I’m not one to doubt my writing abilities – and I don’t say that to sound braggish or pompous. But I’ve always firmly avoided self doubt because it’s crippling. It’s so crippling, in fact, that some writers become drug addicts and alcoholics to drown it out. So I block it out, and just write until I send my work to betas. Then they send me comments and I improve my work,  because I know it’s in me to make the work better.

And while this isn’t the first time I’ve been hit with self doubt, it’s the first time its been so insidious. It took me two weeks to figure out that it was burrowing its way into my skull and blocking the Muse and the Voices. But now that I know? Now I can fight it, now I can do breathing exercises and now I can look into the mirror and do corny self confidence exercises. Because, self doubt is a writer’s worse enemy. Too many commas is fixable. Too many adverbs is fixable. Run on sentences are fixable. Not having faith and trust in your own ability to not only write well, but improve (always improve) is something that will stop you in your tracks. It makes a difficult occupation nearly unbearable.

So do what you have to. Listen to self esteem cassettes, sing your own praises, have lengthy conversations with yourself. But whatever you do – never,  ever lose faith in your ability to write well and to improve what you may not have written so well!

contributed by sumayyah daud and cross posted to the raven desk

Readers and Writers: a Blurring Boundary

September 7, 2009 at 7:16 PM | Posted in Op-Ed, Reading, Writing | 4 Comments

This weekend I attended DragonCon, a massive science fiction convention held annually in Atlanta, GA. While the intricate costumes and parody commercials on the DragonCon TV channel were highly entertaining, one of the most interesting aspects (at least for me) was the interplay between the authors, actors, and artists and their fans. In most of the writers’ panels I attended, the speakers would answer questions from a trained volunteer while audience members scribbled notes – it was rare for fans to ask questions, let alone engage the speakers in conversation. In many ways, these sessions mirrored the traditional writer-reader relationship: the author inscribes the words on the page, and the reader absorbs them and accepts them as “truth,” at least for fiction.

But the writer-reader relationship is changing. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and online forums have made writers far more accessible to their audience. And when readers “interact” with fictional characters online, they are no longer mere passive observers to an author’s creation. In the future this shifting dynamic will almost undoubtedly lead to more interactive events and panels, but what else will it change? Could the very act and final product of writing morph into something new and collaborative?

I wish I could give you a concrete example of what I mean, but I’m not sure one exists yet. The first possibility that springs to mind is a customizable novel, with content that would adjust – through electronic profiles or other means – to make the main character more like the reader. Another is an online blog or forum by a character with content that would change as a reader moves through a novel (monitored electronically through an e-reader or another device) and gives feedback to questions and comments made by the protagonist.

Would this variety of supersized “Create Your Own Adventure” novel make reading a more interesting or engaging experience? Or would it disrupt the coherence of and emersion in an author’s unique world, at least at first? Either way, there is little doubt that the line between reading and writing will become increasingly blurred as technology continues to advance.

Getting “The Call”

August 13, 2009 at 10:20 AM | Posted in Agents, Authors, Life, Publishing, Queries, Writing Advice, YA | 11 Comments
Me signing the agency contract

Me signing the agency contract

For some strange reason, blogging about getting an agent is much harder than just talking about it. I think I have this idea that when I blog I must sound professional – whereas when I’m gushing in real life I can say something along the lines of, “OHMYGOSH she is so cool and I’m signing the contract right now and it’s freaking got my name on it and HOLY COW she’s got some really cool ideas for revisions and I just finished them and we’re doing one more round of edits and then I think we’re going to be submitting to editors EEK!!!”

I fail at professionalism.

*takes a deep breath*

*tries again*

I got my first offer of representation on July 16, while I was vacationing with my family in North Carolina. A week and a half later, I had three offers from three fabulous agents – which was quite possibly the most surreal experience on the planet. However, I really felt an instant connection with Michelle, who was funny and friendly and had a vision for the book that blew my mind. So, on July 27, I officially signed with Michelle Andelman at Lynn Franklin Associates.

And that, my friends, is the short version of that story.

To get the long version, you’d have to sift through two years’ worth of journal entries; many a six a.m. writing session; and several hysterical conversations with friends in which I repeated over and over, “I SUCK! I SUCK!” You would have to flip through two writing notebooks full of character charts and plot notes, many half-finished novels, and more than one terrifying moment when I thought, “Maybe it’s true – maybe I can’t do it.

You want the truth? You want the whole story? I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t know if I could finish a book, or write something I was proud of, or get an agent. And even now that I have an agent who’s taking a chance on my work, there are still a lot of things I don’t know.

There is nothing wrong with not knowing. Nothing wrong with saying, “I’m not sure I like this. Maybe I don’t want to be a professional writer. I still haven’t decided yet. I don’t know if this is the genre for me…”

But there is something terribly, devastatingly wrong with telling yourself “There’s no way in hell.”

Your first book may not be published. Or even your second book. Or your third. Or your fourth. But I’m one of those annoyingly optimistic people who believes that there’s a way. There is always a way.

Feel free to question. Feel free to change your mind. But don’t ever, ever give up.

And good luck. :)



Query letter for CITY OF SHADOWS:

In a society that breeds perfect people, seventeen-year-old Dax is defective. In other words, he’s illegal, and his life depends on his ability to be invisible. But Dax has heard rumors of a place where “defects” aren’t killed for their freckles, mismatched eyes, or mental disabilities.

They call it the Promised Land.

Serenity Faire’s family calls it dangerous – a threat to national security. That’s why they allow Dax to live when he is caught stealing, forcing him instead to help them find this city that has eluded the government for centuries. Their search leads them through the tunnels of Washington D.C.’s abandoned subways, into the heart of an America that was lost years ago. But in this forgotten world, Dax and Serenity uncover their own secret – a romance even more illegal than Dax’s freckles. Their relationship has consequences that echo through the White House, drawing the attention of the oppressive ruling family and threatening both their friends and family in the city and the Promised Land. Because the only thing worse than a defect who is allowed to live is a defect who is allowed to love.

CITY OF SHADOWS is a dystopian YA with the gritty urban feel of Neal Shusterman’s UNWIND and the forbidden romance of a futuristic ROMEO & JULIET. It is complete at 82,000 words.

(Bio/ contact info)


Kristin Otts

The Network: Kind of like the Matrix, but not

July 22, 2009 at 10:16 PM | Posted in Agents, Authors, Life, Publishing, Queries, Writing Advice, YA | 5 Comments

Networking. It is by far the scariest word in the publishing world. Query? Oh yeah – the word “query” makes amateur novelists break into a cold sweat. Speak the name of a writer’s dream agent and she gets inevitable goosebumps. But nothing compares to the dreaded N word.

I was terrified of this “networking” concept mostly because I had no clue what it meant. I had a vague idea that it involved stalking well-known writers, sending them candy and pink paper hearts, and begging them to be my friend. This idea appealed to my inner fangirl, but not my sense of dignity, so I eventually decided against it.

Instead, I started a blog.

At first it was a bit of a joke. “Right – because the world really wants to read about a college kid’s journey to publication.” And at first, no one really did. A comment here, a comment there – mostly from long-time friends or family members. I shrugged it off and decided that my original assessment was correct. Nobody cared.

And then an extraordinary thing happened. I stopped caring too. At least, I stopped caring about the popularity of my blog, and I started paying more attention to other things. Like the other amateur writers blogging their way through the publication process. Like the talented teens who were pounding out their first query letter for a fabulous fantasy novel. Like the debut authors hosting contests on their websites. I started talking with these amazing people. I started commenting on their websites, celebrating their victories with them, promoting their books.

And they returned the favor. My blog suddenly had readers. I had friends helping to edit my manuscript, giving me agent advice, asking about the status of my WIPs. In short – I was networking.

The internet has made the world a very small place. Nowadays you don’t necessarily have to go to conferences or live in New York City to make contacts in the publishing industry. Sometimes it’s as simple as reviewing a debut author’s book, or offering to critique a friend’s manuscript, or editing a new writer’s query letter. Sometimes it’s simply about looking beyond yourself and asking what you can offer the world. You might be surprised what you receive in return.


The Dreaded Writer’s Block

June 21, 2009 at 9:07 AM | Posted in Editing, Life, Writing, Writing Advice | 5 Comments

Last week for me was just one of those weeks. You know the ones – where everything just seems to go wrong. And the biggest problem of last week? Writer’s Block. Yes, that’s write, I caught it – and downright miserable it (from now on known as WB) is too.

I sat. I stared at the screen. I wrote three lines, then deleted them again. This pattern continued for three nights, before I decided I might as well just give up and not write anything new until my muse decided to kindly grace me with its presence once more. So, I moved onto editing Family Portrait – only to find that everything I read I’d written sound like complete and utter rubbish. I forced myself not to delete the whole thing, and instead rang up a friend of mine who betas my work for me. “I can’t write,” I moaned. “I’m just going to give up now, it’s all a load of crap. Why did I start writing?” It took her a good fifteen minutes to persuade me not to delete the whole thing, and then I had to go round to hers to get some editing advice – because nothing was working.

So, the point of this post: how on earth do you cure WB, and its companion ‘why-did-I-think-I-could-write?’. Well, here is my advice, having managed to get over the dreaded WB two days ago (and yes, I then stayed up ridiculously late writing, because I’m not going to waste any writing time!). Firstly, save your current draft, and then save a copy. With the copy, do whatever you have to; delete the whole thing, rewrite huge chunks, kill off all your main characters. (Last week I actually wrote a scene that went something like “As she sat in the bay window, she heard a bang; as the boiler exploded, she hoped that someone would survive. And then she took her final breath. The End.” — I was really that annoyed with them all!) But whatever you do, DO NOT (I repeat, do not) make edits and changes to your current WIP, or any other works you have completed. You’ll regret them – when you’re in a mood like that, changing everything with no back ups is never a good idea.

 Whilst I plan on following this advice next time round, it is not a way to cure WB – just a way to avoid destroying all your hard work when you have one of those moments, days, weeks. No, my advice on how to cure it is simple: read. Find a good book – a new one, one you read all the time, whatever – and just have an evening off writing. Reading is enough to inspire me again, to get me thinking in the right frame of mind; I hope it works for some other people too! Give it a go – it might be enough to cure that horrible feeling of not being able to write.

— Becky.

The Journey to Agenthood (Agentdom? Agentedness?)

May 28, 2009 at 9:03 AM | Posted in Agents, Authors, Editing, Life, Publishing, Queries, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Advice, YA | 14 Comments

Okay, so I was asked by a few of my fellow Twifties to type up a post about my experience over the past few weeks. When I asked what to write about, they told me just to write a story, so that’s what I’m going to do. Here’s my story for any who might be interested.

Here’s the short version: I got an agent!

But, come on, let’s face it—no one wants the short version in these matters, now do they? So let’s get on with the story, shall we?

Let me start by saying that this did not just happen over night. I didn’t just write a novel and suddenly get an agent, as many might believe when learning that I’m just a few months shy of eighteen. On the contrary, I’ve been writing for many, many years. Since I’ve been able to spell, I’ve been writing stories. I wrote my first full novel at ten, which I later realized was a Harry Potter rip off. I wrote another at thirteen (also a Harry Potter rip off), and there were several unfinished manuscripts littering that path along the way. But let’s fast forward, shall we? Kids are cute and all, but you’re not reading this to learn about my childhood. So, at sixteen, I wrote my first non-rip off novel, A Face In the Crowd. It was contemporary YA, and I was so proud of it when I finished. For that novel, I started doing research about publishing. I learned about the dreaded query letter, I discovered that to be published by a big house you need this elusive thing called an agent, and I found a little website called AbsoluteWrite that helped me along the way.

I sent out a few poorly written queries for A Face in the Crowd, but not that many. Each and every response was a rejection—not a single request. So I quit and decided to revise my query letter to try again later. In the mean time, I started a new project called The Duff. I posted a few of my sample chapters on AbsoluteWrite, and the response was fantastic. So much helpful criticism! And I was quickly falling in love with my main characters, and I had others telling me they loved them too. This support pushed me to write more. Looking back and rereading, I realize that A Face in the Crowd, while not bad, is not up to par. Perhaps I’ll revise and rewrite in a few years, but I’m not planning on it yet. Besides, Lauren Myracle claims to have written five novels before getting her debut, Kissing Kate published, so I’m very happy I didn’t get discouraged back then.

Anyway, I finished The Duff, which, in case someone missed the memo, stands for designated ugly, fat friend (horrible, right? Seriously, I know guys who use this term!), and I quickly sent it off to three fantastic beta readers I found on AbsoluteWrite, as well as forcing two of my best friends to read it. Most of the feedback I got was positive, but they did have a lot of construction, and I spent about a month editing everything before I started to query. This time, my query letter was better. I had lots of help from AbsoluteWrite members in polishing it. Believe me, without them it never would have gotten out of the slushpile. Just thinking of my early drafts makes me want to cry and hide under a chair. But once I felt confident in it, and in my manuscript, I started to send to agents.

To say my querying experience was, um, interesting, might be an understatement. I began to send out queries in early, early April. I sent out seventeen in total. But I hardly got any responses. I waited and waited, but not even a rejection popped into my constantly checked inbox. I was starting to think my queries weren’t sending properly, and I was so worried! Then I got the first response—a request for the partial! But don’t get excited just yet. That’s not the end of my story, kids. While waiting to hear back about the partial, I received 3 rejections. Then another request from an agent I hadn’t even sent sample pages to. I was feeling good! Feeling great, in fact! Two requests!

Then, the very next day, the same agent asked to see my full manuscript, so I was very, very upbeat…until the weekend. The day after sending off my full, I was rejected by the first agent, who didn’t connect with my main character based on the partial I’d sent. I was heartbroken, but I tried not to show it. So when I had an email on Monday from the agent with the full, I was sure she was rejecting me, too. I just knew it.

Well, you see, I’m a writer. Not a psychic.

Let me sum up what would likely turn out to be a rambling fit of giddiness by saying that I got a phone call the next afternoon with an offer of representation. From a great agent, at a great agency, who DID connect with my main character.

Needless to say, I didn’t hesitate to accept the offer. For a slight bit of perspective on The Duff, I’ll say that I started the first draft on January 6, 2009 and was offered representation on May 12, 2009. Coincidently, May 12 is the birthday of one of my best friends who read, and loved, The Duff, so that was a present to both of us. But I can’t help thinking of all those unanswered queries. At last count, 12 still hadn’t been replied to. Now, I almost look at it as fate. Only a few agents seemed to receive my query, and one of them happened to be the right one. I never thought I’d be grateful for a server malfunction (which is what I’m chalking this up to), but stranger things have happened, I guess. So you want to know how the story ends? Honestly, it hasn’t yet. I signed the contract and just finished up some revisions on The Duff, though nothing major. Actually, my agent didn’t want me to cut anything, which was a relief, but also a surprise. The revisions were just added scenes and extended subplots, really, and I sent the new version to her this weekend. I’m waiting on her reactions to the new version now. Once it’s approved, we’re off to a quick polish edit, then she wants to start submitting to editors.

But I have plenty to occupy me while I wait. My high school graduation is this Friday (May 29), and I’m working on a new project, The Outcast Society. I leave for college this fall, and I’m excited to say that I’ve been accepted into the Honors Program at Ithaca College in New York, where I’ll be majoring in Writing. I plan to work my way up and get my PhD so that I can teach Creative Writing or Literature on a college level, like a lot of modern novelists do. So, anyway, that’s my story as it stands so far. I’m not published yet. It will be two years before that happens, but I’m a step closer than I ever expected to be. Like I said, this didn’t just happen over night. There were a lot of hills to climb, and still more ahead, but I’m getting there. Just remember, all of you aspiring writers, that for every million “No’s” you get, there is a “Yes!” waiting out there for you.

Best of luck!

~Blind Writer (Kody Mekell Keplinger)


Dear Agent,

Seventeen-year-old Bianca knows she’s the Duff (the designated ugly, fat friend).  So when Wesley, a notorious womanizer, approaches her at a party, she knows he wants to score with one—or both—of her hot friends.  God, the man-whore’s arrogance really pisses her off!  But Bianca needs to escape from some personal drama, like her mom’s abandonment and her dad’s denial, and a steamy fling with Wesley seems like the perfect distraction.  Bianca makes it clear she’s only using Wesley, as if he cares.  He’ll sleep with anything that moves after all.  Unfortunately, the enemies-with-benefits plan totally backfires.

When her mom files for divorce and her father stumbles into a downward spiral of drinking and depression, Wesley proves to be a surprisingly good listener, and Bianca finds out that his family is pretty screwed up, too.  As sickening as it sounds, she has to admit that she and Wesley are a lot alike.  Soon she becomes jealous of the pretty girls he flirts with and his cocky grin begins to grow on her.  Suddenly Bianca realizes—with absolute horror—that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated.

THE DUFF, my contemporary YA novel, is complete at 53,000 words.  The manuscript is available upon request.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kody Mekell Keplinger

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