21 January 2019

Know When To Fold 'Em

by Steve Liskow

Successful poker players recognize when they don't have a winning hand and fold before they toss good money after bad. It's like the Old Kenny Rogers song. Eventually, you learn lessons that work the same way in writing. Some ideas are bad, and repeating them won't make them any better.

 Last year, I participated in three author events that featured a cast the size of a Russian novel. Last March, my library brought 31 authors together, from all genres, and asked us to speak for five minutes each. That's two and a half hours of speakers for an event that would only last three hours. Many of us cut our remarks short or didn't speak at all, but by the time everyone was through, most of the audience left. So did many of the authors. I sold two books and don't know if anyone else sold more than that.

On a beautiful Saturday in June, the first perfect beach day of the season, I joined 18 other mystery writers at a Barnes & Noble. My experience is that if you put more than four writers in the same genre together, they cancel each other out. To make things even worse, this store wanted us to speak for 15 minutes each (Math wasn't the manager's strong suit), and a demonstration against the current immigration policy took off a mile away at the same time we did. We outnumbered the patrons who came into the store, even with a Starbuck's downstairs.

The same results transpired with 15 writers at a local venue in December. We represented several genres, but how many people come to an event planning to buy 15 books? I talked to ten of the other writers (most of us left early), and nobody sold a book.

Was it Einstein who said insanity is running the same experiment over and over the same way and expecting to get different results? Whoever it was, he was right.

Last summer, another library where I'd been trying to get a workshop off the ground for four years invited me to participate in a local event. Pending further details, I said I was interested. The tentative date was April, which gave me time to order books, get a haircut, and iron a shirt, right?

Three weeks ago, the librarian sent the result of four months' planning. They wanted four mystery writers to present a panel (No topic mentioned) from 10:30 to 11:30. Three more panels would follow, and all authors could sell and sign books from 2:30 to 4:00. No refreshments, no activity while panels that people might not wish to attend, no further details.

I decided this was a losing hand and bailed out (See Einstein and Kenny Rogers).

Since November, two indie bookstores have opened within 15 miles of my condo. One offers a consignment split with local authors at 55%-45%, the worst deal I've ever seen. Writers pay a fee to get into the store's data base to sell those books, and the store will only take three copies of a book. Given that arrangement, I can't break even. But if they DON'T sell the three books, they don't refund my fee. As real estate magnate Hollis Norton said back in the 80's "It takes money to make money, but nobody said it had to be your money."

Buh-bye...

The other store requested an email through their site that included a book title, ISBN, synopsis, cover shot, my website, my social media, and a bio. I was tempted to include a blood sample, but couldn't attach it to the email. I don't want to do an author event, but I'd like to know the consignment split. I've sent them three emails over the last month.

They haven't responded yet. This looks like another bad hand.

I only sent a story to one market that didn't pay. They offered to promote my newest book, though. They published a black and white photo with no explanation on pulp paper (the dark cover became three blobs in shades of gray), formatted my story so the right margin looked like a seismograph, and asked me to get two reviews. The people I asked both gave the magazine a two-star review on Amazon and got hate mail in return.

Sayanora, Kid. Have a nice day.

Maybe I'm getting grumpy in my old age. Or maybe I've finally figured out that  I can use the time to write another scene or story. Or practice guitar. Or pet our cat. Or...

20 January 2019

Florida News– Year in Review

by Leigh Lundin

Florida postcard
It’s been quite a while since the last posting vis-à-vis the madness that constitutes Florida. Ask Dave Barry. Ask Carl Hiaasen. Ask Fark.com, which awarded Florida its own tag, the only state to have earned that, er, particular honor. It’s time to review this past year.

Scott-Free

Tallahassee, FL.  Since we last spoke, our crooked Governor Rick Scott has now become our crooked Senator Rick Scott. I use the word ‘crook’ accurately and advisedly. After all, this is a crime site, not a political blog, and from a criminal standpoint, Rick Scott has made us all proud. In the land of crooks, cons, and craziness, how did he accomplish such singular honor?

Scott engineered the most massive Medicare/Medicaid fraud in history. After fines of $1.7-billion– that’s ‘billion’ with a ‘B’– he left the lucrative health care business a very wealthy man. In 2010, he turned his jaundiced sights on a fresh target– politics– where he outspent the Florida Republican party to win the nomination, and then outspent the Florida Democratic party to win the governorship. Now he becomes an unbecoming senator. Pass the fermented orange juice, please.

Reptilian Brain

St. Augustine, FL.  Sheesh. Stay out of the pool if you can’t tell a crocodile from an alligator. But wait, there’s more: The dude’s accused of  jumping in while wearing Crocs. A reptilian brain trumps no brain at all.

Leave Fluffy Alone!

Clearwater, FL.  Where’s that crocodile when we need him? A year and a half earlier at Orlando Executive Airport, an alligator took a bite out of an airplane wing. That’s not unusual, but this plane was in flight.

Tuff Mothers

Sarasota, FL.  My tiny 5-foot nothing mom was a fearsome spitfire, but these bitches fight with broken glass. It’s that reptilian brain, see.

Bouncing’s Not Only for Checks

Jacksonville, FL.  It’s not funny. Police are hunting a masked man who beat a dozing laundromat patron with a pogo stick. Was it a lack of coordination or the extra starch? Next Up: Assault with a deadly unicycle.
Note:  When I first heard this story, I chuckled in disbelief at the peculiarity of Florida. Later I learned the victim died from the oddball attack. It’s wise to remember even the goofiest crimes can have dire real-world consequences. To my knowledge, police have not located the perpetrator nor know a reason for the attack.

Extra Starch Again: It’s the Carbs

Yulee, FL. Stick a fork in it,” a North Florida man took seriously. He stabbed a poor woman in the head for undercooking his potato. What an idiot. Think she’ll ever bake a spud for him again? Lucky for him, Nassau County jail serves all the fries he can eat.

Damn, the Driver Missed

Jacksonville, FL.  Why chase ambulances when clients come to your door?

No Relation to Catherine the Great

Citra, FL.  I’m… I’m without words… and creeped out. I’ve heard of kinky pony girls, but this bizarre bozo leaves me speechless.

Kill ’em with Kindness

Milton, FL.  Can’t say our bad guys don’t wield a sense of humor. In Santa Rosa County, a wannabe killer scrawled ‘kindness’ on the blade of his machete and attacked his neighbor. The real shocker is this product of Florida education spelt the word correctly.

It’s the Carbs, Man

Lake City, FL.  Let’s close on a sweet, feel-good story ya gotta love. Cops rescued a stolen Krispy Kreme Doughnut truck and about a zillion maple-glazed, which they (munch, munch) shared with homeless folks. (urp, ’scuse me)

Orlando, FL.  An Orlando officer showed considerably less humor when he complained to a call-in talk show about that stereotype of police and doughnuts. A radio engineer isolated the background noise and realized he was phoning from a Dunkin’ Donuts.

19 January 2019

For Fun or for Profit?


by John M. Floyd


In a discussion with some fellow short-story writer friends several weeks ago, a familiar question was asked:

How much should we expect to be paid for what we write?

Oddly, about a third of the group maintained that if you write well, then by God you should be paid well for it. Another third said it all depends. The final third said they just want to be published, period--any kind of pay would be icing on the cake.

It will surprise none of you that most of the folks who insisted that we must always be paid well are those established authors who publish regularly in prestigious markets--and the writers who didn't care whether they're paid or not are mostly beginners. The middle third were, well, somewhere in the middle.

I'm one of those. I have an odd take on this issue. In theory, I agree with the first group. Fiction writers, like any other craftsmen, should expect fair compensation for what we create, and we shouldn't waste the result of our hard work on those who won't or can't pay us for it. It's sort of like the hot-dog vendor on the street corner. He has something of value to sell and he has customers who want his product. They don't expect him to work for nothing.

Actually, though (and I'm a little reluctant to admit it), this whole writing gig is so much fun, I'd probably continue to do it whether I sold anything for real dollars or not. Writing is, after all, not my primary career; I'm retired from my primary career. And the truth is, even though I like money as well as the next guy, I do sometimes (not often) submit stories to markets that either don't pay or pay very little, and I do it for a couple of reasons. One is that some of these publications helped me out when I was just getting started, and gave me places to at least get a byline or two--and most of these places still have the same editors, many of whom I consider friends. So, yeah, I'll occasionally send one of them a story, and feel good when they publish it. Another reason is, I might see an interesting-looking but non-paying market that considers reprints and send a story there as well. It's not that I don't value these reprints. I do. But sweet Jiminy, i have hundreds of them and they're just sitting there on my computer, doing nothing. I might as well suit them up and send them out into the world again and get some more good out of them.

I recently read Playing the Short Game, a book by Douglas Smith about how to market short fiction. Not how to write it; how to market it. Smith's view on this was Don't ever, ever send a short story to any market that doesn't pay professional rates. And I see his point. You might not become rich using that approach--not many short-story writers are--but you'll at least get a fair payment for what you've written. He also makes the argument that you should be trying to build a respectable resume, and any place that publishes your story and doesn't pay you professional rates for it probably isn't a place you want to list as a publishing credit in your bio. (Professional rates are usually considered to be at least six cents a word.)

I must confess that, despite my occasional support of certain nonpaying markets, most of the stories I currently submit are sent to places that pay well. It's not just the money; it's validation. It's the pat on the head that you feel you deserve for producing something worthwhile. I can't help thinking about one of the how-to-write books on my shelf by Lawrence Block, called Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. A key word in that title is and. He didn't say "for fun or profit."


Anytime this subject comes up, I recall an incident that happened to me years ago, when I was gainfully employed. I was standing around with a bunch of co-workers one day, at a client location, when one of my non-writer colleagues appeared with a copy of a magazine that had recently published one of my stories. He was showing my story to everyone, and another person in the group asked me how much I was paid for it. I hemmed and hawed and stalled for a while, but finally he insisted I tell him the amount. So I did. His reaction, after he'd closed his mouth and uncrossed his eyes, was: "Are you kidding? That little story's not worth that much." I wasn't offended--but my reply to him was an honest one: "Actually, it's worth whatever someone will pay you for it." And I still believe that. I've seen a lot of expensive pieces of abstract art that I'd be embarrassed to hang in my neighbor's doghouse--but it was probably worth a lot to whoever bought it.

One more thing. I've focused on short fiction here for two reasons: (1) I write mostly short stories, and (2) novels don't follow the same rules, regarding payment. But generally speaking, do you feel we as fiction writers should always be paid professional rates for our work? Can you think of a situation where you'd "sell" a short story--or maybe a novella, let's say--to a place that doesn't? How do you editors out there, of both magazines and anthologies, feel about all this? Should writers be expected to contribute a story to an anthology that doesn't (or might not, in the case of royalties) pay a fair amount for a story? What would you consider to be a fair amount? As a writer, have you ever published something in a magazine that paid you only "in copies"? Let me know--we po folks have to stick together.

By the way, Velma, I'm still waiting for my SleuthSayers check . . .




18 January 2019

Police Training

Police Training in the 21st Century
by O'Neil De Noux

The cover story of the Fraternal Order of Police Journal's December 2018 Issue is entitled PUBLIC SITES UNDER ATTACK: TACTICS FOR SECURING LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES, ENTERTAINMENT VENUES AND MORE.



Interesting piece. Good stuff for a writer to know as it details changing police tactics and techniques to mitigate threats to the law enforcement officers and the public. Since nothing is off limits to terrorists, the vulnerability of people in public places is addressed as well as protection of police stations.

Obviously police officers must remain on alert to any threat. One way is ongoing training. When I was a university police officer, we trained repeatedly on how to handle emergencies on campus, from fire to natural disaster (we were in hurricane alley) to active shooter on campus. Every semester break, we conducted a mock attack on different buildings to keep our home-field advantage. We studied every area of campus.

The FOP article lays out how to locate vulnerabilities of hard and soft targets. It lists: 1. Perimeter security. 2. Officer positioning. 3. Controlling access. 4. Detection systems (such as video surveillance) and 5. Emergency planning. The informative article is concise.

Training is paramount. As is quick reaction. The men and women I worked with were fearless. In the few events we had on campus (all turned out to be false alarms – a student accused of pulling a gun on another actually pulled out a cell phone), the rapid response of our officers was impressive.

One observation by the trainers - old school cops like me and others, while we moved a little slower, were quicker to react decisively. Comes from working big city streets, I suppose.


http://www.oneildenoux.com

17 January 2019

Three Tips For Organizing Your Novel Writing

by Robyn & Brian Thornton

For today's blog entry, I am pleased to be joined by my better half, Robyn Thornton–a seasoned professional at the practice of time-management.

In one of my previous blog posts, I mentioned how incredibly organized my wife Robyn is, and how she has helped me to organize my own writing projects. In the Comments section of that post, my blogging partner Eve Fisher asked whether Robyn was willing to work with other writers.

Since Eve pinch-hit for me last Thursday (Double Deadline HellMore on that in my next post)–THANKS Eve!, I asked Robyn whether she'd be willing to team with me on this post and pass along some organizational tips to our readers (BOTH of them!).

And so here we are!

Everyone has struggled to set goals and stay on track toward them. Momentum is a dicey proposition. Once lost it can be hell to get back.

This is especially true of writing in general and fiction in particular.

One way to ensure your progress doesn't flag is to conceptualize your writing project holistically, get the idea down on paper, and then "chunk it out," as Robyn says: break it down into manageable component parts, progress toward which is easily tracked, depending which system you choose to use to do the tracking.

Below are three tips to help you better organize your writing project:

ONE: Whether you're a pantser or a planner, set daily and weekly goals for yourself. Whether it's word count, page count, chapter count, number of Roman numerals/bullet points in your outline, number of character analyses completed, etc. It's important that these goals are realistic and attainable.

TWO: Once you've set your goals, WRITE THEM DOWN. This is one way to help solidify them in your thoughts, and get you to commit to them in a conscious and intentional manner.

There are as many ways to chart your progress as there are writers doing the charting. The whole point of the maneuver though is to have a process which allows you to chart your progress through your project, and show measurable results as you go.

While there are many organizational formats out there, we're going to focus on one called a Kanban Board. Kanban has an interesting backstory: originally developed by engineers at Toyota in the late 1940s, it was inspired by how groceries order stock. Its highly visual style and easy-use communication made it incredibly effective for managing projects.

An example of a Kanban Board
In the decades since its use has grown outside of the auto industry, Kanban boards are industry standard project management and team delegation throughout the corporate world, especially in America.

Another example of a Kanban board.
Robyn helped me make up my first Kanban board this summer for a writing project which has since wrapped. As if the simple, clean, easy-to understand visual style weren't enough of an incentive to try out a Kanban board, I have to say, it's inexpensive to boot!

While there are plenty of electronic versions out there, the physical ones only require a piece of posterboard, markers, and post-it notes.

That's it.

The resulting organizational system is so intuitive it's like Eli Whitney's cotton gin: once someone came up with it, it was ridiculously easy to replicate!

Which leads us to our final point:

THREE: Now that you've given yourself the tools to help you both chart and stay your course, don't beat yourself up if you miss a day here or there. The beauty of the Kanban board is that you can be agile and creative in moving around the sticky notes representing your goals, ideas, etc., and therefore it's simple thing to regroup, reassess, and reprioritize.

It's also incredibly rewarding to move a sticky note into the "DONE" column, and be able to take momentary stock of how far you've come, and what is left before you. At times I've found it outright inspiring.

And that's it for this installment! Thanks Honey! That was fun! And for my loyal readers (BOTH of you) I'll be back in my regular slot next week!

16 January 2019

Ellery and I

by Robert Lopresti

This is going to be a short one because I don't have a lot to say.  What I don't have a lot to say about is that I have a short story in the January/February 2019 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery magazine.

Naturally I am delighted by this fact, but I am not going to spend a lot of time discussing it because, 1) I have an essay up at the EQMM blog doing just that, and 2) "Please Do Not Disturb" is flash fiction, less than 700 words long, so how much can I say about it?  It would be ridiculous to write something longer than the story I am writing about.  (Only English professors get away with that.)

Stirling Castle, a mile from the hotel that inspired my story.
So, let's talk instead about my long, somewhat rocky relationship with EQMM.  I discovered it in high school, after I had already been hooked by Alfred Hitchcock''s Mystery Magazine.  (They were not yet sister, er, brother, magazines yet, by the way, having different publishers.)  EQMM has the greater reputation but I have always preferred AHMM, probably because it shaped my sense of what a story should be.

And, logically enough, I have been much more successful in selling to the magazine I prefer.

The first time I ever sent a story to a publisher was 1976.  I was in graduate school but somehow managed to find time to write a mystery tale.  Naturally I sent it to EQMM.  They sent it back faster that a rabid radioactive skunk, because it was awful.  Don't ask to see it now.  As Robert Benchley said about his diary, no one will read it as long as I have a bullet in my rifle.

I then sent it to Hitchcock's, which showed excellent taste by rejecting it as well.  I finally made it into print in 1979 with a story in Mike Shayne'Mystery Magazine, and scored in Hitchcock's two years after that.

Ellery Queen stayed out of my reach,  but I persisted.  Boy did I persist.  "The Shanty Drummer"  broke the drought, appearing in the August 2009 issue.  That's right.  It took thirty-three years.  It was my seventy-seventh submission there

The second sale took only five years.  "The Accessory" graced the June 2014 issue   And now only four years later here I am again.  Apparently their resistance is weakening, slightly.

So, you can see this as a story of determination and persistence triumphing, or the advantage of being too dumb to know when you're beaten.  I'll take either one.

I'm going to stop now because this column will be longer than "Please Do Not Disturb" if I go on much

15 January 2019

The Gardner Museum Heist of 1990 – And He Seemed Like a Nice Enough Guy

by Paul D. Marks

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away or at least it seems that way since I’m talking about the 1990s, I met a guy through the Writer’s Guild (WGAw) who claimed he knew what happened at the Gardner Museum. In case you don’t remember, on March 18, 1990 there was an audacious theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Two guys dressed like cops stole thirteen works of art valued at a mere 500 million dollars (or 300 million according to some reports, but what’s a couple of mil between friends?). It seemed like pretty easy cut & run heist. And they still haven’t recovered the stolen works and no one’s been thrown in the slammer for it.


The missing artworks are: The Concert by Vermeer (c. 1664–1666); Self-Portrait by Rembrandt (c. 1634); The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt (1633); A Lady and Gentleman in Black by Rembrandt (1633); Landscape with an Obelisk by Govert Flinck (1638); Chez Tortoni by Édouard Manet (c. 1878–1880); Cortege aux Environs de Florence by Degas (c. 1857–1860); Program for an Artistic Soirée 1 by Degas (1884); Program for an Artistic Soirée 2 by Degas (1884); Three Mounted Jockeys by Degas (c. 1885–1888); La Sortie de Pesage by Degas (date unknown); An ancient Chinese gu (vessel) (c. 1200–1100 BC) ; A bronze eagle finial (c. 1813–1814).

"The Concert" by Vermeer

Now, just to set the scene, this is the top ten from Billboard magazine’s Top Hot 100 songs of 1990: "Hold On,” Wilson Phillips; "It Must Have Been Love,” Roxette; "Nothing Compares 2 U," Sinéad O'Connor; "Poison," Bell Biv DeVoe; "Vogue," Madonna; "Vision of Love," Mariah Carey; "Another Day in Paradise,” Phil Collins; "Hold On," En Vogue; "Cradle of Love," Billy Idol; "Blaze of Glory," Jon Bon Jovi.

These weren’t what I was listening to then, except maybe Billy Idol (I was and still am more into alt music) and some of these may have come out after March, but just so you remember – or don’t – what was going on back then.

"A Lady and Gentleman in Black" by Rembrandt

Also, Dances with Wolves got Best Picture, Seinfeld was on in first run. Jurassic Park, the book, came out in 1990. Postmortem (Kay Scarpetta, #1) came out in 1990. And we were using Windows 3.0 (introduced in May). Cell phones were ancient by today’s standards. In 1989 the first really portable cell phone came out, the Motorola Microtac 9800X. And, remember dial-up modems and that chhhhhhh sound and getting disconnected every five minutes.

So back in the day, as they say, back before Facebook, Twitter and even before the Google Search Engine started (1997), we had this thing called BBSes – computer bulletin boards. You could log onto them and chat back and forth in green or amber text, depending on your monitor. The Writers Guild had one. I used to chat with a lot of people about a lot of things there. And somehow I met a guy named Brian McDevitt and we became friendly over the BBS. He seemed like a nice enough guy with a story to tell.

"Chez Tortoni" by Edouard Manet
Turned out he had a production company – and a nice house in a good part of town. He invited me over and we became friends or friendly, if not fast friends. I didn’t know about his past then, though I did know he claimed to know something about the Gardner break-in.

I remember sitting out by his pool, talking scripts and Hollywood and other BS. I think I was hoping he might option a screenplay for his company. And he seemed like a nice enough guy.

I went there a few times. We shot the breeze, ate, had a few beers. He seemed to have a lot of money and definitely wasn’t playing the role of the starving artist. He seemed like a nice enough guy.

"La Sortie de Pesage" by Degas
As time went on, controversy blew up in the Guild over him. Some Guild members were seeing cracks in his façade, starting to see through his act. They tried to get him removed from a committee chairmanship, and maybe even from the Guild – hard to remember after all these years. But not for his involvement or knowledge of the Gardner heist, but because he lied to the Guild about his background. Ultimately, I believe they were unable to have him removed.

Before the Gardner heist, McDevitt was involved in another theft: According to the LA Times: “McDevitt also spent time in jail in connection with the 1979 theft of more than $100,000 in cash and bonds from a Boston bank and was charged with two separate felony thefts from Massachusetts department stores in 1989 and 1990. He was convicted of one and pleaded guilty to the other.” All of which actually might make him perfect for Hollywood, though they like their crooks out in the open. So, if he had just been honest he might have been accepted. And he could have gone to rehab and written a book. Maybe one of the majors would have optioned the book and made it into a movie.

Napoleonic Bronze Eagle Finial
And though there were other suspects, because of his background with the previous theft, he became a suspect in the Gardner heist, though he was never charged. Unfortunately, he died in 2004 without giving up any information on the robbery, though he did claim to know where some of the paintings were.

I remember him telling me he knew something about the theft, but not that he had participated in it. Of course, this was before his backstory came out. But he seemed like a very nice guy.

The heist remains unsolved and there is a handsome reward for anyone with info on the whereabouts of the stolen art. From the Gardner’s website:
“The Museum is offering a $10 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the stolen works.

Despite some promising leads in the past, the Gardner theft of 1990 remains unsolved. The Museum, the FBI, and the US Attorney's office are still seeking viable leads that could result in safe return of the art.

The Museum is offering a reward of $10 million for information leading directly to the recovery of all 13 works in good condition. A separate reward of $100,000 is being offered for the return of the Napoleonic eagle finial.

Anyone with information about the stolen artworks or the investigation should contact the Gardner Museum directly. Confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed.”
So, if you have some info now’s the time to get into gear, get that Rembrandt out of your basement, and get that reward.

I’m not sure why this popped into my head recently. Maybe I heard something somewhere. Or maybe it just bubbled up from the deep like the bubbles at the La Brea Tar Pits. But either way, the crime has never been solved. The art has never been returned. My “friend” never came clean. He died young, apparently taking his secrets to the grave. And to this day, no one knows for sure who stole the artworks.

He might not have been all he seemed to be – and was maybe more on some levels. But he seemed like a nice enough guy. But isn’t that always the way with con men?

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Dave Congalton of KVEC Radio interviewed me. Check out the podcast here. My part comes in at 20 minutes, 30 seconds into the recording.

***

As awards nomination season is upon us, just a gentle reminder that I've got the following short stories that are eligible for 2018:


"There's An Alligator in My Purse" from the "Florida Happens" Bouchercon 2018 Anthology.

"The Practical Girl's Guide to Murder" from Mysterical-E - Spring 2018.

And in the novel category, Broken Windows:

And Broken Windows has been getting some great reviews. Here's a small sampling:


Kristin Centorcelli,Criminal Element: 

"Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s."

"Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show."

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:

"This electrifying novel will jolt your sensibilities, stir your conscience and give every reader plenty of ammunition for the next mixed group where the I [immigration] -word is spoken!"


"Broken Windows is extraordinary."

***

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