Author of Middle Grade novels about friendship, family, and figuring out where you fit in.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Boy In The Girls' Bathroom (Re-Post)

I'm going through old blog posts from the archives and have decided to re-post a few. Here is one from 2010:

A few weeks ago, I subbed for an elementary school art teacher who had a kindergarten class at the end of the day. For those of you who teach or sub, you probably know that kindergarten can be adorable and fun... but they can also be exhausting and difficult.

I had one boy in particular who made my day a bit challenging. We'll call him David. My initial impression of David was that he was a sweet little five-year-old, eager to please. He handed me a folded piece of paper that read, "I Love You." Awww, right? Until the girl next to him started to cry, because he had ripped off the corner of her paper to use for the note!

(Off topic story real quick: That wasn't the only note I got from a kindergarten student that day. Another boy gave me one that said, "You are a nice teacher. I live near Giant." Priceless!)

So, I kept an eye on David, who was still a sweet kid, but just had a knack for getting in trouble. He asked me if he could go to the bathroom, so I let him go. A few minutes later, he returned to the classroom, doing that I-have-to-go-potty dance.

"What happened? You didn't go to the bathroom?" I asked.

"There was a spider in the boys' room!" David cried. "Can you kill it for me?"

"I can't, David. I have to stay here and teach the rest of the class. I can try to find someone to take care of it for you..."

Then he pointed to one of his friends. "Can I take him with me to the bathroom? Maybe I won't be scared."

I gave him permission to bring his (male) friend to the bathroom with him. They came back to the classroom minutes later, neither of them doing a potty dance. Good sign. But when a little girl tapped me on the arm and said, "David and [his friend] went to the bathroom in the girls' room," things did not look good for David.

Because, just in time, another staff member happened to walk in. When I told her the situation, she was fuming. She pulled David aside and gave him a strict and memorable lecture.

"Don't you ever, ever, EVER, go into a girls' bathroom again! Not even for the littlest reason! A girl should never go into a boys' bathroom, so you should never go into theirs! Ever!"

Did I mention she said "ever"?

I let my writer hat creep onto my head for a moment, and I wished that David was one of my characters. I would take this situation in his early childhood and burn it into his memory. I imagined David as a high schooler in gym class, playing basketball with his classmates when the ball bounces out of the gym and into an adjacent room. The girls' room.

"Go get it, David," someone says. "No one's looking."

But he remembers kindergarten too well. Don't you EVER.

That's the thing about working with kids. I often wonder how much of what they're experiencing now is going to stay with them years down the road. And when I build my characters, I also take a glimpse into their childhoods to see what significant moments have affected them. It might not be as silly as going into the opposite bathroom, but then again, we as adults do remember the strangest things!

Any thoughts on specific childhood memories, either in your own life or (if you're a writer) in your characters'? Writers, have you given any thought to your adult characters' childhood?
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Monday, November 18, 2013

"That's Not Who I Am"

If you're a writer, you know your characters. You know their background, what they like and dislike, and how they'd act in certain situations. It's like they're, well, real. (Some writers may insist their characters ARE real, in fact.)

But just like getting to know a person in real life, this takes time. And every writer's process is different.

I usually start out with a very basic personality type (I ask questions like, is he/she extroverted or introverted? More left-brained or right-brained? Spontaneous or a planner?) Then as I get to know the character from the inside, his/her physical description pops into my head. This is usually pretty subconscious, because if I think too hard about what I want a character to look like, I get too picky. So I go with what immediately comes to mind.

Then I name him or her. This takes longer, because I love names and want to make sure the character has just the right one.

And then I press "play". I imagine how the character will react to each situation in the story. I imagine his or her interactions with every other character. I write it all down.

But sometimes I don't get it right.

I was drafting an outline of a potential novella a few days ago, and my original idea was to have two characters (a guy and a girl) argue with each other on a regular basis. But even in the outline phase, I couldn't make it work. The guy character just wouldn't approach her and wouldn't respond when she initiated an argument.

He basically told me, "That's not who I am. I don't fight. I avoid conflict."

(Not that, you know, he actually spoke to me, but I wouldn't judge writers who do have this happen!)

I realized... this isn't about me. I've created fictional people who are so real, they've almost got minds of their own. Just like we humans have ways about us that are "in character" and "out of character", these guys have to be authentic to themselves, too.

And in the end, I've got a much stronger character because of it.

Any other writers have experience with characters who know themselves a little too well? Any readers feel like characters in books they've read must actually be real?
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Monday, November 4, 2013

It's Here -- The Brand New!

In my last post, I said changes were coming, and here are (most of) the changes!

I know it might seem a little too forward of me to have a domain name when I'm not published yet or about to be published soon. But I'm kind of a techy girl and I'd always wanted one ever since creating my first website at age 13. So here it is,!

I'm not exactly married to the color scheme I chose, so that might change over the next few weeks/months. But I do like the link slider on the main blog page. If you haven't seen it yet (I forget if it shows up on individual blog post pages), check it out here. I didn't write that code or anything; it came with the blog template, but I did some editing to it to make it mine.

I don't really have anything of more substance to post about today, but I'm hoping to have some bigger posts (including maybe eventually an announcement) in the weeks to come.

Has anyone else changed their blog's look lately? Anyone have or consider a domain name?
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Monday, October 28, 2013

Under Construction

Over the next few weeks, I'll be making some changes around here, so I won't be writing any regular posts. This blog is getting a new look and will hopefully serve as my author website, complete with a shiny domain name. (*insert "oohs" and "ahs" here*) It's a time-consuming process full of lovely HTML and CSS. Let's hope I can balance it all with my other work and get it finished somewhat soon.

See you guys when it's done! Hope you're all doing well, and for those who are about to participate in NaNoWriMo, good luck to you!
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Monday, October 14, 2013

If You're A Creative Person, Consider Yourself Lucky

I don't like to be a downer on the internet. I know I sometimes share unfortunate news on here and on Twitter, but for the most part, I try to stay somewhat positive. I'll be honest, though -- the past couple of months, I've gone through some tough times. (But I've had quite a number of good times too, actually.) One of the best ways I've dealt with it all has been through creativity.

Creative people are lucky. When we hit a rough patch, we can look around us and take pieces of what we see and feel, and use those pieces in our creations. I don't even mean just writers. Musicians, artists, anyone who does a craft can use that art to express what they've experienced. If I wasn't creative, I wouldn't have all of these outlets.

I feel really fortunate. Despite my circumstances.

One of the hardest, most painful things I've had to deal with lately is the passing of my cat, Zo. She was in seemingly good health until only a week or two before her death. I didn't think I'd lose her so soon. I'm coping all right now, but there's still a peculiar emptiness in my heart that wasn't there before.

(That's Zo, two years ago, sitting on her favorite scratcher. Even with all the comfy places to sleep around the house, she preferred cardboard. So strange.)

Losing Zo brought out in me a strong feeling of missing someone. I currently miss a lot of people, but this fresh wound made me relive that initial heartbreak when you realize you can't be with someone anymore. It's almost a beautiful feeling, because it means you loved someone very much.

I plan to explore the depth of that feeling in a future story.

So, thank goodness I'm a creative person. It's certainly helped me deal with tragedy. How about you? Have there been times when you've found inspiration from an unfortunate time? Do you feel fortunate to be creative?
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Friday, September 20, 2013

THOSE WHO TRESPASS Paperback Release & Interview!

Today's a happy, happy day, folks! It's the paperback release of THOSE WHO TRESPASS by Melody Valadez! The e-book released on 8/27, and I've read it and totally adore it! If you like realistic, flawed characters, suspense and plot twists that make you gasp, and an adorably fun romance, you will love this book!

Here's the cover:

Awesome, isn't it? And here's the premise:

Seventeen-year-old Jenn Alistor is a murderer.

For months, she and her brother, Jake, have stayed one step ahead of the FBI. Now Jake is missing, maybe even kidnapped, and Jenn's last hope is a risky deal with the feds: if they'll help her find her brother, she'll turn herself in. But their so-called help comes in the form of 21-year-old Clayton Ford—brother of the guy she killed.

Lives aren't the only thing at stake any more. This is Jenn's one shot at forgiveness. But she has to choose.

Time is running out.

Publisher's Weekly even called it "an adrenaline rush in book form." Wow!!

To celebrate this exciting day, I interviewed Melody Valadez with some unique, THOSE-WHO-TRESPASS-related questions!

Interview with Melody Valadez

Shelley Sly: Hi there, Melody! Great to have you here.

In the story, Jenn Alistor has a very specific style. Black and white, nothing colorful, but she used to accent with red until recently. If you had to wear the same outfit nearly every day, what would it look like?

Melody Valadez: Well, my first answer was a skirt, because they make me feel pretty. But then I realized how utterly impractical and cumbersome that would be, to wear a skirt for the rest of my life. Thus, the answer is skinny jeans. :) With brown boots {Katniss boots, not cowboy}, brown shirts, brown scarves, and brown fingerless gloves. I, uh, like brown. It is, after all, the color of chocolate, creamed coffee...and chocolate with cream in coffee: mochas.

SS: I agree that a skirt would be a bit impractical, but I love the idea of an almost all-brown outfit!

Okay, so Jenn notes the differences between Jake's and Clayton's gum flavor preferences (lime vs. cinnamon). What's your favorite gum flavor?

MV: Nothing beats tropical/citrus.

SS: I'm currently going through a mango gum phase, so it's all about the fruit-flavored gum for me. :)

If you had to make a fairly quick and discreet Target run, what key items would you buy?

MV: Oooh, that's hard... Target has so many useful things! A booklight, for reading whatever book was in my bag when I went on the run...and for finding my way through dark alleys. Advil, for headaches and the occasional gunshot wound. {My headaches aren't nearly as long-lasting as yours, and they're probably not half as bad, either, since Advil *usually* takes care of them, but I don't fancy the idea of criss-crossing the state with a throbbing head.} And chocolate, because this is most likely a high-stress venture, and stress demands chocolate.

SS: Oh yeah, I hear ya about headache meds. Gotta be prepared. And those pesky gunshot wounds... *shakes head*

So, if you were in the library with someone else while he was doing some really interesting-sounding research, but you were ordered to ignore him and read for 2-3 hours, which books would keep you occupied?

MV: If this guy is as good looking at Clayton, he's a bit hard to ignore, but I would *attempt* it by grabbing one of Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series...can't read those too often!

SS: I'll have to check those out. :)

Jenn is well-known for being a murderer, famous enough that she makes the news. What (besides being an author) would you be well-known for that you'd make the news? (Can be something good, not necessarily a crime!)

MV: It's surprisingly hard to imagine myself being that famous! Since I'm also a physics major and {about to be} involved in some research, I'm tempted to say that we'd {they'd} make a scientific breakthrough important enough to merit a couple of minutes on CNN. Not that I'm holding my breath. Physicists don't get particularly famous in the real world, and major breakthroughs come around about once every fifty years {feels like}. And we thought the publishing industry was a lot of work with little to show for it, haha

SS: A scientific breakthrough? That's incredible! Fingers crossed that you'll be double famous as an author and a physicist!

Thanks for coming by and answering these questions, Melody! You are your book are both fabulous.

Check out the new paperback (and e-book) of THOSE WHO TRESPASS on Amazon!
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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy Release Day to A MISSING PEACE by Beth Fred!

I'm a couple of days late, since the official release was on Sunday (but I tweeted about it, if you follow me. If you don't follow me, I'm @ShellSly.)

Beth is hosting a Twitter release party for her YA novel, A MISSING PEACE, at 9PM EST. There will be a $10 gift card up for grabs, so don't miss it! Follow the hashtag #AMISSINGPEACE.

Here's some more about the book:

A turbulent, emotionally charged YA novel that breaks down barriers and challenges the status quo...

Angry, seventeen-year-old Iraqi war refugee Mirriam Yohanna hates her new life in Killeen, Texas, where the main attraction is a military base, populated with spoiled army brats like Caleb Miller.

Caleb has much to be angry about too, including Mirriam who turns him down flat in front of everyone. Eager for retribution, Caleb agrees to a dare that will see him take Mirriam to the prom and regain his pride.

But their relationship soon moves beyond high school antics. Mirriam and Caleb are bound together by more than location, and as they are forced to work closely together on a school assignment, they start to uncover an explosive story that has the potential to ruin lives — and both of their futures. One single truth changes everything and strengthens their bond.

When Mirriam's family discovers their relationship, they decide it's time to arrange her marriage to a proper Iraqi man. Caleb must convince Mirriam that he is in it for forever — or risk losing her for good. (Summary from

* * *

I'm a fan of sweet love stories, and this one sounds like a refreshing change from the "insta-love" that I often see in romance books. (I haven't read the entirety of A MISSING PEACE yet, so I'm just going by what I can tell. It's next on my list to read, though!) Sound like your kind of book? Buy it here!

Congratulations on your release, Beth!
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Monday, August 19, 2013

What's Right For You

Ah, writer friends... I'm so lucky to have gotten to know so many of you over the last few years, through both Blogger and Twitter. I've read lots of your books, and those I haven't read are on my To-Read list. And you know what I've learned? (Besides that you're all lovely people and can write fabulous books?) You're all different. And that's good.

This past week, I was pondering the big question of, "Which publishing route is best for me?" and was satisfied with the conclusion that there really is no right way to publish. Just ways that are better or worse for you, personally.

Then I thought about ALLLL the books I've read in the past several years. And a lot of them challenge the typical way of thinking:

- I've read books published by Big Publishers that were INCREDIBLE! But... I also read books by Big Publishers that were really lame. (None of my writer friends' books were lame - don't worry.)

- I've read Self-Published books that could have had better editing. But... I also read some AMAZING, BREATHTAKING Self-Published* books, some of which are now my absolute favorites! (*I know I'm doing a lot of needless capitalizing in this post. It's just for fun.)

- I've read books published by Small Presses that were "pretty good, but not as good as books by a Big Publisher", as someone might expect. But... just like with everything, there were also SUPER AWESOME WONDERFUL Small Press books, and some not-so-great ones. (I've been researching small presses for years now, and made a point to read a lot of books published by them.)

Other examples:

- I've been told by friends with Agents that you neeeed one. They are valuable and crucial and just all around wonderful. And I love agents and can totally respect that. But... I also know a few people who were unhappy with their (former) agents, or who decided not to get an agent and are still doing fabulously.

- I've heard of -- and seen -- self-published books that didn't sell well. "You don't have a publisher to do all the marketing for you." All that stuff. But... 1) I've also heard stories of books published by Big Publishers that just couldn't attract readers, and 2) have seen with my own eyes Self-Published books that made the bestsellers' lists!

- Not to be all "self-publishing is the best way to go", because conversely, I've heard writers say that they're very content with the way their publishers have handled their cover art, formatting, etc. and even having all the control in the world (with self-publishing) wouldn't have gotten them such a wonderful result.

I know I'm getting long-winded, so let me finish with this: There's no "right" or "wrong" way to publish, as a whole. Just what's right for you. (Personally? All three options are still on the table for me!) I'd like to think the writing world is becoming more open-minded, but there will still be people who won't buy self-published books because they're not 'real' books or people who won't publish traditionally because they were rejected and so ALL agents and editors are meanies!

I mean, come on guys. The world is changing. Let's keep an open mind.

Thoughts? Anything to add? Anything you've come across that has challenged the typical mindset of publishing?
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Monday, June 24, 2013

Birthday Thoughts

Today I'm another year older, and I have some time on my hands, since my birthday falls on a Monday this year and Monday birthdays are kind of awkward.

I just thought I'd reflect on the things that have changed in the past year.

Health Changes:

I reached my sickest point right before last year's birthday. So, this past year has been all about recovering from that. All in all, I'd say I made a few steps forward in the general "getting well" area. I changed doctors, twice. I finally found someone who really gets my migraines and pays attention to how I respond to treatments, instead of just throwing pills at me.

I finally have hope. Although my doctor did say that I will be chronically ill the rest of my life, she does think she can significantly reduce the number of migraine attacks I get, to the point that I'll be able to work a day job again. Fingers crossed!

Writing Changes:

In a broad sense, I learned that even when you think something is as polished as it can be, it still needs work. This applies to every manuscript I've worked on since last June.

I learned, from a rejected full request, that my old manuscript (we'll call it MS #5) had weaknesses AND strengths that I wasn't aware of. I'm so grateful for the detailed feedback I received. I shelved MS #5, but kept in mind what worked and what didn't.

I wrote, edited, and had MS #9 critiqued a bunch of times. I thought it was good to go. Nope, it still needed work. So I revised and revised. Meanwhile, my recently finished MS #11 is in the roughest of rough drafts, and I'm completely aware of how much work will need to go into this one.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I thought my crappy drafts were fantastic. I just... missed a lot of things. Critique partners are gold, and I realize I like having a lot of them (at least 4) to really see all angles of my manuscripts.


I think the big picture message here is that I can't see everything from where I am right now. On last year's birthday, I wouldn't have been able to predict everything I learned this year. But time and hard work (writing and revising, as well as trying medical treatment after treatment) might help me get where I want to be.

Sorry for the long post, friends. Hoping it makes up for hardly being around lately. I'll be visiting blogs this week, but feel free to drop a comment to remind me to check yours out.
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Monday, June 10, 2013

The Monster Under My Bed

Last night, there was a monster under my bed. Actually, it was a large centipede.

(I know not all of my followers have house centipedes in their region. Please, I encourage you, take the time to Google them. Now imagine one is under your bed.)

The centipede had been on the ceiling, but dropped to the floor, raced across the room (to the amusement of the cat, who, by the way, is FIRED from bug-catching duties), and ultimately hid under my bed. We have boxes and junk under the bed. There was no way we'd find it.

So I slept on the couch last night. And by slept, I mean tossed and turned and thought about centipedes.

Prior to discovering the monster that scuttled under my bed, I'd been dealing with another fear of mine: the fear of moving forward with my manuscript that's now ready to submit to agents or publishers. (I'm still enchanted by the idea of [legitimate] small presses - and I'm even flirting with the idea of self-publishing. I've always rooted for the little guy. So... I haven't decided which path I'm taking.)

It's all the fears you'd expect. Fear of rejection. Fear of making it, but my manuscript is actually NOT good enough, so I regret submitting it. Fear of wishing I'd taken another publishing route, whichever ones I don't take.

With the help of one of my CPs, (the brilliant and always encouraging Linda Jackson), I'm gathering the courage to submit my manuscript. And the courage to believe that after all the hard work I put into it, it might be somewhat good. But just like my fear of centipedes, it's a gradual process.

Well, I might never be over my fear of centipedes. But ranting about them in this blog post helps diffuse the anxiety, at the very least.

Writers, what are your fears? Do you have fears related to submitting? Receiving reviews? Exchanging critiques?

Anyone else terrified of bugs with a hundred legs?
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Monday, April 15, 2013

What Is (And Isn't) New

Ah, looks like it's blogging time again, friends. I know, I take lengthy and unpredictable breaks here and there. I thought I'd write a "catch up" post, to let y'all know what's been going on, and then in the comments, I'd like to hear what's new with you.

What's New:

- As you can tell, I'm not doing the A to Z Challenge this year. Boo. I had a blast with it last year, between the challenge of coming up with posts and the excitement of meeting all new friends and reading their letter posts. I've been around to a few A to Z participants this month, and I like what I'm reading.

- I've finished the fourth draft of my latest MS, after incorporating suggestions from 4 critique partners. Now I'm getting ready to send it to 2 more readers (I really want to make sure the plot is working) and then around June/July... it's GO time!

- This is a topic for a longer blog post, but I've decided to submit exclusively to small presses. It's not a last resort; I'm skipping querying agents entirely. I've taken the past several months to reconsider what I want as a writer, not what's expected of me or what's drilled into my head via the blogging hive mind, and publishing with a small press seems to be a great fit for me. But more on that in another post, friends.

What's Not New:

- I'm still chronically ill, but you could have guessed that by the "chronically" part. I've been doing my best to balance productivity and rest -- making sure I don't over-do it, but still managing to cross off a few things on my To-Do list each day.

- I suck at blogging. (Yup, that's definitely not new.) But I'm doing my best to keep up with you guys, especially those who link blog posts on Twitter. I'll try to be around this week to visit and return comments. I appreciate when you guys stop by - it makes my day.

What's new -- or not new -- with you?
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Monday, April 1, 2013

Simple Fixes

Happy spring! I think... (I'm still wearing more layers than I should be right now, so I'm not sure this is spring OR happy.)

What I do know is, it's the season for lots of writing and revising. Well, it is for me, though from what I've read of my followers' tweets and blog posts, it sounds like many of you are spending much time in The Cave, too.

The thing about dwelling in The Cave is that sometimes I feel like I'm never going to see the light of day again. I'm finding myself stuck on one petty thing after another. Sometimes it's an enormous plot issue (like that entire chapter I need to rewrite) or just a matter of, "I need to get from THIS scene to THAT one, but I don't know how to transition."

Whatever the problem is, I can't let it keep me in the dark for so long. I'm trying to keep in mind that some of the issues that have stumped me the longest have ended up being resolved by the simplest fixes.


A few WIPs ago, I had a scene where my MC was having a conversation with his mom, and they weren't getting along. She asked him something... but I couldn't figure out how he'd respond.

The solution? After spending too much time coming up with answers that didn't fit, I decided he shouldn't answer at all. I had him say nothing. And it worked!

More recently, I was working on the outline for my current WIP, and once I was about eight chapters in, I couldn't figure out what came next. I knew what the ending was going to be, but I didn't know how to get there.

Instead of trying to squeeze and force a weak storyline to get from point A to point B, I tapped my backspace key a bunch of times (this might be why that key is now broken), and I deleted the previous two chapters. So, those chapters weren't working? Simple: get rid of them. I wrote a new, more natural path to the climax of the book, and it's much better.

This may not be the case for every obstacle that has me puzzled, but it's encouraging to keep in mind that the solution might be simpler than we think.

Writers, how have you fixed plot holes, adjusted your storyline, taken care of scenes that don't work, etc? Has it been long and complicated, or have you found ways to see the simple solution?
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Monday, March 11, 2013

How In The World Can I Do This?

Surprise, surprise: I landed myself in the ER two weeks ago (right before a major trip out of town) and kicked everything writing-related to the side while I recovered.

Those of you who have been following along for a while know that I'm chronically ill. I have debilitating migraines that tend to come in waves. I can go several days feeling well, but then I have a string of can't-even-move days. It's unpredictable.

I know I talk about my health a lot, both on here and on Twitter, but the truth is that right now, the rest of my life is on pause while my body gets its act together. I quit my job a year ago. I write and edit and outline and beta read - but only on those good days. I visit with friends and family, but almost 50% the time, I end up canceling those plans due to illness.

So, I'm insane when I say that I want to do more with my time.

I can't even say with certainty that I'll get out of bed before ten tomorrow (migraine meds make me fatigued), or that what I'm having for lunch will stay down (I'm no stranger to frequent vomiting), but I want to add more items to my To-Do list? Really?

Blogging more frequently is one of those items. Every time I visit your blogs and catch up with you all, I realize how much I've missed participating in the blogging community. But besides blogging, I want to write more.

I've just started my latest MS, but I have many more ideas floating around. Not just Shiny New Ideas for fiction (but yes, those too), but ideas for different kinds of projects: nonfiction books and a new (non-writing) blog, for instance.

I'm crazy. How in the world would I ever be able to accomplish any of this?

I guess I just felt the need to update you all, to be honest with you and share what's really going on. I wish I had a truly creative, thought-provoking question to ask, but the closest I can come up with is: How do you do it? How do you manage so many things at once?

I'll be around to visit you guys today. Looking forward to catching up with you.
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