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“Okay, this next sentence just baffles me.”

“We need to stop here and talk about this.”

“Let’s delete the word somewhat.”

“I found another fake swear word. Add it to the list.”

“Wait, how did they get to the woods?”

“I’m gonna go ahead and remove this whole paragraph.”

“Can your face curl in anger?” (question asked of class) “How about contort?” (someone says) “Yes! That’s it.”

“I don’t know what’s going on here.”

“Wait . . . .!”

“This sounds like a Tim Burton movie.”

“I like that!”

“Wow. Good description.”

These are just a few statements I’m overhearing as I listen to my student editors work on the copyediting part of this project. (You can read about the content editing part here.)

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It takes a village . . .

For this part, we revised the groups into three groups of four to focus on the three fiction manuscripts. The authors did what they could over the past month and sent us their full revised manuscripts. Now the new groups are diving into the copyediting phase. The manuscripts were moved onto Google docs where the groups can read together and comment along the way.

“This takes so long!”

Another comment.

They’re getting a real understanding of what’s involved at the copyediting level. It does take time to really consider every sentence, every word, every bit of punctuation. To make sure the facts are lining up, to make sure the reader won’t be confused, to make sure that the author is saying what s/he really means to say. (If my editors are confused, future readers will be confused. Now is the time to fix any concerns.)

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“Copyediting is hard,” he complained. (Dramatic effect.)

There’s new appreciation brewing for how hard editors work and why they work so hard.

I think mission accomplished.

We’re at it again. Last year, I taught a class in our Professional Writing program that exposed our students to the entire publishing process, “from manuscript to book.” We read and edited real manuscripts written by real people; the students took them through the content editing phase, the copyediting phase, and the typesetting and proofreading phase. We also worked with the layout and design class, which created cover designs for us.

This semester, we again have five manuscripts and four authors.

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Here’s our semester schedule.

You can read about the actual process on last year’s manuscripts through the hyperlinks above. This time around, we have three fantasy manuscripts and two nonfiction.

I want to tell you about this experience from the viewpoint of an author. One group of this class gamely took on my MFA thesis and my new editing book for Bold Vision Books, titled Word by Word, coming out this summer

I had this group work on both of my manuscripts because the word count added up to roughly the same as the manuscripts in the other groups (about 100K), spreading the work evenly.

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Fantasy manuscripts call for a lot of discussion . . . 

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. . . as the editors figure out the setting and characters and plot lines and, in fantasy, often the magic system the author created.

Here’s what happened from my perspective as an author. I had sent in the first draft of my thesis for review in my program. My MFA mentor wrote back with some excellent advice and good questions. One thing had to do with the entire premise. My thesis is about my life as an editor — it is more memoir-ish with research and other nonfiction elements. At first, I had the title “Superhero Editor.” My mentor challenged that, sensing that the metaphor didn’t really work. The editor doesn’t swoop in and “save the day”; no, it’s much more collaborative and intimate than that. He challenged me to try another metaphor.

I thought and thought and thought, coming up dry. Then, when I decided to give the project to my students, I offered them the challenge. And they came through.

They thought that the friendship angle would work better. They gave me the title “Friends with Words.” Then I realized that for the last month I’ve been playing on my phone every night with my mom — the Scrabble game “Words with Friends” (and, by the way, she usually smokes me!). We moved their words around, and I titled the thesis “Words with Friends” and went back and recast the entire thing to reflect the new tone of that kind of relationship between editors and authors.

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These editors made my manuscripts so much better!

I couldn’t have done it without my student editors!

After they finished my thesis, they gamely moved on to my contracted book, which is more of a textbook style (a book I will use in my editing classes moving forward). The full manuscript for this was due to the publisher on March 1, so I asked what I needed to do to improve this first draft.

I told them to put me through my paces and do what I’ve trained them to do . . . and they did. They pointed out my overuse of the word “So.” (When I checked it, Microsoft Word said, “There are too many instances to check. You use this word a lot!” Yikes!) They mentioned that I needed to watch for passive voice. They told me when I got long-winded (read: “boring”) and need to cut or revise some lengthy sections.

AND, they let me know what they liked, what was engaging, and what was helpful.

All the editing groups put together their editorial letters with suggestions and advice to their authors, who will do what they can with their manuscripts by our March 28 due date.

Stay tuned!

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Hammering away at a manuscript.

In Praise of Bookstores

You can spot a book lover. I mean, a real book lover. In a world where everywhere we look people are scrolling through backlighted pages on their phones, real book lovers are sitting on the bus, or in the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices, or in the corner of the office lunch room engrossed in the pages of an actual book.

And book lovers, by definition, are often bookstore lovers as well. This is what is celebrated in Lewis Buzbee’s little book, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, A History. The book celebrates the wonder and beauty held in your local bookstore.

When a bookstore opens its doors, the rest of the world enters, too, the day’s weather and the day’s news, the streams of customers, and of course the boxes of books and the many other worlds they contain—books of facts and truths, books newly written and those first read centuries before, books of great relevance and of absolute banality. Standing in the middle of this confluence, I can’t help but feel the possibility of the universe unfolding a little, once upon a time. (3)

Those of us who love bookstores—the smell of paper, the colors of covers beckoning us, the intense desire that we could just, somehow, read it all. (Except for the banalities, of course.)

bookshopBuzbee has spent a lifetime around books—working in small independent bookstores, visiting small stores as a sales rep, and, of course, as a reader. His love for bookstores is unabashed. Where else, he asks, can you go in and sample the merchandise in the way you can with books—sitting over your latté reading the first half of that novel before you decide to purchase? Where else can you purchase for a minimal price the wisdom of the ages (or, if you so desire, the wisdom of a Kardashian or two)? Where else can you be so alone as a shopper and yet so connected to the others in the store—simply because of your love for books? Where else is there absolutely something for everyone and someone for everything? Where else can you purchase something that doesn’t need any upkeep but promises hours of entertainment—and then willingly sits on a shelf for as long as you choose to keep it, easily accessible, ready with the same words in the same spot with, perhaps, the same effect as they had on you the first time?

Buzbee describes bookstores’ evolution—the stalls where a hawker sold his wares, the semi-permanent store, and the itinerant bookseller going from town to town with his wares on his back. Before the invention of the printing press, books were copied by hand, often by the bookseller himself. Sometimes booksellers acted as publishers, entering into contracts with authors.

It wasn’t until the expansion of the universities across Europe that books came to be more required and thus needed to be made more cheaply. A new class of copyists and the introduction of paper into Europe transformed the face of books and publishing. Then, of course, Gutenberg’s printing press was the game changer. “A printer could create in one day what it might take a single monk six months to accomplish. It’s estimated that before the printing press, there were 50,000 books in all of Europe; fifty years after Gutenberg’s first Bible, there were more than 20 million” (102).

Along came copyright laws and the rise of brick and mortar stores. One bit of information I found fascinating was that in early stores, books sat horizontally on shelves, just the pages bound in signatures (sets of pages), no covers. A customer would purchase the book, then choose the color and cost of the binding. (So that’s why all those books in the big old mansion libraries are all the same color!)

Those who get to frequent (or work in) today’s bookstores have a distinct advantage—the ability to work around things we love.

I can say we because, for a few summers after my college years, I was happily employed in my parents’ small Christian bookstore. I dusted shelves and shelved books. I watched my dad meet with the salesmen in the office in the back, my mom making a fresh pot of coffee, considering the books our clientele in the little rural town of Corry, Pennsylvania, would buy. I loved to see my mom putting together tasteful book displays in the front window. I loved to see my dad behind the counter with several Bibles laid out on the glass-top case, explaining the various features of each to an intent-looking customer. I loved that my parents would sell a Bible to a person who couldn’t afford it right away, but would allow them to take it, knowing that the person would be coming in with maybe only a dollar or two each week to pay off the purchase.

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The grand opening and ribbon cutting of Ye Olde Book Shoppe, 1980. That’s me second from the left.

Ye Olde Book Shoppe had been an institution in town for decades. The previous owner had it in a room of her home; when my parents purchased it, they moved it to a storefront on Center Street. The bookstore was always such a peaceful place – soft music humming through the speakers, sunlight through the windows, the smell of fresh books, and the opportunity to sit at the counter ready to wait on customers. When I wasn’t busy dusting, I could pick up the latest book off a shelf to read at the front counter or purchase it (at a discount!).

So as a reader and writer and publishing professional and former bookstore employee, I found the history in Buzbee’s little book fascinating. His description of the Paris bookshop, Shakespeare & Co., opened in 1919 by Sylvia Beach is itself worth the read. Not only was the bookshop the haunt of expatriate writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Pound, Beach also acted as publisher for Joyce’s Ulysses. Then the story of how she hid the entire contents of the store from the Nazis—well, that makes her a bookseller’s hero.

You reader friends will agree—there’s just something about a bookstore. Tell me your favorite bookstore story. What do you love about bookstores?

Buzbee, Lewis. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, A History. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2006.

This morning I turned in my first draft of my pristine 157-page thesis for my MFA program. Pushed send, felt a sense of accomplishment, opened the document back up just, you know, for pride’s sake, and found this phrase: “This is a book to tell help writers understand the publishing process . . .” Really? “Tell help”? On page 1? Right there. In my thesis about . . . editing?

Let’s just say, humble pie isn’t very tasty.

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So to help myself feel better and remember that yes, indeed, I can edit and know a lot about it, here are 10 tips to help you with your own self-editing process, 10 things copy editors hate.

(1) Writers who press the space bar twice after the ending punctuation between sentences. 

See it?   Annoying isn’t it?   Because that is a no-no.

If you learned to type on a typewriter, you were taught to put a double space after your punctuation and between sentences. On a typewriter, every letter and punctuation mark and even space took up the same amount of space. So to clearly see the sentences and make a page readable, double spacing was needed.

But now our word processing software has typefaces that create proportional spacing, so that extra space is not needed. So stop doing it.

(2) Writers who quote sources and then don’t give me the source.

Lazy—and problematic. Same goes for Bible verses and no references or Bible version. (Please, thou shalt not do this.)

If you’re quoting a source, give it to me exactly. If it’s a book, tell me the author, title, publisher, date of publication, and page number. If it’s a magazine or journal, I need the title, the issue date, the article title, the author, the page number. If it’s on the Web, at least give me a hyperlink so I can find it and confirm all the needed information. If you’re quoting from the Bible or other religious text, give me all of the information I need, and make sure you’re quoting correctly.

(3) Writers who consistently use passive voice.

“The book was being written by a writer who wanted people to be inspired by it.” (Ugh.)

It’s lazy writing. You can spot passive voice if you find that you’re using a form of a “to be” verb over and over. In the above sentence, the “was being” and the “to be” are clues. If you change it up, you’ll find that you can use much more descriptive verbs: “The writer labored over the thesis, hoping that her words would inspire other writers.”

(4) Writers who add needless words.

“The writer wrote the sum of ten pages on each day of the seven-day weeks of the semester.” (Annoying.)

C’mon people. We’re way past the days when we were trying to stretch our writing to fill up the number of pages our English teacher required in our essay about The Great Gatsby. No more padding sentences. Good writing is succinct and to the point. Find the best verb, the best noun. Avoid adverbs. “The writer wrote ten pages every week during the semester.”

(5) Writers who dangle their modifiers.

“Sitting in a pile on the desk, the book writer looked at her manuscript.”

You have a dangling modifier if your modifier is not right next to the word being modified. In the sentence above, it sounds like the book writer is “sitting in a pile on the desk,” not the manuscript itself (although this could actually be true, depending on the book writer’s state of mind). These sentences sound right until you really look at them: “I saw the dead deer driving down the country road,” should be “While driving down the country road, I saw a dead deer.”

(6) Writers who don’t use the dictionary.

“I sat stationery as I wrote my letter on stationary.”

In the sentence above, the “stationary” words need to not be stationary; they need to be switched because they’re incorrect. If you’re unsure, look it up. If you’re even a tiny bit not sure, look it up.

(7) Writers who don’t understand commas.

Commas, put in the wrong places, are, and always, will be, annoying. (Yes, annoying.)

Commas are difficult, so don’t lose sleep over them. A copy editor lives and breathes commas and will make sure that your final piece has them placed correctly. But do your best. Check a grammar book or read a few articles online about commas to at least give you some groundwork.

(8) Writers who use random fonts and font sizes that change all over the place.

To impress whoever you’re submitting your manuscript to, follow the basic rules of submission: Times New Roman font, 12 point, one-inch margins, double spacing between lines. You can get away with a different font for your chapter titles, and you can bold or italicize where necessary, but other than that, stay clean and clear.

(9) Writers who write sentences that don’t have parallel elements, are mixed up, and because they are confusing.

Rereading your writing aloud to yourself can help you spot this one. It happens often when you’ve done some revising, so you need to go back and revise your revision to smooth it out and make sure your elements are parallel. “Writers who write sentences that don’t have parallel elements, are mixed up, and are confusing.”

(10) Writers whose subject /verb agreement aren’t correct.

This is a huge one. If I had a nickel for every time I fixed this. . . . Anyway, again, this error often gets introduced in the revision process where you’ve gone back and changed tenses or changed the number of subjects which then affects every other part of the sentence. So go back and read carefully to catch all of these: “Writers whose subject/verb agreement isn’t correct.”

But one thing I DO know . . . I always expect to find a random typo, no matter how carefully the manuscript has been self-edited. After a while, we just can’t see the forest for our own trees. After all, that’s what gives people like me job security.

I won’t stress (too much) about my typo on page 1. I’m sure there are more lurking in those pages. It’s funny but no matter how many years I put into this job, perfection still eludes me.

What’s the worst typo you’ve seen–in your own or in printed works?

My mug is courtesy of my son, and I think my sister gave me the little tea guy. Just put loose-leaf tea in his pants, set him into the teacup hot tub and voila! Tea. Right now I’m drinking some loose leaf India black tea called Assam House Blend. It’s delightful!

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Mr. Tea Guy is enjoying his hot tub, and I’m enjoying my hot drink on this cold day.

In the interest of sharing a bit more about myself here–I’m ready to ‘fess up about my cats, because, yes, my son may be right. I just might be “one cat short of crazy.”

Yes, we have too many cats.

I’ll be the first to admit it.

No, we don’t live in a house of squalor with a hundred furrballs. I like to think our house is in pretty good shape, all things considered. See, here’s the deal. We moved to the country from the suburbs. I had never owned a cat in my life.

We were dog people. Small dog people. We have our little Shih Tzu named Snickers who moved with us to the country and was our only pet.

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Snickers, beloved pup.

That is, until I sat on our three-season porch one summer evening and heard a distinct mewing. With a flashlight and careful step, we located the little culprit—a black kitten with neon green eyes.

Finally, with a little string for enticement, my husband knelt down beside her and made friends. We allowed her on the porch “but not in the house.” Then, she was in the house. And in our hearts. We named her Kit Kat. Here’s a link to that story. We had her spayed and got her the shots she needed.

So we had a cat and a dog. Nice combo platter.

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Sweet Pea helps with the Christmas wrapping.

Next, my husband was working in the barn when a full-grown black and white cat jumped up on his workbench and rubbed her head against his arm. “Hello sweetheart,” he said gently, and she purred. When he left the barn, she followed. When he got to the porch and entered, she followed. When he came into the living room, she made herself at home.

Two cats and one dog. He calls her Sweet Pea.

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Pretty Petite, our “little one.”

We took her in to have her spayed, only to find she already had been. So she had belonged to someone. Had she been left? Had she run away or gotten lost? How had she found her way to us? No matter. She apparently was here to stay.

Then my husband saw in town a mama cat and three kittens, all in a cage on the front porch with the weather changing to cold. He knocked on the door and asked if he could rescue them.

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Basket of kittens.

Six cats and one dog.

The kittens grew, mama wandered, papas in the area learned of some hot chicks (kits?) new to the area. Pregnant cats.

Kittens. Too many kittens.

Kittens given away. We took one set to a farm where kids come to play with the animals. Several got taken by a few acquaintances. More spaying appointments.

Oops.

One more set of kittens.

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Molly has a “mouse” and isn’t letting go.

We put out a sign offering “Free Kittens,” but in the Indiana countryside that’s like an Eskimo offering free snow in Alaska. So that set ended up staying around. A couple of those surprised us with having one kitten before we could get them spayed. One had kittens that we tried desperately to save, but they were just born too soon.

My husband rescued yet another kitten from the side of a country road. Mama and another kitten crossed over, but this one was nearly blind from gunky eyes and full of fleas. He took this little one to the vet to get him all cleaned up. We call him Little Bit—and he’s now our biggest and heaviest cat.

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Little Bit hangs out

The numbers have fluctuated over the years as some have just disappeared—either victims of getting lost amongst the stalks of corn in the field across the way, or in the woods, or perhaps killed by a predator or a vehicle. That’s the sad part. I don’t like to think about it. But then, new ones arrive – twice we’ve had skinny, malnourished cats find their way to our doorstep and into our hearts. Both Mike and Molly are now healthy and well fed. At current count, we have eight cats. They come and go, but this is home.

So there you have it. These cats sit on my lap as I try to work, sit beside me on my desk waiting for me to put my face close for a nuzzle, lay beside me on the bed wrapped around my legs.

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Bandit and Spanky are clearly bored with me.

I wouldn’t trade these little inspirations for anything.

So sure, maybe too many cats, but all of these have found their way to us and decided to stay. So am I a crazy cat lady? Perhaps. We take care of them. We love them.

Oh, and they are all currently spayed or neutered.

Because really, eight is enough. Because more than that? Well, that would be crazy!

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It’s 1976. I have just been dropped off by my parents to this place in the middle of nowhere. Houghton College, Houghton, New York. The town doesn’t even have a stoplight. Go too fast on Route 19 and you will go right on by without realizing there’s a really wonderful college just up that two-lane paved road part-way up the hill. In the years since I was there, the college astutely placed a large brick entrance sign and widened that road so that it’s a little more difficult to slide on by. However, there is still no stoplight.

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I’m trying America back on again after spending my four high school years in Europe. We didn’t have American television so all these guys are going “Ehhhhhhh!” flashing a thumbs up and the explanation I get is that they’re imitating Fonzie.

“What’s a fonzie?”

Clearly, I am way behind the times.

My first writing instructor in college is a man named Dr. John Leax (pronounced “Lex.” He was fond of telling everyone not to make him more exotic with some sort of pronunciation like the French word for water, l’eau. It was just “Lex”). After we get that he’s pronounced “Lex,” I learn that although he’s John, his colleagues call him Jack. Sort of that “John Kennedy–Jack Kennedy” thing going on that I never understood. How does “John” become “Jack”? Well, it really didn’t matter anyway since I would never have called him by his first name.

It’s the required 101 basic writing class with whatever department call letters are used at the time. I am terrified. I’m in a new place in, basically, a new country; all of my high school friends are scattered (literally) all over the world; I’m hoping I can hack this whole college thing; I’m eight hours away from my parents and sister. 

Here’s what I remember about Dr. Leax’s class:

Our papers are turned in and then mimeographed (I don’t think we yet had photocopiers in the world) onto clear plastic sheets. Our names are blacked out, and each paper is placed on the overhead projector so that all of its electric-typewriter-typed glory appears on the screen so we can read through it as a class. Not everyone gets this treatment. I think he picks out the especially good or especially bad papers.

One day my paper is being projected onto the screen, and I sit as nonchalantly as possible to make sure no one can possibly think it’s mine. Dr. Leax is underlining sections, discussing them. At one point, he draws a line through a paragraph and sketches a little trash can in the margin. It looks something like this–much more simple and crude, of course.

That’s what he did for everyone when something just was . . . well . . . trash. Trash cans in the margins. Sometimes, if the writing was especially bad, he’d do this:

The squiggly lines above the trash can signifying the especially pungent odor of said writing . . . er . . . bad writing. I don’t recall ever getting the squiggles on my papers, although I know I got more than one trash can.

Later in my career, I discovered proofreading marks, and there are no trash cans.

But there should be.

Since I eventually declare a double major in English and Writing, I will have the privilege of studying under Dr. Leax for other classes. He’s a poet and an inspiration. From Dr. Leax, I learn about the value of good writing and how to spot poor writing. And he teaches me how to make bad writing better. He teaches me the value of words and of finding just the right word.

Thank you, Dr. Leax. You gave me the tools I still use today.

Who’s your inspiration? Is there a person in your past who helped inspire you to be the person you are today?

 

I’m all about self-editing. I’m all about encouraging writers to write that first draft, get down everything they want to say, then go back and massage the words. It’s at that point that you determine if you’re saying what you really want to say. It’s at that point that you can search to replace a blah word with the perfect word, play with some alliteration, try an unexpected metaphor or simile.

I teach a Public Speaking class this semester, and I encourage my students to play with words as they write their speeches. I also require them to watch and study several great speeches.

I mean, what if Martin Luther King, Jr. had said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by what they look like but by who they are.”

Instead, look at this brilliant alliteration: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Now that’s a memorable line!

Speaking of memorable lines, we have a great example of President Franklin Roosevelt self-editing a speech that made it one of the greatest speeches of all time. This year, December 7 will be the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The surprise military strike by Japan on the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, resulted in the loss of 2,403 American lives; the sinking of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers; and the destruction of 188 aircraft.

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USS Arizona Memorial, built over the sunken ship and the graves of 1,102 sailors and Marines killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The next day, December 8, 1941, President Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress. The first draft of his speech began this way (italics mine):

Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in world history, the United States of America was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Instead, by editing just two words in this first line, FDR gave us these stirring words (again with my italics):

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

You can see a copy of the typed speech with FDR’s handwritten edits here at the National Archives website. On the three pages, you’ll see several places where he crossed out typed words, wrote in new ones, wrote in new words, and crossed those out.

In the end, on that day of great shock and fear, the president offered strong words of resolve that united a nation.

So there you have it. Now watch the actual speech. And remember those who died 75 years ago on December 7 and those who subsequently died fighting for freedom on both sides of the globe–in Europe and in the Pacific.

And remember the power of words.

Whatever you write, take the time to edit. Go back and look at every word, making sure it is the right word, the best word, the perfect word.

It will make all the difference.

 

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