Season of the (Feminist) Witch

Image purchased from Adobe Stock

I’m going out to left field today. This post relates to a book I’d love to write, but really isn’t about books or writing. Every so often I need to write about something else.

This morning I felt the first cool kiss of autumn in the air. My favorite season is here. This is the time of year I am happier, more energetic and more productive than any other.

Plus, we’re entering the season of the witch. I’m not a skull and bones kind of Halloween girl. I’m a witches and black cats and spells, kind of girl.

But that’s not the only reason I’ve had witches on the brain lately. A few days ago I saw an ad on Facebook asking “Are you struggling with witchcraft?” *cue eye roll* It was trying to get you to sign up for some kind of online coven. (I have a whole other rant about opportunists and religion but that’s for another day.)  That made me realize something else: witchcraft is back in vogue!

And there’s a reason for that–it’s linked to feminism. Go with me on this.

I came of age in the mid-to-late 90s when all things witchy were cool:

  • Pop Culture– Goth fashion, long black or velvet dresses. People began wearing pentacles in public (I am not a fan of that symbol, but no worries if you are. I prefer the triquetra.) New Age stores were everywhere.
  • TVCharmed, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer 
  • MoviesThe Craft, Hocus Pocus, The Crucible (with Winona Ryder), Practical Magic
  • Books – This was heaven. Borders had a whole section on Wicca. Hundreds of books. It was amazing. I probably owned at least 50 myself during this time.

That was during the third wave of feminism, when Girl Power and Lilith Fair was all the rage. Women were fighting for reproductive rights, LGBT rights (there was no QIA at that point), intersectional recognition in feminism, against gender violence and more.

Then things quieted down in the 2000s as both witchcraft and feminism began to be viewed as passe. Women began saying feminism was no longer needed and maybe even dead.

But suddenly a few years ago (long about 2015 or 2016) witchcraft began to creep back into pop culture, right along with a fourth wave of feminism that I would argue began with the 2016 presidential election (I really, really want to write a book about that!)

Suddenly you have a repeat of the 90s (sometimes way too literally):

  • Pop Culture– “Basic Witch,” a really commercial version of witchcraft that uses its trappings (crystals, sage, “spells”- all packaged in book or a monthly subscription box!) to appeal to the yoga moms and millennials. (This is so NOT real witchcraft.) And most New Age stores have moved online.
  • TV/StreamingReboots of Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (as Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), American Horror Story: Coven
  • Books – The oldies but goodies written by Starhawk, Doreen Valentine, Silver RavenWolf, Raven Grimassi and others are still around. But now you also have Basic Witch, 5-Minute Magic for Modern Wiccans and other books looking to “modernize” the craft.

It’s interesting that now most of this is darker, especially the reboots. But so is our culture, with its hatred and bigotry (exactly the opposite of what most witchcraft is about, at least the kinds that call themselves white or green). And frankly, women have a lot more to fight for this time around: our reproductive rights are being threatened more than ever and we’re taken even less seriously on issues of sexual violence – just look at the appointment of Judge Cavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the high profile rape cases like Brock Turner, and the police who got probation a few days ago for raping a woman they had drugged and detained. Women’s rights are sliding backwards again and the patriarchy is trying to reassert itself. And at the same time we find a rise in the popularity of witchcraft.

All of this makes sense, if you think about it. Witches, or at least the women accused of witchcraft in the US and Europe, have always been the resistance. They often lived alone, which in itself was bucking the system because it kept them out of the control of men. They had power in their independence and in the healing arts (herbs, midwifery, etc.) that they provided the community. People feared their magic and spells, regardless of whether or not any were ever cast. They were the original “nasty” women.

One could argue that the Spiritualism trend of the 1800s and early 1900s, which gave women to the ability to speak in public for the first time and tangentially led to the suffrage movement, was the witchcraft of the first wave of feminism. (God I want to write a book about this!)

After centuries of being “forced” underground, modern Wicca (one of the most well-known forms of witchcraft in the US) was founded in 1954 by Gerald Gardner, who claimed it was an unbroken continuation of the ancient forbidden practices. (Believe what you will about that. I think it is BS.) It grew in popularity over the next twenty years and had it’s first public heyday in the late 70s and 80s. (Think Stevie Nicks in the music world, The Mists of Avalon for a literary example and Teen Witch for a movie example.)

Not coincidentally, this was during the second wave of feminism, when women were beginning to enter the workforce for the first time and demand their rights (abortion legalization, equal pay, an end to sexual harassment, etc.) equal to their male counterparts.

We saw this pattern repeat in the 90s and its happening again now. So it seems that in times of resistance, we as women naturally seek to copy our fore-mothers and seek solace and power in witchcraft, which grants us equality with (and in some forms of Wicca, dominance over) men.

Now, of course, not all women are witches, by far. Christianity is still far more popular. (Everyone has a right to their own beliefs, whatever they may be.) And there is still a great fear and hatred of anything pagan by many people. I just think the correlation is interesting.

And since this is a blog about books and writing, here’s a list of my favorite fictional witchy books:

  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
  • The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Kathrine Howe
  • Kim Harrison’s whole Hallows series.

And our own Spellbound Scribe Shauna Granger has her Elemental series and Melinda Kavanaugh series. Happy witchy reading!

Please don’t ask about my personal beliefs. Those are my business and honestly a very, very long and complex answer. I’ve studied witchcraft for years from a scholarly perspective, so my true beliefs may not be what you expect. But then again they may. 😉

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Heroic Sacrifice

This weekend, here in the U.S., we celebrate Memorial Day. It is a day of remembrance, when we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country; when we pay tribute to all the brave men and women who have lost their lives in armed conflicts over the years. Most of us know someone (or many someones) who we thank and honor for their service on this holiday, whether we spend the day itself visiting national monuments, leaving flags and flowers at cemeteries, or just spending time with those closest to us.

It may seem strange to honor fictional characters as well as real-life heroes, but I often think about the fact that literature and pop culture act as both mirror and tribute to the real world. Books, movies, and TV give us access to stories we might not otherwise be exposed to, and teach us lessons about ourselves and the world we live in. Through stories, we learn to be brave, to be selfless, to fight for the things we hold most dear, and to always stand up to injustice. We spend this weekend honoring and remembering real-life heroes, but here are a few of the most poignant and selfless fictional sacrifices in literature and pop culture that have inspired me also.

(No big spoilers for anything released in the last 3 years.)

Sydney Carton, A Tale of Two Cities

Sydney Carton is a brilliant but depressed drunkard, full of cynicism and self-loathing for his wasted life. He falls deeply in love for Lucie Manette, but she marries Charles Darnay, Carton’s client and eventual friend who bears an uncanny likeness to Carton. When Darnay is imprisoned and set to be executed in Paris during the French Revolution, Carton smuggles himself into Darnay’s cell and swaps himself for Darnay, ensuring he will be executed in his place. I was always deeply touched by this dissipated character who trades his own life for the happiness of a woman who could never love him.

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

Buffy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

There were many sacrifices on this series *coughSPIKEcough* but none which brought on the waterworks like Buffy’s death in Season 5. In order to prevent the hell-god Glory from murdering her younger sister in ritual sacrifice, Buffy realizes her greatest gift is her ability to die for her friends, her family, and ultimately the world.

“She saved the world. A lot.”

Hodor, Game of Thrones

In one of the most affecting episodes of Season 6, we finally learn the background and history of Bran’s sweet but simple-minded ally, Hodor. When wights led by the Night King attack Bran’s hiding place, Hodor bravely holds the door to save Bran, losing his life in the process. But his heroic gesture ripples through time and space, and we discover it was this harrowing event that broke his mind many years ago.

Donna Noble, Doctor Who

Donna had one of the most inspirational character arcs as the Doctor’s companion, going from a spoiled and self-centered woman to a compassionate and empathetic time traveler. But when she develops near-godlike powers, she poses a threat to herself, the Doctor, and the world. Her mind must be wiped of all her memories with the Doctor, and all the growth and learning she did on her journeys. While Donna doesn’t technically die, her mind, personality, and growth are all erased, returning her to the person she was before she met the Doctor.

Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars

Star Wars has a number of heroic sacrifices to choose from, but Obi’s always struck me the hardest. In order to give his protégé Luke time to escape, Obi-Wan faces off against Darth Vader, ultimately letting Vader kill him. Obi willingly gives his life for the greater good, but Luke has to lose his friend, guide, and surrogate father in order to achieve his destiny, which is always a heartbreaking moment.

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Lily Evans, Harry Potter

Another series with so many sacrifices to choose from! Yet the selfless sacrifice at the heart of these books is the one made by Lily Potter on the night Voldemort came to murder her infant son. Her willingness to die in Harry’s place works such powerful magic that Voldemort cannot harm him. She saves her son’s life, nearly kills He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, and sets off one of the most iconic stories of our time, all with the power of a mother’s love.

The Iron Giant

*deep breath* I’m getting a little weepy just thinking about this one.

A lonely boy meets an enormous robot who is being pursued by the military. As their friendship unfolds, Hogarth explains to the metal behemoth that he doesn’t have to be the villain the army paints him as–he can choose to be a hero instead. So when a nuclear missile inadvertently hurtles toward their small town, the Giant says a heartfelt goodbye to his young friend before flying into the sky to intercept the bomb. He forces the missile out into space, and it begins to detonate, smiles and whispers:

“SUPERMAN.”

Who are the heroes you honor on this Memorial Day? Real or fictional, let me know in the comment section below!

Forgotten Origins of Valentine’s Day

Oh, Valentine’s Day. We’re not on the best of terms, you and I. Don’t get me wrong–I’m one helluva hopeless romantic and I see nothing wrong with a holiday meant to celebrate love in its many forms. But your shiny balloons and hallmark cards and candy hearts and prix-fixe menus aren’t really my thing, if I’m being honest.

But guess what? St. Valentine’s Day hasn’t always been chubby cupids and paper doilies. So if you like your romance with a dash of ritual sacrifice, execution, and martyrdom, you’re in luck! Keep reading to find out some of Valentine’s Day’s oldest and darkest secrets.

The Festival of Lupercalia. Between conquest, orgies, and public stabbings, the Ancient Romans knew how to have a good time. Lupercalia —-celebrated on the Ides of February, between the 13th and 15th of the month—was one of their brutal revels. Believed to be inspired by the wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, Lupercalia was primarily a celebration of fertility. Young men ran naked through the streets, swatting women with the flayed hide of a sacrificial goat. There was also a love lottery that, ahem, coupled people for the duration of the festival. I hope swiping left was allowed…

The REAL St. Valentine. The Christian priest who is the namesake for the holiday lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, who banned young people from getting married. Supposedly, Valentine passed letters between couples in love and even married them in secret, before being jailed, martyred and hastily buried. Only problem is, Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. And history has forgotten which of them —if either —was the elopement-friendly padre whose day we celebrate.

Confused yet? Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine’s Day (which had gained popularity along with Christianity) with Lupercalia, which was still celebrated. The new festival was still a drunken revel, but the Christians managed to keep their clothes on. Around the same time, the Norman’s celebrated Galatin’s Day, which loosely meant “lover of women.” Galatin was likely confused with Valentine, since they sound pretty much the same when you’re at a drunken fertility festival.

Thanks, Shakespeare. Both Shakespeare and Chaucer romanticized the holiday in their work, bringing it more popularity than ever before. By the Victorian Era, the holiday inspired handmade cards, love letters, and posies of violets (which supposedly grew outside St. Valentine’s jail cell in Italy). In 1913, a little company called Hallmark Cards began mass-producing Valentines, and the holiday began to transform into the glittery, sugary festival of mass consumption we know today!

Well, whether you plan to celebrate with chocolate hearts, secret elopements, or a good old-fashioned drunken orgy, I hope you tell those you love how much they mean to you! Because that never goes out of fashion. Happy St. Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Starting Fresh

I know, I know, fellow Scribe Liv just wrote a post about New Year’s resolutions. But it’s that time of year when we all look back on the old year and welcome in the new, and I’ve been doing a fair amount of reflection on the things that have served me that I want to welcome along with me, and how to say goodbye to the things that didn’t.

2018 was a big year for me! Most notably, it was my publishing debut year. That came with a lot of incredible firsts for me. My first glimpse of the cover artwork for my book, which coincided with another big landmark–my 30th birthday! I signed nearly twenty thousand copies of the book for a total of six (!!!) different book subscription boxes, and then had to keep that fact a secret for nearly six months. I got my first trade reviews, including my first run in with the dreaded Kirkus monster. I got my first glowing peer reviews, and then I got my first scathing peer review. I corresponded with my first “fans.” I tried to ignore being tagged on social media for one-star reviews.

I laughed. I cried. I tasted each sugary high and bitter low and tried to savor them both, because they were all part of this crazy dream coming true at last. But now–just over one month after release–I’m looking into 2019 with a few new intentions, while also trying to bid farewell to a few old habits that are no longer serving me.

Overcoming the sophomore novel slump. Oh, friends. Let me tell you, the sophomore jinx is real. I’m not allowed to give any details about the book I’m writing yet, but I will say that it is breaking me. I was warned about this by friends, fellow writers, even my agent, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t believe them. “But I’ve written five-full length novels before!” I said, carefree and cocksure. “How could this be any different?”

Well, it feels super different. But I plan to keep reminding myself that this book begins with a first line, and ends with a last. I’m the same person who wrote my debut and all those other books before it, and that means that I’ve only gotten better than before. I have to keep trusting myself and my writerly instincts, and putting in the work until the thing is done.

Breaking up with my phone. Hi, I’m Lyra, and I’m an addict. It’s gotten pretty bad, people. I feel like I’m constantly reaching for my phone in every spare moment, scrolling mindlessly through my social media feeds or swiping dully at Candy Crush or some other dumb games. I really really want to cut down on phone time, so if anyone has any genius tips or apps (ironic, I know) to help cut the proverbial cord, let me know!

Inviting more ambient creativity into my life. Somehow, along the journey of turning my writing into a profession, I forgot how to create for fun. I used to draw, and sing, and write bad poetry, and read for pleasure. Now it seems like I’m either grimly plugging away at a book or story I’m trying to sell, or dicking around on my phone (see above) while watching Netflix. I want to pick up a pencil and doodle. I want to journal again. I want to try my hand at a Bob Ross tutorial. I want to join a choir. I want to write something no one else will ever see, in long-hand.

Sometimes I feel like by becoming a writer, I opened a front door of creativity but then closed all the windows. I want to open those windows again, to let some of that light back in.

What are your intentions or resolutions for the New Year? Let me know!


Ready for a new one! (#NewYearsResolutions)

Remember 2016? We all thought it was the worst year ever because Prince and Bowie both died, and oh yeah, the election. LOL, remember?

(As an interesting aside, I now know there’s such a thing as Prince Rogers Nelson fanfic. That’s….wild.)

Then came 2017. From Inauguration Day on, that year made a beeline to the top of the Worst Year Ever category. (For some of us, anyway.) So obviously 2018 decided to blow up that category and remake it in its own awful image. I didn’t start last January with a whole lot of hope, but wow, I can barely stand to read the headlines anymore.

I’d say we were living through positive proof that you can’t run the country – or the world – like a reality TV show.

Yet….and yet…here I sit, on the cusp of 2019. While I’m not exactly optimistic, I’m ready to make plans, and blogging a list of resolutions makes them that much more real.

You’ll hold me to them, won’t you?

Some of my resolutions have to do with writing, others with life. About the only thing I can promise is that they’ll be concrete and measurable and not dependent on others. For example, it does me no good to put “end government shut-down” on my list of resolutions, because that’s not something I can do on my own. However, I can call my senators and ask them to end it. See the difference?

So here, in no discernible order, is my list of New Year’s Resolutions for 2019. ..

  1. I will write another book for my agent to send out on submission. She currently has L’Ami Mysterieux (m/m romance set in 1920 Paris) out with a few editors and we’re hopeful it’ll get an offer. If it does, that’ll re-jigger my list of goals, but that’s a good thing.
  2. I will continue to write about 20 postcards a week for #postcardstovoters. I started writing postcards a little over a year ago, and had written more than 1000 by the midterm elections. Then I went to a protest and met someone who’d written over 4000….wow…
  3. I will spend 10-15 minutes a day working on my French with Babbel. I started this last January, working with DuoLingo, but I sorta ran out of steam in about October. If I start working on a sequel to L’Ami Mysterieux, it’ll be helpful to have better French skills.
  4. I will write another installment in The Clockwork Monk & Other Stories. Monk has been a free download for a couple years now, and this fall I wrote a holiday novella sequel. Readers like the world and I like the characters, so it’s time for a full-length story – or at least something longer than 20k words.
  5. I will re-write the Creepy Doll story. Creepy Doll is a solo Halloween story set in the Hours of the Night world I write with my friend Irene Preston. We’ve been on something of a hiatus, so in the interest of only setting goals that fall within my control, I’m not making any promises about our other works-in-progress. I’m optimistic the wheels are starting to turn, though, and if/when we get back to work, this whole list gets blown up.
  6. I will keep Senators Murray & Cantwell on speed-dial, and contact them at least monthly. Even if we were to all wake up tomorrow and find our government back on track, with single-payer healthcare and sane immigration policies, I’d still want to be a bee in their bonnets. If there’s anything I’ve learned since November, 2016, it’s not to take our democracy for granted.
  7. I will climb back on the Weight Watchers bandwagon, because chocolate-drizzled popcorn for breakfast shouldn’t be a thing. Promising to lose weight is the biggest New Years Resolution cliche of them all, so all I’m promising is that I’ll show up at a meeting. Making healthier choices is a life-long process, and sometimes it’s good to have a little help.

Seven seems like a pretty good number to start the year off. I like that they’re all manageable, and that they build off things I’ve already accomplished. I don’t do well with uncertainty, so having this list – even though it may change radically over the next few months – makes me feel better. So, yeah. Happy New Year to me!

Do you make New Years Resolutions? What’s on your list?

More Holiday Reading Fun!

Last year I made a Ten Holiday Reading Recommendations post, and I thought it would be fun to do something similar today. The biggest difference – other than the numbers on the calendar – is that last year’s post appeared in mid-December, so I’d had a couple more weeks to get some holiday reading in.

Since Thanksgiving, I’ve only read three holiday books, so I can’t really do a top-ten list. They’re all wonderful stories, though, so I figure I’ll start with them and see where we end up. I’m also taking part in the Rainbow Advent Calendar giveaway, so I’ll post a link to that near the end. (Because you know you want a free read every day in December, right?!)

Here’s the first of my holiday reads….Mr Frosty Pants by Leta Blake. Oh my goodness! This story! It’s so good! Though it’s not the kind of thing I’d generally think of for a holiday read. It’s a full-length novel, as opposed to a warm&fuzzy little novella, the kind I can knock off in an evening. The story digs deeper, too, demanding both characters fight through real issues to reach their happily ever after. 

Yeah, there’s angst, but the ending got me all choked up, in the best possible way! 

My next holiday read was Mr. Winterbourne’s Christmas by Joanna Chambers. This one has a little backstory; a few years ago, blogger Susan Lee put together an anthology that is (sadly) no longer available. The anthology began with Introducing Mr. Winterbourne, and with all due respect to the other authors who contributed, that elegant little story was my favorite in the collection.

(And that’s saying something, because the second story was KJ Charles’ The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh, the beginning of her amazing Society of Gentlemen series.)

Anyway, Mr. Winterbourne’s Christmas picks up 18 months after the first story ended. I was a bit nervous about whether it would live up to my memories, but no worries there. It’s a wonderful, satisfying follow-up, and I recommend you read them both to get the full effect! 

The Holly Groweth Green by Amy Rae Durreson is just about my ideal for a holiday romance. It’s not long, but the author does a lovely job of giving the characters space to develop. The atmosphere is appropriately Christmassy, and I loved the way the fantasy elements are woven into the story.  Technically this one came out last year, but it’s been sitting on my TBR since then and I’m so happy I finally read it!

There are a few more holiday books on my TBR pile, including The Probability of Mistletoe by EJ Russell, Unwrapping Mr. Roth by Holley Trent, The Winter Spirit by Indra Vaughn (which some friends of mine have really loved), and Crossroads by Garrett Leigh. That should pretty much carry me through till Christmas, and then it’ll be time for Kris Ripper‘s annual New Year’s book.

And if you haven’t read Ripper’s Scientific Method series, you’ve been missing out. Just know that while there are very few sure things in this life, xer New Year’s book is at the top of my list of auto-buys.

Final thoughts for today….December 1st is the start of the Rainbow Advent Calendar Giveaway. Here’s a link to the Facebook Group  – join up so you can get notices when new books are posted. There are a lot of fantastic authors involved, and it’s all FREE! Happy Holidays!

My Advent Calendar contribution will be The Christmas Prince. It’s a sequel to my Steampunk-lite novella The Clockwork Monk, and I had a ton of fun playing in that world again. Monk is still available for FREE – jump here for a copy – and you can keep an eye on my website for more information about The Christmas Prince. Or, you know, join the Advent Calendar Facebook Group. Merry Merry!

Summer in the garden…

So it’s 72 degrees at 10 in the morning, and the high temperature today is supposed to approach 90 degrees. (That’s 22 degrees and 32 degrees, for those of you who speak Celcius.) I know that doesn’t compare to a lot of places, but for Seattle, that’s hot in any language.

Which is why I decided for today’s post, I’m going to take it easy. Instead of breaking down the current kerfuffle in m/m romance (because there’s *always* a kerfuffle in m/m romance) or digging through the fall-out of last week’s RWA conference (because OMG MRWAGA cannot be a thing!), I’m going to take you all on a little tour of my garden.

Two things to know before we start.

#1. My ideal garden is neat and tidy and symmetrical, and I appear to be congenitally unable to create such a space. My approach to garden design consists of planting all the things and seeing what lives.

#2. Over the last five years, life prevented me from spending much time gardening, so what started as “pretty fairy hide-out” turned into “the call of the wild”. I did some major (!!!) pruning this spring, and  removed a couple prominent plants that had outgrown their space to the point that taking them out was the only option. Even though I’ve done a lot of work, there’s still more to do. (There’s always more to do!)

With those things in mind, here we go…

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This is my front walkway. Most of the time you can get through without being mugged by a plant.

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This is the stone birdbath, my 10th anniversary gift to my husband.

 

Okay, so now I’ve learned that I can’t write captions when I tile images. Come on, WordPress. Work with me.

At any rate, the two on top are my “garden helpers”. (Ed is on the left, and Burnsie is on the right.) The pink rose of Baby Blanket which has no scent but a lovely bloom, and on the right is a Japanese anemone. If the anemone is flowering, it must be almost August. Also, they’re vigorous (!!) so if you want one, ask someone who’s already got them, because once they’re established, they come up EVERYWHERE.

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This is my front patio, a usually-shady place to hang out.

I have a thing for lace-cap hydrangeas…

And I also have a fair number of herbs. That’s a creeping thyme on the left, and lavender on the right. I’ve also planted sage, oregano, fennel, chives, rosemary, and basil. And strawberries. Did I mention strawberries? I used to have raspberries, but they’re thugs and wouldn’t stay in their bed so I took them out. I’m not much of an urban farmer, but this spring I did plant tomatoes and potatoes, along with an espaliered apple tree (that right now is hiding behind the tomato plants).

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This is my back porch, and below are two closer views of the oak leaf hydrangea on the left.

And…that’s all for now. I’m sure I’ll be back next month with some flaming drama to share with you, but today I’m just going to kick back and water my plants. Hope you’re having a lovely summer! (Or fall, if you’re from Oz!)

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