Blatant Promo for Stellar MFA Program from Selfless Graduate

A Practical Education for Working Writers

Students in our MFA program understand that one of the most important skills a professional writer can have is versatility. Students choose a primary (creative) genre as well as second (professional) genre.

Here, there is no genre hierarchy or arbitrary boundary between genres. All students take workshops and courses with writers of all genres and styles, learning how different approaches and craft techniques can inform their primary and second genres. Our students are poets and grant writers; playwrights and copy editors; horror novelists and technical writers; investigative journalists and speech writers; young adult authors and PR specialists; and so much more!

Our low-residency model allows students to build a writing habit into their professional and personal lives. Through internships and teaching practicums, students apply their coursework in their field of choice. These features, in tandem with our emphasis on multiple genres, are some of the reasons why our student success rate is so high: 87% of graduates go on to publish books and/or work full-time as professional writers.

We encourage you to explore our website for more information, and feel free to contact Assistant Professor/MFA Coordinator Anthony D’Aries with any questions: dariesa@wcsu.edu

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So you want to be a writer, huh?

You first felt it when your were in grade school. You had an assignment to write a poem for Valentine’s Day, like for a greeting card. You got a little tingle down your spine because you knew you could do it. You started right away, scribbling in your notebook, those cutesy-sweet words that moony-eyed fifth-graders would love. But those words linked together, as made-for-each-other like a daisy chain, and that tingle reappeared, because you knew you’d done it so well. So well, your desk mates noticed. “I wish I could write a poem like that.”  You got that tingle again, but this time in your brain. “You could,” you said. “For a quarter.” A quarter later, you made your first sale. Four more, in fact.

You knew you couldn’t stop there. You had to write short stories. Adventure and love and mystery filled your notebook.  Soon, you got a special one you filled in the summer, more poems, more stories, and one notebook later, you started a novel (about a girl and her horse, of course). You got a library card and you read. And read and read and read. The more your read, the more you learned how the words played off of each other. They more you learned how a scene can bleed into the next, the more you built secret lives around each character. And you wrote. More and more. A diary. Essays. More poems. For the school newspaper. You graduated, and entered the real world. This time writing for a small-town newspaper, in the days when small-town newspapers existed. From there you graduated again, from college and into a “real” job. You wrote copy. Press Releases. Advertisements. More short stories, and started a novel for real this time.

It was awful. But still you wrote, finishing it.  But as awful as it was, after dozens of tries, it got you an agent.  (Who apparently didn’t believe you could do awful. Who probably believed in unicorns, too.) But the real world was more realistic. You parted, still friends.

You wrote. Another novel, and another. Three, four. More agents, more parting as friends. All those finished books, all going nowhere. But still you wrote, asking yourself why over and over. You wrote more. Wrote a thesis. Graduated again. You hear other people say they don’t know why they write. They just do. But you know why.  You found this out after years and years of practicing going nowhere. You also found out your reasons for doing it sound too hokey for words. That you write because to not write is worse.

That for some weird, bizarre, sadomasochistic reason it makes your fractured self seem whole. That it gives you a raison d’etre not only in the morning but in the middle of the night. That once in a while you write the perfect turn-of-phrase and when you do, it’s akin to an orgasm. That your moving and arranging of words around a page can sometimes move you to tears or laughter or unfiltered fits of rage. That sometimes those words shoot out of you like rivets to steel, and when they do oh my fucking Lord you need to get out of their way — because you need to get those words out before they stop like a crash into a brick wall. Because inevitably they will stop and when they do, the only thing you can do if you want to call yourself a writer is to keep your ass in that chair until your Muse and your own determination break through. Because there is no magic cure for creative constipation. There’s just you and the words and no magic formula, just a million monkeys at a million keyboards who sometimes, sooner or later, when the planets all line up and you finally get it right, and there’s the world waiting for you to step right up.

So you want to be a writer, huh? Then you can be. But only if you’re not afraid to say it out loud. Can you?

 

Nothing witty but a cute kitty

All right, I have a cold, and my head is so stuffed it’s clogged my brain. I’m living on tea and Smith Brothers Cough Drops, so expect no words of writing wisdom from me this week. So lieu of that, here’s my cat Gracie, who never met a pair of unoccupied pants she didn’t want to sublet. Did I mention she’s exceedingly cute? I believe it goes without saying. She’s my cat, after all.

WTF Weather

Bonanza II crew member James Dawson captured this image of a waterspout in the Delaware Bay off Cumberland County Tuesday evening. The waterspout is illuminated by lightning. (Image courtesy of Bonanza II)

It’s now 6:47 PM and it’s black as midnight outside and the sun isn’t supposed to set for over an hour and a half. We just went through a tornado warning, and they’ve now issued a tornado watch, until 8:00 PM. Outside it’s all lightning and thunder and pouring cats and dogs, the rain coming down in sheets. There’s flash-flood warnings (my garage is probably already flooded) and if a tornado doesn’t strike, we’re to watch out for straight line winds. The photo you see just above was taken yesterday of a waterspout off the coast of New Jersey, and after an 80 degree day, tonight it’s going down to fifty-nine. WTF is going on with the weather in New Jersey?

Jeez, if I wanted weather like this I would’ve moved to Iowa.

2019 Housatonic Book Awards – now open and taking submissions

The MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University and its alumni organization, the MFA Alumni Writers Collaborative, are proud to present the 2019 Housatonic Book Awards.

The Award will be given to book-length works in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and YA/Middle-Grade. Books must have been published in 2018. The Award carries a $1,000 honorarium in exchange for appearing at the winter or summer residency of the MFA in Creative and Professional Writing at Western Connecticut State University to give a public reading and a one-day, three-hour workshop with MFA students. The Award also includes a $500 travel stipend and hotel stay during the residency.

For more information and submission guidelines, visit: Housatonic Book Awards

Plot Driven vs. Character Driven? So binary!

What do you base a story on? Do you have a plot that’s been rolling through your brain, based on an historical or life-changing event? Or is it based on a certain  person, grappling with a foible of the human condition? Fiction writing texts tell us most stories are plot-driven or character-driven, but I tend to think of it another way.  Not in all stories but perhaps in some, it’s the character’s own tendencies that drives the plot.

I recently read A Handmaid’s Tale (I believe I’m the last person in North America to actually say “I recently read” it), which no doubt can be considered plot-driven. In short, it’s set in the dystopian nation of Gilead, where a patriarchal and militaristic society subjugates women, most notoriously the young, fertile kind who must bear the society’s children for those who can’t. The story is told through the viewpoint of the handmaiden Offred, and it’s through her eyes that we learn firsthand of the totalitarian regime’s constraints. For much of the first part of the book we see how Offred bends to the will of the society, but as we learn, through flashbacks, about her personality and the way she lived her life before a government coup, we see how much her rebellious and questioning nature was suppressed. So  when she is allowed some liberties and is taken to a skewed but still viable throwback to the way life used to  be, she becomes bolder and starts taking chances again, her rebel proclivities driving the narrative to a precarious yet daring end.

So how does her inherent nature drive the plot? Without revealing too much of the story, if Offred was more reticent, if she remained subjugated, if she wasn’t willing to take life-or-death chances, the plot may have veered to a more tragic ending. Instead the character pushes the boundaries, drawing on her past experiences to use them as a catalyst for her forward actions. As a reader we get to know the Offred of the nation of Gilead, but also who she had been before it (there’s some conjecture what her real name is–some have said Kate, but she’s referred to as June in the the Netflix series). When we learn what was important to her in the past, how she handled certain situations, and most tragically what she had lost, we can better understand the decisions she makes when handling the situations she confronts now.

In effect, she’s acting in character, and it’s her intrinsic likes, dislikes, fears, and foibles that direct her actions and reactions, thus steering the plot. And it’s her own character flaws and attributes that make those plot twists and turns all the more believable. For the writer, delving deep into the personality of the character, really knowing who they are and what they’re capable of, is essential to the change that must come over your protagonist as they’re propelled toward the conclusion, and thus one wholly satisfying ending.

Authorpreneur Workshop by the River Sept. 27 – 28, 2019 – Registration is now Open

Marisa Corvisiero, founding agent and owner of the Covisiero Literary Agency, is excited to announce the next Red Bank, Author-Preneur Workshop by the River, September 27-28, 2019. This event is an amazing multilayered interactive full day workshop with presentations by  Literary Agent Marisa A. Corvisiero, Esq., her Corvisiero Literary Agency colleagues, and other key industry professional guests dedicated to authors’ success.

​The workshop is presented at a beautiful location by the Navesink River in Red Bank, NJ, where the setting is relaxing and inspiring. Light breakfast, lunch, and social mixer will be provided.

The event offers a hands on approach to authors of all genres at all levels of their careers, with the mindful goal of imparting writing, publishing industry, business, and mindset knowledge, while sharpening skills to attain success in the fastest possible period of time. This is a two day retreat for authors to really get immersed into the mindset of growth, honing skills, learning publishing options, industry practices, getting insider tips and guidance on everything from plotting to submissions to publishing deals. In addition to the lectures and hands on drafting exercises, authors will enjoy mediation sessions, goal setting practices, presentation by success coach, and much much more. The goal of this workshop is to help authors not just think like creative author-preneurs, but Successful Author-Preneurs.

During this retreat-like full day workshop, authors have the opportunity to attend various Presentations, pitch Literary Agents and Editors (Optional), get a book signed by Bestselling Author Megan Erickson during our Mixer, get work critiqued by Agents and Editors (Optional), attend the Critical Mass: First Page Critique Literary Agent and Editor Panel, and Network with authors and industry professionals all day long and during a Networking Mixer after hours.

For registration, presenters, pricing, and more info, go to Covisiero Agency Authorprenuer Workshop.

Pack your suitcase! Writers Conferences for May

One hella site for writers is Publishing… and Other Forms of Insanity.  Offering tips on contests, agents, publishers, self-publishing, reviews, calls for submission, and so much more, it’s the go-to site for the business-end of writing, geared towards beginning to seasoned writers. One of my favorite sections is for Conferences, and here’s the latest sampling of events coming up next month.

Las Vegas Writer’s Conference is sponsored by the Henderson Writers’ Group, Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall, Las Vegas, Nevada. May 2 – 4, 2019. Join writing professionals, agents publishers and marketing experts for a weekend of workshops and enlightening discussions about the publishing industry. A chance to pitch your manuscript and ideas to agents.

Northern Colorado Writers Conference. May 3 – 4, 2019, Fort Collins CO. Workshops, seminars, speakers, entertainment, agent roundtables, pitch sessions, networking with authors and industry professionals.

Atlanta Writers Conference. May 3 – 4, 2019, Atlanta, GA. The conference features publishing panels, pitch sessions, manuscript and query letter critiques, and a workshop on author branding for fiction writers, nonfiction writers, and graphic novelists. Participating publishing professionals include editors Rebecca Brewer (Ace/Berkley Publishing Group), Stephanie Guerdan (HarperCollins), Jennifer Gunnels (Tor Books), Emily Hartley (Ballantine Books), Chelcee Johns (37 INK), Danielle Marshall (Lake Union Publishing/Amazon Publishing), Grace Menary-Winefield (Sourcebooks), and Kristine Swartz (Berkley Publishing Group); and agents Caroline George (Cyle Young Literary Elite), Natalie Grazian (Martin Literary & Media Management), Julie Gwinn (Seymour Agency), Sharon Pelletier (Dystel, Goderich & Bourret), Michelle Richter (Fuse Literary), Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein (McIntosh & Otis), Jennifer March Soloway (Andrea Brown Literary Agency), and Léonicka Valcius (Transatlantic Agency). You must be a member to attend.

The Pikes Peak Writers Conference. May 3 – 5, 2019. Colorado Springs, Colorado. “The three-day conference is full of topical, in-depth workshops, dynamic keynote speakers, opportunities for one-on-one time with agents and editors, the chance to read your work aloud for constructive critique, plus time to socialize with fellow writers.

Malice Domestic. May 3 – 5, 2019, Bethesda, MD. Malice Domestic™ is an annual fan convention in the metropolitan DC area that celebrates the traditional mystery, books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie. The genre is loosely identified as mysteries which contain no explicit sex, or excessive gore, or violence.

Gold Rush Writers Conference. May 3 – 5, 2019, Mokelumne Hill, CA. “Writing professionals will guide you to a publishing bonanza through a series of panels, specialty talks, workshops and celebrity lectures. Go one-on-one with successful poets, novelists, biographers, memoirists and short story writers.” Writing workshops in Autobiography/Memoir, Children’s, Fiction, Marketing, Non-fiction, Poetry, Publishing, Romance, Travel, Young Adult. Individual sessions available.

Hedgebrook VORTEXT Salon. May 3 – 5, 2019, Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island, about 35 miles northwest of Seattle. Workshops, panel discussions, lectures, open mics, and time to write in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for women writers.

Michigan Writers Conference, May 4, 2019, Detroit, MI. This is a special one-day “How to Get Published” writing workshop on Saturday, May 4, 2019, at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Detroit Livonia Novi. In other words, it’s one day full of classes and advice designed to give you the best instruction concerning how to get your writing & books published. We’ll discuss your publishing opportunities today, how to write queries & pitches, how to market yourself and your books, what makes an agent/editor stop reading your manuscript, and more. No matter what you’re writing — fiction or nonfiction — the day’s classes will help point you in the right direction. Writers of all genres are welcome.

ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors) Writers Conference, May 5 – 6, 2019. NYC, NY. Focus on Autobiography/Memoir, Business/Technical, Humor, Journalism, Marketing, Nature, Non-fiction, Publishing, Religion, Screenwriting, Travel. Attending: more than 100 editors, authors, literary agents, and publicists.

Mokulē‘ia Writers Retreat. May 5 – 10, 2019 in Waialua, Hawaii at Camp Mokulē‘ia, Oahu. Offers workshops in fiction and nonfiction, readings, one-on-one consultations, publishing panels, yoga sessions. The retreat is led by North Shore native Constance Hale, the author of Sin and Syntax, the editor of more than two dozen books, and a journalist whose stories about Hawai‘i appear on CD liner notes, as well as in publications like The Los Angeles Times and Smithsonian magazine. Hale invites a mix of writers, editors, and agents from both the islands and the mainland to lead various workshops and appear on panels.

Columbus State Community College Writers Conference. May 6, 2019, Columbus, Ohio. Workshops in Autobiography/Memoir, Business/Technical, Fiction, Journalism, Marketing, Non-fiction, Playwriting, Poetry, Publishing, Screenwriting. This one-day conference is free of charge.

Annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. May 6 – 12, 2019 at various locations in New York City. “Join more than 125 writers and artists representing over 50 nationalities in New York City for the 2019 PEN World Voices Festival: Open Secrets. In 60+ events in venues across New York City, the 15th anniversary of New York’s first international literary festival will gather nonfiction and fiction writers, thinkers, and activists to discuss what we reveal and what we withhold, and the opportunities and dangers inherent in the rapid reconfiguring of the public and the private in the literary, cultural, social, and political realms.”

8th Annual Nonfiction Writers Conference. May 8 – 10, 2019: Conducted online. Opening Speaker: Gretchen Rubin.

Washington Writers Conference 2019. May 10 – 11, 2019: Bethesda, MD. Pitch sessions, expert sessions, author talks, and a luncheon (featuring keynote speaker Jeffery Deaver), plus panels on how to query, how to pitch, and more publishing pros’ insights, are just some of the highlights. Past speakers have included Bob Woodward, Bob Schieffer, Kitty Kelley, Judith Viorst, Alice McDermott, Ron Charles, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, Susan Coll, and E.J. Dionne.

Lakefly Writers Conference. May 10 – 11, 2019, Premier Waterfront Hotel & Convention Center in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Workshops, talks, and a book fair for poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. Keynote is Liam Callanan, the author of The Cloud Atlas, All Saints, Listen, and Paris by the Book. His work has been or will be translated into Chinese, German, Italian, and Japanese. Liam was the winner of the 2017 George W. Hunt, SJ Prize in Arts, Letters & Journalism and a finalist for the Edgar Award.

The Loft’s Wordplay Conference. May 11- 12, 2019, Minneapolis MN. “The Loft’s Wordplay aims to be Minnesota’s largest celebration of readers, writers, and great books. Imagine a weekend full of famous authors and celebrated books; a weekend of readings, conversations, workshops, kids’ activities, demonstrations, and one-of-a-kind happenings with outdoor stages, cooking stages, book signings, quiet reading corners, boisterous parties, food trucks, beer tents, and books, books, books.”

Longleaf Writers Conference. May 11 – 18, 2019: Seaside, Florida. “Formerly the Seaside Writers Conference, Longleaf Writers Conference is an annual gathering of creative writers from all over the nation, featuring award-winning writers in poetry and fiction and screenwriting who will offer a full week of intensive writing workshops, one day seminars, school outreach programs, and social events. This event occurs every year in May, and offers the opportunity for beginning, intermediate and advanced writers to celebrate writing, to network with other writers, and to hone their craft. There will also be seminars hosted by professional editors and literary agents who will offer one-on-one consultations. All participants who pay the full conference tuition fee will be able to take part in all daily activities, while those paying a la carte pricing will have the pick of which classes and workshops they would like to attend. The Longleaf Writers Conference is one of the only conferences in the nation to take place on one of the most beautiful beaches in the US, and every year will feature notable guest writers, literary agents, and professional editors.”

Writing the Unreal: The Whole Novel Workshop in Fantasy & Speculative Fiction. May 12 -19, 2019, Honesdale, PA. This unique workshop is designed for anyone with a complete or near-complete draft of a middle-grade or young adult novel in fantasy or speculative fiction who wants a thorough manuscript critique and help making plans for revision.

Nebula Conference. May 16th-19th, 2019, Los Angeles, CA. SFWA members and other individuals who are interested in the field of science fiction and fantasy are welcome to attend SFWA’s Nebula Conference. Attendees may participate in workshops, programming and special events throughout the weekend. You do not need to be a member of SFWA to attend.

Big Sur on Cape Cod. May 17 – 19, 2019, North Falmouth MA. Faculty: Andrea Brown and four of her agents, four editors and four authors. Children’s writing.

Missouri Writers’ Guild Annual Conference. May 17 – 19, 2019: Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  Workshops (fiction/nonfiction, romance, mystery, screenwriting, query letters, book design), critiques, pitches to literary agents, Slush Pile sessions, awards banquet & keynote address. Eight (8) Sunday master classes. Literary agents: Nikki Terpilowski, Caroline, George, Savannah Brooks, and Jill Marr (remote). Claudia Shelton, Karen Sargent, Steve Wiegenstein, Paul Bass, Ellie Searl, and The Deadly Duo, Bill & Sharon Hopkins.

Pennwriters Conference. May 17 – 19, 2019: Pittsburgh, PA. The 32nd Annual Pennwriters Conference features three days of workshops, panels, networking and learning to help you learn, grow, soar! Friday, Saturday and Sunday feature an open attendance slate of one-hour workshops on all things writing. The schedule is structured with open attendance, so you can take whichever classes appeal to you. Attendees will have 40+ hours of sessions to choose from. Our faculty is comprised of published authors, literary agents and editors, and other writing industry professionals. Pitch appointments are available at no additional fee.

Austin SCBWI 2019 Writers & Illustrators Working Conference. May 18 – 19, 2019: Austin, TX. Conference on children’s books with keynotes; general sessions; breakout sessions for writing, professional development and illustration; intensives for novels, picture books and illustration; critiques; pitches and more.

Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp. May 19 – 25, 2019: West Bend WI. 6-day, residential workshop-retreat for writers in all genres working on a novel or creative nonfiction book. Workshops in Autobiography/Memoir, Fiction, Horror, Humor, Mystery, Non-fiction, Publishing, Romance, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Young Adult. Registration is limited to 30 people.

Boldface Conference for Emerging Writers. May 20 – 24, 2019: Houston, Texas. Daily workshops, readings, craft talks, social events and professionalism panels in an intimate and supportive environment designed specifically with the needs of emerging writers in mind.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Summer Poetry Writing Retreat. May 24 – 26, 2019: Knoxville, Tennessee. The three-day, two-night camping retreat will be held at SAFTA’s own Firefly Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee. All SAFTA retreats focus on generative poetry writing, and this year’s poetry retreat will also include break-out sessions on writing political poetry, writing confession, kicking writer’s block, publishing, and more.

Balticon 53. May 24 – 27, 2019: Baltimore, MD. Balticon is sponsored by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS). BSFS presents the Compton Crook Award, the Robert A. Heinlein Award, and the winner of the annual Jack L. Chalker Young Writer’s Contest annually at this event. Faculty: Guest of Honor: Catherine Asaro. Multiple tracks of Programming over the four day weekend, featuring authors, artists, scientists, musicians, podcasters, publishers, editors, costumers and other creative SF luminaries.

James Jones Writers Workshop Retreat. May 26 – June 2, 2019: New Harmony, IN. Faculty: Kaylie Jones, Judy Mandel, J Patrick Redmond. Costs: Advanced Writing Workshop (includes food and lodging for 7 days): $2,450. The Art of Creative Writing (beginner): $500. FULL

North Words Writers Symposium. May 29 – June 1, 2019: Skagway, Alaska. Faculty: Susan Orlean, Emily Wall, Ernestine Hayes, Don Rearden, Jonathan Evison, Nancy Lord, Terrence Cole. Costs: $375 includes most meals. College credit extra for $90.

Bear River Writers’ Conference. May 30 – June 3, 2019: Camp Michigania on Walloon Lake, near Petoskey, Michigan. Workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as readings, discussions, nature walks, and time to write.

Surprise Valley Writers’ Conference. May 31 – June 4, 2019: Cedarville, California. Features workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as craft lectures, readings, open mics, and a Book Arts workshop.

Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference. May 31 – June 6, 2019: Ripton, VT. The Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference includes workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, as well as lectures, craft classes, meetings with editors and agents, and readings by faculty and guests. Application deadline: February 15, 2019.

Tips from the MFA Pit, Part 6 – Revising Your Revision Again

I just realized that I’ve gone nearly to the end of the semester with nary an entry from the MFA pit. Shame on me, as I’ve certainly disseminated some classic advice, but I’ve been so busy with my own revisions, that I’ve completely forgotten. In any event, I’m sure you’ve been hankering for my next gem of wisdom, so here’s one on the fine art of revising. In case you’re foggy on what that is, it’s after the first draft is finished, when the real writing occurs. It’s when you correct, edit, fill plot holes, omit needless words, flesh out characters, add tension, fix continuity, hone the conflict, and otherwise tweak the hell out of your ms. until it’s pink and screaming. But beware: one revision often begets another. Because the only time you’re truly finished revising is when you received the printed copy in the mail or the ecopy in your inbox. And sometimes not even then, sigh. So, without further ado, my comments on one of my grad student’s frustration with the whole process. Will it ever end? they mused. Well…

A comment on revising: take my word on this—you can drive yourself insane with revision. Truly. The way I work a first draft is I write, moving forward, and then in my next writing session, I scan what I wrote the session before, do some mini-editing, then keep going. As I write, I keep a journal with all my characters’ names and descriptions, a short (SHORT) synopsis of main plot points—usually the opening, the conflict, the dark moment, and the ending—and changes/edits I’d like to put in the next draft. I make sure that I date every change I want to put in, because after you begin your edit, you’ll see changes to the same scene, and I usually want to use the latest one. I also put in this journal those tidbits of info you hear/read/dig up that you may want to use later, which also includes lines of dialogue. I am a big fan of Post-it notes, too and I have them all over my laptop and the bulletin board I have by my desk. But the journal is really helpful as it’s a handy reference for continuity, and it keeps you writing, helping you to resist the urge to edit over and over. I started keeping a journal because somehow, I’ve collected a ton of these things. Gifts from other writers, from writers conferences, freebies from publishers. But I like this spiral-bound journal I have, and I’ve used it through three books now. The spiral binding is handy for keeping it open, and keep the pages flipping. It’s also a great place to store your Post-its after you’ve moved past that plot point.
That’s it! Now are you ready to start your revision?

Seriously Snark

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