Guest Post: Writing Holidays with Evan J. Peterson

Every culture tells stories. We keep our history alive this way. We all have rituals, whether they are secular or deeply religious. When you’re worldbuilding, you can communicate a plethora of culture and history through the traditions and festivals your characters observe.

Coming up on December 10th, I’ll teach Christmas in Narnia: Creating Traditions for Fictional Cultures for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. Pardon the frosty pun, but a fictional holiday is an excellent tip to the iceberg of your world’s history. Consider the wealth of similarities and differences of the festivals of lights that originate from the Northern Hemisphere of our planet alone:

During the season of autumn into midwinter, things get darker and colder in most of the NH. The further north you go, the more stark that dark and cold becomes. Many traditions originating in the Northern Hemisphere have celebrations and rituals revolving around light and warmth at this time. India and its diaspora bring us Diwali and Deepavali, two different but similar multi-day festivals of lights, color, and life. Judaism celebrates Hanukkah as the observance of a historical miracle–eight nights of light produced from barely any fuel oil. A fun side note: we eat fried foods like latkes and donuts on Hanukkah to represent the bounty of the oil! Who wouldn’t love a holiday that prescribes feasting on greasy carbs?

On Christmas, people celebrate the birth of the Christ child, destined to bring light, love, and goodness into a harsh world. As Christianity spread through Europe, this tradition appropriated, fused with, and replaced several midwinter traditions, such as the birth of God of the Wood on the winter solstice. This nature-based deity literally brings the light and warmth back into the world as the days finally grow longer instead of shorter. In addition to a festival of eating and drinking (lots of drinking), popular Christmas tradition involves putting candles and electric lights on everything, particularly an evergreen tree. That tradition did not come from Nazareth.

Notice that these traditions change over time and will even be different in each family or community. Just as no ethnic group is a monolith, neither is any religious or secular culture. There’s so much room here for worldbuilding, not to mention internal as well as external conflict. Some progressive Jewish families have introduced an orange among the symbolic food (roasted egg, lamb bone, bitter herb, et al.) of the Passover Seder plate, meant to remind us of the struggle of women, lgbtq+ folks, and people of color in Judaism as well as all who face intersectional struggles and are often left out of the popular image of the Jewish community.

I have a Jewish mother and an essentially Unitarian father. I grew up with secular Christmas as well as a heritage-rich Hanukkah, but I’ve always gravitated toward Pagan traditions. As a kid, I was particularly smitten with the Egyptian and Greco-Roman pantheons and stories, and I assume this is because I grew up in Miami, Florida. Flowers, fruit, and flowing water made more spiritual sense to me than the scarcity theme prevalent in Abrahamic traditions. This is the sort of subtlety that can communicate the history of a culture; temperate or tropical traditions are more likely to celebrate abundance and indulgence. Desert cultures are more likely to emphasize struggle, scarcity, and abstinence, but also patience and most importantly, charity. It’s no coincidence that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity share these values and emerged from cultures living under harsh political and geographical conditions.

This brings us to another important subtlety of cultural norms. How hot is “hot?” How cold is “cold?” For that matter, how far is “far?” Does “nice” mean polite and friendly, or does it mean kind and empathic? These are the questions that shape so many nuances of a community and its culture, whether macro scale or micro. And don’t overlook the secular traditions–what does Tax Day tell us about capitalist cultures? What about the Queen’s Jubilee? For that matter, what about Juneteenth?

For more on this, please join me for Christmas in Narnia: Creating Traditions for Fictional Cultures on December 10th. Happy holidays!


Evan J. Peterson is an author, game writer, and Clarion West alum. His latest book is METAFLESH: Poems in the Voices of the Monster (ARUS Entertainment), and recent work includes Drag Star! (Choice of Games), the world’s first drag performance RPG. His writing appears in Weird Tales, Arcana: The Tarot Poetry Anthology, and Queers Destroy Horror. Evan’s serial novel, Better Living Through Alchemy, will be published in 2023 by Broken Eye Books. can tell you more.

Twitter: @evanjpeterson
Insta: @evan.j.peterson

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Guest Post: Under-explored areas of writing: Speculative Fiction – Dystopian by Erin Carrougher

While I am a sucker for fairytales and magic, one area of writing that I persistently search for is dystopian not-so-distant futuristic novels. Something plausible, and terrifying, that engulfs the reader in the imaginative, but hope-it-won’t-happen world characters live in.

What makes this genre so distinct from the rest of fiction is its possibility. Take The Handmaid’s Tale—Margaret Attwood created a world where everything was derived from something that happened in history. It is unfathomable to consider the world she created could become possible, but isn’t that the draw? Margaret dramatized real-world situations to tell her story. But the scariest part of the book is that much of the events have happened, or could happen in the near future. To believe something could become reality makes the story that much more interesting. It is fortune telling through a character’s lens.

Augland is such a novel. It takes readers through a not-so-distant future if greed and corporate and political power corruption became too powerful. It would take a domino effect of situations: a Civil War, a corporate giant, and a compelling AI and dream-like consumer product, to happen, but the truth is, its plausible.

The novel asks the question, if corporations genuinely wanted to gain complete control, what would it look like? Major conglomerates gain a monopoly on the corporate market, giant corporations become an essential part of our lives, and companies gain enough power to start a war and take over the government.

Augland expands the current corporate and government dynamic and exaggerates the perimeters of a world that would have the working class “employed” in exchange for mere survival within the corporation’s walls.

This dystopian world is not all bad, however. Many want to create a society that benefits the masses. This story shows what greed and power can do in the hands of corporations and AI technology, but it also shows us the damage that can be done when people rebel.

Coming December 6th! Augland, a dystopian science fiction novel that discusses the geopolitical climate of a futuristic corporate takeover. Ashton, an unknowing heroine, rallies against the corporate grain in a theme-park would full of Suits to protect those she cares about—the Suit-less.

Erin Carrougher lives in the Seattle area and was more than suited to write about the region as the location of her dystopian novel. She has a passion for storytelling and loves to envision worlds other than our own. Carrougher minored in Creative Writing and currently works as a Sales Manager, and enjoys cooking and the outdoors. Augland is Carrougher’s first novel.

Connect with Carrougher at, and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Augland is available for pre-order from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Guest Post: Ping-Pong, Spin, and Third-Ball Attack (Or, Why Dialogue Gets Boring and How to Fix It) by Gregory Ashe

Have you ever read dialogue like this?

     “We’ll need the Spear of Glorgon to kill the Pit-Fiend Czhnarboth.”

     “Yes, we will. Do you know where the Spear of Glorgon may be found?”

     “Sadly, it was lost centuries ago in the Empire of Cardel.”

     “Then finding it will be the ultimate test of our powers.”

     “True, and surely the gods of light will favor us.”

One of the most common reasons dialogue gets boring is that it turns into a type of conversational ping-pong. Speakers volley lines of speech back and forth at each other. Each serve is neatly and appropriately returned. You’ve probably played a game or two of ping-pong like that yourself.

Think about the first time you ever picked up a paddle (in my mind, you’re in your uncle’s shag-carpeted basement.) You’re immensely proud of yourself for just getting it back and forth over the net. But it is also, effectively, a kind of stalemate—the ball goes back and forth, but nothing changes. And, after a while, it’s boring.

But a professional game of ping-pong, when you watch talented, competitive players? Not boring at all. After talking to ping-pong players and reading about the game, I think I know one reason why.

More than once I’ve come across the phrase “ping-pong is a game of spin.” If volleying the ball back and forth is the beginner level, then spin is at the heart of competitive ping-pong. It alters the movement of the ball so that the predictable becomes unpredictable. It’s what makes play volatile, explosive, unexpected—interesting.

Spin has the same effect in dialogue. It’s basically what it sounds like: a turn, a twist, a deviation.

The problem with ping-pong dialogue is that it’s so predictable: everyone stays on topic, everyone responds to the questions they’re asked, everyone provides accurate information. Dialogue with spin, in contrast, goes in unexpected directions. Since one of the reasons readers read is because they want to know the answer to a question, dialogue with spin draws readers into a story by raising (and partially answering) new questions.

How do you generate spin? A few ways, actually. Let me offer you three.

Give your characters an agenda.

When each character in a conversation has an agenda, it means that they have a goal—and, since you’re a talented writer and you have conflict bred in your bones, you know that these characters have different goals. Those goals help produce spin as each character attempts to steer the conversation toward their desired end. If, for example, you are working on dialogue between an exhausted detective and an amorous witness, you might have a great deal of fun as their competing agendas inflect their conversation in different ways.

Allow for subtext.

While subtext often naturally arises from giving characters an agenda, the two are not interchangeable.

Subtext is the text around and behind and between the words—the text that never makes it into text. When a character says exactly what they want, you’re dealing with on-the-nose dialogue, which is the clinical condition of having zero subtext. Subtext is about hidden meanings, unverbalized desires, buried insults.

To extend the example above, let’s imagine that our amorous witness is married and can’t directly proposition the detective. The spoken conversation might be exclusively about the crime, while the subtext might be the unspoken thrust-and-parry of an attempted seduction.

Employ “No” Dialogue.

I find this technique to be a great deal of fun. It’s exactly what it sounds like—one character wants something, and the other refuses to give it to them. The fun comes in finding ways to make the refusals—and there should be a number of them—indirect and distinct, without the character repeating themself. Often, this becomes part of both the competing agenda and the subtext; the three work together beautifully. In our example, perhaps the amorous witness is also the police chief’s romantic partner, and the detective’s refusals must be firm but indirect enough not to humiliate and enrage the witness.

Bonus technique: Third-ball Attack

To wrap-up our ping-pong analogy, I’d like to offer you one more idea: the third-ball attack. In ping-pong, this refers to a strategy that goes like this: Player A serves the ball (ball #1), Player B returns it (ball #2), and Player A attacks (ball #3).

Think of this as both a heuristic—a rule-of-thumb diagnostic—and as a technique. If you’re writing dialogue, and you can tell it’s starting to drag, look at the first three lines. If the first three lines are ping-pong dialogue, the likelihood is that the rest of the conversation is, too.

You can break it up by turning that third line into an attack: give the dialogue stakes no later than the third line. One character makes a difficult request, issues an ultimatum, attempts a threat, initiates a seduction—whatever it is, it has to commit them to a risky course of action so that, succeed or fail, there are consequences.

Final Considerations

Is the sky the limit with spin? Not exactly. There’s a point of diminishing returns, even a point where it becomes counterproductive. Too much spin produces conversations that are hard to follow (whether because of non sequiturs, or because they break genre conventions, or because they become illogical or incomprehensible). These all threaten to alienate the reader. More spin is not necessarily better.

The important things to remember? Ping-pong bad. Spin good. If nothing’s happening, third-ball attack. And remember, just like real people, fictional characters are rarely as good at communicating as they think they are.

What kind of dialogue bores you to sleep? What are your go-to strategies for pepping it up? Who writes your favorite dialogue? Share some examples and tell us why!

Want to improve your dialogue even more? In January 2023, Gregory will be teaching the Odyssey Online class, Angled Dialogue: Crafting Authentic-Sounding Dialogue to Convey Information, Escalate Conflict, and Advance Character-Driven Stories.

Odyssey Online classes combine deep focus, directed study, intensive practice, and detailed feedback to help students learn how to best use the tools and techniques covered to make major improvements in their fiction.

Apply by November 21 at!


Gregory Ashe is a bestselling author and longtime Midwesterner. He has lived in Chicago, Bloomington (IN), and Saint Louis, his current home. He primarily writes contemporary mysteries, with forays into romance, fantasy, and horror. Predominantly, his stories feature LGBTQ protagonists. When not reading and writing, he is an educator. He is a graduate of the Odyssey workshop and has returned to teach there. For more information, visit his website:

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Round-up of Awards Posts by F&SF Writers, Editors, and Publishers for 2022 – The DIY Version

Hello! While most years I compile a page of award eligibility posts, this year I’m going to be on the road in November, and adding that responsiblity to everything else I’m doing that month seems a little crazypants. So if you’ve got an award eligibility post, I invite (and encourage) you to drop a link to it in the comments here!

I had no novels published in 2022 myself, but I’d certainly love it if you’d check out my short story, “The Woman Who Wanted to be Trees,” which appeared in Slate Magazine, and consider recommending it for Hugo or Nebula Award reading.

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Videos From Past Classes Available Through the End of the Year

I’m making videos from some of my past classes available for $25 each through the end of the year. Here’s the list.

Fixing the Broken Story – Sometimes you know a story isn’t working, but you don’t know why. Identifying gaps and structural problems is the first step to fixing them. In this workshop you will learn techniques for identifying what’s missing in a story and then fixing the problem through a mixture of lecture, discussion, and in-class exercises.

Twenty Types of Terror: Exploring Horror Subgenres – Horror comes in a variety of flavors, each with its own special advantages and disadvantages. We will run through the various forms, talking about how to write them, and performing exercises to generate stories in several of the subgenres. Content warning: horror writing may range into all sorts of sensitive areas, including graphic violence and death.

Follow the Money: Worldbuilding and Economics – Far too often, writers don’t consider the economic underpinnings of the world in which they’re working. But factoring in finances can yield new story ideas as well as plot twists and turns, rich world-building details, and insight into character and motivation. How do you use economics to create not more sensible worlds — but more interesting ones?

Writing Flash Fiction – This workshop focuses on flash fiction, also known as short short stories. The workshop consists of a mixture of lecture, in-class writing exercises, discussion of how to turn fragments into flash, and an overview of flash fiction markets. Come prepared to write! By the end of the class you will have 3-4 “word lumps” and the knowledge required to turn them into actual flash fiction pieces.

Picture of an open book with the words "Upping Your Game with Titles and Names" and the URL Upping Your Game with Titles and Names – A killer title can be the chef’s kiss atop an awesome story, or the flashy lure that pulls your reader in. How do you come up with that title and that takes your fiction even further? And names matter inside a story too: your character usually has nicknames, aliases, titles, and more. How can you use this to flesh out both your world and your character? Join Cat Rambo for a mix of lecture, discussion, and writing tips and exercises designed to have you thinking in new ways about names and titles as well as coming away with plenty of techniques and inspiration for future use.

Writing Your Way Into Your Novel – The process of novel-writing varies greatly, but one thing is always true: a butt must go into a chair and the words must be written. Come find out how to get past sticking points through a combination of lecture and writing exercises that will help you map out your course for navigating the sea of words and build a daily writing practice that will get you to the end of the book.

To order any of these, mail me with the names of the ones you would like and how you would prefer to pay (Paypal, Venmo, check, other form).

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Where I’ll Be: DragonCon 2022

Here’s the programming I’ll be at if you want to catch up with me at the convention! Come buy a book or a “Permission to speak of Doom, Captain?” pin! And hooray, I can finally announce that You Sexy Thing is on the Dragon Awards ballot, which is super cool, although it’s facing some mighty heavy competition. 🙂

Title: World Building SF vs Fantasy
Description: Most authors create whole worlds for their stories, with backgrounds, weather, social structures, etc. Is it different when you are doing science fiction than for fantasy? Our panelists discuss how and why these differences occur.
Time: Sat 04:00 pm
Location: Embassy AB (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: Reading Session: Cat Rambo
Description: Cat will be reading from “Devil’s Gun” the forthcoming sequel to the Dragon Award nominated “You Sexy Thing”.
Time: Sun 11:30 am
Location: Vinings (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: Herstorically Speaking: Women Who Beat The Status Quo
Description: Join us as we take a look at the real-life women of the Gilded Age who challenged the boys at their own game. We’ll take a further look at what it’s like to break glass ceilings and how these women fought to raise their positions in the world.
Time: Sun 04:00 pm
Location: Augusta (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: Dragon Awards Ceremony
Description: Presentation of the 2022 Dragon Awards in 15 categories! Who will you choose as the fan favorites this year? Come & find out the results!
Time: Sun 05:30 pm
Location: Centennial I (Length: 1 Hour)

Title: Beyond Terra
Description: No matter how far humanity travels, we all come from Earth. A look at humanity’s expansion with a focus on unique cultures.
Time: Mon 10:00 am
Location: Embassy AB (Length: 1 Hour)

I will also be appearing a couple times at the Bards Tower table and will add those times to this post when I have it.

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Offering Online Short Story Workshop

seven sessions. lecture, discussion & workshop.This is the workshop I give every couple of years; I will not be giving it in 2023. There will be two separate one section.

This seven week workshop focuses on the basics of writing speculative fiction short stories, including figuring out and implementing your plot, creating believable and engaging characters, effective world-building, what to do with a story once it’s finished, dealing with editors and markets, and other necessities. Students will have the opportunity to workshop at least one story over the course of the class and will also be writing and sharing weekly writing assignments.

Sessions will be recorded for students and available three days after the live session. You will also have access to the Rambo Academy Discord server and discussion/events/resources there.

Section two: Tuesday 6-8 PM Eastern time September 6, September 13, September 20, September 27, October 4, October 11, October 18.

Cost is $499 for seven sessions. Each session runs two to two and a half hours. All sessions are recorded for student use only. To register, mail me at and indicate which section you are applying for and how you would like to pay (Paypal, Venmo, check, etc.) There are three free scholarships in each section. Deadline for applying for a scholarship is August 19.


    • Taking a workshop class with Cat was a great experience. Highly recommended! – Fred Coppersmith
    • Every week is like a shot in the arm of pure encouragement & enthusiasm. -Liz Neering
    • Wanted to crow and say thanks: the first story I wrote after taking your class was my very first sale. Coincidence? nah….thanks so much. -K. Richardson
    • Cat is a fun tutor with plenty of experience as both a fiction writer and a professional editor. She has plenty of sound, practical advice to offer, and the writing exercises are enjoyable. A course like this allows you to meet other writers of varying levels of experience and talent, which is a very good way of finding out what you are good at and where your skills need work. It also gives you a bunch of potential writing buddies, which can be very valuable. -Cheryl Morgan
    • Cat Rambo’s classes are both entertaining and edifying. If you are an aspiring writer or editor do yourself a favor and sign up! -Stefan Milićević

Some of the stories produced during this class:
Bo Balder, “The Doll Is Dead”, Penumbra
Nicholas Lee Huff, “Smitten”, Every Day Fiction
Jamie Lackey, “Moving Past Butterfly”, Bastion
Jamie Lackey, “The Path to Butterfly,” Lakeside Circus
Sunil Patel, “Sally the Psychic Alligator“, Fireside Fiction
Frances Rowat, “Palimpsest“, The Sockdolager

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Guest Post: The Real Life of Fiction with Keiko O’Leary

Picture of science fiction author Connie Willis and the quote "Oh no, I thought, not only am I messing up, but Connie Willis is seeing it."Whenever I ask the question “How shall I live?” I always look to literature for the answer. But this time the answer came in a dream.

The dream took place in an auditorium, an old one, like the Century movie theaters in San José: a huge domed room, with plush maroon carpet that matched the seats. Some of the seats held members of my writing group. We were there because our fellow member Anthony Francis was going to read an excerpt from his novel, and I was supposed to introduce him.

I was standing on a wooden stage, behind a podium. This was a writing conference, titled The Real Life of Fiction.

I had notes, but they didn’t help. I babbled. I forgot the title of the novel. I forgot the name of the conference. At one point, through the haze of my stammering incompetence, I saw clearly for a moment: in the front row, a woman with the curly hair and Coke-bottle glasses that could only belong to one of my favorite authors: Oh no, I thought, not only am I messing up, but Connie Willis is seeing it.
Continue reading

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Booking My Editing Services

The flooring saga continues. One guy came and made the repairs to the subfloor that the flooring people had requested – or so I thought! When the flooring people came back, they weren’t happy with things still, and so the other company is coming back to do that, but can’t get here until the latter part of the month, and since they didn’t understand they needed to level the floor the first time, there’s some additional cost, although they are cutting me a deal on it as an apology. At any rate, someday I will have a usable kitchen, but that time is not now.

As you can guess, this is all complicated, time-consuming — and costly, particularly on the heels of replacing the roof last month, which I knew I’d have to do at some point but was hoping to do next summer, thereby bumping any thoughts of a new deck to 2023. Accordingly I’m going to take on some editing work in the next few months.

Accordingly, if you ever wanted to give yourself the gift of an edit from an experienced editor/writer/teacher who is also a Locus and World Fantasy Award nominee and Nebula award winner, this might be the time. All edits/reads include the chance to identify particular spots for feedback in advance and to ask questions afterward.

I will be accepting a limited number of projects, so if you are interested, I would contact me sooner rather than later.

Story editorial read

$50 per 5,000 words. This is not an edit. It is a 1-2 page analysis that includes notes on suggested changes, weak spots, and other editorial feedback. Stories over 5,000 words will be pro-rated at $5 per additional 500 words.

Novel editorial read

$1000 per 100.000 words. This is not an edit. It is a chapter by chapter analysis that includes notes on suggested changes, weak spots, and other editorial feedback. I will include a copyedit of the first chapter (up to ten pages) to show patterns and suggestions at the sentence level. Works over 5,000 words will be pro-rated at $10 per additional 1000 words.

Story copyedit

$100 per 5,000 words. This is a rigorous edit of something you consider finished, with changes tracked and explanatory notes. If you are not happy with it, I will return your money. Stories over 5,000 words will be pro-rated at $10 per additional 500 words.

Novel copyedit

Because this can vary greatly, the fee is based on how much work I’m looking at. Send one chapter and the word length and I can provide an estimate.

Got a project that doesn’t fit any of these? Feel free to mail me at (it would be handy if you use the subject line “Edit Request”) with the details.

Projects will be added to my work queue in the order they are received. If you need your work prioritized due to a deadline, there is an additional rush fee.

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Guest Post: Pick up the Pride Storybundle

Pride StoryBundle 2022 is No Longer Available

Betsy Miller, Thinking Ink Press

Thanks, Cat, for having me as a guest on your blog. It’s great to have the opportunity to share the news. The Pride StoryBundle includes a wonderful variety of queer science fiction and fantasy books! You can no longer get this bundle but I encourage you to find the individual authors.

How it works

When you buy the Pride StoryBundle, you decide how much to pay. If you pay the full price or more, you get all the books in the main bundle, plus the books in the bonus bundle, and Rainbow Railroad receives a donation. Rainbow Railroad helps LGBTQI+ people escape state-sponsored violence. You can also pay less and only get the main books in the bundle—you’ll still be supporting indie authors and publishers, which is much appreciated!

Origin story

Author Melissa Scott founded the first Pride StoryBundle in 2017. Author and publisher Catherine Lundoff joined the effort in 2019, and they’ve both been curating and organizing the annual Pride StoryBundles ever since. Thank you, Melissa, Catherine, and Jason Chen at StoryBundle for your ongoing commitment to supporting the LGBTQI+ community!

When Thinking Ink Press was invited to participate in this year’s Pride StoryBundle with one of our books—The Hereafter Bytes by Vincent Scott—well, there was no question in our minds that we wanted to be part of this! We’re in good company as you can see by the list of books in this bundle.

What you get

In the main bundle:

  • We’re Here, eds. C.L. Clark & Charles Payseur
  • The Adventure of the Incognita Countess, Cynthia Ward
  • The Language of Roses, Heather Rose Jones
  • Lord of the White Hell, Ginn Hale
  • Sanctuary, Andi Buchanan

In the bonus bundle:

  • Foxhunt, Rem Wigmore
  • Unfettered Hexes, ed. dave ring
  • It Gets Even Better, eds. Isabela Oliveira & Jed Sabin
  • Water Horse, Melissa Scott
  • Friends for Robots, Merc Fenn Wolfmoor
  • The Adventure of the Dux Bellorum, Cynthia Ward
  • The Hereafter Bytes, Vincent Scott
  • Pangs, Jerry Wheeler
  • Sea of Stars, Nicole Kimberling
  • Depart, Depart! Sim Kern

Want the bundle? Click to buy now!


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