Tag Archives: story board

Monsters and Saviors

I go to work in the dark almost year round. This time of year, there’s a little bit of dawn before I walk in the office, but the days are getting shorter now. It will soon be dark for the whole commute. The point is, I have no idea what goes on in my back yard while I’m away.

Today is my rotating day off. It was glorious to get a couple more hours of sleep. My awakening was not how I wanted to start the day. There were monsters in my back yard.

They make a shrill twittering noise at first. This is the sound of a solo invader. He’s soon joined by others and the sound grows. It’s never loud. Not so loud as to rouse the unaware from slumber. I am not unaware.

I bolted from my bed and shoved a cold cup of coffee in the microwave. While it heated, I downed my blood pressure medication. This encounter would surely test my blood pressure. I even recorded the sound on my iPhone with every intention of sharing with you. I couldn’t figure out how to get it on my blog to prove I’m not crazy.

The monsters fled at the sight of me. They’re only about two inches tall. They aren’t here for me, they only come to steal away my happiness. They did a lot of damage, but I managed to salvage a bit for myself.

It's flat peach season

The dirty buggers start their harvest early. I want a fully ripened peach. The winged monsters don’t wait that long. Peaches ripen a bit at a time. The monsters eat that one perfect bit and move on, leaving the unripened portion to rot. Where they move on to, is the next nearest peach. One tiny little beast will ruin five beautiful peaches to fill its microscopic belly.

My tree overproduced last year, despite my thinning like a madman. It was certain this year would be puny by comparison. It’s not enough to deal with a tiny granddaughter who discovered a baby pumpkin tree. That part I can laugh off. (And it was pretty funny.) These peach eating demons are just wasteful.

I grabbed some small baskets and filled my refrigerator with peaches. There are some green edges on a few of them, but they are mouth wateringly good. I need to scrub them down before eating even though I’m not a big pesticide user. You just never know what the monsters left behind.

Life’s funny sometimes. After salvaging some of my tree’s fruit for myself I heated up another cup of coffee and checked my email. I discovered I had apps to update.

Pinnic updated their cork board app to include index cards. They now offer everything I want in a storyboard app. I emailed them a month or so ago and mentioned this to them. They assured me that index cards would be in the next update. The heavens parted and the angels sang. I think I’m going to recreate my four outlines today in Pinnic. As I do it, I’ll be downing microwave coffee and eating the most perfect flat peaches ever.

Either that, or I’m going to go stand under my tree and eat peaches until the juice runs down my beard. All the while watching the monsters weep from my neighbor’s yard. I haven’t decided yet.


Filed under Uncategorized, Writing

Let’s talk customer service

I had one of the longest days at work that I've had in years. Ten and a half hours with no lunch. I gotta tell you, this post is going to be short. I always try to post on Wednesday, so we're going to talk about customer service.

I've been on a little theme about how I use a cork board app to storyboard my novels. I really like an app called Corkulous Pro. I sent them an email years ago and asked them if we might get some pushpins and string. I explained how I use it, and that strings could really help with plants and payoffs.

The people at Corkulous responded immediately, and thought that was an awesome idea. It never happened though.

This app hasn't been updated in a couple of years, so I sent them a fresh new email. It crashes, because it hasn't kept up with the newer iOS updates. I waited a couple of weeks and bumped them with a new email. It's been about a month now, and they've been silent.

I've been searching for a new app without much luck. I was seriously considering what it might take to create my own app and market it. I decided to try one last search using new words. I tried “pin board.”

There is another app, and it's almost perfect. It even has pushpins and strings. What it doesn't have is index cards. Index cards are kind of important to my process. The app is called Pinnic.

I sent an email to their support team and explained what I needed and why. They responded in a few hours, and this is what they said:

“Thanks for contacting us Mr. Boyack,

We are now preparing a major update of Pinnic and we will add those index cards.

If you need any other feature or would like to join the Beta tests do not hesitate to post.”

That's how you respond to a business email. I may have mentioned my blog and the fact that I'm posting about apps… to a bunch of authors. (It might have happened.)

I could probably resize the sticky notes and use them. I like sticky notes for another reason. They may be yanking my chain, but the idea of a pending update sounds promising.

I'm excited, and I'll be patient about this. I can still use Corkulous for now.

That's the news of the day. Now I have an appointment with a quart sized bottle of Belgian sour beer.

Oh, and I have something crazy, interactive, and fun coming soon on the self promotion front. More on this later.


Filed under Uncategorized, Writing

Storyboards and Living Documents

Hey everyone, I made a guest appearance over at Sue Coletta’s place today. She’s an awesome blogger, and has been very supportive of my work. If you aren’t following her, you really should be.

Crime Fiction Writer Sue Coletta

Things are crazy right now for me, working with my editor and setting up a new computer — all these foreign keys make me feel like I’ve never used a computer before — but I didn’t want to leave you flat. Hearing my tales of woe, friend and fellow writer Craig Boyack sprang into action. Some of you are familiar with his site Entertaining Stories, where he shares some of the best short stories and flash fiction I’ve ever read, along with various other topics. If you get a chance stop by and say hello. While you’re there browse his Idea Mill — great fodder for creativity.

All yours, Craig!

When Sue asked me if I’d do a guest post I was ecstatic. Then it dawned on me that many of her readers are probably crime writers. I write speculative fiction; what the heck can I bring to crime writers?

Crime happens…

View original post 773 more words


Filed under Writing

Trying not to be a writer

I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying to tone things down during the summer months. My writing pursuits can wait until winter for all I care. I just want a good outline when I start.

To that end, I’ve been dabbling in related projects. None of them are really serious.

I called my parents, like I do every Sunday. We talked for about an hour and a half. No real topic, but the killer hawk is defending its nest in Mom’s front yard again. I told her she should start carrying a salmon net. Maybe she can train it to leave her alone.

When we finished, I added some cards to the remaining outlines I didn’t work on the other day. I’m considering a gender swap for one of my characters. Maybe “she would do anything to save her man” has better punch than the other way around. They’re still the bad guys, and I need to manipulate the fealty readers will have for them. It still doesn’t feel quite right.

The whole time I was doing this, I felt like I was being watched. Something made my senses tingle, but I was just being silly.

Maybe my new blood pressure medicine has something to do with it. Like I said, I’m not taking things seriously this summer. I spent some time throwing my virtual goat out of a catapult.

Good air on this throw

My daughter got up and decided to make us some breakfast. She got scared by a large spider in the kitchen. Maybe not a big deal, but it was the morning for creepy stuff. Breakfast was good. Egg burrito with chipotle sauce.

We talked for about 45 minutes before she had to go upstairs and start getting ready for work. I went back to another project. I plodded through two chapters of an old book and corrected a couple of typos.

My Spidey senses tingled once more. I turned in my chair so my back was to the wall.

My daughter leaned over the stair rail. “Holy crap! What is that?”

I leaped up and looked out back.

I want your nuts.

My nuts are just fine where they are, thank you very much. I think even the old pit bull could have caught this one. He was asleep beside the air conditioner duct, and we gave this squirrel a pass.

Not a lot of writing related projects today, but some. I need to clean up the sauerkraut crock before it’s cabbage season once again. I also need to deadhead some roses. Maybe I’ll do that this afternoon. I’m keeping an eye on my nuts though.


Filed under Writing

Planning your novel, part four

I’ve given everyone a pretty good idea of how I set up my board, and how I move my cards around to get between the cornerstones of a story. I’ve also explained how you might use a different style and still benefit from a storyboard. Today is all about the bells and whistles that really help me with a story.

My app comes with a drawer that holds things in addition to index cards. Some of these are very handy, others not so much. I have no need to put a contact card in my outline. (Maybe a pizza place that delivers?)

Note: if you want to try a physical storyboard, you can do all the same things.

I want to start off with the checklist option. There are certain things that you want your character to do. Why not make a checklist and include it in your outline. This is a good way to keep from getting out of logical order. Here’s a decent example:

The stages of grieving


We put our characters through a lot. It’s more realistic to have them experience a loss by following the stages of grieving. In a novel you might be able to skip a step, but it details how most folks would act in the event of a loss. This is one example. You can use a checklist for all kinds of things.

My app comes with some cool little arrows. Since I can change the colors, I can coordinate what they mean with the key elements of a story.

In this example, I might add yellow arrows to take my main character from Ron Weasley all the way to Gandalf.

I’m an old guy. I don’t always remember minutia from day to day. When writing a novel it could be month to month.

If I know I’m going to use the old falling anvil trick in Act Three, I need to hoist the anvil somewhere in Act One or Two. The pink arrows can really help with that.

I don’t always follow this advice in my outline, but when I have, it makes everything much easier. There are still plenty of times I’ll have to go back and modify chapter three while I’m working on chapter 29, but it still helps.

I don’t color coordinate anything, but the potential is there. I did it for the purposes of this post. I use a lot of sticky notes. Again, my memory is still there, it just isn’t as fast as it used to be. Sometimes, at the end of a writing day, I’ll add a note about some idea I want to use in the next writing session. I call them “Hey Dummy” notes. It helps when the next writing session is fourteen days away. Here are some ideas for sticky notes:

When I finally get back to writing, I review my “Hey Dummy” notes and delete them.

I also read back and forward a bit. The story always deviates from the outline, and there is no law that says it can’t.

I’ve even been known to change the outline, because I’ve come up with some brilliant idea while writing.

Of course, I’ve also abandoned the outline completely on occasion. At least it got me started on the right foot. The cornerstones of three act structure were still useful to keep my story on track.

Its more typical for me to start writing before the outline is finished. I usually pay the price and have to go back, update the outline, and plan out the rest of the story.

One of the best things about a storyboard is pictures. Pictures really help with descriptions. I add them to my board at key places. Since this is the private part of your work, you can grab anything you like off the internet. No need to worry about copyright. Here’s an example from Arson:

Everyone’s favorite pyrophilliac has a distinct hairstyle. (Maybe she’s just my favorite.) She would never wear that horrible bow thing.

She also has some unique items she uses for work, and to decorate her office.

I find pictures to be extremely helpful. If your character has a unique style, you can pin some clothing or other bits to your board.

Maybe you want some actual crime scene photos to remind you to include specific details like pin flags or number markers.


True story time. When I was writing Arson, I was also outlining The Cock of the South.

Outlining is something I can do while my wife plays her music or watches American Idol. It doesn’t take quite the concentration that writing does.

I decided to completely outline the whole story. It was one of those personal challenges I talk about on occasion. I learn by trying new things, and this needed to be tested.

My app lets me seat a board within a board. I filled this storyboard with pictures and character arch reminders. I wound up with a board for each section.

The payoff was writing the whole novel in three months. Remember, I have a family and a full time job. I only get to write on Saturday mornings and one rotating day per week. Researching during the writing process was kept to a minimum. It was just writing. It was almost as if the only thing I had to concentrate on was making sure my cast of characters stayed unique and engaging. The image is how the links to the subsequent boards are displayed.

I’ve never taken it to this level since then. I should, but I always get too excited and want to start writing. My next challenge is to outline multiple projects and make them fight for my writing time. The losers will still be around, and may get a chance later. Here is a section of the board from The Playground. It shows some of the bells and whistles together on an actual storyboard.

My boards don’t start out this way. Most of them are a collection of loose notes. I won’t even fill out the premise or important act points until later.

Lorelei, my Muse, has been haunting me again blessing me with her presence. She’s been giving me ideas about all my potential stories. I decided to start a board last night so I could share one here.

This story doesn’t even have a title yet. The premise and act cards are still untouched. None of the cards are anything more than random ideas. My sticky notes are all about things I need to research. They aren’t even in columns right now.

I’ll move them into columns when the time comes. The research stickies will get discarded and replaced with data. If you want to expand the picture, there might be a spoiler or two, or everything could change. I might not let this one off the island. It’s a fair enough example for this post.

I’m a little hesitant to return to a paranormal story right away. I’ve written two, back to back. Since this one is set in history, it doesn’t lend itself easily to fantasy or science fiction. It will have to compete for its writing time.

Storyboards provide a nice visual. It’s easy to see when you don’t have enough material in one of the acts. It’s usually Act Two. The beginning and ending are easier to come up with, because they’re more exciting. One glance can show you the problem.

Read Part Three here.

Let’s call it. This was my sequence on story boarding. I’ve learned so much from other writers that I thought it was time to share. My process formed by grabbing bits and pieces from other writers. Are you going to attempt a storyboard? Did you gain a nugget to add to your own style? Is it all bullshit that stifles creativity? Is storyboarding a mental version of water boarding in your mind? Could it be useful under some circumstances, but not others? Maybe you have a tip to offer? Let me hear from you.


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Planning Act Three

My regulars know that I usually don’t post on Thursdays. I’m excited to get this post out there because the next post is where I show you how to bring a storyboard to life. I’m looking forward to that one.

Here is my reminder for act three of the story:

This is the big boss battle. Everything you’ve been building up to happens here. Love triangles are broken, ships are sunk, throats are cut, revenge is taken. Any reward you have planned gets issued, and you drop the curtain.

I don’t even use a card for the ending. I made one, but it’s not worth displaying. The story ends. Act Three is usually the shortest act, so it deserves the shortest post.

All the structure part of this series is to show you what I personally do. You can glean the interesting stuff and leave the rest, but check back tomorrow.

If you only fill out these important points in your planning, you already have a decent outline. Maybe you prefer a few lines in a notebook instead of a board. That’s cool too, just write between the important points.

I like to use movie examples, because more people are likely to have seen a film. Here are some examples of the big changes these cards represent:

  • Sheriff Brody says, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
  • Wyatt Earp stands in a downpour and it washes his dead brother’s blood from his shirt. Part of his soul washes away too.
  • A dying cop, (played by Sean Connery) grabs Elliot Ness by the shirt and says, “What are you prepared to do?”
  • Harry Potter walks into Hogwarts for the first time.
  • Davy Jones asks, “Do you fear death?”

Maybe you prefer a different story structure. Your cards might say:

  1. Put the character up a tree.
  2. Throw rocks at him.
  3. Get the character out of the tree.
Maybe your cards follow the Pixar method:

1.) Once Upon a Time __________

2.) And every day ______________

3.) Until one day _______________

4.) And because of this __________

5.) And because of this __________

6.) Until finally _________________

7.) And ever since that day _______

I like three act structure. I make extra cards to go between the important parts. I might have seven cards in Act One, but the first one starts me off. I don’t make the cards in order either. I may have two cards for Act Three while I’m working on Act one.

I move the cards around. Sometimes they just fit the story better in another place. I don’t have to scratch out my notes and try again. I just drag the card to a new location. Sometimes I drag it back.

Early in the game, my cards are only a word or two. I go back and add info as it occurs to me.

I’m about to start outlining four potential stories. I’m going to add a card here and there until one of them demands to be written.

Tomorrow is all about the cool things you can do with a storyboard, beyond index cards.

Read Part Two here.

Read Part Four here.


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Planning Act Two

It occurs to me this series also includes some data about story structure. There are many structures you can use, but I prefer three act structure. In fact, it’s actually a four act structure as we’ll see today. Act Two comes in two parts. Feel free to use any structure you like.

Many of the comments from the last post were about the technology. I use my iPad for everything, and am comfortable with a corkboard app. Use whatever you like, including a physical corkboard, or a storyboard.

At the end of the first act, we reminded ourselves to make sure all the settings, players, and stakes are in place. The main character has made a choice from which there is no return.  Act Two is the place to do something about the problem. The beginning of Act Two looks like this:


At this point your characters are taking steps to solve the problem. The first action is usually to power up. Maybe they need training, or weapons. Maybe it’s a makeover and new clothes in your sweet romance.

Like I mentioned, the cards are just reminders and help to spread out the big things that must happen. I write over the basic card for my individual tales.

Here’s what my beginning of Act Two looked like in The Cock of the South:


A mixed group of races left their home at the end of Act One. They had a plan, but that scene was all about looking back. Act Two begins with them crossing into a new part of the world to execute the plan. They are looking forward at this point. They are going to learn new skills from each other in order to survive. (A form of mentoring, and making allies.)

Obviously, things aren’t going to go according to plan, and there should be some failures to go along with the successes. The characters learn as much from failure as from success.

imageThis card isn’t strictly necessary, but since this is a post about my corkboard process, I threw one in. It’s basically a reminder that I need to have specific things in place for the next card which is of major importance.


This is almost as important as the premise. This is where it all hits the fan. It is the beginning of Act Two, Part Two. In case you can’t read it, it says: Completely changes the game, even the plan. A setback, loss, death, love interest, huge revelation, huge personal loss. Use re-calibrating, desperate acts, unethical behavior, to get to the end of this act. Great place for a ticking clock and dark night of the soul.

The game changes completely at this point. Think of it like Freddy’s plan failing, then Scooby & Shaggy take some desperate act to make up the difference. I spend quite a bit of time coming up with my midpoint these days.

Here’s an example of my midpoint card from Arson:


In this particular story, a freaky mentor/instructor actually becomes a love interest. This changes the dynamic and requires new thinking for my main character from this point on. It also introduced some cool extra stresses and distractions.

Filling in the cards between the Midpoint and the end of Act Two can be one of the most fun parts of the process. Let’s look at the end of Act Two.


This is the point of total revelation for your character(s). They know everything they need to know, but that doesn’t mean the villain can’t still have a surprise. There may be a plan formed, or there may be an act of desperation. This probably depends on your character more than anything.

Here’s my notecard for the end of Act Two in The Cock of the South:


The loose band of peoples are bickering. They’ve accomplished much, but aren’t acting together. Will they scatter to the four winds and eventual extinction, or come together to make a stand? Cobby takes a desperate act to try bringing them all together. They have complete knowledge of what they are facing, and failure to work together is fatal.

That’s Act Two in a big nutshell. As far as the remaining cards go, you have the important foundations to build up your outline. Add in cards to take the story from point to point. I frequently have cards to discard completely (usually research), and even move some around from act to act. This is also the largest act, and can make up half of your story. It isn’t unusual to move the cards around for quite some time to get them just right.

Part one is here. Part three is here.


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A good holiday

I have a large international following. In case you missed it on all the social media, today is a holiday in the USA.

Old What’s Her Face* took the grandkids to the water park. At some point, a man decides what isn’t a good time and bows out. That’s what I did today. There was a time when such things were fun, but I’m just not into it any more.

I decided to budget my alone time on three projects. I need to keep moving forward on getting Arson edited. I could probably get close to finished this weekend, but I’m being sociable despite bowing out of the water park.

I also want to spend some time on act one of my next story. I’m still trying out names and have changed one about five times. Nothing seems to fit for this character — yet. I’ve added a bunch of photos to my story board.

I’m also spending some time with Conor Kelly and the Four Treasures of Eirean. I’m just getting started, but I’m really enjoying it so far. Check out this book by Ali Isaac. She’s a fun blogger too, and posts about some really interesting topics.

This afternoon is going to be a big barbecue, followed by setting off all our illegal fireworks. Idaho is one of those places where it’s perfectly legal to sell all kinds of fireworks, and legal to buy and own them. It’s just illegal to set them off. I suppose the Legislature thought we were all collectors.

I don’t feel too bad. Our entire neighborhood sounds like a war zone every night for a week before the fourth and two weeks after. Of course the holiday gets the most action. This is going to be a good time with a large chunk of our family in attendance.

Whatever you’re up to, I hope you’re having a great time. For the rest of you Americans out there happy Independence Day.

* Not my wife’s actual name.


Filed under Uncategorized

a Looong day of Editing

I’m trying to hustle and get my Arson manuscript ready for Amazon. Now that I have cover art, it’s time to get my butt in gear. I keep a long list of words that can usually indicate a place that should be rewritten. These are mostly weak verbs and filtering words. Sometimes I’m stubborn and keep what I’ve written, but I’m usually better for the effort.

I can search for specific words or phrases, and this speeds things up. I spent an hour going through my MS twice; once for your, and once for you’re. When I came to “thought”, I was in a conundrum.

Perry is kind of a jock who became a firefighter. I never realized he was such a thinker. The goal is to stop telling readers what he’s thinking, and show them what he’s thinking. That wasn’t my problem. The problem is when internal dialog and spoken dialog are in the same paragraph.

I asked my blog friends what they prefer and headed for the writing cabin. It’s about time to outline a new project, and it would keep my mind off things for a bit.

I landed and rode the elevator to the basement. My ears were assaulted by a rousing rendition of Miserlou. It only got louder as I trudged upstairs.

Lisa* had the guitar and was rocking out. Doubt** was doing something like the swim and a flamenco dance. I slapped my hand over my forehead and said, “I thought we weren’t going to encourage him.”

“I’m not,” she said. “I was practicing and he took it upon himself.”

“Uh huh. Does Bunny approve of your choice in music?”

“He’s upstairs chewing on some fresh branches.”

“I need to start outlining my next story. Can you find me the index cards and the cork board?”

She sat her guitar down and ran toward the stairs, “Right away, boss.”

Doubt flew back to his perch in my office.

While Lisa got the supplies, I looked at my MS again.

Doubt croaked, “Italics, italics, italics.” He even said it in italics.

“What do you know? Stupid bird.” I checked my blog and the answers were overwhelmingly in favor of italics. I glared at Doubt and said, “Shut up.”

He paced back and forth and said, “Ha, ha, ha.”

“Maybe we’ll try Timbuktu the next time.”

Lisa sat up the cork board, cards, and pens. I went to work on my premise. It wasn’t great, but I could improve it later. I handed it to Lisa and she pinned it top center, like some kind of game show hostess.

I got a good start on Act One. I even added a few photos that Lisa printed for me. I moved some cards around. It felt better introducing the characters in a different order. Chapter one has to suck readers into the story, and a different character seemed better suited for that.

I smelled the sandalwood before Lorelei*** showed up. Somehow, her shorts and sandals looked great with her baggy Greek National soccer shirt. She looked the storyboard up and down. “Looks like you’ve been slacking off. I thought you’d be nearly to denouement by now.”

“Well, I wanted to go mushrooming. I still want to go fishing too.”

“That’s fine, I just thought you’d be ready to write by now.” She looked at the pictures and smiled. “Who’s this Neanderthal looking character? He looks absolutely brutal, is he your villain?”

“Yes and no. He’s more complicated than that. He gets an interesting story arc.”

She strolled over to Doubt and gave him a treat. “This looks like beach sand in his tail feathers. What have you been doing to him?”

My jaw dropped open. “Um, you know. He gets into things. Who knows what he’s been into.”

“Keep working on the storyboard, but it needs some help. You should use the left side of your brain to help with story structure and organization.”

Lisa made a check mark in the air so I could see it. Lefty isn’t real creative, but he’s good with plans, charts, and maps. Maybe he could help next weekend.

I grabbed my hat and said, “That’s all folks. I’m going home to work on Arson some more. I can email card ideas to Lisa if something strikes me during the week.”

*Lisa is the main character in Wild Concept. She’s a robot and helps me at the writing cabin these days.

**Doubt is a raven. He was a gift from my Muse and is supposed to be helpful. Mostly, he just pisses me off.

***Lorelei is my Muse. Thank God for the distraction of World Cup, or I’d be in trouble.



Filed under Muse

Writing project updates

People who participate in nano regularly post updates. Since it’s November, I thought I might borrow a page from them.

I found out who owns the copyright of the song I want to use in my next story. They want email, so I sent them an awesome one asking pretty please. I offered to blog about how wonderful they are if they let me quote 40 year old song lyrics. If it’s possible, I’m even willing to include a link to buy the song at the end of the book. I’m waiting patiently.

I decided I like my outline. I storyboard, and don’t use any kind of formal outline. I’ll add photos, and a few more notes, but I like to allow a little wiggle room. Sometimes the story needs room to evolve while I’m writing.

I think I’m going to make some character outlines. This story is on the verge of using one main character. It would work well, but a small group makes more sense. I’m torn between writing a lone heroine in first person, or putting her in a group using third person.

Right now, I kind of want to come up with a Goonies or Scooby Doo team. My winning argument is the hero’s journey story structure. Specifically, where the heroine faces the bad guy alone. It’s no surprise if she’s always been alone, but it’s a bigger deal if her friends all bail out at the last minute.

I spent some time editing my older works. I jumped ahead to my most recent tale. I want to address a few small story points before sending it to the editor I met. I’m really excited to see what she comes up with. I know it’s a good story, but I’ll bet she can improve it. I want to send it off sometime in early December.

I put the search for a cover artist on the back burner for now. I have a friend with some contacts that might pan out. I can’t do everything at once, and don’t mind being a little patient.

I don’t feel any pressure to get started writing, yet. The other projects are valid, and need my attention right now.

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