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Give My Creation Life!

BekkaBlackAdmin : September 17, 2012 8:49 pm : Latest News

Today I think I can quote the line from Mel Brooks’s “Young Frankenstein,” because today I have pushed my own little monster into the world. iFrankenstein is now on Amazon! I’m doing the 90 day Kindle Select Program, so everyone on other platforms (including those waiting for the iPhone app) will have to wait just a bit more. Sorry.

I’ve published six novels now, with another due in January. If you count writing books and anthologies, that number goes up to ten. You’d think I’d get used to the book’s birthdays.


But, I don’t.

I’m just as anxious for little iFrankenstein as I was for A Trace of Smoke, my first novel. That one came out from a New York publishing house (Tor Forge, a division of Macmillan, thank you for taking a chance on me!) and I had a top notch cover, great editing, and some good placement at bookstores, including Barnes & Nobles and Borders (remember them?).

This one goes straight to Amazon. I made all the decisions myself. Luckily, I didn’t do it alone. I had my crack writing group, Kona Ink. Kathryn Wadsworth, David Deardorff, Judith Heath, and Karen Hollinger have been tearing my work apart and forcing me to put it back together in a better form since I began to write the first draft of my first published novel (not a coincidence, they are that good). I also worked with a talented graphic designer and app developer named Quinn Stephens. He did a bang up job on all the graphics and formatting you’ll see in the book, but you won’t really be able to appreciate his talent until the iPhone app comes out in 90 days.

So, even with all that help, why am I as scared as the very first book?

Because it’s a story. It’s a promise between a writer and a reader. A hope that others will step into your world, read it, stay awhile, and leave feeling richer.

That’s a lot of weight to put on a few words and images on a page.

No wonder I’m scared. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy reading!



BekkaBlackAdmin : July 23, 2012 1:57 pm : Latest News
rebecca cantrell

by Bekka Black

I’ve been strangely silent since I moved to Berlin. Strange for me, anyway.
Maybe it’s the stresses of packing a house that we lived in for a decade, winnowing it down to a storage room and a couple of suitcases, and hopping on a plane to travel halfway around the world. Or maybe it’s the hassle of finding an apartment in Berlin Mitte (the hottest district) while sorting out all the paperwork that magically appears when you leave one country for another. Or maybe it’s the adjustment of switching my brain from German to English and back.

going away party hawaii

Or maybe it’s because I’ve been listening.
In Kona I listened to the waves, the birds, the rustle of wind through the palms for a decade. I had space in those sounds to listen all the way back to Berlin in the 1930s. But then things changed. I left the cobalt blue water and black volcanic beaches of Hawaii for the second largest city in the European Union. I replaced blue skies with largely gray ones, sultry days for chilly ones, sand with cobblestones.
Everyone I meet here asks me “why?”

city of broken glass

I have a list of good reasons: terrific international schools for my son, a lively art scene for my artist husband, I’m right in the center of Hannah Vogel’s world (so I can more easily research the novels). All true. All important.
Today one of those Hannah Vogel books got to come home.  Here is a picture of the latest in the series, A City of Broken Glass, resting on a Berlin windowsill. My Berlin windowsill.
Because, for the first time in over twenty years, I have a window in Berlin again. I can
look through it and see the city, or I can open it and listen.
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Of Cover Girls, Jazz, and A Game of Lies

BekkaBlackAdmin : May 8, 2012 1:23 am : Latest News

by Rebecca Cantrell

Thank you, Hilary, for loaning me your spot today to celebrate today’s paperback release of “A Game of Lies,” complete with a bright, shiny new cover. Yup, that it’s over there. For the first time, the books have a recognizable face on them. But who is that mysterious woman on upper half? Is it Hannah Vogel herself? Over at “My Book, the Movie” I cast Hannah Vogel as Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet, and Carice Van Houten (if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing three times!).

The new cover is gorgeous, but it never occurred to me that I’d ever find out the secret identity of this latest Hannah Vogel, until…

Out of the blue in twitter, I received this message “@rebeccacantrell I’m the girl on the cover of Game of Lies: lovely to be associated with you. Does that make me Hannah Vogel?”

A little bit of tweeting back and forth later, I’d discovered that the cover model for “A Game of Lies” is known in real life as Boo Paterson. Like Hannah, she was a journalist. Like Hannah, she collects 1930s memorabilia (Hannah bought it new, Boo not so much). And, like Hannah, Boo has some pretty amazing stories to tell.

To celebrate the new release of “A Game of Lies” with its gorgeous new cover, I’d thought we’d spend some time talking to the cover girl herself.
Thanks for joining us today, Boo! First, I’m dying to know how you ended up in a gorgeous 1930s dress and necklace, on a lovely Art Deco chair, looking so very much like Hannah Vogel right when she steps into the Monte Carlo casino?

I’m friends with the great fine-art photographer Laurence Winram and we occasionally dream up photos we’d like to create using the vintage clothes I collect: everything from portraits to weird and fantastical stunts.

In this case, it was actually a 40s film noir scene we were faking; the result of which has ended up as the cover of Simon Tolkien’s new book, Sombre Eclat, funnily enough.

At the end of the shoot – which was done in my Georgian flat in Edinburgh – I suggested we do a quick photo with my favourite white 1930s dress, sitting in one of my Deco easy chairs: so the picture on “A Game of Lies” is really the result of an afterthought.

I’m definitely glad you had that afterthought! Like Hannah, your life has been shaped by the World War II era. Why was this time period a childhood obsession?

Not so much an obsession, as a necessity, really.  My dad was a very intimidating alcoholic, prone to outbursts of rage, which is incredibly frightening for a child.

I found that the only safe subject I could talk to him about without him shouting at me was the Holocaust, as it was his great interest. His bookcases were crammed with tomes about the war and he used to encourage me to read them, even whilst very young. One of my bedtime stories was “The Wooden Horse” and, aged eight, I had already read – and been horrified by – the post-war British propaganda book, “The Scourge of the Swastika,” complete with nauseating photos of Mengele’s experiments and the Allies clearing up bodies from Belsen-Birkenau.

Photo by Lauren Winram

Because of this, I grew up so absorbed by WWII I almost felt it was my duty to discuss the atrocities as an act of remembrance. This lead to the following conversation between my friend and I a couple of years ago:

Me: “I love the story of the Scottish Enlightenment – it’s my favourite subject.”

Friend: “Your second-favourite subject.”

Me: “What’s my favourite subject?”

Friend: “Nazis.”

When I was about 25, I was staying overnight with my parents and my dad was so horrible to me that I finally confronted him over the fact that he had never once said he was proud of me. The next day, outside my room, was the gift of a book entitled: “Never Again – The True History of the Holocaust.”

Because, apparently, nothing says ‘I’m sorry’ like the mass murder of millions.

Ouch, that sounds really difficult. How about we move on to something more recent, and hopefully less painful. The first book in the Hannah Vogel series deals with the cabaret and jazz nightclubs of 1920s Berlin. I think you might have spent more time there than Hannah. What is your attraction to that world and music?

As well as being a journalist, I’m also a music manager and I lived on the jazz scene in New York for two years, not long after the ‘Hannah’ picture was taken. I have a particular love for Manhattan’s speakeasies; blank doors of boarded up shops and hidden alleyways leading to an alternate world of old-time luxury, hot jazz, gin bennets and hushed conversations.

That scene is secret and feels slightly forbidden – one feels one can hide from the cares of the day amongst the artists, musicians and hedonists that populate it.

Billy Strayhorn’s jazz classic, Lush Life, sums up the attraction for me:

Photo by Laurence Winram

I used to visit all the very gay places

Those come-what-may places

Where one relaxes on the axis of the wheel of life

To get the feel of life

From jazz and cocktails

There is nothing like it – ‘relaxing on the axis of the wheel of life’ in that easy-going late-night bohemian culture. But if you go all the way through that song, you realise it’s really about alcoholism, despair, regret and dread, which I can also relate a lot to.

You’re even busier as a writer than a model. What’s your latest writing project?

I’ve just finished writing “Blue Notes From New York,” which is a narrative non-fiction book about a time when I was so poor that I was forced to work undercover for a professional gambler in a squalid and dangerous underworld, where I had to keep my identity secret.

I then made one last gamble by withdrawing thousands of pounds on credit cards before escaping with my singer to New York, where we experienced the starry sophistication of Manhattan’s nights and the crushing disappointments and dark reality of life outside the spotlight.

The book – which is threaded through with the lyrics of classic Tin Pan Alley songs – pulls back the curtain on the world’s greatest jazz clubs and exposes the players and liars on and off-stage in a city steeped in music.

Though I don’t shy away from grim realities, I think it’s ultimately a hopeful book about the gambles we all take in life – whether one’s metaphorical horse comes in or not.

That sounds fascinating! Would you mind giving us a sneak peek?

Certainly. Here’s an excerpt:

In the nine o’clock darkness, the hot wind rustles litter across a non-descript street as we search the building numbers, but the only one matching that which we have is a block of flats. An old Chinese man laughs and points to the battered grey door of a boarded up tailor’s and says: “Bussa! Bussa!”


He reaches past us to press a hidden buzzer half way down the wall.

The door opens and we grope our way through two sets of black velvet curtains into a long, dark, corridor bar with booths down one side, tea lights guttering on their zinc-topped tables.

As our eyes adjust to the lightlessness, a very glamorous redhead sashays out of the dark towards us.

“Hello, I’m Karla.”

Thanks, again, Boo Paterson, for visiting today! Best of luck with music, journalism, and especially ‘Blue Notes from New York!’
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It’s OK to Write Crap and Fix it Later

BekkaBlackAdmin : January 3, 2012 5:11 pm : Latest News

by Rebecca Cantrell aka Bekka Black
First off, happy New Year!
In the tail end of 2011 I had a writing exercise included in the writing book Now Write: Mysteries: Suspense, Crime, Thriller, and Other Mystery Fiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers (no, I don’t know how I snuck in).
I’m quite happy with the exercise I submitted, entitled rather prosaically “Murder from the Point of View of the Murderer, Victim, and Detective,” but the exercise I wanted to write was about letting go in your work, about giving yourself permission to throw words away.

Don’t get me wrong. I love some of my sentences just as much as the next writer. I’ve let go giant subplots that I still mourn (remember Hannah’s brother, Ernst? He used to talk from beyond the grave and those were great scenes).
I think throwing words away is a hard lesson for most writers to learn, and it was for me. It’s easy to get caught up in your perfect words. Revisions were hard for me until a friend told me that when she revised her novel it felt like “losing a child.” That shocked me out of my own over-attachment to any word in my story.
Because writing is about using words to transport people into your world. If the words are wrong and the world isn’t clear, the words have to change. Period. It’s just part of the process, like hitting the Shift key at the beginning of a sentence. And it doesn’t have to hurt.
This year I’m giving us all permission to write and revise joyfully. Sometimes the act of putting down words on paper knowing that they can change, they will change, they are not set in stone, is the only thing that gives me the courage to put down words on paper at all. Like Nora Roberts said, “You can fix anything but a blank page.”
Fill those blank pages up with words, then have fun fixing them!
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Do it for the snacks!

Bekka : October 25, 2011 6:01 pm : Latest News
We are a group, so we have to dress up together. It’s not easy finding something with a large enough ensemble cast with a mystery theme, but I’ll do my best.
So, drum roll…we are going as The Scooby Doo Gang.
First off, the Doo family:
  • Scooby – Gary Phillips, for his love of donuts, which we know Scooby loves too.
  • Yabba – Reece Hirsch, the brave brother who solves crimes.
  • Scrappy – Josh Corin, the glib youngster of the group.
The Gang:
  • Shaggy – Michael Wiley, because I can see you in that green shirt, and I sense you can do the voice.
  • Velma – I decided to have an evil Velma and good one. Hilary Davidson, you get to be good Velma (you have that brainy science side, we know it) and Meredith Cole, you get to be evil Velma (mostly because Meredith it also techier than she looks, and she also has good Evil Velma boots).
  • Daphne – This one was a gimme. Who is the wild red head of our group? Gabrielle Herkert. But she has to be evil Daphne. If you knew her, you’d understand. If you don’t, you’d never believe me if I told you. Tracy Kiely gets to be good Daphne, because I bet she has a purple mini-skirt someplace and she totally has that hair flip thing down.
  • Fred – Graham Brown. Because he can accessorize, or he’d better learn by our upcoming Top Shelf in Tucson (wooden beaded necklace like Richard Hammond, don’t forget it!)
The Hex Girls is an eco goth band that shows up in a few episodes, which was lucky because I ran out of Scooby Doo main characters. Here are the Hex Girls:
  • Kelli Stanley, because she actually likes to sing.
  • Lois Winston, because she can make cool crafty goth costumes.
  • Sue Ann Jaffarian, she’s a shoo in with all her paranormal and vampire books.
  • Vicki Delany has a gothic side too.
Me? Either I’ll sneak in as an eco-goth roadie, or someone who would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!
Happy Halloween Week!
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Toast to Bouchercon

Bekka : September 13, 2011 8:16 am : Latest News

Everyone is going to Bouchercon this week but me. Not strictly speaking true, because there are a billion people in China who never even heard of Boucheron, plus nearly everyone I know who isn’t a writer or a mystery fan. But in spite of that, it feels like everyone is going but me.

So, I decided to talk about the things I’m missing in a non-sulky kind of way.
The stock characters I will miss at Bouchercon?
Readers! Those wonderful people who buy my books (hardcovers, even) and then spend hours of their lives reading them and then actually want to talk to me about them. I am humbled every single time. I will miss you most of all.
Writers! I love to get together with writers and talk about research and plot and the publishing industry and can you believe what they did with that cover and that panel will be terrific and I love your books and did you read that awful review of your book and do you think the publishing industry will collapse entirely before I finish the next book and the next round is on me. Writers, you are my tribe.
Friends! There is much overlap here, as most of the friends are writers and readers too. These are the people I often only get to see at conferences or when I’m on tour because most of my life I’m sitting in a lava tube on one of the most remote islands on Earth. But I miss them and I want to know about their children’s accomplishments and why they ever bought that hat and does this dress my make my butt look you know and congratulations on being nominated and the shrimp looks dodgy and yes, that new guy over there is kinda hot and you should go talk to him.
OK, I feel marginally better. All of you at Bouchercon, you know which categories you fit into, so just email me your responses to all those questions and I’ll feel caught up and reasonably happy as I teetotal and sit in my cave.
But I’ll still miss you.
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Blending in with a Cult?

Bekka : August 30, 2011 6:17 pm : Latest News

Hannah Vogel does manage to infiltrate the cult of all cults: the Nazi party. Let’s run through the cult checklist: overbearing leader, fanatical devotion, mind control, serious consequences if you leave, questions or doubts strongly discouraged. Yes, on all counts.

So, how did she do it? It helped that she looked like their ideal. She has the protective camouflage of blond hair and blue eyes. And, as a woman, she’s not taken seriously enough. Luckily.
The second step was picking a strong ally within the group. She partnered with Lars Lang, a high ranking SS officer. He was already accepted by the group, so she got a de facto acceptance too. This got her past the initial hurdles, but not without a cost. Lars is not always the easiest guy to work with: his loyalties are complex, he runs the risk of being found out himself, and the stress of living a double life cause him to act unpredictably, sometimes dangerously.
After that it was a matter of having strong nerves in difficult situations, learning to lie, and developing the ability to parrot back Nazi ideology with a straight face.
All those things served her well in “A Trace of Smoke,” “A Night of Long Knives,” and “A Game of Lies.” But in next year’s book, “A City of Broken Glass,” all those factors work against her.
Being Hannah is tough work.
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Men Who Love Hannah Vogel

Bekka : August 16, 2011 4:28 pm : Latest News

Men Who Love Hannah Vogel

By Rebecca Cantrell

This week’s question “why do fools fall in love?” is deceptively simple and completely impossible to answer. So, instead I decided to run through the fools who have fallen in love with Hannah Vogel. Considering her complicated lifestyle, it’s actually a fairly long list. I’ll try not to reveal any spoilers. And, since I just wrote a post where I cast the whole Hannah Vogel series at “My Book, the Movie,” I’ll paste in some pictures of the characters here (Hollywood version, British version, German version).

Walter. He never even gets a last name, but he and Hannah were engaged when she was seventeen. They never married because he was killed at the end of the Great War. If he had lived, she probably would have settled down into as a German housewife and started raising kids.

Paul Keller. He was delivered into the hospital where Hannah worked as a nurse with serious injuries to his leg and shell shock. She helped nurse him back to health and he proposed. She gave it a lot of thought, but turned him down because she did not want that housewife life after all. They remained friends and he helped to get her a job at the newspaper. In spite of his rudeness in A Game of Lies, he is my personal favorite for Hannah.

Boris Krause. Hannah meets him in A Trace of Smoke. He’s a banker with a teenaged daughter. His wife died in childbirth, so he’s been alone for a long time. He’s a solid dependable guy who can still hold his own in a car chase or a gunfight. He’s charming and handsome and a good father. He’s probably the guy she should marry.

Aaron Eckhardt Rufus Sewell Sebastian Koch

Lars Lang. Hannah meets him in A Trace of Smoke too. He’s a police kommissar who is also a member of the SS. Lars has the toughest journey of any of the characters so far. He’s devoutly loyal to Hannah, but he has a dark past, and a dangerous one. He is exactly the guy she shouldn’t get involved with, even though he has saved her life on numerous occasions (she’s saved his too) and they work well together as an espionage team.

Edward Norton Michael Fassbender Thomas Krettschman

So, whom should Hannah pick? Whom would YOU pick? And, which actor should play each character? (casting ideas for Paul Keller are welcome!)

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Top Gear for Books

Bekka : August 2, 2011 8:11 am : Latest News

I know this week’s question was about who my protagonist aspires to be. But Hannah Vogel isn’t big on role models. She just does the best she can. But that is obviously WAY too short to be my first blog post in a month or more.

I’ve decided to use the space to talk about a TV show for books and writers. No, my show doesn’t aspire to be “Castle” or “Murder, She Wrote.” It aspires to be “Top Gear.”
Netflix has posted some new seasons and my house is full of guys (two extra, plus two regular), so we’ve been going on a “Top Gear” bender, so I decided that what the world needs is a TV show about books that is similar to “Top Gear.”
First, it would open with discussions of various books that are out, fiction and nonfiction. It could have a news segment about recent deals, films based on books, and new and upcoming releases.
Then it would have a segment where actors (or writers) re-enacted one of the key scenes in a recently released book. For example, someone could create a scene from a James Patterson novel where the characters walk two steps toward the kitchen and have suddenly been transported from New York to Chicago, with no transition at all. Alternately, a romantic love scene could be nicely botched on screen. Terrible Amazon reviews could be read by weeping writers, followed by elaborately enacted revenge fantasies.
“Writer in a Reasonably Priced Car” could be writers driving (sober, one hopes) famous cars from novels, like a James Bond car or the cool period cars from the Hannah Vogel series.
You could do traveling segments where writers took you on a tour of the landscape of their books. Visit Nic Costa’s Rome with David Hewson. Tour the Vatican with James Rollins. See Miranda Corbie’s San Francisco with Kelli Stanley.
My husband, action guy, suggests a segment where books are abused the way “Top Gear” abuses cars. Launch one on a rocket (a Harlan Ellison?). Read one under the ocean (a Clive Cussler, obiously). Drop one in a pit of lava (JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”).
It closes with the Cool Wall where new releases are added by the bickering hosts. And we also need a place for fans, like someone who can recite Klingon poetry.
Clearly, it has to be funny. I think we need a range of hosts, from an action oriented American to a snooty British literature expert and maybe a wickedly funny romance writer. What do you think? Who do you think should star in it? What kinds of segments would it have? Somebody make this show. I want to be on it.

Hannah Vogel’s Newest Adventure Starts…TODAY

Bekka : July 5, 2011 9:54 am : Latest News

Happy Independence Day Alexandra Sabian and Hannah Vogel!

Today is July 5. I’m calling it “Independence Day” for Jeannie Holmes and me because today we release our latest novels into the wild. In honor of that, I’m totally blowing off this week’s question and instead Jeannie and I will be interviewing each other about our brand new books.

Jeannie: “A Game of Lies” is the third book in the Hannah Vogel series. What is Hannah up to in her latest adventure?

Rebecca: Hannah is in trouble, as always. Ever since “A Night of Long Knives,” Hannah has been smuggling out secret documents to British intelligence. She’s back to pick up another batch and report on the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Her mentor dies in her arms after telling her she needs to take out a package, and she spends the rest of the book looking for his killer and his secret.

Now, can you share a bit of what Alexandra Sabian gets up to in “Blood Secrets,” the sequel to the well-received “Blood Law?”

Jeannie: Alexandra Sabian is dealing with the fallout of turning rogue in the first book, Blood Law, and has been suspended from the FBPI. When a local college student disappears, she’s given a chance to prove the Bureau Tribunal that she’s not a risk to the vampire community. She takes the assignment even thought it means working with Varik Baudelaire again. However, neither of them knows the extent of the danger they’re facing when a killer known as the Dollmaker takes an unnatural interest in Alex.

It’s a tough world out there, but at least I got to make a lot of it up. But Hannah’s stories are centered around the Nazi party’s real life rise to power in Germany during the 1930s. How much research do you conduct for each book?

Rebecca: I spend months researching before I start, research the whole time I’m writing, and then uncover even more new stuff when I start to rewrite. It was a fascinating moment in history, and I want to make very sure that Hannah’s world is a true to life as I can make it.

But Alex’s world rings true to me too. She is a vampire cop, but she works with human police officers who use very modern research methods. How much research do you do?

Jeannie: I’ve done a ton of research on forensics and spoken to law enforcement officers so I can make much of what Alex does as realistic as possible. The wildest bit of research I’ve ever done was to spend a twelve hour shift riding shotgun with a patrol officer on a Saturday night. It’s an experience I will never forget, and I have a deeper level of respect for all law enforcement.

But you can’t really do a ride along. What challenges do you find are the most difficult in writing historical mysteries?

Rebecca: For me it’s knowing that the events I research are real. Real people died. Millions of them. I want to do all I can to take that seriously and do the best I can to show people that world, while also giving Hannah a little bit of peace to fall in love, tell a joke, and raise her son.

Enough talk about challenges. Let’s talk about something fun. What’s your favorite scene in “Blood Secrets?”

Jeannie: I have a few favorite scene, but one scene I particularly loved writing is Alex and Varik. It’s about midway through the book. Varik is trying to make a point and uses some rather unconventional means to make it.

Do you see the series continuing forever or do you have a clear end in mind?

Rebecca: Varik is a rather unconventional guy. I do have an arc planned for Hannah. I’d like to write nine books about her adventures: the pre-war trilogy that “A Game of Lies” completes; a war trilogy starting with next year’s “A City of Broken Glass;” and a post-war trilogy where she deals with the aftermath of war.

How about you? How many books do you think you might have for the series?

Jeannie: I have a total of six planned, and hopefully will get the opportunity to write them all. I never meant for the series to drag out to infinity. I think Alex and Varik would eventually like for me to go away and leave them alone since I have a tendency to torture them unmercifully.

What else are you working on? Any hints about “A City of Broken Glass?”

Rebecca: I’m just starting my first round of rewrites on it. “A City of Broken Glass” is set during November 1938—Kristallnacht. Hannah is dragged back to Germany and searches for a lost little girl while trying desperately to get herself and Anton back to Switzerland. It was by far the toughest book I’ve written.

How about you? Is there more Alex in store?

Jeannie: I’m working on the third Alex book, which doesn’t have a title or release date yet, and I also have a couple of other works in progress.

Rebecca: Thanks, Jeannie, for taking time to chat with me about your new book! Have a great time at Thrillerfest! Best of luck on your release day, Book Buddy!

Before I return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast, I’d like to clink glasses with Jeannie in a cyber toast! I giddily invite you all to join us. The cyber Champagne is on me!

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