Thursday, 29 August 2019

Hidden Diamond: Rhonda Frankhouser's Matriarch of Ruby's Ranch

There are so many books out there that it can be hard for readers to find the books they would love to read.  Every month I feature a fellow romance author who writes paranormal romance, romantic suspense, or amazing female characters.  

It's time for Back to School and this month's Heroine Fix is a fellow Soulie, Rhonda Frankhouser, who writes about feisty cowgirls falling in love.  Her most recent release, Legacy of Ruby's Ranch, is all about the matriarch whose namesake ranch inspired the series.

From the moment her grandmother presses an ancient amulet into her palm, Rube Gautier’s life changes. Chosen to lead a mystical life in the service of her village, she’s expected to marry within the community and confer with the spirits to lead her people, but all she really wants is a normal life, on a ranch of her own far away from Oklahoma, with a man of her choosing. When she lays eyes on Mac, hope for a different future begins to blossom.

World War II hero, Mackenzie Adams finds more than he bargained for at a local livestock auction. When he catches sight of the fiery redhead commanding a crowd of roughneck ranchers, his heart pounds faster than it had when he’d stormed Omaha beach. He’d never seen so much passion and so much angst in such a beautiful package. Unfortunately, she’s bound to another life.

Sparks fly between Rube and Mac even as danger lurks around them. The spirits insist Rube must fulfill her destiny, and they will do what they must to see it done, even if it means taking those Rube loves away from her.

The Power of Tradition and Symbolism in a Good Story

Hi, my name is Rhonda and I’m an addict. Over my years of book-addiction, I’ve found I’m drawn to drama and controversy. I’m not proud of it, but I get sucked into the against-all-odds stories where tormented souls search and fight for freedom and love. The more desperate and angsty, the better. Even if it means the character in question will lose what they’ve sought to follow, and change their own set of (often misguided) deep-seated values, I’m all in. Oh sure, I cry and fuss at them. But I respect them all the same for following their beliefs.  

Even when reading fiction, I pick up something about the plight of man’s battle between good and evil. I’ve learned the most about religion and spirituality, not from the Bible or the animated preacher, but from talented authors weaving it into their beautifully researched prose from every time period. Signs and symbols play a powerful role in reminding the faithful follower of their purpose in life. Some talismans are meant to soothe while others threaten to scold. Think the Christian cross, the Ischthys (Fish), the Star of David, and the Yin and Yang, to name a few. Each symbolizing the essence of their own religious or spiritual beliefs.  

In my latest release, Legacy of Ruby’s Ranch, my heroine, Rube Gautier, is born into a culture steeped in ancient tradition. When her grandmother placed the silver Lauburu into Rube’s hand, the burden of her people’s safety and future was hers to bear. For this feisty cowgirl who dreams of a new life, the struggle between love and tradition tears at her.  

The Lauburu is an ancient Basque talisman which symbolizes culture and unity among other things. Some interpretations lean toward the philosophical (physical, mental, emotional and perceptual), while others believe the four heads are representative of the essential natural elements or seasons. In my story, I’ve used a mix of these beliefs to guide Rube’s journey. As a former philosophy major, I’ve had a bit of fun mixing my two worlds together.

Do you have an important symbol in your life? How does is support and guide you? Next time you’re reading a new book, see if you can pick out instances in the story line where tradition and culture play a part. I’m sure you’ll find a few. I’d love to hear about your experiences, both as a writer and reader where values dictated a character’s path. Thanks for listening.

Check out all of Rhonda's books on Amazon
Hidden Diamond Questionnaire

What is the wildest thing you’ve done to research a book?

I’m not sure if it’s wild, exactly, but I spent hours binge watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. My husband was sure I’d lost my mind.

What is your writing process?

I do a little plotting to get the main theme of a new book, then I let my pantser personality take over. When I first started writing years ago, I spent days outlining different story ideas, which ended up being a writer’s prison for me. When I tried to force my characters to move and act according to my will, they went on strike and stopped talking. So, I gave in and let them dictate the story. They haven’t disappointed me so far.

I’m DEFINITELY a flow writer who prefers to be alone during the writing process.  I can’t even listen to music that has lyrics. I’ve tried, trust me, but what I found on my read back, were those same lyrics written into the storyline. So, it’s nice easy acoustic guitar or soft Celtic love songs for me.  

What is your favorite thing to do to relax?

When I really need to relax, I head to the mountains, find a hammock and breathe. I’m not a big city kind of girl. Birds chirping, wind in the trees, the scent of pine, these are my kind of heaven.

Who is your favorite fictional crush?

My latest fictional crush is, yes, cliché, Jamie Frasier from Outlander. Oh mercy, I’m a sucker for a hot highlander. I know it’s not original, but it’s true. It’s no wonder my gorgeous husband has a bit of a red tint in his hair. Wink!

Astronauts or cavemen?

This is a timely debate for me to enter into, especially after my recent research binge of the Ancient Aliens series. I’m easily an astronaut girl. They would be smarter and more cunning. That alone would outdo the primitive sensibility of the caveman.  

Thank you, Rhonda, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds!  Join us next month on September 26th for next month's feature.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

How Much Is This Worth? A look at what goes into making a book

Recently, as I was going through Twitter, I ran across a series of posts from frustrated readers complaining about the price of books.  Specifically, about a publisher who used to price books in the $3-$5 range, but is now pricing in the $10-$12 range.  There was a response from an editor at one of the larger publishers explaining that while they could understand the frustration, readers also needed to recognize that a lot of work goes into producing the books they enjoy reading.  The editor finished with a plea for understanding, that the publishing world doesn't do things to deliberately spite or drive away readers.  They are a business and businesses can't operate on the devoted love of their fans.

It'd be nice if being awesome covered rent... but we're not there yet.

As someone who was coming of age during the time of Napster, I remember the seductiveness of it.  Downloading a digital copy (usually of a song I already owned on CD at first) made it so easy to put together the music I loved.  I justified it to myself, saying that I didn't have a lot of money, and it was greedy of the big music corporations to ask me to spend $10-$20 on a CD with a dozen songs, only a few of which I actually liked.

Then someone said something to me that changed how I saw it forever.  That yes, maybe the corporations were greedy and only paying their artists pennies on the dollar, so that the artist I loved was only getting a dime from my $10 purchase.  By refusing to buy it, I was denying the Evil Corporation its $9.90.  But I was also denying the artist their dime.  And I needed to remember that most artists needed those dimes if they were going to continue to make art.

It was an eye-opener.  And as I became one of those dime-hungry artists myself, I started to see how not paying that $10 affected more than just the person whose name is on the front of the creation.

A book is more than just the author's creation.

There are editors, usually several of them for each book, all spending a significant amount of time (weeks and sometimes months) on very painstaking and sometimes tedious work.  (I would not be able to spend my professional career searching for misplaced commas for a line edit.)

There is the cover illustrators, who are artists themselves and deserve proper recompense.

There are the support staff.  All of the people who keep the business running and who make sure readers and vendors know about the amazing books that are out there.

And we can't forget the author, who has likely spent months, if not years, in the process of creating the story.

When looked at from that angle, there are a lot of people who are putting a lot of time and energy into creating a book (and this doesn't change according to the format, whether digital, physical or audio).  They all need to be paid out of that $10.

So now I want to say something to those who are upset about book prices.  I get it.  Times are tough and money doesn't stretch very far.

But when you see a publisher charging $10-$12 for an ebook, instead of thinking the publisher is trying to take advantage of readers, please think of it as a publisher who is treating their staff and authors with respect, and paying them for their work.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Weekly Update: August 11-17

Weekly word count: 5237

A pretty good week.  Not only did I make my word count but I also crossed something off my household to-do list.  I'd promised my 15 year old that we could repaint his room.  He'd chosen his colours (a lovely Hunter's Green with a sage for the trim and doors).  This week we got it all done.

It's such a nice feeling being able to actually say something is done.  It feels like I've had a lot of things on my lists for a very long time and I haven't been making much progress.

I'm also looking forward to the kids heading back to school soon.  Next week, both kids will be at camp, which will hopefully give me some more time to make progress on writing.  And then the last week of August will probably be busy with getting the back-to-school stuff.

Then it's the most wonderful time of the year...  :)

The other big thing I'm looking forward to is Fan Expo next weekend.  Not only are there tons of awesome guests (like Jason Momoa and Brandon Fraser) but I've never been to the Toronto event before.  It's going to be so exciting to get to meet new readers and hang out with the MythHawker folks.

The only question is whether or not my books will arrive in time from Ingram... (I have stock but I'd ordered some more, just in case.)

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Twisting Cinderella Into Deadly Potential

I've talked a lot about the idea that sparked the Director for Deadly Potential, the creepy idea of a stalker who is able to hide in plain sight.  But there was another idea behind my story, a twist on Cinderella.

First off, I'll recuse myself by sharing that I am a huge fairy tale fan.  I read them exhaustively as a child, collecting the variations like other children collected stickers or cards.  I can sing and recite most of the Disney versions (and do, given half an opportunity).

That doesn't mean I'm blind to the flaws in many of the stories.

Any story reflects the time it is created.  The classic Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm stories come from the 19th century and reflect many of the Victorian values.  Cinderella is from Charles Perrault's collection, which was assembled in the second half of the 17th century.  It's a bloodier version than those familiar with Disney's will expect, but it has what are considered the key elements: 

- it's a rags to riches story where the heroine goes from poverty to plenty
- the heroine is blocked by her stepmother and, to a lesser extent, her stepsisters
- the heroine meets her prince at a ball (or series of balls) and he is entranced by her beauty
- there is a magical being (fairy godmother) who grants the heroine beautiful clothes and transportation
- the prince is able to see through any attempts at deception to identify the heroine, despite not knowing her name or status

While I do enjoy stories of women being elevated out of difficult circumstances, there are aspects of the Cinderella story which bother me.  The biggest one is her passivity.  She is singled out for aid because she is quiet, patient, and virtuous.  She is singled out as the ideal bride because she is beautiful.  Personally, that bothers me on both sides of the relationship, because physical attraction is one heck of a poor qualification for choosing someone who will eventually be a co-ruler of your kingdom.  But I digress.

The other aspect which troubles me is how Cinderella is set up as being different from the other women in her life, and as being in competition with them.  They are coarse and vulgar, she is noble and graceful.  It's a theme that I see reflected in a lot of modern stories, that the heroine is somehow better than all those other girls (be they co-workers, ex-girlfriends, or rivals for the hero's affection).

Many of Perrault's stories focus on a character's inherent nobility and the message that their goodness will be rewarded.  But the idea that people should suffer in silence and wait to be rescued isn't one I can get behind.  I much prefer when characters are active participants in their own rescue, though they usually do need help (which is why I also love stories where characters realize they can't do everything on their own).

Women who are set up as "the good one" in fiction are isolated.  In reality, female friendships are incredibly important.  I would never want to be without my girlfriends, yet it's actually surprisingly rare for a story to have two or more women with a close and supportive friendship.

I've always written stories with independent heroines, but this time, I also wanted to write a story where there was a strong female friendship.  And I started thinking about Cinderella, and what it would be like if the stepsister teamed up with Cinderella to overthrow her abusive mother.

And because I'm never happy with just one twist, I wanted to explore another idea, too.  What if the fairy godmother was evil, what if she was pushing Cinderella into a world that she didn't want?  What if Cinderella just wanted to restore her family home and live peacefully there and it was the fairy godmother who had the whole dream of her charge becoming royalty?

So I made sure that my heroine, Katie, had a strong and healthy relationship with her stepsister, Aggi, one where they faced down Aggi's narcissistic mother together.  And I made the Director into a dark version of the fairy godmother, one who only makes his own wishes come true.

I hope that people will enjoy the story as much as I do.  Deadly Potential is available for pre-order now and will be released on October 23rd!

Previous post: Heroine Fix: The Brave and Brilliant Dr. Ellie Arroway from Contact.

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Monday, 12 August 2019

Weekly Update: August 4 to 10

I know I've been kind of sketchy with these updates lately and I'm sorry about that.  I've been struggling and it's been a very intense few months of dealing with personal things, plus the injury, and frankly, feeling as if my creative energy has been drained out of me.

But, if I dare tempt fate by saying so, things seem to have turned a corner.

I wrote 6145 words last week.  The most progress I've made in a long, long time.  The writing felt the way it used to feel, as if I were just transcribing something from some place inside my head where the book is already perfectly written.

But on the personal side, I've made some progress as well.  One of the things I haven't been able to share is that I've been going through a separation.  It's been an emotionally draining and unexpectedly expensive process, and one that took a lot longer than I was expecting.  It's hit me in my confidence as well.  How can I write about happily ever afters when my own marriage was on critical?

It's taken me awhile to realize that it's because I believe in happily ever afters that I can't let myself be held back in a relationship that frankly hasn't worked in awhile.  I've reached the point where I can honestly say that my ex-husband isn't a bad person, but we're just not a good match in terms of our expectations and needs.  Things are actually far more amicable between us now that we're no longer romantically entangled.

My focus has been on supporting my children through this process.  They didn't get a vote on it, but I want to make sure they never have cause to doubt how much they are loved and that their well-being is our highest priority.

I'm not sure what's going to happen now.  I never expected to be facing a new world of possibilities in my mid-forties.  But I'm glad that I am giving myself permission to take a gamble on gaining the kind of happiness that we're all entitled to in life.  Even if it doesn't happen, I made the right choice to bet on hope rather than settling for quiet despair.

I'm sure there are more bumps to come in the road.  I will probably be slower than I'd hoped in putting out my next few books.  But even if I slow down, I'm not going anywhere.

Thank you to all of you who have stuck by me.  It means more than you can imagine.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Heroine Fix: The Brave and Brilliant Dr. Ellie Arroway

I'm addicted to well-developed and capable heroines who defy the expectations of society and male-dominated genres.  Each month I examine a new character who influenced my writing or me personally.

This month, I was shocked to discover how long it was since this movie was released.  Contact came out in 1997 and I watched it in theatres at least four times.  I wanted to be Dr. Ellie Arroway (played by Jodie Foster) and get into an alien ship and teleport my way across the galaxy (or dimensions, depending on your interpretation of the story).

As I got older, I started to realize how amazing and unusual the story was.  It didn't focus on Ellie's male counterparts and treat her like an expositional plot device (the fate of many of Dr. Arroway's brainy counterparts, such as Hermione Granger).  It didn't treat her intelligence as a joke or a deterrent to her happiness.  She wasn't the awkward loner or the repressed ice queen or any of the other stereotypical portrayals of smart women.

She's a passionate, determined woman studying a field that others ridicule, who refuses to compromise her personal or scientific integrity.  She's got no problem enjoying a fling with a hot guy if he crosses her path, but doesn't compromise her professional goals for romance (though she still gets a happy ending, as I choose to believe).  That's actually pretty rare in terms of films and movies.  Women, even in their own stories, often take second place to male characters or are diminished so as to be unthreatening to the status quo.

Ellie is strong, both in her spirit and her intellect.  Her passion is discovering evidence of extraterrestrial life and so she uses her radio telescope time to "search for little green men" even though it exposes her to professional and personal ridicule.  From her reaction, we can see that the mockery bothers her, but she doesn't let it stop her.  To me that's a more powerful message than the characters who never seem bothered by others' opinions.  It hurts to be treated as the punchline of the joke, and that fear stops us from pursuing many of our dreams.

She also doesn't hesitate to stand up to authority when it's required.  When she's begging for funding, she refuses to be politely brushed off, telling the potential donors that they lack vision and understanding.  If they refuse to fund her research, they are the kind of people who refused to see the potential in the airplane or vaccinations.  After she discovers the alien signal, the government wants to suppress knowledge of it and threatens Ellie for having shared the information with other scientists.  She's not intimidated by their bluster, laying down why their position is ridiculous and she is right.

And yet, Ellie is not blindly ambitious.  When her team discovers the plans to create a alien device that will allow someone to journey outside the solar system (and presumably meet some aliens), it's the opportunity she's dreamed of her entire life.  She wants on that ship more than she's ever wanted anything in her entire life.  She's willing to sacrifice her personal life and happiness to be the one to make contact with extraterrestrials.  She proves her competence to a inquisition-like hearing with dozens of people judging her worthiness.  Then it all comes down to a single question: do you believe in God?

The question is a deliberate sand-bag from her lover, Palmer Joss (played by Matthew McConaughey).  He knows her opinions on the subject and how the hearing will interpret that interpretation.  He doesn't want her to leave Earth and possibly return hundreds or thousands of years later.  (Which in my view, means he fails the hero test, which requires him to place his beloved's needs over his own.)

Ellie could lie and claim to believe in God.  It would be the popular answer and probably would have guaranteed her the place on the ship.  But she doesn't.  She answers honestly that she doesn't believe it's likely and she has no personal faith in an omnipotent or omniscient divine being.  She does it knowing that her answer is the end to her dreams.  

The ostensible bad guy of the film, Ellie's rival, Dr. David Drumlin (played by Tom Skerritt), gives the answer that the committee wants to hear and wins the spot.  It's of a piece with other actions we've seen from him in the film, such as using his professional interest to shut down Ellie's telescope time in an effort to force her to return to "respectable" science, or taking credit for her work when it suddenly comes with acclaim.  He's not a traditional villain.  He's more subtle than that.  He's a man who is convinced he knows what is best and who doesn't hesitate to take advantage of any opportunity that comes his way.  He is ambition without Ellie's integrity.

I think what most impresses me about the story is Ellie's character arc.  Like many independent characters, her journey is about learning to connect with others.  But it is done without diminishing her intelligence, skill, or dreams.  The only person Ellie has allowed herself to depend on is her father.  She is willing to have a fling with Joss, but not derail her career or dreams for him.  She holds herself aloof from her coworkers, keeping their relationships strictly professional.

It is only when she meets the aliens and learns that Earth is truly not alone that she begins to grasp the importance of interpersonal connections.  The alien takes the form of her father and tells her "In all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other."

That knowledge shakes Ellie to her core.   She returns to Earth a transformed woman.  She's still passionate and dedicated, but I get the sense that now she's willing to take a little time for herself to explore other sides of her personality.

I love writing strong women who fall in love and not all of them are necessarily looking for love at the start of the story.  It's a fine line between giving them the opportunity for love and making sure it doesn't seem as if they need romantic love in order to be happy.  Ellie has been given the answer to her life's work.  She now needs a new dream.  Personally, I believe that she goes on to have a long and happy life, outspoken and unflinching when sharing what people need to know.  But also, I believe she has a life where she's not cutting herself off from others any more.  And whether she finds romantic love or enjoys the richness of friendships, I think she ends up with the best of both worlds.

Join me next month on September 12 for the next Heroine Fix.  Or check out last month's Heroine: the ferocious and loyal Mazikeen from Lucifer.

Or check out my latest independent, competent and brilliant heroine from my upcoming
book, Deadly Potential.  Katie runs a multinational business, is managing a global tour, and writes commercially successful pop songs for her sister, the Princess of Pop.  When she starts receiving intrusive letters, she finds out she's been targeted by one of the most infamous serial killers in history, a man who is psychically able to make anyone forget his presence.  Special Investigator Ben will do whatever it takes to keep her alive.  Deadly Potential: A Special Investigations Case Study, available for pre-order now and releasing on October 23!

Previous post: LIAR! Using Body Language To Detect Deception

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Thursday, 1 August 2019

LIAR!! Using Body Language to Detect Deception

In case you missed it, I did a mini-workshop on Twitter last week for the #notRWA19 group (those who weren't able to attend the RWA National Conference in New York) and I thought my blog readers might appreciate a look at it.

Body language and expressions are an area of interest of mine.  It started out because I'm not skilled at picking up social cues, so I had to teach myself (and my kids, who inherited my social blindness).  As I researched and compiled information, I found myself with a great writing resource and I started presenting workshops on different aspects of body language.

For #notRWA19, I did a thread on how to use body language to detect deception, both in life and for your POV characters.  Most of the information here is from Dr. Paul Eklund's books and research.

It would make life so much easier but sadly, there are no universal signs that someone is lying to you.  We see a lot of lists that claim to be able to expose liars, and most of them include things like avoiding eye contact, fidgeting and sweating.  However, the things on those lists tend to be signs of increased anxiety, which doesn't always correspond to lying.

That said, there are postures and expressions that can help a person to figure out if someone is trying to deceive them.  But they're not quite as simple as "touching their nose means a person is LYING!!!" would like us all to believe.

There are three signs which can indicate deception:
- increased anxiety (** with a caveat that this is the most complicated and unreliable sign)
- mismatched emotional reactions
- uneven expressions/postures

Lying to another person makes most people anxious.  It's stressful to have to remember details, to evaluate others' reactions, and since most people have a goal when they lie, to worry about whether or not they'll get the result they want.  The anxiety can be especially high if the situation involves an authority figure or a high stakes scenario.

That said, there are plenty of people who don't display any sign of nerves when lying, no matter how intense the situation is.  And there are people who are naturally anxious, who will show signs of nerves in the most innocuous of situations.  In general, anxiety as a tell for deception is most effective with people that we know well enough to see whether or not their behaviour is an increase in anxiety or just their regular baseline.

Signs of anxiety include sweating, twitching, fidgeting, faster breathing, increased heartrate, and flicking eyes.  It also includes self-soothing gestures like touching their own skin, hair or stroking their own hand.

But, really, all that signs of anxiety tell you is that a person is anxious.  It doesn't tell you why that person is anxious.  They might be afraid that their listener isn't believing them (for example, if the listener is a police officer who is accusing them of a crime) or they might be afraid about making a mistake (for example, when relating an account of what has happened to them), or they might be embarrassed (for example, wanting to gloss over particular details), or even just not wanting to hurt someone's feelings.  Anxiety alone doesn't necessarily mean lying.

In general, if someone is lying, you'll see mismatched emotional expressions (when the expressed emotion doesn't match the words/situation)  and/or uneven expressions or postures (done with only part of the body/face or beginning on one side instead of evenly).

If someone is lying, they'll try to assume the appropriate emotions to what they're saying.  Eg, if you're claiming you can't come to work because your grandmother died, you'll probably try to sound and look sad.  However, people can't completely suppress their actual emotions, so the truth will leak through for a split second, which is called a microexpression.

This is actually a slowed down version.
Interestingly, the only ones who have success at having their expressions match a false story are professional actors, and they cheat (kind of).  They use their own memories and experiences to generate genuine emotions on cue.  It sounds simple but it's actually quite difficult.

Another interesting (though sad) fact, is that psychologist first grew interested in microexpressions as a way to figure out which patients were lying about intending to self-harm.  The patients would lie very convincingly, claiming to be happy and excited, but when discharged, would attempt (or succeed) suicide.  In looking at video recordings of the sessions, the psychologists discovered split-second expressions of grief and pain in the faces of those patients who later hurt themselves.

One of the most reliable signs of deception is called "duping delight" and it's a combination of contempt, relief and glee.  Most good liars try to mask it but it can still come through as a microexpression.

Uneven postures and expressions are another way that people mask their real reactions.  Natural expressions are always symmetrical (unless there's a physical reason why they can't be).  But if someone is deliberately making the same expression, it will be uneven.  It might be only on one side of their face or body (one sided shrug or smile are the most common).  Or it will begin more on one side before evening out.  Forced expressions will also tend to switch faster than natural ones, eg: the smile will appear and disappear faster.

Fun fact: a one sided shrug is often an indication of suppressed helplessness, and can be a reasonably reliable indicator of a long term deception.

Another side of uneven expressions are when different parts of the body are sending different messages.  Like feet pointing toward the exit when someone is talking to you.  It's a subconscious sign that they're ready to run.  Or nodding when saying no, or shaking their head when saying yes.  Or smiling but having the eyes show fear or anger.  In all of these cases, the gesture is the truth.  We have less conscious control over our movements than we do over our words, the eyes are less controllable than the mouth.

One final caveat, even if someone is lying, it's not necessarily due to a malicious reason.  We lie to avoid hurting people, to avoid embarrassing ourselves, to fit in socially, and sometimes because we wish what we were saying was true.

That said, it can be such a relief to spot signs of dishonesty in a person's behaviour.  Especially if our instincts have already rung alarms that the person is not being truthful with us or that their intent doesn't match their external actions.  It takes away confidence-sapping second-guessing and removes the opportunity for others to gaslight or manipulate us.

(Princess Bride gif: Liar!  Liaaaarrr!)
Previous blog post: Hidden Diamond, Jaycee Jarvis and her fantasy romance series and the importance of creating a satisfying emotional experience for your readers.

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