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An Easter Treat: The Literary Easter Egg

No Easter tradition is better loved than the egg hunt. Every year, children scurry through the house and yard, searching behind bushes and under chairs for eggs filled with goodies. After all, who doesn’t love a competitive adventure that has chocolate waiting at the end?

Grown-ups can find their own version of Easter egg hunts, although the treat at the end is (perhaps unfortunately) not candy. “Easter eggs” is the term used to refer to hidden content or messages. While Easter eggs originated in computer programs, they have since spread to other forms of media—video games, movies, artwork, and, of course, books.

            So, what exactly is a literary Easter egg? Some common examples are inside jokes, secret codes, and subtle references. Any sort of unexpected, veiled surprise could be considered an Easter egg.

Many great stories throughout years have been dotted with Easter eggs, although you might not have noticed them if you didn’t realize you were on the hunt. Here are a few examples.

  1. Through the Looking Glass: Lewis Carroll’s famed work features an acrostic poem that spells out “Alice Pleasance Liddell,” the name of the real girl who inspired the fictional Alice.
  2. A Series of Unfortunate Events: This children’s series by Daniel Handler, pen name Lemony Snicket, is full of twists and intrigue, creating the perfect atmosphere for hidden Easter eggs. For example, in A Hostile Hospital, a list of names features anagrams of both Daniel Handler and Brett Helquist, the book’s illustrator. Another anagram is made from the pen name Lemony Snicket for the name of one of the characters, Monty Kensicle.
  3. Star Wars: In some of the Star Wars books, Han Solo mentions that he uses the name Jenos Idanian as an alias. This is an anagram of Indiana Jones, who is played by Harrison Ford—the same actor who plays Han Solo in the Star Wars movies.
  4. Sarah Dessen’s novels: Popular YA author Sarah Dessen is known for setting her stories in recurring locations, and many of her characters run into each other across their books. Just to name a couple of examples, the protagonists of The Truth About Forever make a cameo appearance in Just Listen, and a character from This Lullaby is seen briefly in Lock and Key.
  5. The Great Gatsby: This literary classic opens with a poetic epigraph that begins, “Then wear the gold hat, if that will move her…” and is attributed to Thomas Parke D’Invilliers. While, generally, readers expect epigraphs to be quotes from other published authors, only true Fitzgerald fans would know that Thomas Parke D’Invilliers is actually a fictional character in Fitzgerald’s third novel, This Side of Paradise!
  6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: When J.K. Rowling received a letter from a young fan named Natalie who had a terminal illness, Rowling wrote the girl a letter detailing the rest of Harry Potter’s storyline. Unfortunately, Natalie died before receiving the letter. Rowling named a minor character in her honor; Natalie is a young student who is sorted into Gryffindor at the beginning of the book.

These are only a few examples of the various forms that Easter eggs may take in writing. Hopefully they provide inspiration for the kind of “treats” you can hide in your writing.

Easter eggs are beloved by readers because of the sense of fun and discovery they deliver. Entertain and challenge yourself by weaving hidden surprises through your writing as you create a literary Easter egg hunt of your own.

Happy hunting, and happy Easter!

illusio & baqer will be closed from Friday, April 17 through Monday, April 20. While our offices are closed, we may not respond to inquiries, but please follow us on Twitter and Facebook to receive any news or updates.


New Author Signing: Misha Herwin

Illusio & baqer is thrilled to announce the signing of Misha Herwin and her YA fantasy novel, Clear Gold, coming Jan 2015. This is the first of a trilogy.

In a world where water is more precious than gold Mouse’s ambition is to be a guard on the water wagons. She wins her place but another girl is chosen instead of her. Totally humiliated Mouse teams up with the mysterious Lanyon. A stranger in town, he intrigues and annoys her, treating her with contempt yet persuading her to help him steal water from the mystical crystal spring. 

Their plan fails and they have to flee the town. After an attack by water bandits, they head for Sulis where Lanyon plans to sell the healing water, to the count for his sick daughter, Rosamund. 

Sulis, however, is under attack from invading forces and the count refuses to meet with them. In a desperate attempt to get their gold they kidnap Rosamund. 

To Mouse’s horror, from the first moment he sees her, Lanyon has eyes only for Rosamund. Hurt and furious she can’t wait to be rid of her, so she helps the other girl  escape. 

The wood is swarming with enemy soldiers. Lanyon is missing and much as she wants to go her own way, Mouse finds she must go in search of him.  

Sulis has been razed to the ground. The count’s villa destroyed and Rosamund is hiding in an underground passage. Lanyon has been taken prisoner. To rescue him the girls steal an airship. As Rosamund struggles to get it airborne, the navigator Krishan bursts into the cabin. As Mouse hold her knife to his throat he confesses that he too wants to be free of the invaders and agrees to help them fly the ship across the sea to Afric.  

Misha Herwin lives in a house with a dragon in the garden and a very demanding cat. She has a husband and grown up children and has been writing stories and plays for as long as she can remember. Her Dragonfire trilogy for 8-12 year olds is out on Kindle and she has published short stories in anthologies for adults too. She loves fantasy and creating alternative worlds, which are closely related to the one we live in. When she’s not writing, she runs creative writing groups in schools and libraries and working with local museums on drama projects. She is also busy setting up a local literary festival. 

Keep an eye out for more information on this exciting new series.

Author Interview: Christy Jones

Christy Jones

Trinka and The Thousand Talismans

Coming Fall 2014.

Come get to know our authors with this in-depth Q&A, about everything from their novel to their favorite music.

Why do you write?

Because I love writing! Ever since my first-grade teacher, Mrs. King, showed us we could scribble out and staple together our own books, it’s been one of my favorite things to do.

What do you write?

I enjoy adapting fairy tales, writing original fantasy and science fiction short stories, and making up stories and silly poems for young children. I also enjoy writing how-to pieces for sewing projects, since it enables me to do all kinds of creative work (designing, crafting, writing, drawing…).

Who inspires you?

My kids definitely inspire a lot of my writing for young children, since we read picture books together by the crate-full, and they’re always wanting to be told stories. Sharing books with them (classics like “The Little House,” “Blueberries for Sal,” and “Harold and the Purple Crayon,” as well as just plain hilarious books like the “Tacky the Penguin” series), listening to them beg my husband to tell them “the Bilbo story” one more time, and watching them open up the “Elephant & Piggie” or “Frog & Toad” books and discover reading for themselves is one of the greatest joys of my life.

Who are your influences?

I really enjoy watching all kinds of creative people at work, not just writers. I love the incredible design work that Weta Workshop did on “Lord of the Rings,” I was always a Jim Henson/Creature Shop fan, and I love a well-illustrated book. (I enjoy the unique details of Jan Brett’s books and the charm of Mary Engelbreit’s drawings, as well as the stunning paintings of artists like K.Y. Craft. I think “The Quiltmaker’s Gift” is the book I purchased the fastest after having to return it to the library.)

My mom was a very talented writer, and besides having a few published pieces in magazines, she was always making up stories and board games for us. So she’s still a huge inspiration to me. Since she passed away before my kids were born, I’m glad they get to read a few of her stories. And I’m glad that my kids, too, are growing up thinking that making your own books is normal.

What are your three most favorite books and why?

Are you sure didn’t leave out “hundred” after “three”? Because if not, that’s going to be a really tough question! Okay, if forced to pick, I’d choose “The Jesus Storybook Bible,” since it does such an powerful job of using understandable yet eloquent words to show how scripture reveals God’s amazing love for humanity, and my Jane Austen treasury (I know, that’s cheating since it’s six books… okay maybe at the moment I’d go with Heather Dixon’s “Entwined” instead since it’s like Jane Austen rewrote a fairy tale, and you can’t get a much better combination than that). Last, I’d probably take A.A. Milne’s “The World of Pooh” (a single volume with both Pooh books, see I’m cheating again…) because an ambush is a sort of a surprise and “so is a gorse-bush sometimes.”

How do you write?

I still write by hand quite a bit (with purple pens and cheap spiral notebooks), since I don’t have a laptop and sometimes need to write wherever I have the chance. (I’m answering this question on paper at a bench in the hall while my kids are at a preschool gymnastics class!) Of course, being able to work electronically is a huge help—it makes changing things seem so much less daunting.

Where do you like to write?

With two young kids at home all the time, I don’t always get a chance to just sit down at the computer and write, so I sometimes think through ideas while I go about my day—cleaning toilets, watching the kids entertain each other, lying awake at night. When I do get a chance to sit down, it makes my time more focused and productive, since I know it’s limited.

Do you set a goal of so many pages per day, or something else?

No, I just enjoy every opportunity I have to write.

What program(s) or tool(s) do you use to write?

I wrote my first novel in Adobe Framemaker (a layout program for technical writers). Since our new operating system won’t support it anymore, it’s a good thing I had transferred the text to an rtf I can use in Open Office.

What do you do when you get stuck on a problem which blocks the writing process?

I love to have all sorts of different things to do on a project. That way, if I don’t have anything to contribute for one part, I can enjoy working on another. Library research, doodling, observing the outdoors, and daydreaming can all be as much a part of the writing process as putting words on paper.

Do you envision the entire story at once and just fill in as you go, or do you just see
where the writing takes you and troubleshoot as necessary?

It tends to be pretty organic—I don’t usually have more than an outline of the highlights. Planning a story was an area I utterly failed at in school. In sixth grade, we were given a picture of three kids and a mountain and told to make a brief outline of a story based on the picture. Instead, I turned in a 2,000 word fantasy piece about the magical flower land inside the mountain. (And later wrote three sequels and drew maps.) I still haven’t been cured. Since finishing a master’s degree in technical writing, though, I have gotten better at outlining. It’s an area I’m growing in (slowly).

What do you have the most fun with during the creative process?

I love every bit of it! I enjoy researching all kinds of seemingly incongruous topics, I love inventing characters and worlds, I love writing dialogue, I love playing with language and finding just the right words. I also love starting new projects, so my weak points tend to be working out plot details, and actually finishing a piece.

Do you have any special rituals or superstitious behaviors you must follow while writing?

Not really, but it always helps to be in a positive frame of mind.

What is a cherished memory from your life you’d like to share?

Reading aloud together was a special time in my family, growing up. The “Bruno & Boots” books by Gordon Korman—about a boy’s boarding school and the next-door “finishing school for young ladies” (who were anything but!)—were especially treasured, since they were just so hilarious and over-the-top, and we had our own wacky read-aloud voices for all the characters.

Even though I’m a visual person and not at all an auditory learner, my husband Peter and I still read aloud together just the two of us, and can hardly wait to start reading the “Narnia” series with our kids.

Do you prefer coffee, tea, or something else entirely?

Hot chocolate if I can afford the calories, and herbal tea when I can’t. Although I live in the Pacific Northwest, I have never, ever had coffee.

What comes first, the chicken or the alien egg?

I hope neither ever appear in our basement for me to find out.

What is your favorite kind of music?

Although I can’t listen to music while I’m writing, since I need to be able to “hear” the words, I love listening to music (Plumb, Kutless, Eden’s Bridge…) while I doodle.

Who do you most identify with in this work?

Although it sounds cheesy, I have to say Trinka, because I identify with her insecurities. She definitely handles major life upheaval better than I do, though. I’m not nearly so adventurous!

Why this story?

I think everyone has had an experience of things not going as they hoped, then later looking back and realizing those events actually worked out so much better than planned. In other hardships, we may not see the resolution (yet or ever), but we can trust that they, in some way, will too. It’s definitely something I still need reminding of a lot, no matter how many times I’ve seen it happen.

Who do you think would be most affected by or touched by this work?

Society tends to define success (whether in education, athleticism, monetary worth, or beauty…) in a very narrow way. People who don’t fit those little norms feel worthless, when they still have so much to contribute. And that’s certainly what Trinka runs into. I hope that “Trinka” encourages girls about her age, in particular, to know that their worth as a human being does not depend on the little spheres of influence that happen to be around them at the moment.

What is a profound memory from this title’s writing process?

Being the absolute worst kid in gym class, I had ample opportunity for talks with my lovely and compassionate junior high gym teacher, Mrs. Lee. One day she asked me, “What would you like to be when you grow up, if you could be anything at all?” I answered, “A fantasy novelist.” She laughed and said, “That’s not fair–when I was your age, I wanted to be a rock star. You could actually do that.” I guess she was right!

Thanks, Christy! For more information on Christy’s debut novel, Trinka and The Thousand Talismans, go here.

Beginning Your Novel – Part II

We continue from last week’s list of premises not to use when beginning your novel. We continue now with:

Heavy description of a character

“Sue stood just shy of six feet, with piercing blue eyes and long, blond hair that reached to her back no matter how many times she took a chainsaw to it. Her frame was slim and willowy, and today she wore a blue sheath dress…”

Piling on details about a character in the opening chapter is incredibly tedious to readers. Use clever exposition to slowly build the protagonist’s appearance in their minds. Maybe try something like:

“When she reached the car, she managed her usual bump on the head getting in. Sue scowled into the rear-view mirror, seeing her own, cold blue eyes staring back at her before she slammed the door and started the engine…She tucked a strand of unruly blond hair behind her ear as she locked up her car.”

Anything relating to “I was about to die”

You’ve seen this a million times. Our brave hero/heroine racing down a dark hallway/abandoned building/graveyard with something insidious at their heels. Suddenly, they hit a dead end. They turn around to face their imminent death. And the next chapter doesn’t start off with this whole thing being a dream. Crap, that was real.

This is similar to the Dream opening sequence, but sometimes the events in a prologue really will happen. The protagonist will face a potentially lethal situation at some point. But not right now. Unfortunately, this falls into the Pointless Prologue category by teasing a reader with the exact scene that’s going to happen later on.

With that said, if this kind of thrilling opening scene happens to be unique and not something you’ve read in every other book, it might actually work really well.

A character doing absolutely mundane things

Novels that start off with a character doing things like going to class/doing dishes/chatting to friends can lose readers if they don’t hop into story right away.

Maybe a guy was taking the trash out – and a bat swooped in. Here the mundane situation had a purpose. If its sole purpose is to introduce a character, consider deleting it. Of course, some scenes are used to cleverly lay out a character’s personality, but there is a fine line between “pointless” and “expository.”

A hot new guy appearing right near the start

You’ve seen it in almost every single Young Adult novel, ever. It usually begins with said Hot Guy moving into some dinky town for some shady reason, hiding an equally shady past, both of which usually have some link to the female protagonist. At this point, every time the new, Hot Guy doesn’t end up being the love interest of the leading lady, I would be impressed.

The one exception to this trope that I’ve seen has been Allen Zadoff’s Boy Nobody. I give that one a pass because there is a good reason Boy Nobody is always the new guy.

Parents dying/sole survivor of a car crash

Sometimes, this trope sets up a story for an exciting ride. A car crash is a much-abused plot device to give your character a license to be weird. From magical powers to the ability to see the dead, the list goes on. It also fills up their “personal troubles” quota to make them seem well-rounded. They now have something to angst about! Eventually, it gets incredibly tiring.

Conveniently missing parents

Adding to the previous trope is the fact that now the protagonist’s parents are conveniently out of the way, leaving them free to do whatever dangerous or crazy thing they like (like dive into an alternate dimension ruled by the fae). A boarding-school setting is a less subtle way of removing troublesome parents or guardians. So if you’re going to use either of those methods, justify it with originality.

Ignorant human not knowing what they are

Why do most protagonists never ever pick up on anything being amiss until they’re in their teens? Harry Potter and The Mortal Instruments get a pass here. Both the protagonists were deliberately shielded from their true identity. But if your novel is starting off with “[name] has always thought she was a normal girl…”, then you need to go back and take a good hard look at all the many novels that have already done this. Justify to yourself why it is essential your protagonist never find out up until now.

Wicked Lovely is a good example of a protagonist who has been aware she wasn’t normal well before her story began.

Fallen angels

If you sweep your eyes over a YA display table at your local bookstore, chances are, they’ll hit something with angels on the cover. The angel craze is still here and well over-supplied. Nephilim are cool, in moderation.

Let’s move on to something else now, though. Like aliens.

So How Should You Start Your Novel?

If you’re seeking inspiration for interesting premises in YA, there are many places to try: mythology, fables, even clichés that haven’t been seen in a while. There are so many ideas out there still untapped. Even TV shows or movies can help you come up with an interesting opener or plot. So get out there and start researching. Read classics like Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno. You will be surprised how refreshing older literature can be.

Beginning Your Novel – Part I

Most writers understand the importance of a good hook, that first line that carries all the weight of a new reader’s wavering attention. Sure, that line can make or break a reader’s decision to read on—or an agent’s decision to represent the book—but some novels don’t work well with a captivating hook.

Sometimes, a clever or intriguing opening line just isn’t working with how the story needs to go. Never fear, because even if you start off with a very casual opening line, your story still has hope, as long as it avoids a few tired patterns. Bear in mind that some novels deliberately use these well-known tropes, and wear them well. Most do not. Here are the First Set of ideas/premises you may want to avoid unless you are extremely confident about the uniqueness of your take on these ideas:

Overly dramatic/thrilling opener in a prologue

“The blood pooled on the floor, creating a foreboding mirror. She could see his reflection behind her, rising up…”

Before we’ve even met the protagonist, we are expected to care about their death. Many novels, in their constant attempt to use a dramatic hook, often overshoot and throw readers into such a fast-paced opening scene that it’s just disorienting. Imagine being dropped into a battle scene in a fantasy novel. A reader won’t even know who the hero is or who is fighting whom.

A dream sequence

You have an opening that’s the perfect mix between thrilling and well-paced progression. It’s all building toward a climax and your thumb is leaving dents in the pages as you flip through frantically. Will this girl escape that huge, scary beast/serial killer/vampire?

Well, you’re never going to find out. Joke’s on you. It was just a dream. The exciting prologue ends and she wakes up in bed, totally safe. On that note, let’s hear it for all the protagonist-being-chased/protagonist-chasing-something scenes in prologues that we don’t really want to see more of. This kind of introduction makes a reader feel cheated.

A pointless prologue

What makes a prologue pointless? There is a trend in YA fiction (and occasionally other genres) in which the prologue is really just a snapshot of a climactic scene from later on in the book. It’s like a trailer, serving no other purpose than to give you a teasing look at what’s coming next, if you decide to stick around long enough to read everything in between. And most trailers are usually misleadingly exciting. That’s what this type of prologue is like.

This sort of prologue can and should be removed. Just cut to the main story.

Excessive description of a landscape

“Incandescent in its glory, the sun sank behind a dusky cover of clouds, allowing them to ensconce it in a…”

Overloaded descriptions can be a pain. For example, as much as Lord of the Rings has shaped fantasy for the better, the novels would have been far more accessible if Tolkien’s descriptions of the opening scene had been edited down. Descriptions are essential, but only where they don’t get in the way of the story or make it drag. See our previous post on De-Cluttering.

Fantasy isn’t the only genre guilty of this. In sci-fi or historical fiction, scene descriptions are often significant to plot. That’s all good and fine, so long as your opening paragraph isn’t chock-full of unnecessary detailing of the setting way before the protagonist makes his or her appearance.

Next Week: more types of prologues and introductions to avoid.

Author Signing: Christy Jones

Illusio & baqer is proud to introduce our latest author, Christy Jones, and her middle-grade fantasy novel, Trinka And The Thousand Talismans, coming Fall 2014.

Trinka lives in a lofty world called Ellipsis, where schools prize their students’ abilities to predict the future … or at least, she does until she flunks out of her fantastical school. She is sent away to join her father in a watery world where she won’t need talent. But when she decides to get there by stowing away on the airships run by the mysterious dream merchants, she ends up on a journey she never could have imagined.

As she crosses into unfamiliar worlds full of unexpected adventures, Trinka finds herself both helped and hindered by an ever-growing collection of talismans—strange objects and strange creatures given to her by the people she encounters on her journey. Along the way, Trinka discovers the secrets that have fractured her family and scattered them across the four worlds. But will she find the strength, courage, and confidence to do what no one (especially her) has ever believed she could?

Christy’s colorful creations have appeared in a variety of sewing and doll-making magazines, and helped inspire many of the creatures in her first novel, Trinka and the Thousand Talismans. She enjoys putting her linguistics and technical writing background to use by making up writing systems for imaginary people, and loves sharing the joy of reading books with real people. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband Peter and their two children, who make life fantastic.

You can follow Christy on Twitter or visit her website here. We’ll reveal more information about this exciting new title soon!

Valentine’s Day & Love Triangles

illusio & baqer would like to wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day! Our staff will be out of the office Friday, February 14th, through Monday, February 17th. During this time we won’t be replying to emails or responding to manuscript inquiries. Business will resume as usual on Tuesday, February 18th. During this time you’ll be able to stay up to date with us over on Twitter, Facbeook, and Tumblr.

But before we head out for the weekend we wanted to talk about this thing in young adult fiction that happens a lot. This thing is called a “love triangle.” I’m sure you’ve heard of it. They’re not a new idea. The thing about love triangles is that there is a right way, and a wrong way, to do them. More often than not I’ve found that love triangles aren’t done as well as they could be. In honor of Valentines Day, I’m going to explain the difference between a good love triangle, and a bad love triangle.

The Good Love Triangle

When you’re considering writing a love triangle into your story, you should consider a few important questions: What do these potential significant others represent for my protagonist? Why are they significant? What are they bringing to the story?

A good love triangle will be more than just romance. It should represent a life choice.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
— Excerpt from Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ —

Love triangles are always going to cause personal drama, but that’s not all they should be. They should cause growth, and help your protagonist figure out who they are and what they want in life—and I mean this more than just romantically.

Let’s take Katniss, Gale, and Peeta from The Hunger Games as an example. Gale and Peeta represent completely opposing tracks for Katniss’s future. Gale represents the fire—the fighter, stuck in pain and frustration. Then Peeta, on the other hand, is more representational of peace, release, and moving forward. They are two completely different paths. Through the course of the trilogy Katniss grows, eventually reaching a place where she comes to realize that while she’ll always love Gale, Peeta is the one she needs in her life. That he is her constant.

For a more basic, but still applicable, love triangle, there’s Bella, Edward, and Jacob from Twilight. In comparison to The Hunger Games, this love triangle is a bit more basic, and it’s a much bigger focus than Katniss, Gale, and Peeta’s. However, it’s still an okay example of a love triangle that’s more than just a love triangle for the sake of having a love triangle. Edward and Jacob represent extremely different paths for Bella’s future. Jacob represents humanity, and a (relatively) normal life. Edward represents eternal life, generally lacking any sort of “normal” human experience.

These are the kinds of paths you should hope to see your character choosing between when they’re faced with multiple suitors. There should be a bigger picture—a depth to your protagonist’s reason for picking one person over another. This not only adds to the complexity of your story, but also gives you the opportunity to really explore and develop your protagonist’s character arc from start to finish.

The Bad Love Triangle

If a good love triangle involves adding complexity and significance into the relationship equations, then a bad love triangle is one that’s lacking that additional thought. It’s a triangle where the players don’t seem to really add anything to the story, and only exist to cause personal drama for the protagonist without any real character development.

This is something I’ve seen far too often in young adult fiction lately. The story introduces a really awesome protagonist, only for them to devolve into this insecure, whiny, “Will they, won’t they?! Who do I choose?!” character. And while adolescence is almost completely about insecurity, these stories become less about the protagonist growing and learning despite this insecurity, and focus on how attractive their love triangle partners are. Any additional, meaningful plot is lost, sacrificed to the romantic interest Ping-Pong battle inside the protagonist’s head.

We want to be clear and say that these insecure thoughts and concerns are completely valid. We even think they should be part of the narrative. But they should not be the entirety of the story. It’s like we stated earlier—it’s about what the characters represent, and what they bring to the story that matters. These players should be making the main character grow and think and learn about themselves, and maybe (if done really well) you’ll even get to see the protagonist have an affect on their triangle counterparts as well. A relationship is a two-way street; there should be growth on both ends.

In Conclusion

When you deliberate on whether or not you want to have a love triangle, consider how it’d be relevant to your plot. Remember the three questions:

  • What do these potential significant others represent for my protagonist?
  • Why are they significant?
  • What are they bringing to the story?

If you don’t have good answers to these questions your love triangle is most likely insignificant to the bigger picture, and your story would probably be stronger without it.

Have a Happy Valentine’s Day! (Or a happy singles awareness day, however you decide to celebrate.) Remember we’ll be closed Friday, February 14th through the 17th, and won’t be replying to emails or inquiries during this time, however, you can always stay up to date with us through Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

— Chelsea Maya


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