Winterville’s Mary Whitehead, My Favorite Pianist

Winterville United Methodist Church’s newly retired pianist, Mary Whitehead, has filled the church on the square’s sanctuary and our small town with music for 75 years. That’s a lifetime of tapping the keys for Jesus and for Mary’s neighbors and friends. I got a chance to visit with Mary briefly the other night while standing in line at the funeral home visitation for her late sister-in-law, Latrelle Carney. Mary didn’t look 91 that night. She radiated ageless beauty and charm as she spoke to me in that smooth, warm, Southern-accented voice.
Mary now lives about 15 miles away from Winterville, but she’s still very much a part of our town. If I close my eyes and let my mind drift back to scenes of Winterville in years past, I see Mary in many of my memories. Her distinctive piano playing is the sound track as she plays hymns in the Winterville Methodist’s sanctuary on a Sunday morning. I see her fingers tapping the ivories of a piano in the park gazebo on a hot June day, playing Dixieland songs with the Merry Makers at an early Marigold festival. And who could forget Mary riding in festival parades, beside her husband, the late Wesley Whitehead, our mayor for 23 years, and more recently as parade Grand Marshall in our newly-revived festival?

There are many other women, and men, who can tap the keys of a piano and make it sing and create instant feelings of happiness in those who listen. But I’ve never met anyone else who has the charm and the by-ear natural gift for music that Mary Whitehead possesses and who shares her gifts so graciously. There is music and there is Mary Whitehead. Put them together and you have pure joy.

Note: This post originally appeared on my blogspot blog, Winterville Writer, Feb. 28, 2011.

Christmas in Winterville

One of the most popular events in the little town of Winterville, Georgia, where I’ve lived for many years, is the Christmas in Winterville celebration. This year, this event takes place on Friday, December 3. It begins with the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus. In Winterville, they don’t fly in on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. These holiday dignitaries cross the city limits line in style in the locally famous Marigold Express train! After all, Winterville began as a railroad town many years ago, called Six Mile Station. One of our landmarks is our historic train depot on the square. Why not have Santa and Mrs. Claus roll in on the Marigold Express?
Christmas in Winterville begins at 6 PM in Pittard Park and on the town square. The event is sponsored by The Commercial Bank, with contributions by other community groups and individuals. Visitors to Christmas in Winterville will enjoy free cookies, candy, hot dogs, hot cocoa and cider. The Winterville Express train will provide free rides to children (with adult supervision). Santa will arrive on the Marigold Express just after 6 PM and will then be under the gazebo in the park for pictures. Bring your cameras! Other Christmas happenings in Winterville include The Mayor’s Christmas Motorcade 52nd Anniversary Celebration to East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta, Thursday, December 9, 2010. Winterville also will collect Toys for Tots. For more information on supporting these programs, call city hall: 706-742-8600.

Note: This post originally appeared on my blogspot blog, Winterville Writer, Nov. 28, 2010.

Thanksgiving Memories, Past and Those Not Yet Made

They’re coming to my house for Thanksgiving this year. “They” are my family members: daughter, son, son’s girlfriend, mother, maybe nephew. Counting my spouse, that’s only six or seven of us planning to gather in my Winterville dining room on Thanksgiving day. We’ll dine on the usual: turkey, ham, dressing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, and, of course, pumpkin pie. I’m not an expert cook, like my grandmothers were. But I guess the point of this big meal on Thanksgiving day isn’t the food. It’s all about the family and others who eat the food together on this special day each year.
But the food sure comes in second on Thanksgiving day. Especially, the dressing. In my humble opinion, dressing, or stuffing, if you feel inclined to stuff the bird, is the star of this holiday meal. While I’m making my dressing, from cornbread I cook before I begin, I always think about my grandmothers’ dressing from Thanksgivings past. Both contained cornbread, both were Southern recipes, but they were so different. Grandmother Coile made her dressing in a big metal pan. It was greasy and featured a golden brown chicken in the middle of it, and it tasted heavenly. Grandmother Bailey made little dressing patties. First she mixed the ingredients, which included bell pepper. Then she carefully patted out each mound of dressing. Her dressing patties were to die for.

I’m lucky to make dressing at all (after looking up a recipe via Google). But I make it and somehow, it always turns out okay. At least the family gathered in my Winterville dining room tells me the dressing is okay. And I’m thankful for that — and my family. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I wish you a Thanksgiving holiday full of dressing and love.

Note: This post originally appeared on my blogspot blog, Winterville Writer, Nov. 22, 2010.

Front Porch Book Store Book Signing Event November 9, 2010, 6 – 7 PM

Winterville’s Front Porch Book Store opened for business one year ago in a tiny building on Marigold Lane that once housed city hall. In just a few short months, this store, which provides funds for the Winterville library, has become a community gathering place, as well as a great source of reading material at reasonable prices. On Tuesday, November 9, 2010, from 6 – 7 p.m., I’ll help Front Porch Book Store celebrate their one-year anniversary with a book signing event.
As some of you know, I’m a native of nearby Athens and a long-time resident of Winterville. The setting for my debut children’s middle grade novel, is the rural North Georgia area and the fictional town of Newtonville in my book is based on Winterville. During this event, I’ll read several short excerpts from my book and will then explain the local connections. The bookstore will have copies of Gone From These Woods available for purchase (cash or check only) and I’ll be glad to autograph your copy. I’ll also be happy to answer your questions about writing and publication during this hour at the bookstore. We’ll have cake and other refreshments, too. Remember all proceeds to go support the Winterville library.

This post was originally posted on, Nov. 2, 1010.

Interview with Darcy Pattison, Author of The Book Trailer Manual

Interview with Darcy Pattison, Author of The Book Trailer Manual

My guest on Winterville Writer today is Darcy Pattison, author of 19 Girls and Me; Searching for Oliver K. Woodman; The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman; The Wayfinder; and The River Dragon. Darcy also is the author of one of the books I most often recommend to aspiring and published writers: Novel Metamorphsis. I first encountered this book in an earlier, not-yet-published, version while attending Darcy’s popular novel rewriting workshop in Hoover, Alabama several years ago. That weekend in “novel rewriting bootcamp” changed my life. After those two days spent with Darcy and 24 other writers in Joan Broerman’s basement, I developed a more serious attitude toward my writing, and approximately five years later, I sold my first book, Gone From These Woods.
Today I am excited to tell you about a new Darcy Pattison book: The Book Trailer Manual. Darcy is offering this book only in a digital format, which you can download by following this link. (Disclosure: If you follow the link, I will receive a commission.) Darcy says she is making her book available this way because the art of creating book trailers is still so new that this digital format allows her to easily make changes and keep the book updated. Darcy and I recently did a question and answer session. My questions and her answers are below.

Donny: Darcy, welcome to Winterville Writer. I’m so glad you’re here to tell us about The Book Trailer Manual. What made you decide to write this book?

Darcy: Everywhere I turn these days, there are conversations about how authors can market their books, specifically how can they market online; and even more specifically, do book trailers work? I set out to find some answers and it grew into this book.

Donny: What’s the number one reason an author should make a book trailer?

Darcy: To reach an audience you believe likes to watch videos.

Donny: In the book, you admit that book trailers aren’t for everyone. What kind of book would not benefit from a book trailer?

Darcy: If you want to use a book trailer, you should first find out if your audience is online somewhere. On the sites where they congregate, do they watch videos? If the answer is that you can’t find that audience online and/or the audience doesn’t watch videos, then a trailer won’t help you reach that audience.

Donny: You advise authors to begin early. Tell us why an early start on our book trailers is important.

Darcy: The process of making a book trailer can be extensive, especially if you’re a beginner. You’ll need to get up to speed on the software and hardware; you’ll need to walk through the process of buying images and sound. You’ll need to create a YouTube channel and customize it. It takes time to create a great trailer and distribute it well. Do yourself a favor by starting early and having the time to do it right. At the same time, there may be times when you need to get something up quickly. I think one of the most important tips is to be flexible and nimble. Take time at first to learn the software and how to create a video. Then, when the book is released, be ready to do something quickly if you need to. For example, if you get a great review, you should (of course) post it everywhere. But it’s also worth probably a quick video. These types of videos can be informal and stick with the YouTube aesthetic of authentic, but not necessarily polished to the nth degree.

Donny: On page 12, you say that YouTube has proven that audiences respond to great content, regardless of the production quality. Could you talk about that?

Darcy: This is the YouTube aesthetic. If you look at the front page of YouTube at Videos Being Watched Now or Most Popular videos (not the Featured Videos because those are paid-placement videos), you’ll see a wide range of aesthetics, from polished to informal. The most popular, those with hundreds of thousands of views, are short, authentic, and have something funny going on that is fun to pass along. If you can appeal to that aesthetic, it works. For example, look at this video from Jon Scieszka’s Guys Read program. It’s just a bunch of authors telling a joke; the video spliced in a bunch of authors, each telling a short section of the joke. It’s informal and fun. It’s also too long, using the last full minute to identify each author and show the book’s cover. But that aside, the joke is more of the YouTube aesthetic.

Donny: You say that we must decide what call of action we want viewers of our book trailer to take and you list these possible actions. What is the most beneficial choice for most authors?

Darcy: It depends. Some authors have strong email newsletters and the most logical choice is to ask people to sign up for their newsletters. Others want to send readers to an independent bookstore site. The most beneficial choice will be determined by the book, your audience, and your goals for your trailer.

Donny: I intended to make a book trailer for Gone From These Woods. I even bought a Flip video camera (one of the items you talk about in your book). But somehow, I never did actually make the trailer. I think I felt a little intimidated by the process. Do you advise authors whose book are already out and have maybe even been out awhile to make a book trailer? Are they still helpful if your book is not new?

Darcy: Yes! Alexis O’Neill talks about doing ongoing publicity for your titles in a post on my site, Why you Should Promote Your Back-List Books. She reminds us all, “As long as a book is in print, it’s alive!”

Donny: Is there a trailer for The Book Trailer Book?

Darcy: I created a Book Trailer Manual channel on and have several playlists of videos I discuss in the manual. Also on the channel are trailers for my teen fantasy novel, The Wayfinder, demonstrating different software.

Donny: Have you noticed an increase in sales for your books that have trailers?

Darcy: I have trailers for The Wayfinder, my teen novel which is now available for Kindle, Nook, iPad and other digital readers. Yes, I’ve seen some sales coming in from the trailer, but it’s too early to say how much it will help.

Donny: What makes you stop watching a book trailer?

Darcy: Boring concept. Bad music. Static images.

Donny: Do you have any particular favorite book trailers? You’ve included some examples in your book. Are those your favorites?

Darcy: The trailers mentioned in The Book Trailer Manual represent something that I’m trying to point out. Some are just great examples that make a point; others are truly my favorites. My all time favorite is The Book of SPAM’s Toastvertising and the accompanying video which shows how the trailer was made. For me, it’s the first entry in the Book Trailer Hall of Fame. I’m also starting to distinguish between two types of trailers. In some ways, the moniker “book trailer” is unfortunate because it evokes the aesthetic of the movie trailer. Yet the trailers I like best tend to be those with the “YouTube” aesthetic.

Donny: Thanks, Darcy! I feel like I’ve just had a mini-class in making a book trailer and I can’t wait to begin shooting. Readers who would like to learn more about book trailers might want to join The Book Trailer Manual newsletter and receive a free Special Report: 43 Sites to Upload Your Trailer. For more information about author Darcy Pattison, visit her website./

Note: This post originally appeared on my blogspot blog, Winterville Writer, Aug. 30 2010.

Debut of the Suwanee Festival of Books Aug. 28 – 29, 2010

This coming weekend, August 28 – 29, 2010, marks the debut of a brand, new literary event: The Suwanee Festival of Books, in Suwanee, Georgia. I’ll be participating in a panel at 1:30 pm, Saturday, called Got Kids Books?, along with authors Melinda Long (How I Became a Pirate, Pirates Don’t Change Diapers, a Booksense, Publisher’s Weekly, and NY Times best seller), Milam Propst (A Flower Blooms on Charlotte Street/, which was made into a movie, “The Adventures of Ociee Nash,” starring Mare Winningham and Keith Caradine), and Diane Z. Shore/b (Bus-A-Saurus Bop/, How To Drive Your Sister Crazy). I feel honored to be in these fine writers’ company. This panel takes place in the Olde Towne Tavern amp; Grille at 4:00 pm, in Suwanee’s Town Center Park, 370 Buford HIghway Northwest, Suwanee, GA 30024.
I’ll also be presenting on my own on the Young Readers Stage. I’ll talk about my debut children’s middle grade novel, Gone From These Woods Barnes and Noble will have a bookfair at the Suwanee Festival of Books where you can purchase signed copies of GFTW, as well as books by other festival authors.

Speaking of other festival authors, they include keynote, Terry Kay (To Dance With The White Dog, The Book of Marie), Philip Lee Williams (Campfire Boys and a new book, The Flower Seeker: An Epic Poem of William Bartram). Other authors who will appear include: Deborah Wiles, Grady Thrasher and illustrator Elaine Rabon, Elizabeth Dulemba, Helen Ellis, Jackie Cooper, Jessica Handler, Laurel Snyder, Lauretta Hannon, Mark Braught, Mary Ann Rodman, Patricia Sprinkle, Rick Smith (also a keynote), Susan Rosson Spain, Vicki Alvear Shecter, and William Rawlings. Also in the Southern Breeze booth: Connie Fleming, Donna H. Bowman, Jo Kittinger, and Peggy Shaw. If you’re interested in finding out more about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Book Illustrators, be sure to talk to Donna and Jo, our Southern Breeze Region co-advisors. Jo, Donna, Connie and Peggy also will have a selection of their own books for sale in their booth.

Note: This post originally appeared on my blogspot blog, Winterville Writer, Aug. 22, 2010.

SCBWI MD/DE/WV Summer Conference in Maryland

Like most writers, I spend long hours in my home office, tapping on a keyboard in isolation. But every now and then I get to leave the computer and my current manuscript and my white cat, Casey, and venture out into the real world. This past weekend was one of those “venture out” times. I just got back from spending three days in Maryland, in the towns of Frederick and Buckeystown. I flew Delta from the Atlanta airport and we landed in Baltimore about 3:45 Friday afternoon.
Sue Poduska, member, and Naomi Wender-Milliner, Assistant Regional Advisor, of the SCBWI MD/DE/WV region greeted me at the Baltimore/WI airport, along with writer/teacher Teresa Crumpton. Sue drove us all to the motel in Frederick and later that night we got to meet author Edith Hemingway, who also happens to be the Regional Advisor of this region of SCBWI, and other speakers at the conference, including authors and keynote speakers Margaret Peterson Haddix, Joyce McDonald, Bonnie Doerr, Marc Aronson, and Carolyn Reeder. Also Highlights for Children senior editor Debra Hess and art director Kelley Cunningham, plus author Carolyn Crimi and author-bloggers Mary Bowman-Kruhm and Wendie Old. Also Karen Nelson, freelance art director and cover designer, and Louise May, VP and Editorial Director of Lee and Low Books, and agents Elana Roth and Stephen Fraser, and authors Amie Rose Rotruck and Lois Szymanski, and Green Willow Books Assistant editor Michelle Corpora. Michelle Poploff also was there. Michelle, who is VP and Editorial Director of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House Children’s Books, and an author as well, just happens to be my editor and also is Edie Hemingway’s editor. Our debut solo novels, Gone From These Woods and Road to Tater Hill, came out at almost the same time in 2009. For more information about Edie’s book, which won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award recently, visit her website. To read more about my book, go here.

This summer conference was held at The Claggett Center in Frederick County, Maryland. In addition to breathtaking mountains views out the windows, the conference center served delicious cafeteria food each day. I had never been to a SCBWI conference outside my own Southern Breeze/a region, so speaking at this Maryland/Delaware/West Virginia summer conference about my bookand how I used inspiration from real life to create a fictional story with fictional characters and a setting taken from my own backyard and surrounds was a real treat for me.

One of the best things about traveling to Maryland for the first time and speaking at the conference was the opportunity to make new writer friends, including Kathleen Thompson, who lives in Birmingham, is a member of the Southern Breeze Region of SCBWI, and writes a charming blog called “Word Spinning by Kathleen.” I also got to meet Patti Zelch, who has a new picture book out from Sylvan Dell Publishing called Ready, Set, Wait! I also got to know Bonnie Doerr, author of the YA eco-novel, Island Sting, and enjoyed exchanging conversation and getting to know writers Teresa Crumpton and Gayle Payne, plus many more.

If you live in the SCBWI MD/DE/WV region and/or just want to read more about this regional writers and illustrators group, visit their great blog, As The Eraser Burns. Thanks again to Edith Hemingway and everyone in this region for inviting me and hosting me this weekend. I enjoyed my trip up North and look forward to visiting again.

Note: This post originally appeared on my blogspot blog, Winterville Writer, July 21, 2010.

Appreciating Our Local Libraries as They Morph and Prevail

Sometimes when I go out and speak to kids and adults at schools and other events, I tell them how I became an avid reader and writer at age eight. I did this by reading lots of books, such as The Wizard of Oz, my childhood favorite, and by falling in love with my local library, the source of most of my reading material. During my childhood days in Athens, Georgia, the Athens Regional Library was housed in the historic Stern House at the corner of Hancock and College Avenue, across from the Athens City Hall and the famous double-barreled cannon. This home was purchased and remodeled into our local library in 1947. I remember the building in the late 1950s and early 1960s as the hub of my reading world. One of the things I can recall most vividly about that building is the smell of books as I walked in. Then there were the sounds those wide wooden stairs made as I climbed them on my way to the second floor where the children’s department awaited me. I read all of the books in the children’s department in the Athens Regional Library of my childhood and I highly recommend that route to becoming an author.
Later, as an adult with young twins, I rediscovered the Athens Regional Library. It had moved to Dougherty Street by then. Today that building is the home of the Athens Clarke County Building Inspections and

Jackie Elsner Telling Story with Puppets

Jackie Elsner Telling Story with Puppets

Permits Department, where my husband works. The first time I walked into his brick-walled office, I realized that he was working in the former fiction section of the library, an area where I had hung out for years before the library moved to its present location on Baxter Street. One of the librarians who made a big impression on my children at Athens Regional Library was Jacqueline Elsner, or “Miss Jackie” as she was fondly called during her many years as Children’s Librarian there. Jackie is now head of the Oconee County Library, but for many years, starting in 1979, the year my twins were born, she ran the children’s department at ARL and was well-known all over Georgia and beyond as a gifted storyteller. Recently, I asked Jackie several questions about libraries. Her answers are below.

DS: In a few words, tell me why you choose librarian as a profession.

JE: I chose librarian as a profession because I really love people and books. Plus I was an English major, with no real job prospects besides waitressing. That’s why I got my Masters in Library Science.

DS: What’s the best thing about working in a library?

JE: Being around co-workers who love books and have a literate sense of humor, and helping people a lot with reading.

DS: What’s the worse thing about working in a library?

JE: Dealing with inappropriate behavior of people as patrons, and as co-workers.

DS: Tell me what you think about the future of books and libraries.

JE: The future of books: the formats will change, but reading and the love of the word, first written, then spoken, will prevail. The future of libraries: we’ll just have to morph with the times and the formats. And the lousy, inadequate funding./pp style=”clear: both”I couldn’t agree more with Jackie. And for the sake of future readers and writers, I hope she’s right about libraries morphing and prevailing. We need libraries and librarians to nurture children and adults in this rapidly changing world we live in today. So by all means, appreciate your local library and the librarians there, and don’t forget to urge your local and state government officials to fund these literary havens. Our future readers and writers are depending on you.

First Ever Northwest Georgia Valley Writers Conference a Great Success in Calhoun, GA

This past weekend, I enjoyed being part of the very first Northwest Georgia Valley Writers Conference in the Harris Arts Center in downtown Calhoun, Georgia. This new conference, organized by Gray Bridges, Literary Director of the Arts Center, featured a 90-minute writing workshop with author Terry Kay, during which he explained “The DNA of Writing: Reducing the Must-Know Requirements to 2 Issues,” and another with author Rosemary Daniell, who told us “What Geniuses Know.” Other workshop leaders included poet Anne Webster, who also is the sister of Rosemary Daniell, Geri Taran, founder and former executive director of Georgia Writers Association,Bobbie Christmas, who is known as “The Book Doctor,” and Fran Stewart, a freelance editor by day and a mystery writer by night.
Two panel discussions rounded out this conference. The first included Terry Kay, Tony Burton, Fran Stewart, Anne Webster and Geri Taran talking about the advantgages and disadvantages of publishing your book with Large Press, Small Press, or Self-Publishing. This panel was moderated by Wayne Minshew. I participated in the second panel, entitled “Living the Writer’s Life,” moderated by Tony Burton. Other authors included Rosemary Daniell, Jimmy Blackmon, Fran Stewart, Bobbie Christmas and Geri Taran.

The Harris Arts Center is an impressive facilty. Housed in a former hotel building in the heart of downtown Calhoun, the center provides space for art, music and other classes for children and adults. Local artwork is displayed throughout the building. But one of the most interesting and unique features of the center is the Roland Hayes Museum. Roland Hayes was the first African-American classical singer to have an international career on the concert stage. He was also a son of former slaves and was born in Gordon County in 1887. Initially compelled to arrange and promote his own concerts, Hayes eventually became the highest-paid tenor in the world, despite the racial barriers that often excluded African Americans from careers in classical music. He was named to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1991. If you’d like to learn more about the Harris Arts Center, visit their website. For information about future Nortwest Georgia Valley Writers Conferences, contact Gray Bridges.

SpringMingle 2010: What a Weekend!

What happens when 200 children’s writers and illustrators gather in one place for a whole weekend? If the group includes award-winning author Jane Yolen, editors Cheryl Klein (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) and Meredith Mundy (Sterling Publishing), plus agent Josh Adams (Adams Literary), the result is literary magic! In a time when some writers’ conferences are struggling, our SCBWI Southern Breeze continues to thrive with top-notch conferences such as SpringMingle at the Atlanta Marriott Century Center. In addition to the headliners mentioned above, the conference included from Peachtree Publishers: Jessica Alexander, Editorial Assistant, Loraine Joyner, Art Director, Kenya and Kenyette Kilpatrick, Marketing. Also Peggy Shaw, a former senior editor for Dalmation Press and Intervisual Books.
A moving tribute to the late strongLiz Conrad, a much-loved and admired Southern Breezer who passed away last year was presented by Illustrator Coordinator, author, artist and best friend, Elizabeth Dulemba. This year Southern Breeze awarded scholarships in Liz’s honor to artists Kristen Applebee and Jeremy Evans.

SpringMingle 2010 Book Launch

SpringMingle 2010 Book Launch

A highlight of this year’s conference for me was the Book Launch. There were eight of us with new books within the past two years. I talked about my middle grade novel, Gone From These Woods, published August 25, 2009 by Delacorte Press/Random House. Other book launchers included Hester Bass, Doraine Bennett, Donna Bowman, Elizabeth Dulemba, Jennifer Jabaley, Irene Latham and Heather Montgomery. I feel very honored to be in the company of this talented group.

Other authors I enjoyed meeting and chatting with included Brad Strickland, who has a new book, Wicked Will, out under a pen name, Bailey MacDonald, and Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, whose book, Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different was published in 2008 by Delacorte Press. Kristin lives in Tennessee and is very familiar with the Cleveland, Tennessee area where my mother and other family members live.

So what did the publishing experts tell us this weekend? As most of us already knew, the odds of getting published are daunting. Jane Yolen said that if you’d asked her 20 years ago if you needed an agent, she would have said maybe. Today she says yes. Agent Josh Adams said he receives 6,000 submissions a year and might take on six new authors.

On the other hand editor Cheryl Klein, who has edited Harry Potter books, said our job is to create stories and hers is to edit them and though things are changing rapidly in the world of publishing, she believes our jobs are still to create and edit. Editor Meredith Mundy, who has been laid off twice from publishing companies is now with Sterling Publishing, which is owned by Barnes and Noble, and still feels optimistic. They are all looking for “crunchy characters,” “munchy” dialog, and high concept projects. They agree “quiet” is not being published these days. But Jane Yolen says quiet may be making a come back in children’s literature. She also says “go armoured into the marketplace.”

Overall, this was one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. Here’s a great big thank you to Jo Kittinger, Donna Bowman, Heather Montgomery, Heather Kolich and everyone who worked to make this SpringMingle a great success. My only problem was I didn’t win the Joan Broerman book basket for my local library. But, hey, there’s always next year.

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