Small Town Heroes

PosterNow one of the most popular Sentinels in Chicago, past scandals notwithstanding, Astra is the team leader of the Young Sentinels, the newly formed junior team. But on their first big solo-outing away from Chicago, the Young Sentinels fall into a new scandal, one which could cost them the team. And Astra has a dream visit from Kitsune, the odd shapeshifter-thief who precipitated the battle between the Sentinels and Villains Inc. the year before. The dream warns of a fresh disaster, in a town Astra has never seen before and that may not actually exist.
Astra’s efforts to find the place from her dream leads to her “recruitment” by the shadowy Department of Superhuman Affairs, as she leaves the team behind in Chicago and learns more about the DSA’s secrets than are good for her, faces old enemies, and discovers a little town called Littleton.

Back Cover Blurb

I am happy to announce that the official release date for Small Town Heroes will be September 30th! The awesome cover for my fifth book is brought to you by the combined efforts of Jamal Campbell (figures) and Jessica Cheng (background), both up-and-coming artists.

The Kindle release should be available on the 30th; the paperback release will take a couple of more weeks. Once both are available I get to turn my efforts to the project that has increasingly focused my obsessions this past year–Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game–as well as a writing project or two I had to move to the back-burner. The great news with the gamebook is that both Jamal and Jessica have agreed to work with me on the rest of the gamebook art. I am seriously considering a Kickstarter campaign so that I can pass them more money than my current budget allows, and I certainly hope that I can have them with me on future book covers.

So set your calendars for the 30th; I look forward to what everyone has to say, here and on Amazon.

-M.G.Harmon

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Updates and Musings

 

Atlas Close-Up

First, good news! The alpha-draft of Small Town Heroes is finished and off to my readers. Since I rewrite as I go along, there will be some changes after I get all the comments in but no major ones. Which means even with final rewrites and edits I am still on schedule for a September 30th release date (I had hoped to have the cover to show you here, but will post it soon). So for all my frustrated readers–I am so, so sorry and I feel your impatience. The wait will be over soon.

Second, I’ve been taking a break from the book for a couple of days to decompress while waiting for comments from my alpha-readers, and that gave me time to think about other things. One thing I should share is some good news/bad news: the bad news is I have decided to drop the project to make Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game using Margaret Weis Productions’ Cortex Plus game system. Which is a shame: I spent quite a bit of time over the last year mastering the Cortex Plus system and put together a trial-balloon “rulebook” for some willing playtesters so that I could field-test a few rules modifications and see how Astra’s world looked as the background for a tabletop RPG, and a dedicated band of playtesters devoted some good evenings and weekends to testing it out for me.

However, due to miscommunications (mostly on my part), I misunderstood the nature of the Cortex Plus Licensing Program: I cannot make a stand-alone game using their system. For awhile I thought I might be content to wait MWP’s release of their forthcoming Heroic Roleplaying corebook and then release a WtC sourcebook for it with the company’s blessing. However, they have not made any representations concerning the release-date of Heroic Roleplaying other than “by the end of the first quarter next year if not sooner.” And even those representations are not set in stone; nothing official has appeared on their site.

So: in the interest of not wasting all the work done so far (I have a great artist and a graphic designer, and of course the background pages for the Post-Event world are mostly done), I have decided to proceed with the project using the Open Game License system Fate. It was a close look at another RPG property, The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game, that convinced me the Fate system could do the job handily. The good news is that that is what will occupy my time the last quarter of ’14. And even the playtesting done on the Cortex Plus WtC will not go to waste: after MWP finally releases Heroic Roleplaying, I can and will produce a WtC sourcebook for it.

So now I’ve been entertaining myself with dreaming up Hero Aspects for the game: Aspects are a huge part of Fate (and BTW, if you’ve never played a Fate game but are curious, you can download Fate Core for free and with its producer’s blessing at DrivethruRPG.com). Looking on TV Tropes for inspiration, I have come up with: The Paragon, The Anti-Hero, The Action Hero, The Driven Hero, The Company Hero, The Celebrity Hero, and The Reluctant Hero. Thinking about it, the Post-Event World has a lot of Company Heroes and Celebrity Heroes, something you don’t see too often in the comic books (Booster Gold is the only one I can think of off the top of my head, although I’m sure there are more).

So that’s all for now. Everyone have a great September, I promise to post the cover as soon as I get the finished piece, and trust that I am counting the days!

-M.G.Harmon

 

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Problem Fixed.

Okay, I think this is it: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Wearing-the-Cape/337250462961380

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Finally Getting With New Media!

FacebookI have finally gotten with the program and created a Facebook page for the Wearing the Cape series! (Click on above picture for the link.) I will be posting updates and art there, as well as related links. Feel free to post comments there, and even heckle me now and again: from now until I finish the draft of Small Town Heroes, I will be posting my daily word-count progress. This should be interesting.

-George

UPDATE: PLEASE STAND BY.

For some reason nobody can access my page but me yet. Working on it.

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Plagiarism Addendum

Addendum Note: Since writing the previous post I have been following the internet-shadow of this incident. Mullins (the plagiarist) has deleted her Facebook account and her pages have been removed from Amazon and Goodreads. In short, she is not getting away with this. A part of me feels sorry for her; she may be a desperate person, with real need for money, who thought she could make a quick buck using a “forgotten” work (published 20 years ago and no longer owned by a publishing house). I would have more sympathy if she had bitten the bullet and fessed up when discovered, rather than resorting to vicious attacks. Carpet-bombing the author’s own Amazon reviews with 1-star reviews is a nasty tactic that makes an author like me–dependent on Amazon ratings for my sales–shudder and want bloody retribution. Alerted, Amazon deleted the attack-reviews–but if you want to do something else for the author, she is offering her plagiarized book, A Bid For Love free on Amazon now; if it’s your kind of thing (it’s categorized as Christian Romance), download it, read it, and giver her an honest review. As for Mullins, I hope she will make amends, be able to learn from this, and move on–perhaps even write again, this time for herself (she must have some talent, or she couldn’t have carried off even a plagiarism). 

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Updates, Comments

Ajax, Small

“Go Medieval? I’ll go Homeric on your ass!”

So…August is halfway over and fall is around the corner. The good news is that the first draft of Small Town Heroes is just about finished, and since I do a lot of editing and reworking as I go, alpha-reading, rewriting, editing, and beta-reading should take no more than a month. I am looking forward to having STH done, and I think it may turn out to be my best book yet.

In other news, Jamal Campbell continues to turn out fantastic art for Wearing the Cape: the Role-Playing Game! (See above.) There is some news on the WtC:RPG front; when it is finished it will not be a stand-alone game. Now that they have released Firefly: the Role-Playing Game, Margaret Wies Productions will hopefully be turning their attention to producing the basic books for Cortex Plus Action, Drama, Fantasy, and Heroic, and if all goes well then WtC:RPG will be a sourcebook for use with Cortex Plus Heroic (with extra and variant rules to fit the system into Astra’s “realistic” superhero world).

One advantage to doing it this way will be that players will have a larger pallet of rules and material to draw on to tailor WtC:RPG to fit their style of play as well. (And yes, more playtesting will be required before the end!)

Plagiarists, Honey, and Ants. 

On a completely different topic, I’ve been thinking of creative punishments for plagiarists. Why? I have recently learned of a situation in which a self-publishing “writer” blatantly plagiarized a very nice author’s novel (as in, copied the plot, characters, whole scenes, etc). When the author found out through reviewers the writer had solicited, the “writer” started shit-slinging attacks and spinning like a political speechwriter. The author, who is not a big name, is seeking legal recourse for this attack on her. You can read more about the story here, and even donate to her legal fund here. Every little bit helps.

And this is important; in the days where being an author meant having a publisher, authors were at least protected from this kind of crap by a publisher’s lawyers–who could be relied upon to sue the pants off plagiarists to protect their employer’s intellectual property. But for self-published authors like me, and for authors like Rachel who publish with small houses; plagiarism is going to become more and more of a problem and a huge nightmare. Helping Rachel get justice and nail this guy’s head to a wall to display as a warning to others is just a smart thing to do. She probably won’t be able to get much more than a cease-and-desist, and since the “writer” she’s fighting is self-published she likely won’t get any damages out of it, but she deserves all the support she can get.

Addendum Note: Since writing this post I have been following the internet-shadow of this incident. Mullins (the plagiarist) has deleted her Facebook account and her pages have been removed from Amazon and Goodreads. In short, she is not getting away with this. A part of me feels sorry for her; she may be a desperate person, with real need for money, who thought she could make a quick buck using a “forgotten” work (published 20 years ago and no longer owned by a publishing house). I would have more sympathy if she had bitten the bullet and fessed up when discovered, rather than resorting to vicious attacks. Carpet-bombing the author’s own Amazon reviews with 1-star reviews is an nasty tactic that makes an author like me–dependent on Amazon ratings for my sales–shudder and want bloody retribution. If you want to do something else for the author, you can get her plagiarized book here for free now; if it’s your kind of thing, download it, read it, and giver her an honest review. As for Mullins, I hope she will make amends, be able to learn from this, and move on–perhaps even write again, this time for herself (she must have some talent, or she couldn’t have carried off even a plagiarism). 

Movie Reviews.

Just kidding, unfortunately. I’d love to dive into Guardians of the Galaxy, but I just don’t have time. But to sum up: go see Guardians of the Galaxy. As for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…it’s worth a matinee ticket, but its wasted potential left me hugely disappointed.

Everyone enjoy their August.

-M.G.Harmon

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Walking the Tokaido: A Kickstarter Story.

Marihito-WIP

I love the internet. Not only does it make my life possible (an indie-author could not have supported himself with his writing even ten years ago), but it leads me into the most interesting adventures and places. This is the story of one of them.

Last year on my way north I stopped in Dragon’s Keep in Provo, UT. Dragon’s keep is probably the best game store in the entire state, maybe the best game store between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast. Browsing the shelves, a family game caught my eye: Tokaido. Its pristine white box and Japanese theme grabbed my attention, especially since I knew what the Tokaido was: the coastal road that stretched from Kyoto to Edo. With its shrines, hot springs, inns and beautiful natural sites, the two-week journey became a popular tourism route during the peaceful 17th century. It was popular with all classes of Japanese, especially the rising middle class of the period, and it was said that you could meet anyone and see anything upon the Tokaido.

tokaido_by_naiiade-d5j83tl

 So I picked it up and found it to be a truly fun family game, made beautiful by the art of Naïade (you can see more of his wonderful art by clicking on the picture).

In it you take the role of a traveler along the road. You might be an elderly priest, an artist, a courtier or geisha, or a merchant, messenger, orphan girl… Take your pick, each represented delightfully by Naïade’s art and each having a slightly different advantage. You and the other players travel from Kyoto to Edo, seeing the sights, picking up souvenirs, eating the great food, visiting the shrines and hot springs, and having interesting encounters along the road. At the end, he who had the best time wins (you keep track with points). It is a serenely competitive game, an easy way to spend an hour with family and friends.

It almost goes without saying that Tokaido has been a great success in the tabletop-games community, and has acquired a lot of fans. It had one expansion earlier this year, Crossroads, and released extra promotional cards at different events. So FunForge, the game’s producers, decided to go bigger and launched a Kickstarter campaign.

I heard about it when a brother-in-law emailed me the link; he knew I loved the game and one of the Kickstarter pledge levels gave you all the expansion stuff that came on top of the original game. He thought I might like to get the “extras.”

He had no idea what he’d done.

FunForge was looking for at least $40,000 to do a Collector’s Edition: basic game plus the expansion, the promotional cards, nicer pieces, a new set of alternate-art cards for the 16 traveler characters, and cute little miniatures for each traveler. That’s all they wanted to do, but have you ever seen Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? Well…

The trouble started almost immediately. I think they got concussed by all the money being thrown at them.

There is a thing in Kickstarter called Stretch Goals; it’s a way of encouraging pledgers to spread the word and encourage more pledgers. If a Stretch Goal is met, another piece of goodness is added to the basic product or some other cool gift is attached. In Tokaido’s case, it is likely that they’d had no idea how much money was going to come in early, and they scrambled to find cool Stretch Goals to keep the momentum going. Ad-libbing in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign is not a good idea, but their intentions were good. I was watching on the comments page, and for awhile there it looked like it would be a five-car pileup with no survivors.

Here’s what happened, at least from this bystander’s perspective.

One of the first new Stretch Goals they made was that they would paint those 16 cute traveler minies. All Samurai Pledges would get the painted ones. That was good.

Then they decided to create 16 Alternate Art traveler cards (more Naïade is always good), with 16 new minies to go with them. Each traveler character would have two art cards and two minies, both painted. Even better.

Then some genius, scrambling for another set of Stretch Goals just for Samurai Pledges and above, decided it would be a cool idea to also get an unpainted set of the minies (some people like to paint their own miniatures, after all). This sounded great, but after a few days went by someone at FunForge realized that the logistics of packing 64 minies with each game would be a nightmare. So they canceled that Stretch Goal.

Oops.

During the time the Duplicate Set of minies was an available Stretch Goal, the number of pledgers had just about doubled, and they wanted those extra minies.

FunForge is a French company, but the majority of Tokaido fans are Americans (bigger market), and I’m pretty sure that the US nearly invaded France–at least if the anguished screams on the comments page were anything to go by.

To stave off the imminent invasion, FunForge scrambled to find a way to make it up to the Samurai Pledgers. In the interests of world peace, several of us offered constructive suggestions. I and a few others suggested that instead of just alternate-art cards for the travelers, Bauza (the game’s designer) should create 16 brand new travelers with new abilities to go with the new art.

FunForge grasped this suggestion desperately (who knows, they might have thought of it first while hiding in their safe-house), and Bauza also stood before the mob and promised a new game expansion exclusively to the Samurai Pledges. The day was saved, and the Kickstarter campaign thundered on to its glorious conclusion: $668,000 pledged to a game that needed only $40,000 to fund. Bigger board, nicer cards, new expansions, 35 travelers with beautifully painted minies! There were fireworks.

And here’s where my personal moment of madness and extravagance happened.

You see, there was one pledge level higher than Samurai: Shogun. Samurai Pledge ($115) got you the whole glorious set: Shogun Pledge ($950) also got your face on one of the alternate-art travelers, with a nice framed print signed by Naïade and Bauza.

Now, I like my face, but $950 to get it cropped onto a character that isn’t you? I think not. Then the Stretch Goals changed, from alternate-art to New and Original Travelers, and the Shogun Pledgers would get to describe their traveler characters… Fortunately for my bank balance, by that time 16 pledgers had already pledged Shogun; the temptation was no longer available.

So there I was, on the last day of the Kickstarter campaign, watching the money-storm (they raised nearly $200,000 on the last day) and reading the comments page, when suddenly a cry rang out! Someone had dropped his Shogun pledge! Immediate speculation began, one guy started crying because his girlfriend would kill him in his sleep if he bumped his pledge to Shogun and they couldn’t pay the rent, and…

Yup. I did it. Grabbed the last Shogun Pledge slot. I didn’t need that new computer, anyway.

Which just goes to show you what interesting adventures can befall you on Tokaido Road. The wandering samurai poet at the top of this post? Me, mini-me soon to come. He/I will be traveling Tokaido road in more than 5,000 boxed sets of the Tokaido Collector’s Edition around the world–many more if FunForge decides to release the CE or the Shogun Pack travelers and other expansion for regular distribution once they finish the Kickstarter production-run (and I certainly would if I was them). I’ll probably also get chewed on by dogs and babies, but I try not to think about that.

So who knows? Perhaps someday soon you guys will be in a game store and see a big white box with cool Japanese-themed art, make an impulse-buy, and meet me on Tokaido Road.

(Disclaimer: should anyone from FunForge read this and take exception to the way I have portrayed events, I can only say that this is how the Kickstarter campaign looked to me. On the decision-making end, it might have looked very, very different. Kudos for pulling it together and making it all come out right in the end.)

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Wearing the Cape Q & A

Blackstone-smallThree guesses who this is, once again the latest character piece from the amazing Jamal Campbell. Just as a side-note, you have to love Jamal’s name; could it possibly be more American (Canadian)? Jamal means “handsome” in the original Arabic, and there is no more Scottish name than Campbell–look up the famous history of Clan Campbell sometime. Jamal, did you know you are entitled to wear the Campbell tartan?

So, on to the purpose of today’s post: News.

Small Town Heroes is going well if slower than I’d like (I have actually taken the step of ordering a Microsoft Surface Tablet so I can take it to the library every day in an attempt to cut out distractions and Get It Done). It is turning out to be the hardest storyline I’ve attempted yet, and I hope my readers will like the result enough to forgive the delays.

Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game is still on track, so everyone interested in taking part in the second round of playtesting keep their eyes here; I estimate 30 days between Small Town Heroes’ publication date and the launch of Round 2.

In the meantime, I thought it might be a good idea to use this post as a Q & A; there is, of course, no such thing as stupid questions…no, there really is. But I promise not to mock anybody. More seriously, if anybody has any questions about the books, the game, favorite characters, etc., post them here. I’ll even provide background details not in the books yet so long as they aren’t spoilers. I will move all questions into the body of the post with my answers.

-M.G.Harmon

Questions/Answers (Thank you, everybody.)

Q1, will there be more of our Oz princess?

A1, yes.

Q2, Will you run the rpg on kickstarter? (I’d love to get it and all your paper books as a reward tier)

A2, I’m seriously considering it; it’s the only way to produce a good hard-backed rulebook. Otherwise, it will be available as a PDF (probably $19.99) and paperback rulebook (probably $45-$50).

Q3, Will there be any other major Female leads coming in to the story? (My sister wants to know, a big Wonder Woman fan)

A3, between Astra, Artemis, Shell/Shelly, and Ozma, I think the ladies are well-represented. Of course more characters of both sexes are introduced all the time.

Q4, Are the books (I’m assuming a long run of novels here, fingers crossed) ever going to delve into the nature and cause of the Event, or is that more a background/flavor thing in your view?

A4, No. The main reason is simply this; with the cause of the Event unknown, the people of the Post-Event world are free to assign it significance according to their worldview. Many people believe different things about the Event, and it motivates their actions. The reader is also free to assign his own significance to the Event.

Q5, How is it you write books that make grown men cry?

A5, It’s a gift. More seriously, I just create characters the reader can empathize with and want the best for, then put them through hell for every victory. Simple? Yes. Easy? No. True story: When I wrote Wearing the Cape, I felt so bad for Hope after Atlas’ death in the Whittier Base Attack that I gave her Shelly just so that she would have something good happen to her. In the first finished draft of WtC, Shelly had been nothing more than a part of Hope’s tragic back-story; I never intended her to reappear as the the cool quantum-ghost AI she turned into.

Q6, You had mentioned that things are going slower in Small Town Heroes. Is it something to do with the storyline itself?

It is more that the world-effects of this story are bigger, and it involves more of the wider world than the previous stories. It’s actual location has also shifted once.

Q7, You also mentioned something about that it was your most difficult storyline to date. Do you feel you have too little or too much going for the character(s)?

A7, See above.

Q8, Why are some powers listed by the name of the individual to exhibit them (i.e. Atlas-type) and others just under a category (speedster)?

A8, Powers listed by name are named after prominent early superheroes, like Atlas. Some superhuman powers didn’t get uniquely associated with a specific superhero early on, however. In the case of speedsters there was more than one from the beginning, so the power-type was simply labeled “speedster-type.”

Q9, Are you planning to reveal all of the categories as well as examples for A-class, B-class (etc) of said categories at some point?

A9, I’m never going to make a comprehensive list of the different power-types, if that is what you are asking; for one thing, the possibilities are endless. However I may create a glossary of terms, including power types that have appeared in the books.

Q10, I noticed Megaton was not in the two released chapters. Will he be making a return appearance in Small Town Heroes?

A10, Yes. However, I have dropped back to using a single POV, which is Hope’s. And Hope spends most of the book away from Chicago… This means that the others will have less “screen-time” in this book.

Q11, Love the books Mr.Harmon, any idea how many there will be?

A11, Thank you. No idea, but expressed algebraically I would say 7+X=?. Some of them may be side-stories like Bite Me (possibly even a Bite Me sequel).

Q12, Has the Astra/Seven relationship been resolved (nothing more than friends, forget the damn kiss in Omega) or is that something that will be fleshed out further?

A12, I have to say that I do like Seven for Astra; his easygoing attitude makes a nice balance for her tendency to get too serious. However, Astra is only 19 (almost 20) after all, with a lot of growing left to do; for her, being “just friends” with a guy she is very much attracted to is progress. Is Seven still a prospect? Yes. So is Megaton and Grendel, and Astra might always meet someone else; I have never set her character development in stone, and until I see who she becomes I won’t know who she should be with.

Q13, Are any more short stories from this world forthcoming?

A 13, Maybe...

Q14, Ever come up with a great new character only to realize that you basically recreated some Marvel/DC character?

A 14, No. But I probably have without realizing it.

Q15, Are there any non-powered, unlicensed humans that try to act as superheroes – masked vigilantes, basically?

A15, Yes. You meet one (briefly) in Villains Inc.

Q16, You got some favorite superhero comics?

A16, I enjoy superhero comics that put a spin on the genre. Noble Causes. Astro City. Wildguard. Invincible Universe.

Q17, Will you ever revisit the flesh-and-blood Shelly? It has to be traumatic to have these great super powers only to have them disappear in an instant.

A17, Yes you will be seeing Shelly again, and yes, she does have some issues.

Q18, Will we find out what happened to the wreckers and co?

A18, Yes, although not right away.

Q19, I don’t think we saw any characters with religious beliefs directly informed by the Event? Am I forgetting/overlooking characters? It seems like interesting territory to explore beliefs that only make sense in a post-Event world.

A19, The Foundation of Awakened Theosophy in Young Sentinels is a post-Event cult inspired by the existence of breakthroughs.

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Wearing the Cape: The RPG, Astra

Astra Character SheetHello, all faithful and impatient readers! Nothing new to say about Small Town Heroes, other than it is coming along and I’m feeling very good about it (anything more would be spoilers). Still looking at a late-summer release date. Right now, I thought I’d take a quick break from writing to show everyone some of the fruits of the beta playtests of Wearing the Cape: The RPG.

So that’s Astra’s Hero File. Pretty, isn’t it? For anyone familiar with the Cortex Plus game system, it should tell you a lot. During the first playtest round we have experimented with multi-dice (no longer with us), using three character Attributes (Physical Ability, Mental Ability, Social Ability), seven Attributes (Strength, Stamina, Reflexes, Senses, Intelligence, Willpower, Presence), and finally five Attributes (Strength, Reflexes, Intelligence, Willpower, and Presence). We have also played with Distinctions, Skills, Specialty Assets (gear), and Resources.

None of the playtesting was done by me–I’ve been too busy writing–but a handful of enthusiastic groups have hugely changed the original concepts I threw together earlier in the year and the beta-test rounds are not yet over. Thank you everyone who has participated so far!

So the above pic is just a thank you to everyone who has helped out so far; in a few weeks we should have generic character sheets based on this design. The Big Rewrite that will launch Round 2 must still wait on the completion of Small Town Heroes, but things are moving along nicely.

-M.G.Harmon

 

 

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New Superhero Anthology

The Good FigntJust a quick note: The Good Fight, the first superhero anthology by the Pen and Cape Society (a co-op of self-publishing superhero authors, including yours truly), has just become available on Amazon.com for the low price of $0 dollars.

Omega Night was my contribution to the anthology (unfortunately too wrapped up in Small Town Heroes to write a new one), but if you love superhero stories–and why else would you be here–I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of these. As always, your mileage may vary, but there is some very fun work being done these days by writers who are in it for the love of the capes.

You can find it here. If you pick it up, give it a review!

-M.G.Harmon

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