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The Ghosts of Serbia

Posted on November 18, 2014

People often ask me, why Serbia? Why include such a remote, unfamiliar place in your novel? Why make one of the main characters Serbian? I can only tell you that if you knew the countries that make up what was once Yugoslavia, then you’d understand…

Serbia and its neighbors are a land beyond the imagination of most people. A far off place that populates the now paper-thin international news sections of major dailies, it’s best known because of the Balkan wars of the late 1990’s, where ethnic hatreds long hibernating in the dark cave of communism erupted after the death of Josef Broz Tito.

But long before that, writers and historians recognized the power of the place. Rebecca West wrote Black Lamb, Grey Falcon in 1941, revealing her own fascination with the area, just before World War II. Her attraction is not surprising; the region is steeped in drama, its ethnic tensions playing a role in both European wars. Prior to that it was the chessboard of the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires, the land around Belgrade’s military fortress steeped in the blood of countless battles between East and West.

All of this is to say that the place interests me; it did long before I visited Croatia’s stunning seacoast in 2004 and walked the ancient walls of Dubrovnik marveling at the sun’s dusk-hewed rays against thousand year-old terra cotta tiles that, in some cases, had been recently replaced after their war with Serbia. It’s a memory I modified in the opening of Dark Horse:

The ancient city, founded sometime in the seventh century, lay inside an enormous stone wallLeaning over the massive stone ramparts, we’d gotten a glimpse of what it must have been like to gaze out to sea a thousand years ago, searching for invaders.

It was during that visit, my curiosity was pricked by the proximity of Serbia, the epicenter of a war that had profound effects on the region. It stayed with me…

By the time my family I arrived to stay in our rental apartment in Belgrade in the winter of 2012, I’d read so many books, and travel articles that I felt I knew the place. But I was mistaken. My imagination failed to capture the odd tensions of a city and a country, still mulling its destiny. A place that seemed simultaneously foreign and familiar, alluring and alarming, depending on the block. Corrupt taxi drivers dropped us at chic restaurants, where young chefs were serving farm-to-table meals that any Bay Area resident would recognize. And then down the street, riding on one of their old wooden street cars we passed the remains of a building bombed by NATO a decade ago. Who leaves a building rotting in place like that? I tried to conjure up these reoccurring contrasts using Olivia’s eyes in Dark Horse’s passages:

We headed south from our hotel through Knez Mihailova, the city’s beautiful Old World pedestrian plaza. Past the fancy department stores and boutiques, the buildings began to look less elegant, and more like massive concrete bunkers. On the flight over, I’d read that the Germans had bombed Belgrade extensively during World War II, clearing the way for the Communists to rebuild the city with the worst in socialist architecture. The result was a cityscape that looked like whiteout conditions, where the eye could barely discern between the sky and the buildings. Still, I craned my neck to peek inside the small bars and restaurants we passed, trying to catch a glimpse of the places that anchored my temporary homeI swiped the card against an electronic reader and lurched forward toward a seat, my body rocking with the movements of the streetcar as it rolled along its tracks. I really didn’t care about the final destination, as long as I could sit quietly and let the vibration in the antique car’s wooden frame lull me into a trance. Gazing out the window at Soviet-era apartments, dish antennas protruding from their concrete sides, faded towels masking partially collapsed balconies, I tried to reconcile myself to the present.

Like Olivia, I didn’t stay in Serbia long enough to really grasp its essence. I did experience the biting cold of its winter, and the sensation of truly being in the east with a language and culture unrecognizable to my own. It’s a disconcerting feeling, to be so far from what you know and yet I can tell you I would go back in a minute, Serbia’s rich set of contradictions still calling to me.

New Orleans and its binding spell….

Posted on November 17, 2014

Walking through New Orleans last week, my mouth curled up into a little smirk. One stroll down Esplanade Ave, it’s lush trees and vines glowing in the pale light of an autumn moon, and I understood why so many writers called this place home, or want to. The city is a wanton creature, sultry and knowing, a mystery tucked around every corner.  To walk its streets and learn its history is to learn the story of our country, from the Louisiana Purchase to the end of slavery and the Civil War.

One minute you’re in your hotel, the next on Bourbon Street watching tourists drink themselves into oblivion. There is no last call in New Orleans and I can imagine a few of the folks I saw – their gigantic Mardi Gras beads swinging around their neck as they hurled themselves through the gauntlet of topless bars and watering holes – waking up feeling close to death.

Fortunately, you don’t have to move too far off Bourbon to find the real French Quarter, less flash and more homegrown art and music.  Suddenly you’re walking behind a marching band waving your hands and just like that, the city has stolen your soul.

Speaking of death and souls, one has to move gingerly through New Orleans’s cemeteries with their uneven surfaces, resurrection ferns and graveside offerings. If you’ve never lived below sea level, the harshness of their burial rituals is breathtaking – tossed out of a casket and stuffed down into the crypt a year and a day after your burial.  The place feels fuller, one hundred years of family matter commingling with the earth. I can almost see the proverbial bell that was allegedly tied to the corpse’s toe to ensure they weren’t buried prematurely. One guide told me that many people were saved by the bell, only to be stabbed through the heart mere seconds later–suspected of being vampires, not comatose yellow fever victims.

Riding on the old St. Charles Street Car, listening to the engine’s compressor cough and sputter while idled at the stoplights, I marveled at the grand antebellum homes in the Garden District, so different from their more compact Spanish-built neighbors inside the French Quarter.  Bloodlines mattered here way back when, and if you listen closely you can almost hear the voices of the dead whispering to us to remember their stories.

I came to New Orleans to find a voodoo priestess. Not the kind conjured up in Hollywood movies that spits rum and fire and puts snakes in people’s beds. I was looking for the real thing, someone who practices Voodoo as a religion and could tell me more about how it’s all done. Not to be confused with Hoodoo, which is an altogether different, but, related kind of magic. I wasn’t disappointed, as I left my offerings upon the alters of the Loa, the spirits Voodoo adherents pray to as a part of their observance. There is something very beautiful about leaving tributes to the dead – it’s not a new concept of course – but Voodoo brings it to life through its bottle of rum, coins, cigarettes and flowers, left to honor those spirits who would keep us from harm.

My interest in Voodoo is based on a feeling that Olivia, the heroine in my Dark Horse Trilogy will need the help of more than one ally and mentor to win the battle with her original nemesis, Stoner Halbert – a man who has sold his soul to the devil in exchange for great power and glory.  What does it take to beat a great evil like that? In Ursula Le Guin’s stunning A Wizard of Earthsea series, she opines about the fact that a “true wizard only usesspells at need, since to summon up such earthly forces is to change the earth of which they are a part.”

In other words, each action triggers a reaction – to harbor great evil to one place will have consequences. I like this idea of balance and proportion. There is also a bit of humility built in her story, in all folktales really, of knowing what to use your power for and that is something that Voodoo has in spades. Be careful what you ask for, the saying goes, because you just might get it. Marie Laveau, the great Voodoo Queen of New Orleans is said to have granted a number of people their deepest desires to their everlasting consternation. Balance and proportion, dark and light, good and evil, these are the concepts I’m trying to reconcile as I work on book three in Olivia’s trilogy.

It should be very exciting.

 

Dark Horse: the music & the concept

Posted on November 7, 2014

I’m not talking about Katy Perry; I actually didn’t know anything about her song when I started writing Dark Horse. My eleven-year-old daughter introduced me to it, proclaiming me “cool” for having come up with idea first. Not sure I can make that claimbut the concept of a Dark Horse has been rolling around at the back of my head for sometime.

A dark horse is the long shot, the one you didn’t see coming. Olivia is the threat Nikola, her thousand-year-old nemesis, never saw coming because he assumes she’s trivial. It’s the overarching theme of my work: that women are often the dark horse—no one sees their power until later, if at all.

Not too jump too far ahead, but in book III (name pending) Olivia will be on the team chosen to elect a woman to be president—and calling on the dark arts to do it! In my estimation, electing a women president in the United States is a long shot, a tough sell, fraught with sexual politics, so the whole idea is a bit of a dark horse . . . You see, it’s a notion I can’t quite dispose of yet.

But back to music, I can’t write without music. Well of course, I could, but it wouldn’t be the same. The catch here is that I don’t actually listen to music while I write. I tune in at other times.

The elliptical machine, for example, is actually a great place for inspiration. Often its long walks in Golden Gate Park in the fog and the mist, my iPhone fully charged and connected to Spotify. I often create playlists for my work to inspire me. In this case, the music for this book centered around Josef, who is in many ways is the character I love the most (more about him later). His music is mournful and contemplative…I’ve posted the playlist below. Do any of these songs show up on your playlists? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Josef’s Playlist

Crowded House – Fall At Your Feet
James Blunt – Cry
Split Enz – I Got You
The Psychedelic Furs – Here Come Cowboys
The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
The Rolling Stones – Stray Cat Blues
Split Enz – Dirty Creature
Aimee Mann – Lost In Space
Aimee Mann – Looking for Nothing
George Harrison – Isn’t It a Pity (Demo Version)
The Killers – Losing Touch
The London Suede – Hit Me
Bryan Ferry – Me Oh My
David Sylvian – Wanderlust
Japan – Obscure Alternatives
Peter Murphy – All Night Long
Queens Of The Stone Age – The Vampyre Of Time And Memory
James Blunt – Bonfire Heart
The Goo Goo Dolls – Slide
The Goo Goo Dolls – Come To Me
Ellie Goulding – Guns And Horses
The Devil Makes Three – Old Number Seven
Aimee Mann – Lost In Space
Bryan Ferry – Me Oh My
Aimee Mann – Deathly
Stone Sour – Wicked Game
Jet – Look What You’ve Done
Crowded House – Fall At Your Feet
Crowded House – Distant Sun
Crowded House – Hole In The River
Aimee Mann – Looking for Nothing

Dark Horse Goodreads Giveaway & Amazon Freebies

Posted on November 7, 2014

Happy Friday!

To celebrate the release of Dark Horse and a stellar launch party at Green Apple Books this week, I’m giving away a free copy to 50 winners of the Dark Horse Goodreads Giveaway. I hope you’ll enter for a chance to win below! We know many people haven’t had a chance to read the second edition of Woman King, so you can download it RIGHT NOW on Amazon for free! I’d love to hear what you think.

Free Woman King eBook on Amazon until 11/9

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Dark Horse by Evette Davis

Dark Horse

by Evette Davis

Giveaway ends December 05, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

How to Kill a Vampire …

Posted on October 31, 2014

dagger

In Dark Horse, the second installment of my trilogy by the same name, Olivia decides she must take matters into her own hands and kill her nemesis before he kills her:

I’m not sure if I can kill Nikola, but I have enough hate in my heart to try.”

“You’ll need more than hate,” Elsa said. “To kill a vampire, you must remove its head cleanly and burn the body, or stab it through the heart with a wooden stake. To get close enough to do either of those things takes planning and skill, especially when the target is someone who’s been dead as long as Nikola.

This, of course, is just one strategy. I don’t want to introduce any spoilers, so I’ll just say that Olivia chooses to go with swordplay to finish out her task. An ancient Turkish saber to be specificBut as you are probably aware, there are many ways to kill a vampire, so herewith as a special holiday treat, I present you with several links to good sources for how to dispose of the undead. This is San Francisco, after allyou can never be too careful.

http://www.wikihow.com/Kill-a-Vampire

http://www.gods-and-monsters.com/how-to-kill-a-vampire.html

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/the-best-ways-to-defeat-a-vampire.html

Enjoy…..

 

Dark Horse Official Release and Launch Party!

Posted on October 28, 2014

I’m excited to announce the release of my second novel Dark Horse, Book 2 in the Dark Horse Trilogy! As of today you can officially find it on both Amazon and Goodreads! To celebrate, we are having a launching party on November 5th at Green Apple Books complete with drinks, appetizers, music, tarot card reading, trivia and book signing. If you’re in the SF Bay Area, I hope you’ll come by for a Dark Horse signature cocktail!

Where: Green Apple Books, 506 Clement St., San Francisco, CA 94118

When: November 5th, 7:00-9:00pm

How: RSVP on Facebook here.

Learn more about the event at Green Apple Books Events.

Stay tuned on Twitter for #BookGiveaways. If you haven’t read Woman King, you may soon have a chance for free!

 

Cheers,

E

Finding Our Voice

Posted on October 21, 2014

When Americans turn on their televisions to watch the nightly news—assuming that they still do—why do they prefer to listen to the delivery of the day’s headlines in a male voice? In 2011, when CBS replaced Katie Couric, America’s sweetheart, with a male colleague as the nightly news anchor, the program gained one million viewers. Reporter Sheila Weller tells the surprising story in her new non-fiction book, The News Sorority.

A recent review of Weller’s book in the Wall Street Journal describes a depressing world of high heels and makeup where women are encouraged to stay thin and beautiful to get to the top, a world where a woman’s appearance is analogous to her “likability” (i.e. success). If CBS had gained only a few thousand viewers, I could chalk it up to personality preference. But one million viewers says something more ominous to me. It means that Americans still don’t recognize a female voice as one of authority.

Of course we do have female news anchors on Public Television and some very senior reporters on both network nightly news and National Public Radio. But still the absurd irony of the network news report being delivered by a male anchor cannot be missed: a US female soldier being wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan, German President Angela Merkel racing to Russia to negotiate a truce for Ukraine, or perhaps the Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, commenting about interest rates and income inequality. We have negotiated our way to all these positions of authority, and yet, in the strongest representation of credibility, we willingly choose a man to deliver our news.

What does it take for women to be recognized as a voice of authority?

Being a female leader, it seems to me, is a witch’s brew, a mystical concoction of chemistry, timing, and the indefinable “likability.” Too little conviction and you’re soft, but too much and you are a bitch, a ballbuster. We are confined to roles that we never got a chance to define. These roles, these labels, prevent us from identifying with our own individual voices of authority.

In America, a lack of acknowledgment for female authority manifests itself in pernicious ways, everything from unequal pay for similar jobs, to the ever present and absurd use of sexual imagery and female objectification in marketing campaigns for products as mundane as a cheeseburger.

But the issue spreads across the globe. How else do we explain the disturbing frequency of sexual violence and harassment towards women that sparked the international explosion of #YesAllWoman on Twitter, or the appalling lack of access to quality reproductive care and birth control—an issue the United Nations addressed in the UNFPA’s 2012 Annual Report by finally calling contraception a universal human right.

Perhaps the answer lies in maturity. After all, American women have had voting rights for less than one hundred years. But what are we waiting for? Why do we play in to the objectifying advertisements that alienate us from our own sense of self? Why do we abide by dress codes and standards that perpetuate male attitudes of femininity and feminine sexuality?

The first step is acknowledgment, believing that the sound of our voice means something. A new article from Time opines that a major step forward for feminism and for all women will be to find our voice, “…to create and circulate powerful narratives, and to renew them again and again and again.”

What better way to encourage young women to share their narrative and find their voice than offering a role model with a strong, credible voice of authority? It may not be the final answer, but a female news anchor is a damn good place to start.

The Amazing Blog Tour Continues… Pass it on

Posted on September 2, 2014

Last week Andrea Dunlop tagged me “it” and asked me to participate in a blog tour. I’m publishing my answers today and passing the baton to two other talented writers – more about them in a minute.

For those of you not familiar with Andrea, by day she is my publicist and mentor, helping me promote myself as a self-published author. By night she’s a writer with an agent currently pitching her novel The Sojourn, which is the story of a young woman who goes to France for a year and becomes involved in a love triangle with ultimately dire consequences. Sounds interesting! I know I’d buy that book!

What am I working on? 

I just returned the manuscript for Dark Horse, the second book in my paranormal romance trilogy, back to my editor. Writing is always an arduous process, especially as you near the end and you’re trying to ensure every word and all of the plot lines make sense. In paranormal fiction, this can be really tricky because the rules for whatever magic you’re incorporating have to stay consistent. If you decide vampires can walk in the daylight, for example, or drink alcohol, then it must remain so for the life of the story. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The books of my Dark Horse trilogy mix politics and current events in with paranormal situations and characters. My main character, Olivia, is a political consultant who gets tapped to join a secret society that intervenes in political races to maintain a civil society. Her adventure begins when an ancient time walker appears in her kitchen one day, changing her life in ways that she could never have imagined.

One thing that separates my work from much of the paranormal romance genre is that while the books are sexy, I don’t ask my heroines to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. (Except maybe the sword fighting) It’s important to me to create strong female characters that inspire women to be leaders and stand up for themselves.

 Why do I write what I do?     

I’m drawn to the bigger questions in life. Why do humans repeat their mistakes? How is it possible for extremists who do things like behead journalists in public squares to have followers? How can they win elections? Can we draw lessons from past history? I like the flexibility that the science fiction/fantasy/paranormal genres give me as a writer. I can examine these timeless human issues from the perspective of a 1000-year old vampire, or a time walker from the thirteenth century. These are creatures that have lived through the life/death cycles of the world and have a lot to say about human nature.

How does my writing process work?

I work four days a week in my office in San Francisco and try to reserve Fridays for writing. I also write most evenings and on vacations. I carry a notebook with me everywhere, so if an idea hits I can jot it down.

And now, it’s my pleasure to introduce Kayla Williams and Holly Lynn Payne. I know both women through my work as a writer and member of the Board of Directors of Litquake, San Francisco’s one and only annual literary Festival. Keep an eye out for their posts on Wednesday, September 10th.

Kayla Williamsis the author of the memoirs Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the US Army and Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War. She is a former sergeant and Arabic linguist in a Military Intelligence company of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). She regularly speaks and writes about military and veterans’ issues for numerous media outlets, including MSNBC, CNN, BBC, Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Slate.

Holly Lynn Payne is an award-winning, internationally published author, writing coach and founder of Skywriter Books, an independent press. A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers author, she has written four novels. Her latest work of historical fiction, DAMASCENA: the tale of roses and Rumi, is a mystical thriller about the wisdom of the heart. She loves helping people reclaim their voice through storytelling and coaches writers around the country.

 

 

When Things Go Wrong, Send in the Women

Posted on August 20, 2014

I’m obsessed with female leaders and their portrayal in entertainment. Are great women leaders seen as ruthless? Sexy? Brittle and sarcastic? Or are they kind, but firm, leading through inspiration instead of intimidation.

For me, creating a compelling female character is tricky. Too many portrayals of women in popular culture repeat outdated stereotypes or reinforce negative images. Recently, I shared a rough draft of book two in my Dark Horse trilogy with a few beta readers. The feedback about the protagonist Olivia – a woman coming to terms with an unknown past, while being groomed to lead a secret society – was interesting. Through their eyes at times, she was too weepy, too callous, too discombobulated and even disloyal. Although they liked the book, they clearly wanted Olivia to behave differently.

These are smart readers and I’m making some tweaks accordingly – but I also took their comments as validation that I’d hit on something with the way I’d written Olivia That is to say that Olivia is imperfect: human, a work in progress, striving to become someone better. Their responses also got me thinking about some other deliciously complex female characters. Herewith are my top five favorites. I’ll add five more in an upcoming post.

1. Mallory Kane, Haywire

This 2012 Steven Soderbergh film features Mallory Kane, a double-crossed government operative who must battle her own colleagues, including the former lover who betrayed her, to survive. MMA fighter Gina Carano’s Mallory brings a combination of strength, courage, and wit that made this much more entertaining than your average shoot ‘em up – not to mention she did her own stunts. I particularly enjoyed Bill Paxton as her hapless father, who clearly knows the men sent to kill her are outgunned and outflanked.

2. Princess Leia, Star Wars

Dated? Maybe. But she remains the original bad ass of the galaxy, a woman who leads a rebellion, commanding legions of soldiers as a princess, a term normally associated with flowing gowns and afternoon teas. Her bravery in the face of torture was admirable, as was the fact that—not withstanding her temporary enslavement to Jabba the Hut, where she was forced to dress as his concubine—she did it all without cleavage showing.

3. River Tam, Firefly and Serenity

Zoe Washburn, the soldier and second mate of captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, probably strikes many as the prominent heroine of this short-lived but beloved television series and film. But I like River, the fragile teen assassin who is learning to live amongst humans again while she tries to come to terms with her torture at the hands of the government. Eventually she helps uncover a terrible secret, and saves her shipmates through a combination of heart-stopping brutality and intelligence.

4. Eowyn, The Lord of the Rings

Let’s face it: this trilogy is about men and their wars. Once the books were adapted for the big screen, however, Eowyn became an important character, demonstrating both vulnerability and incredible strength. Her decision not to be left behind as her clan goes off to war, and ultimately, her hard-fought battle against evil to save the king, marks her as one of my favorite characters.

5. Hermione Granger, Harry Potter

Hermione really needs no introduction. She’s often remembered as the ultimate over-achiever who is disdained for making people look bad, that is until her brilliance and bravery save the day. What I remember is that she had the strength to obliterate herself from her parents’ memories in order to save them, and then after enduring a hellish torture session at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange, had the fortitude to hold on to one of her hairs. Polyjuice potion, anyone?

Do you have some ideas about who to add to the list? Want to continue this discussion? Please send me your thoughts.

 

Don’t Judge A Book By Its Genre

Posted on August 13, 2014

Have you heard this one? A witch and a vampire walk into a bar and have a drink. They fall in love, but are forbidden to have a relationship. A conflict ensues and they spend the next three books trying to overcome prejudice, political malice, and murderous behavior.

How would you describe that book to a friend? Is it a paranormal romance? An urban fantasy? Vampire romance? Or would you call it plain old fiction or literature? The answer, it turns out, is it depends…

As a writer, genres matter. They’re meant to serve as guideposts to help readers find us. For books that are traditionally published, genres often determine which shelf your book will show up on in a bookstore, what the cover looks like, and even how the book is marketed and perceived.  For a self-published writer like myself, there is a bit more freedom to choose things like my cover design and the keywords for an online search. But even I have to choose some genre label to help Amazon/Kobo/Smashwords determine how to market my book to readers.   The problem is that genres can be a double-edged sword – at times acting as a misplaced marker that can turn readers away rather than pull them in.

The good news is that genre audiences are voracious readers and loyal, staying with the writers and themes they adore: historical romance, fantasy, noir, paranormal, science fiction, etc.  I include myself among those who have anxiously awaited the next book from J.K. Rowling, Charlaine Harris, or J.R. Ward.  Being a genre writer can be like being a part of a secret club, one where the language and customs are known and enjoyed by a self-selected group. The problem arises when, as a writer, you encounter a reader who doesn’t normally read those kinds of books. Even though your book might be right up their alley, they may never discover it, and therein lies the rub.

Some writers and books manage to transcend genres. Like the Spy Who Came in From The Cold, they catapult over the Berlin Wall of labels and categories and become mainstream successes, recognized as much for their literary merit as their genre appeal. Two recent examples come to mind. The first is Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy, which features a vampire, a spellbound witch, and a magical manuscript that may or may not be The Origin of the Species for supernatural creatures. The second is Edan Lepucki’s California – an apocalyptic novel written by someone who doesn’t normally write in that genre, giving the book far greater appeal to readers across a wide spectrum. Another good example is Margaret Atwood, who no one ever talks about as a genre author, even though she writes science fiction.

For the record, I adore most of the books and authors I’ve mentioned here. I’ve enjoyed their stories and improved my own writing by reading theirs. But I do ponder how well these labels work for books. In an industry that is rapidly changing – are genre categories even necessary?

On August 17, I’ll be exploring this topic in greater detail at Litquake’s summer session at the Jewish Community Center in Palo Alto with fellow genre writers Nick Taylor and Keith Raffel.  Is it a blessing or a curse to be a so-called genre writer? Do we need genres anymore in this age of computer algorithms? As new writers do we need genres to help kick-start our careers? Do genre labels help self-published writers more or less than authors who come from traditional houses?

I’m looking forward to discussing these issues with two writers whose recent works take readers from a baseball-playing private eye who stumbles into a deadly conspiracy, to President Kennedy on the eve of the Cuban missile crisis. As for me, my most recent novel is about a witch, a vampire, a congressional election, the fate of mankind, and political intolerance. Any ideas about what genre to call it?

Flesh and Bone

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