Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Unlocking the Harlequin "Formula" by Karen Rock

Flashback to late October, 2012.  A former student stops by to visit his middle school English teacher (moi). He wants to thank me for sharing my love of creative writing with him. Says I’ve been an inspiration. He’s getting ready to write his first novel in a high school creative writing class for NANO month and is thrilled to share the details of what sounds like a terrific suspense thriller. All is going well until he says, “And my English teacher said she did some research and discovered that if she follows this formula, she can easily write a romance in a month and might even (after a hearty chuckle- hers) submit it."  Eazy Peazy. Right?

Let’s just say I didn’t quite grasp the humor in that anecdote. It might have gone over my head. I had been teaching and writing on little sleep for the past two months- laboring over my Harlequin Heartwarming- THE FOREVER WISH while revising my co-authored YA for Spencer Hill Press - CAMP BOYFRIEND. It’s even possible I was wearing different colored shoes that day. I’m certain my socks didn’t match. They rarely do. But even so… that an educated person… a teacher of creative writing… would assume that Romance was formulaic; that it was easy?! Yikes. I asked him what formula she planned to use and, according to her, it was: “A girl moves back to her home town, falls for a guy that treats her badly and eventually discovers he loves her too. THE END.” See. Eazy Peazy. I nearly threw my mismatched shoe out the window. Argh!

As an author of both YA and Adult Contemporary Romance, along with screenplays, monologues, and comedy skits, I can attest that every form of writing comes with its own set of challenges and joys. And none of them follow a formula. (The Hangover Two might have been pushing it- but still…) Writing a deeply romantic story with relatable characters whose journey to love is a path readers want to follow, takes more blood, sweat, and tears, than hearts and flowers.  (Though they are always appreciated, so fans keep them coming!)

My colleagues’ upcoming Heartwarming stories are incredibly diverse. We have stories ranging from an ex-Bachelor style contestant who gets a second chance at love, to returning veterans rediscovering themselves and romance through working with draft horses, a social worker whose crusade to save her ailing town earns her the key to a stoic man’s heart, a brave young woman who overcomes childhood trauma to aid the owner of her family’s former wildlife park only to fall wildly in love herself, and cancer patients whose newfound relationships give them needed hope. In fact- in all of these stories- love trumps all. If there was a ‘formula’, that’s as close as I’d venture.

Writing love stories that readers will root for and stay up all night to read, burn the cookies, the heck with the laundry, ‘kids just eat the leftovers ‘cause I’ve got to finish this book'….kinds of romances… not so EAZY PEAZY. It’s the equivalent of telling a comedian/actor, “Go get ‘em champ. All you have to do is make ‘em laugh.” HA! (Okay. I might have said that once or twice. But it was a joke. Seriously.)

I couldn’t be prouder or more fulfilled to write Romance. It is THE hardest genre I’ve worked in (YA and comedy being tied for second- and a close second). While LOVE is the destination, the fantastically different travelers and their journeys allow my creative spirit to fly where it will. In an earlier blog post, bestselling Harlequin author, Roz Denny Fox, wished for a warehouse in the sky for her many ideas. It’s a dream all Romance authors share as, despite the myth, there is no formula to fit them all. And thank heavens for that!

For all those who believe in a dreamful of romantic possibilities, today’s comment post giveaway is my copy of Anna DeStefano’s amazing Heartwarming A SWEETBROOK FAMILY and two friendship bracelets- one for you and a friend you hold dear. Please post a comment below to share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you J The winner will be announced on my author Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/JKRockwriters tomorrow!

59 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Thanks so much, Veronica! THE HANGOVER is awesome :) Wish I'd written it!

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  2. You mean there's a formula to write romance??? Where have I been in the past 8 years, when I've been banging my forehead against every wall to take me through that 'boy meets girl - they fall in love - happy ending' journey???

    Lol, 'outrage' aside, there really is nothing formulaic about romance. Aside from the general idea of the ending (romance is HEA or HFN. Mysteries reveal who-dun-it, that sort of thing), there's nothing the same about writing a book. There's something unique, different, to every story you'll tackle, and what worked for one might not work for the others.

    It's almost like saying, put a man and a woman together and all the daughters they will have will turn out identical. Sounds off? Right - because it is! Every book is a different 'child' - you have to treat it that way. :)

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    1. Excellent points, Zee! Love 'the offspring from the same parents are not the same' analogy!! Even "identical" twins aren't truly identical- they have different interests, mannerisms... if you look close enough. And as you said- the same holds true for all genres. Thanks so much for stopping by to say hello and share such great insights!!

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    2. Glad if my rambles can help *wink* XOXO

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  3. If writing romance was easy, I definitely wouldn't have to get up at 5am every morning to write. I'd still be in bed right now. LOL. Great post.

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    1. Hi Julie! Is there a 5am? I think my clock must just skip it in solidarity- lol. Thanks so much for posting :)

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  4. As I watched you labor over your writing to make sure every page was as perfect as humanly possible, I gained a new respect for you. Romance is not easy to write! :-)
    So proud of how you are representing this new line. BTW, if my name is randomly drawn, you can choose another...we'll buy friendship bracelets TOGETHER this spring! :-) Wait, strike that. I want to win! After all, there's a book involved.

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    1. Lol- Marjorie you are a winner- though as for the contest- my daughter selects a poster :) Thanks so much for the support you gave me as I wrote THE FOREVER WISH- like birth, it was a labor of love and there was nothing Eazy Peazy about that!!

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  5. Awesome article! It blesses me to read others journeys of writing, especially in the romance field. My own readers keep asking for a love story from me, but I've yet to deliver. Thank you for helping those of us who are stumped to take a step back, regroup and rekindle the love we once felt either as a young adult, or grown up! Thank you for sharing this with your readers!!!

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    1. Thank you so much, Karen! I agree that writing romance- YA or Adult is no easy task but the joy it brings to you as the story-teller and your readers is beyond compare :) I'm so glad if I've helped rekindle your love of telling love stories.

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  6. Great post Karen! I can imagine romance isn't easy to write because it isn't always easy to live either. ;) Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!

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  7. Great point, Jen! A good Romance isn't easy to write or have in real life but we always strive for it because it is what gives our lives such happiness :) Thank you so much for you comment!

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  8. Karen,
    Romance is so hard to write. A formula that works would be nice, but then every romance would be the same, and that would be so boring!

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    1. Hi Joyce! I agree. Who would want to read romances - or even have them- if they were all the same ? Imagine going on your third date and when your date kisses you - you say, "oh heavens no- that won't happen until we've bonded over some crisis, first." Yikes!! Thanks so much for your post :)

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  9. If only there was a formula, but that being said, if there were romance wouldn't have the following it does. I believe there is a romance out there for everyone.

    Michelle

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    1. Well said, Michelle! Everyone is unique and it stands to reason that our romances should be just as unique. Thank you for sharing your thoughts :)

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  10. Hi Karen! This post is amazing, I like it, in special this part you write: "While LOVE is the destination, the fantastically different travelers and their journeys allow my creative spirit to fly where it will" Romance is the best! Congratulations!

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    1. Thank you, Christian! Romance is the best- what gives our lives so much joy... That smile when you remember that- YES- you are loved. I appreciate you stopping by :)

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  11. I, too, have heard the comment that romance books are formulaic, but they're just as diverse as any other genre of book. That's why they've been popular for so long! For most of us, the road to romance is filled with potholes, and a good romance novel reflects that reality. Everyone's story is different, whether in real life or on the page. Thanks for this on-target defense of romance novels.

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    1. Thank you, Susan! I love your pothole analogy. Romance and life are that way- full of those unexpected bumps in the road as you wisely pointed out- and I agree that it is beautiful surprises that make romance diverse and such a great genre.

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  12. Amazing post..Love the covers of the books..Would really love the chance to win..Thank You!!!

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm honored that you enjoyed the post :) I can't take credit for the covers, but they are stunning! Hats off to our talented art departments to whom we owe so much!!!!

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  13. I swear, if there had been a formula, I would have ponied up a long time ago!! I think when a writer does something well, it feels so seamless and looks so fluid that readers walk away feeling like the outcome was inevitable and everything in the story moved toward that amazing moment. It's like a great ice skating routine... the skill behind it makes their moves seem, dare I say, easy? Easy for *them* maybe. But the skill of an artist is in making their craft look simple. The years of training, hard knocks, skinned elbows and days when they wanted to give up all fall away when the art comes together and it's *right*. It's a beautiful thing!

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    1. Joanne, if you had a formula for your amazing romances, I'd be first in line for it!!! You are a great writer who makes things seem easy when in reality it takes a true artist to pen the incredible novels you've crafted for your grateful fans! Thank you for your thoughtful addition to this post :)

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  14. Wonderfully put! If only there was a formula - like the idea warehouse in the sky. There are elements the reader requires that might seem like formula to the 'outside world' but formula suggests that you put it together the same way every time and you get the desired results. I think it's more of a recipe (can't believe I'm using that analogy when I hate to cook) - a heroine you can root for, a hero you can believe in, struggle we can all relate to, secondary characters that contribute to the sparkle, an engaging, satisfying resolution, and characters who are better people at the end than they were in the beginning because love has changed them, and now allied them toward a common goal - a life lived with love. And love can change the world. The end result is all dependent upon the skill of the writer with whisk!

    Muriel

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    1. WOW! Thank you so much, Muriel for showing us exactly how it is really done- or more importantly what readers need in a quality romance novel! Your fans adore you and your amazing novels because you get to the essence of Romance- the heart- and never by following a formula but by knowing the right ingredients. Every aspiring romance author needs to read your incredibly helpful and insightful response !!

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  15. Thank you for enlightening us, Karen. I'd heard for years that
    romances are formulaic! And I'm so impressed by the variety
    of genres you've written.

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    1. Thank you, Dale :) "The Formula" is one of those myths out there and I'm so grateful to the wonderful discussion we are having to debunk it. I do enjoy writing a variety of genres although sometimes I have to remind myself if I'm writing as a 14-yr-old having her first kiss or a 28-yr-old who's having her first kiss with THE ONE :)

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  16. Karen, Over the years I've gotten so tired of people who "ask for the writing formula for romance". But then one day I read an interview of a prominent mystery writer, and a prominent Western writer, and both indicated people who thought they wrote with a formula were high on their list of people they'd like to kill off in their books. Maybe it's just a concept by folks who think the writing is SO SMOOTH that it must be easy. Keeping that in mind, now I don't grind my teeth if the word formula comes up. Great post.

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    1. Roz- your post made me laugh- and nod along at the same time!! You are so right- until you give anything a try, you can never appreciate the difficulty involved in making things look easy. As you said- that may be why those myths about a "formula" for a variety of genres exist- wonder what Stephen King's list would look like if anyone said that to him! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts; this is a great discussion!

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  17. You know, I'm ok with them being formulaic. Though honestly, you can say that about any genre. Mysteries? "gee, there's a crime & the detective always solves the case!" Thrillers? "there's danger but the hero/heroine always saves the day!" See? Simple! Where's the hard part of writing those?! LOL

    In additional to the genre formula's, some publisher guidelines for various lines *are* quite tight & I think there are several broad patterns that readers are looking for.

    What I objected to in that comment is the leap that because it's formulaic, it's therefore easy.

    The only thing easy is denigrating other people's work. That's really easy :) Actually doing the work yourself might turn out to be harder.

    Anyway - whether people think it's hard or it's easy, my favourite response is to say "GO for it! Please write your book!" The world always needs new story tellers. They might find it's hard, they might find it's easy - doesn't matter. So long as readers get a great new book :) And we all know that if they actually write the thing (or even if they burn and crash after Chapter 3) they'll gain a new respect for writing genre fiction....

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    1. What an outstanding addition to our chat!! Thank you. I agree that it is so much easier to denigrate others' works than to attempt it yourself! You made such a good point about the importance of trying it - going for it and how ultimately that is how we find respect for one another :) I appreciate your insights !

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  18. I'm loving all of these comments!! The only thing I see as being a "formula" is the part where they all live happily ever after, and frankly, that's a part of the formula I refuse to live without! I think the people who think romance is a formula don't read enough of it!

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    1. These comments are amazing- yours included, Danica! I'm having a great time and learning so much from everyone's insights. And I agree with you that the happy/hopeful ending is the best part!! I'm still hurting over Bridges Over Madison County- though I understand ... Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with all of us- this is a great community :)

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  19. Im happy with a good storyline that takes me away from the monotony of my life for a short while and leaves me with a smile on my face. :D

    mrsajward@hotmail.com

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    1. That is exactly what I hope to achieve with all my books- giving my readers a world and an experience that transports them from everyday life :) Your comment made me smile, Manda because I thought EXACTLY after I read it. You really understand what the best story-telling is all about. Thank you so much for commenting :)

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  20. I haven't read any of these books they sound good! Wonderful blog today. Thanks
    Penney

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    1. Thanks so much, Penny! My fellow Heartwarming authors and our talented editors have such an amazing line assembled that will touch many hearts.

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  21. Well thank God there isn't a 'formula' for romance- I'd have died of boredom a long time ago! I can't even fathom there being one formula- I've seen authors comment on how characters take a life of their on and take the story down a completely different path than intended- formulas don't account for that! LOL
    I read about 400 books a year and Danica/Dream is right- the only formula or thing you can count on is 'they all live happily ever after'... and while some topics are the same- every author/story gets there a completely different way (which keeps me reading!)
    And I love Roz Denny Fox's idea of a warehouse in the sky of ideas- hopefully it's not so big that you need golf carts to get around to locate that idea you had last summer! :)
    Somehow I completely missed this Heartwarming line and I'm so excited about it- already added them to my wishlist until I get time to actually shop.

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    1. I'm thrilled to hear that you've added Heartwarming to your wish list !! I've never met such incredibly talented and kind authors and we already feel like family :) Maybe Roz will let me in that mental warehouse of hers... There must be a few brilliant ideas she just doesn't have time to write- lol. Thanks so much for your outstanding contribution :)

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  22. I've read enough authors' blogs' posts to know how hard they work to write a book. They go weeks without coming up for air while delving into creating their character's lives. They slave over what happens to their characters, weep over their characters' problems, rejoice when their characters finally find true love. They research the history of the era if it's a historical novel. And this is supposed to be Easy-Peazy? In what world is that?

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    1. Trudy you just made my day!! We do slave and toil and work... and that's just for the opening line- lol. Sometimes I ask my husband if he prefers version A of a sentence or version B ... And he says "They both sound the same to me." And I think 'How can't he hear such a HUGE difference?" But he can't and he won't understand - God love him- why I'm still on that sentence ten minutes later. But YOU get it, as have all of the wonderfully supportive posters today. I'm so grateful for your thoughtful comment!'

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  23. Oh hey! This sounds a bit familiar! Hahahhaaa!
    In my opinion, I believe a true romance story comes from the heart. The problem is that some authors like to reuse other ideas, so then a formula can be, unfortunately, formed.
    That's not how noveling should be. It should be original, and from the heart. It should be about writing what makes you happy - not what's selling big at the moment.

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    1. haha- knew you'd enjoy this post, Cody!! And I completely agree with you (Grasshopper- lol) that the best writing comes from a place of joy, of telling the stories of characters that speak to us. Trying to chase a trend means you are always behind everyone else! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us :)

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  24. Another fantastic post, Karen. I can't count the number of times people have asked me about a formula. If only they knew how much variety there is in romance novels and how much of themselves authors put into each story. You are all truly amazing!

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    1. Thank you so much, Laura! And you are amazing as well for the strong, personal commitment and support you give each of your writers! Where would any author be without a talented, dedicated editor like you beside them?! As I've gotten to know the rest of the Heartwarming authors and their upcoming novels, I'm deeply impressed with the line-up you and Victoria have created! That is a real gift and art... and there's no "formula" for it either :)

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  25. Wow, these are fabulous comments. But then you invite them when you write a great post on "formula" romance!

    I've always used the journey metaphor when talking about writing romance. I know the beginning, the people on the journey and the end, but the getting there is the fun part. And I love a good twist or U-turn that takes you where you weren't expecting. The best romances are those that take you on a wild ride and surprise you along the way.

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    1. AGREED! I love the unpredictable moments too! It keeps fiction and real life romances so much more interesting! I wasn't very good with math in high school so maybe that's why I don't get the whole "formula" thing- lol. Thanks for stopping by, Syndi :)

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  26. If only there was a formula to writing romance... great post :)
    Sara @ HarlequinJunkie

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    1. Hi Sara! Thanks for stopping in :) Maybe that formula is the one Einstein was trying to prove- what was that... e=mc(squared) ?! lol (dang- shouldn't have snuck so many books into my Science classes)

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  27. The formula? Write, write, revise, edit, and write again. That is the *only* formula for a good story! But then, you already knew that.

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    1. You said it, Jen!! That is the best formula I know too... though I mix a few M&Ms in as well Thanks so much for posting :)

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  28. This is exactly why I love pantsering. Give the freedom to take the storyline around those sudden and often unexpected twists and turns. Sticking to a formula would bore me to tears, and if the author's bored, then so will the reader be. Besides, writing isn't supposed to be 'easy-peasy'. It's meant to have you pulling your hair out, on the point of frustrated scream, and as emotional as the emotion s*** you put your characters through. Otherwise, where's the true accomplishment?

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  29. FREEDOM! Yes- we must have that as writers :) I agree that it is those unexpected twists and turns that makes a story so infinitely interesting to write and read. Thanks so much for adding your thoughtful comment to the discussion!

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  30. And the winner of today's blog giveaway is... SUSAN HEIM!! Congratulations, Susan. Please drop by my website www.karenrock.com andd leave your mailing info on my contact page so I can send you your awesome prizes :)

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  31. Hi Karen!

    I'm not one for "formulas" of any sort outside of math/science (I'm an accountant--at least that's what my college diploma tells me).

    Writing, much to everyone's surprise, is hard work. It takes time, patience and work, work, work. And, oh yeah, we aren't all rich either...There can only be one Twilight (ha ha).

    Romance is definitely something that has to be felt, not formulized (Yes! That's a word. I just made it up).

    Your fellow SPHer,
    Michelle
    www.michelle-pickett.com/blog

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  32. It's always an honor to have a former student come back and share the impact we have on their lives. As a teacher, it is a humbling experience that somehow makes things so much better.

    As a writer, the time, effort and thought that goes into creating a story is beyond what many people can imagine. Late nights. Dreams. Early mornings. Connections and exploring. Noticing and negotiating. Loving and hating refining your work to truly make it worth loving again. Researching and knowing your target audience. Plotting, planning, writing, revising, trusting others to read and provide the feedback you need to help your work grow, etc. The last book I completed took 25 days, and the formula I used for the previous four books were all different in many ways. We cannot put "formula" in a bottle, add some water and shake when we are trying to create the goodness of gourmet for our readers.

    At least I cannot...

    Steady,
    Marquin Parks
    Author of Wrinkles Wallace: Knights of Night School

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  33. Great post Karen! I can see how someone might think that romance stories have a formula. On the other hand, each story is unique and being able to make readers care about the characters and what happens to them is the biggest part of writing. As the reader, I can say that I'd rather an author focus on that side of the story more than just try to follow a pattern for the plot.

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