Interview with Ivan Ewert about Famished: The Commons

by Jennifer 19. August 2014 08:39


Famished: The Commons
Gentlemen Ghouls #2
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1. Previously, you've written series for me. Now that you are writing novels, has it been difficult to shift it from an episodic format to a novel format?

It’s a mixed bag. I prefer the structured cadence of the serial format, with a specific deadline every month. But that leaves little time for review of the work by independent alpha or beta readers, which sharpens the quality of the work I’ve done in novel format.

Peter Ball talked in his interview for Exile about some of the specific difficulties in the serial format around outlining and planning. While it’s true that there are restrictions there, sometimes those restrictions can result in wonderful things you never thought of. It’s similar to structured poetry vs. blank verse.

For example, I actually “killed” Gordon at the end of Year One, and only then learned the editor wanted me to continue the story another year. Without that wrinkle, Orobias would never have been created. He and his agenda have become so central to the story since then, it’s hard to imagine the books without him!

Overall, I’ve converted to the novel format. I wouldn’t mind going back to serials, but I’d use the skills I’ve learned in the past two years to approach it differently this time around.


2. Famished: The Farm and Famished: The Commons are set in middle America and on the East coast. Have you ever been there? Are parts of the story set in real world locations?

Nearly all the locations are real! Though I can’t speak to the activities of the people who actually live and work in those buildings. Every location Gordon visits exists – from St. Raymond’s Catholic Church outside Sun Prairie to Pete’s Hot Dogs in Greenville to the Attitash ski resort. A large part of the concept of the Gentleman Ghouls series is how closely tied to the real America their world is.

I’ve lived my entire life in the American Midwest, mostly northern Illinois along the border with Wisconsin. The landscape fuels a lot of my ideas and creativity, and Madison, Wisconsin (where Famished: The Farm begins) is one of my favorite places in the world. From there I use a lifetime of walking through forest preserves and woodlands in the upper Midwest to spin the rest of the Farm’s story.

There’s a special note of horror in parts of the Midwest. We have the wide open spaces of the West, but less of the self-reliance that could save an isolated individual. When you look across a prairie, realizing there is nowhere to hide from anything that pursues you, it’s a disturbing sensation...

As a child we often vacationed in Vermont and Maine. While I haven’t been back to New England in decades, the impressions of those resorts inform many scenes in The Commons.

With all of that said, Google Earth is a godsend! It’s not the same as being there, of course; but it does provide more of those wonderful restrictions I mentioned above. Putting Carol’s house on a specific cul-de-sac in Greenville, South Carolina allowed me to inform the attack of the Ghouls in a more realistic manner than just dreaming up a subdivision.


3. Will you explain who "the Boeren" is?

The Gentleman Ghouls place a lot of importance on bloodlines and families. Gordon Velander’s great-grandfather, Han Boeren, left the Farm in the prologue to that novel and remained free under the assumed surname of Velander until his death. His son, Hank, and grandson, Thomas, had no idea of their relation to the Gentleman Ghouls – or even of their existence.

When Sylvie finds Gordon and recognizes his bloodline, she immediately looks for other male relatives. Finding none, Gordon simply becomes known as “The Boeren” in her communication with the Ghouls, and the title sticks.


4. Do you have any other stories set in the same fictional world as the Gentlemen Ghouls universe?

I write flash fiction and small scenes when I need to fill out a character’s background, or see how they’d respond to different scenarios. Some of the character studies I draw up result in full-fledged short stories – Linh’s final estrangement from her father, Jacob’s encounter with his grandfather in the Commons cellar. Some are horror, some are more slice of life.

Understand that I wouldn’t share them in their current rough form. They’re more like exercises to give me a better feel for the character, though I’ve considered running Goodreads contests with these sketches as potential prizes for fans.


5. What are you working on now?

My number one priority is outlining and starting work on Famished: The Ranch, the final book in the Gentleman Ghouls series. I have a cycle of short fantasy stories and a young adult urban fantasy simmering on my back burners, but I don’t plan to do any more serious work until The Ranch is with beta readers.

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Interview with Peter M. Ball

by Jennifer 21. July 2014 10:37

1. The Flotsam series is based on previously published webseries. Has it been difficult to shift it from an episodic format to a novella format?

I’m going to be honest: I hated writing the first version of Flotsam.

Partially this is because my approach to writing isn’t particularly suited to writing serialized stories. I tend to start with a very light world and character sketch, then fill in the details as the story goes on. Often this means I’ll learn something important very late in the drafting process that either changes the story, or requires a lot of foreshadowing in order to make things work.

You can do that when you’re drafting a story or a novella – it’s a simple matter to go back and change the things that contradicts what you’ve just written, or drop hints that this revelation is coming. But in a serial, where you’re churning out a story a month? You have to commit to things early. You have to stay true to what’s already been printed. And if you come up with a better idea, well, you’re out of luck.

In addition to being ill-suited to the form, the year I spent writing the series version Flotsam was pretty trying in other ways. It started with my dad having a heart attack, involved me having three different jobs in a twelve-month period, and I spent a lot of the second half of the year in-transit as I travelled for work.

All of this was pretty big change for me. I’d never worked a job where I went to an office and I’d certainly never been required to travel. I didn’t cope well with the way it all impacted on my schedule and the Flostam series suffered for it. I was happy with what I achieved in the series, but it never really felt like I’d succeeded in telling the story I wanted to tell.

On the other hand, I love novellas; there’s something about the length that suits the way I write, and I’ve got a better feel for the pacing of the story. It also tells a story in a very different way, compared to the serial, so it’s less like rewriting the serial and more like telling a new story with the same source material. In my head, their basically two different continuities, similar to the approach Marvel takes with its comics and its films.

My only disappointment has been my inability to figure out how to fit Keith Murphy, Supernatural Pro-Wrestler, into the novella continuity.

 

2. Exile is set on the Gold Coast of Australia. Have you ever been there? Are parts of the story set in real world locations?

I grew up on the Gold Coast, and my parents still live there (despite my best efforts to convince them they should leave). It’s a deeply weird city, in a lot of respects, and it’s definitely one of those places where the differences between people’s experiences run very deep.

You’d probably find a lot of people who’d make the tongue-in-cheek argument that nothing on the Gold Coast is real. It’s a city built around tourism - beaches, theme-parks, bars, and shopping – and it’s very, very good at faking things and creating replicas of other places.

But everything in Flotsam is based on a real place. Keith’s safe-house is based on a place a friend of mine lived in high school, where we used to play D&D until about six in the morning then hike down the hill to the beach. Langford’s house is where another friend of mine grew up, or at least my hazy memory of the place some twenty years later. Jupiter’s Casino and the Hard Rock Surfers Paradise are open to visitors all year around, although I’m pretty sure I’ve taken some liberties with both their layout and insinuation that there are demons working there.

 

3. Will you explain what the Gloom is?

There will be some pretty broad hints in the next novella, Frost, but I’m not sure there will be a really detailed explanation in the series. Mostly this is Keith’s fault: the world gets filtered through his point of view, and he doesn’t really want to know what the Gloom is. He’s content knowing that it’s the place where demons and other creatures come from, and he should probably start shooting anything that calls the Gloom home.

 

4. Do you have any other stories set in the same fictional world?

Just the one: Tithes, which appears in the Coins of Chaos anthology, takes place in the same continuity as the Flotsam webseries (you can tell, ‘cause it only features Randal, as opposed to Randal and Wesna, as Sabbath’s representatives).

 

5. What are you working on now?

I’ve got a pretty ambitious run of projects on my plate this year – you can see the full list over on my website – but right now I’m doing some rewrites on the second Flotsam novella, Frost, and preparing to take a run a romance novella titled Hot For Teacher as a change of pace from Keith and his tendency to think about pragmatic solutions.


Exile
The Flotsam series #1
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Intereview with Dylan Birtolo

by Jennifer 19. May 2014 08:58

Interview with Dylan Birtolo, author of The Shadow Chaser.

What drew you to Speculative Fiction?

In all honesty, I have to blame this on my parents. I grew up in a home where science fiction and fantasy were everywhere. Heck, the first stories that I remember my parents reading to me as a child were the Chronicles of Narnia. It fed my imagination when I was young and I’ve always had an overactive imagination. That just helped give it shape and a playground to run amok in. There is something fascinating about those two words “what if” that just entertains me.


Was there a reason you started writing?

I think that I started writing when I realized that it gave me even more freedom than reading a book. Sure, reading a book was a great way to escape, but a lot of times I would want things to end a different way or would want some different element pulled into the fantasy world. It just clicked that if I wrote the stories, I could do anything I wanted. And then there was the idea that I could share it with other people, and create a world for their imaginations to run wild in. It was just too much to pass up.


Where do you get your ideas?

All over. My mind wanders a lot when I am not actively engaged in something and sometimes I will be walking down the street when I will see something that will trigger an idea. Like if someone is jogging with their dog I suddenly might start thinking about what if the dog was the one in charge taking the human for a walk, or something like that? I also tend to get a lot of ideas from my martial arts. I like to write combat, and most of my stories have a lot of combat in it. One of the exercises that we do is shadow sparring, where you imagine fighting multiple opponents. It is inevitable that I will be doing this and then start adding in other fantastical details, like telekinesis or energy shields and the like. I can’t help it – I just pull in these ideas. Those usually blossom into a world or into a character, and then that becomes something I want to right about. So what will start as a random thought will grow into a universe where I might want to tell a story.

Now if I have to write for a specific anthology with a specific theme, I usually mull the theme over in my head for a few days, trying to think of a twist to it that I can add. I want to put in something unique. It doesn’t necessarily have to be “the big twist” at the end of the story. For example, I was invited to submit to an anthology about time travelers. I wanted to do something different, so I thought “what if there was a time traveler, but he could only go back in time for fractions of a second? What would he do with this? What COULD he do?” And the story evolved from there.
 

What's your current writing process? Outliner/Pantser, when, do you play music? pen/paper or keyboard/ink? any rituals? Etc

I definitely have my rituals. I have one notebook which I use for every story I am about to start writing. When I am in the planning stages, that is the extent of my ritual. I don’t so much like music, but it doesn’t bother me either. The thing is, I never know when the idea will hit me. As I said, my mind wanders a lot. So I have the notebook and a pen with me at all times. That way when the idea does hit, I can write some notes and sketch out the storyline. I will do this until I have a pretty good idea of the story scene-by-scene.

After that, it becomes a bit more ritualistic. I always write on the computer and always in the same font and format. The interesting part is that this is not the font or format I want to submit a story in. But, it is what I am used to and what I like, so I keep it even though it means more work on the back end. I play (either on headphones of my speakers) one of two playlists. Each one runs for about 4 to 5 hours. I usually alternate between the two and will skip to certain sections in the playlist if I need a specific type of music to fit the scene. And once the writing starts, it HAS to be on the computer. I simply cannot write fast enough with pen and paper to keep up with my brain. Heck, sometimes I have trouble typing fast enough.


How did you get started with AIP? 

I got started with AIP because I met Jennifer Brozek several years ago. She was actually the first person to buy a piece of short fiction from me and publish it. That was for the Edge of Propinquity, before AIP existed. When I decided that I wanted to run a Kickstarter project for my novels, I needed to get a publisher to buy into the project and back it provided enough funds were raised. Naturally, I approached Jennifer to see if AIP would be interested. She is an amazing editor and has excellent business savvy, so I knew it would be a good choice for me if they would be up for it. Thankfully, they said they were and that’s what started our working together.
 

Talk some about the Sheynan series.

The Sheynan series is a collection of books set in the modern day, but with a twist. As you’ve learned by now, I like twists. There are a bunch of people who exist that can change into an animal form. But they keep their existence hidden from the rest of humanity. It was important for me to make the stories seem realistic. I tried to create it in such a way that it might seem like these people do really exist and it isn’t pure fantasy, because I think it is more fun that way. So I spent a lot of time thinking about things like how they would hide their identity, what steps would they take to keep it a secret, what resources would they need at their disposal to keep from being discovered, and so on. I wanted to make it believable enough that someone might just wonder “what if…”

As for the individual books, they follow a young man who has the very rare ability to shift into any animal. Needless to say, this makes him a very valuable ally or asset depending on who you talk to. I don’t want to spoil too much, but basically he is a normal guy living a somewhat normal life who gets put into this crazy world and realizes that nothing is going to be the same again. This trilogy is about him, and the evolution he goes through. At the end of each novel, he is substantially different than he was at the beginning.
 

You mentioned before that you practice and teach martial arts (and joust- so cool!) Did that make the action scenes easier for you to write?

Most definitely. I have always been good at writing action scenes. Most of my early stories were almost exclusively action and fighting because I knew it was my strength. I think a lot of that comes from my experience. I know techniques and I know weaponry and can pull that in to make the fights a little more believable. You would be surprised at how much a little bit of believability makes any scene that much stronger.


What are you working on now?

Currently, I just finished up the rewrite for The Bringer of War, the second novel in the trilogy. While I am waiting for the editor to get back to me on that draft, I am working on a couple of short stories for anthologies I was invited to submit to. I am also plotting out the third book in the series since that one will be brand new and is not just a rewrite. I have the general outline completed but need to compose my scene by scene layout. And at the same time – because you can never have too many irons in the fire – I have a classical sword and sorcery novel on hold. The Sheynan trilogy comes first, but I am antsy to get back to this other new novel I have partly completed.


Best and worst advice you've received or heard about writing.

The best advice I ever received was on how to know you’re a writer. You’re a writer and you should be if you have these story ideas clawing through your head and you feel like you need to get them out. If you don’t have that level of passion, and that need to tell a story, you should seriously consider if professional writing is for you. Because it will take that level of drive.

The worst advice I ever heard was that you need to write and publish four books a year to make a living off of writing. Whether or not that is true, I think it is horrible advice because it takes what should be, in my opinion, a very creative and enjoyable process, and breaks it down into a “realistic day job”. Now, I realize that sometimes people need a reality check, especially about how hard it is to make a living as a writer. And I fully admit that I don’t know how close to true that statement is because I’ve never been just a fiction writer for a living. But, even just hearing it put a bad taste in my mouth.


Any last words?

Enjoy what you do. There’s this other piece of advice that isn’t specifically related to writing that I absolutely love. Two people are having a conversation and one asks “What’s the purpose of life?” and the other responds “To live.” Yes, that can be viewed as a smart ass comment, or can seem very shallow. But, I think there is a much deeper truth to that. Living is going to be different things for different people. For me, a large part of it is telling stories, and hearing or reading other people’s stories. That’s why I do it, and I think it is something important to keep in mind. To pull it back to writing – the minute you start writing for someone else, or start writing for a specific goal or “market” other than something you enjoy creating, nine times out of ten that’s the moment you are going to lose the reader.

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Interview with Ivan Ewert

by Jennifer 8. April 2014 09:36

Ivan Ewert is the author of Famished: The Farm. Its sequel, Famished: The Commons, is going through the editorial process right now.

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What drew you to Speculative Fiction?

Ha, I just did a blog post about this! My father was a huge speculative fiction fan. His library was the thing I coveted most in my young life. When I started reading, I was actually more interested in legends like King Arthur, Robin Hood, and such – things that Disney probably turned me onto initially – but the trappings of fantasy were there.

Therefore, as I was reading, dad would suggest things I might enjoy. In third grade, I think, there was a confluence – my mother was teaching (voluntary) art classes to grade school kids, and she brought in the Brothers Hildebrandt, where I learned about The Hobbit. That was it. Done. Fantasy all the way.

Lovecraft was my introduction into horror, straight out of dad's library. He also had a lot of originals from Van Vogt, Asimov, and such, but he preferred hard science fiction, which I just don't find interesting. When I found social science fiction, I got more into it.


Was there a reason you started writing?


I drove my mother nuts with "Let's pretend" as soon as I was old enough to communicate. She humored me, though there was the occasional "Let's pretend you're Ivan, a human boy, and I'm his mother, okay?" I loved make-believe so much more than reality. (Let us leave that in past tense for the moment …)

So again, in grade school, I sat down and wrote a play at some point for my friends at school. I remember a cuckoo clock, living toys, and a lost girl. Not much else. Everyone loved it, though, and I was hooked on both the creative aspect and the attention it garnered.

Role-playing games distracted me for a long time, and didn't write much in high school – I was making stories but not having to work at writing them down. After college, I took it more seriously.


Where do you get your ideas?

Do you know I think you're the first one to ask? Ideas have always come to me most easily when moving through the darkness – driving before dawn, flying through the night. Moving silently, alert for danger, other travelers, and story fragments.


What's your current writing process? Outliner/Pantser, when, do you play music? pen/paper or keyboard/ink? any rituals? Etc.

AIP turned me into an outliner. Once I have the outline done, I carve time in my daily calendar, aiming for a minimum of one hour (usually my lunch hour at work).

When that time hits, I turn off my email notifications, my telephone, and any instant message programs. I work in Microsoft Word, though I just bought a new laptop and plan to give Scrivener a whirl. I don't like writing by hand as much. That distracts me.

Music is key. KEY. For horror and science fiction work, I'll usually go to bandcamp.com and search tags for ambient, downtempo electronica, or doomjazz. Fantasy is either Azam Ali Radio on Pandora.com or Darkfolk Radio on Last.fm.

Then, I just write until the time I allotted is up.

I don't have any real rituals. I do give a short "thank you" every morning to whatever's given me all the good in my life, which includes an imagination and the ability to convey it.


How did you get started with AIP?

I met Jennifer Brozek online through Livejournal; I think it was a friend-of-a-friend thing. I had a lot more spare time at that stage in my life, and I posted little snippets of tales and writing exercises online. We became friends online, then met up at a convention and – to my mind, anyway – became friends in real life.

When she founded The Edge of Propinquity, she asked me to contribute; and I can't tell you how happy that made me. I really enjoyed the work, and the discipline it required. Not that I was perfect. At all. I did enjoy it, though; and I'm beyond flattered that AIP continues to believe in me and work with me. They are wonderful, wonderful people whom I love very much.
 

Talk some about the Gentleman Ghouls series.

The Lovecraft short story, "The Picture in the House," which scared me sleepless, inspired the main subject matter. I wanted to examine the way that closed, insular societies work. Cults and secret societies have always fascinated me, as has the American experience as a whole, which I hope will come across more clearly as we release the books.

I wrote the first book, FAMISHED: THE FARM, over the space of four years. FAMISHED: THE COMMONS took a little over one year. I've written quite a bit about the process of editing those.


What are you working on now?

I have a dear friend named William Dolan who paints tremendous Chicago street scenes (check him out at http://www.dolanart.com/). His motto is, "I never talk about my work. Talking about it makes me feel like I've done something about it, and as such, the work never really gets done."

I saw a lot of truth in that. Talking about the work dilutes it for me and makes it easy to pretend it's moving along faster than it is. I'm still focused on the Gentleman Ghouls series as well as some poetry and short stories, one of which I'm very excited about.


Best and worst advice you've received or heard about writing.

The worst advice is "write what you know." I hate that phrase with a passion; it lines shelves with copyists and endless memoirs of suburban alienation. I've said it before; write what you're excited to know more about.

The best advice … Steven Raichlen, one of my cooking idols, says, "Set concrete goals with realistic timetables." Creative work is still work, and if you just dream up this great big book you want to write "someday," well. Someday never comes.


Any last words?

Not last, I hope.

But I believe in you. I believe in everyone reading these words … you can do anything you want to. It might not be easy, it might not be fun; but it's possible. When you think nobody has any faith, think again. I want you all to succeed and live a life that you find worth living.

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Read more about Ivan at his website.

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Interviewed by the Shadow Minion

by Jennifer 26. January 2014 11:18

AIP is currently open to query submissions for 3 linked novellas. We are looking for well-written, modern day, dark speculative fiction. The kind of story that could be happening around you as you walk out the door.

As creative director, what are you looking for?
I want to be transported. I want to read the story in a coffee shop, look up, and imagine it happening in around wherever I am. I want supernatural elements that intrigue me and horror elements that affect me. The worst thing is to have a story that I care nothing about.

Why go with 3 linked novellas?
Think of it like a serial novel. We want to get the novellas out 3 times a year in e-format only and the release a compilation of the stories in limited edition hard back, trade, and e-format. This way, content is coming out quicker throughout the year.

Can or should the link be obvious or subtle?
The link needs to be obvious enough that the three novellas together tell a whole story.

Why not Zombies?
I don’t like zombies. That’s not subtle. They’ve been done to death. They bore me.

Why have other queries been rejected?
For a number of reasons. For not fitting the dark speculative theme (urban fantasy / horror). For not being an interesting story. For having really bad world building rules.

Common flaws you've seen in submissions?
Weirdly, I’m getting a lot of people who don’t have a story idea. Instead, they want me to tell them what story I want written and to hand-hold them through the synopsis and outline. I have to admit, this was not something I expected. Other than that, just not suiting AIP’s chosen niche.

What would your dream submission be like?
A synopsis of 3 linked novella length stories with diverse characters (LGBT, POC characters encouraged), a fascinating take on the real world, with an interesting plotline. The synopsis is erudite and concise. The author is responsive and willing to take editorial direction. I want an emotional story with action.

 

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The Next Big Thing

by Jennifer 3. January 2013 10:18

Both Ivan Ewert and Jennifer Brozek have talked about their "Next Big Thing" in blog posts. As it happens, both of these are AIP projects.

Jennifer talks about The Children of Anu in her post.

Ivan talks about Famished: The Commons in his post.

Bonus! Ivan talks about a local eatery naming a sandwich after his book series that sounds very tasty.

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Talking FAMISHED with Ivan Ewert

by Jennifer 8. August 2012 09:46

1. Why did you choose to write about something as disturbing as ritualized cannibalism?
Ivan: When the opportunity to write a horror story came along, I knew I had to be both frightened and fascinated by the subject matter. None of the usual paranormal situations fit the bill - I like supernatural tales but they don't usually scare me any longer. So I asked myself, "what's the most frightening thing you ever read?" It was a Lovecraft story titled "The Picture in the House," about a South Sea captain who had encountered - and been changed - by exposure to cannibalism. It probably didn't help that I read it around age 12, but I still remembered it vividly.

As to the fascination, it's something so difficult to imagine. Even in times of desperation, the way this would change a normal person is almost unthinkable. That's why I made Gordon so normal - he's nobody's hero at the start of the book, and probably would have lived a quiet, normal life if he hadn't been brought into this circle. Watching him break down in my mind, then watching him rebuild, was a great process.

2. How much research did you do for FAMISHED: THE FARM?
Ivan: The land, weather and physical features of the novel were already familiar. I spent some time on a working farm in Allegan, Michigan while writing the first draft, which helped to get the sense of rural isolation down.

Most of my research for the Farm itself revolved around isolated compounds like Warren Jeffs' and the Minutemen, with information gathered from news reports, interviews with former members, and various hate watch organizations. Not fun research, but important.

The supernatural elements were made up of memories from things I'd read before, then re-read and altered to fit my view of the FAMISHED universe.

3. Is there a sequel forthcoming?
Ivan: With three more known bases for the Gentlemen Ghouls, I've definitely got two more books in mind. Gordon will change quite a bit over the next year, and so will the fabric of the cannibal cult.

4. What was the most disturbing part of FAMISHED to write?
Ivan: Martin's betrayal in the pigpen, during the siege. It came ripping out in a short night's work and I wanted to keep that raw, immediate, emotional feel of betrayal and pain as I went through edit after edit. The hurt, the blood, the weakness and the helplessness were all things I felt strongly while setting it down. It was definitely the most difficult and emotional section to write.

5. What was the best part of FAMISHED to write?
Ivan: The climactic scene at the Farm. There were so many moving pieces to keep track of, so many conflicting agendas and ways in which to cross one another. I had this great map all laid out across my desk for weeks and would just tear it off, re-create it, and figure where everyone belonged to get the most out of the scene. It was work that rarely felt like work.

6. Where can we find all things about Ivan Ewert?
Ivan: You can follow me at ivanewert.com. In addition to news on all upcoming creative endeavors, I can promise that all recipes posted there are perfectly safe for human consumption.


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