Writing Challenge

By mishos from Georgia (Bus stop) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By mishos from Georgia (Bus stop) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The writer, T. S. Eliot, insisted that the most important element in writing is the “objective correlative” which evokes emotion by describing the objects in a setting in a way that the emotional state of the character seeing the scene is shown without telling the reader the motivation of the character.

To help teach the concept of the “objective correlative” to his students, a famous creative writing teacher, John Gardner, developed this exercise:

Write 250 words describing a bus stop from the point of view of a middle-age man who has just found out that his only son died. Don’t tell the reader what has happened. Instead, evoke emotion by describing the sights, sounds, odors, colors, and details that the man notices in his surroundings.

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Where in the World … ?

I, MrAndrew47 [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
I, MrAndrew47 [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

“What are men to rocks and mountains?” (Jane Austen)

Ms. Austen had a flair for creating believable men AND mountains. On the other hand, although I love characters and dialogue, the weakest link in my writing is my ability to describe settings—whether they’re mountains or mole hills. My imagination focuses on my characters and tends to blur around them. I have to work to add settings into my stories.

If your writing suffers from “setting deficiency,” here are four suggestions to create memorable settings that help me:

  1. Use Google Maps. It’s easier to describe something that actually exists. It helps to find locations on Google Maps that fit your setting. Get close enough to be in street view by pulling your desired location into the center of the map and clicking the “+” button until an actual picture of the street appears. When you are as close as possible, you can “drive” the very streets that you would like to describe, paying attention to interesting details. Since I like to outline my novels, I’ll take a screenshot of the scene I’d like to describe and paste it into my outline (by holding down “Shift” while pressing the “Prt Sc” key, then pasting the image into my outline document.) What if your setting doesn’t actually exist? Even fantasies and science fiction have familiar elements (like a government building or a castle) and those things do exist on this earth and can be seen by Google Maps. Then let your imagination create a few fantastical features.
  2. Find three elements of your setting to “point out” to the reader. In Jane Austen’s day, a description of a finely featured room, might take an entire page in a book. However, today’s readers don’t have that kind of patience. An author has to capture a setting in just a few sentences. It helps me to focus on only three critical characteristics of the setting, finding features that are significant to the plot. In your enthusiasm to add background, don’t overwhelm your reader with numerous unimportant details.
  3. Have your characters interact with the setting. You can slip in more than just three details about your location when your characters interact with the background.  Readers learn about a character’s surroundings when she sits on a bench, feels sand between her toes, or even steps in dog poop, and how she reacts with her setting helps us learn about a character’s personality. Don’t forget to use all your character’s senses, not just sight, as she lives in the world you create. The coolness of the marble bench, the salty taste of the ocean air, or the pungent stench on a shoe are integral to the whole description.
  4. Finally, when your story is finished and you are self-editing, make a separate editing pass, focusing only on setting. Make sure each scene is grounded in a location so that dialogue doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Then ask one of your beta readers to read do the same.

Spending time creating your setting is worth your time. Remember, if the picture in your head doesn’t make it onto paper, then it’s likely lost forever … which would be a pity, if the picture in your head is of majestic “rocks and mountains.”

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Gifts and Goals

By ProjectManhattan (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
By ProjectManhattan (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
In this season of gifts and goals, I’ve been considering how the two things should be related. It’s natural to look at them together; after all, we’ve spent the Christmas season focusing on gifts, and now, a few weeks later, we’re thinking about our goals for the year.

We all recognize that our talents, including our ability to write, are gifts from our Heavenly Father. Just like a gift we receive at Christmas, where the giver hopes that we use his gift, God hopes that we will use the gifts and talents he has given us. However, I believe that  God expects more from us than only using our talent to write. President Spencer W. Kimball said: “God has endowed us with talents and time, with latent abilities and with opportunities to use and develop them in his service. He therefore expects much of us, his privileged children” (The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 100).

Three small words, “in his service,” change everything in that quote and prompt me to ask myself a question: When was the last time that I used my talent for writing “in His service?”

Some of you writers are amazing—writing scripts for church productions and beautiful religious music—but I’ve never been given that opportunity. Sure, I’ve used my talent for accounting to help ANWA by serving as Treasurer, but I haven’t used my writing talent “in His service.”

So, I’m hoping that some of you will join me in one of my 2014 writing goals. My goal is to find ways to use my gift for writing to serve God at least once a month. Blogging, writing emails, writing letters, writing family history stories, etc. will all count. Perhaps you’ve thought of others?

Then, when we are using our talents “in His service,” our Heavenly Father will magnify those talents and make us “sharper pencils” in His hands.

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ANWA Conference

Have you registered for ANWA’s Writers Conference? It could change your life. The last few ANWA Conferences have changed mine. In honor of the upcoming learning opportunities, I thought I’d share a few of the classes I attended over the last few years that made such an impression on me.
I only remember one class from my first conference, Marsha Ward’s class on indie publishing. I wandered in there with no intention of being interested in the subject. I really was only there for Marsha. We’d never met, but I’d heard her name enough times over the weekend to be curious. Marsha’s enthusiasm for indie publishing caught my attention, even though I wasn’t interested in it for myself. Back then, I was querying my first novel, Master of Emotion. The process was new and exciting, and I wanted to go the traditional publishing route.
I must have learned more than I remember because I went home and revised my manuscript. The changes improved it and made me want to be published even more.
By the time my second ANWA Conference rolled around, I’d finished my second novel, Once Upon a Tour. I finished the novel about three weeks before conference—just in time to pitch! I learned so much pitching, especially about how hard it is to write a catchy, concise one-sentence summary. The whole process was challenging, but fun. Then, I was still in the proofreading stage with my novel when I sat in on Kelly Mortimer’s class on self-editing. I took her eight page handout home and used it to line-edit my manuscripts. By the time I finished, I had removed 5,000 unnecessary words from each novel. I was shocked and excited by the differences I could see in my writing.
When I finished my third novel, Supreme Chancellor of Stupidity, a few months later, I pulled out my editing handout from conference and cleaned up my manuscript before I had anyone else read it. Word’s Find and Replace commands became my new best friends.
You’d think that serving as ANWA’s Treasurer might have curtailed my class attendance at last year’s ANWA conference, and I’ll admit that I didn’t see every class I wanted. But two sessions helped me in my stage of writing. See, by then I had followed Marsha’s advice and dived into indie publishing, and a month before, I had self-published my first novel as an e-book. To publicize my writing and newly published book, I’d also started a blogspot blog. I was struggling with web issues and with the covers for my second and third novels when Conference jumped in to help. A class on cover design issues and another on online/website promotion answered my questions and inspired me to start a web page at www.dogdenhuff.com . My covers improved as well.
It shocks me how far I’ve come in four years and how critical the ANWA Conferences have been to my success. I now have three indie published novels, available in both e-book and paperback forms. I like my website, and I love my chapter meetings which are filled with funny, talented sisters. ANWA, and especially ANWA Conferences, have truly blessed my life.
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Some thoughts on Gratitude at Thanksgiving

File:Gluehbirne 2 db.jpgFrom Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
File:Gluehbirne 2 db.jpg
From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

In honor of Thanksgiving, I’m running an article I wrote a couple of years ago ….

I hope I just had an epiphany.

You know, one of those moments of crystal clear clarity when truths fall into place and change how you see and react with the world forever.

They haven’t happened very often, but when they have, they’ve changed the course of my existence:

As a teenager kneeling in prayer, sure that Heavenly Father knows me personally and cares what happens to me,

At 18, deciding that my mother was smarter than I’d ever realized,

Sitting in a movie theater, holding hands, suddenly ready to marry him for eternity,

Holding my first child, the sudden connection hitting me like a ton of bricks,

Reading a popular novel and realizing, I could do that—I could write a novel.

You see, recently I’ve had a moment of clarity when a truth becomes clearer. I just hope it changes how I react with the world for the rest of my life.

Here’s my truth—It is easy to be grateful for your blessings (although we sometimes still forget to express that gratitude). But there’s a power that comes from being grateful for your challenges that far surpasses the normal strength of gratitude.

Gratitude is a commandment. “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things” (Doctrine & Covenants 59:7.) But the Lord doesn’t differentiate between gratitude for our blessings and gratitude for our challenges. Both kinds of gratitude are expected of us.

My challenge that prompted my epiphany wasn’t nearly as difficult as a trial that Elder Robert D. Hales relates:

“… I had an experience that took me to the very edge of this mortal existence. As many of you know, I suffered a heart attack…. Throughout that experience, there is one particular feeling that began inside of me, almost immediately, that intensified as time went on and became overpowering during my illness, during my recovery, and remains with me still. I became overwhelmed with a feeling of deep gratitude for the goodness of God.” (Ensign, May 1992)

He goes on to explain the very lesson I’m learning by my own experience.

“In some quiet way, the expression and feelings of gratitude have a wonderful cleansing or healing nature…. Gratitude expressed to our Heavenly Father in prayer for what we have brings a calming peace—a peace which allows us to not canker our souls for what we don’t have. Gratitude brings a peace that helps us overcome the pain of adversity and failure. Gratitude on a daily basis means we express appreciation for what we have now without qualification for what we had in the past or desire in the future. A recognition of and appreciation for our gifts and talents which have been given also allows us to acknowledge the need for help and assistance from the gifts and talents possessed by others.” (Ensign, May 1992)

In 2011, my husband was laid off for eight months after 33 years of steady employment. In trying to help him keep an eternal perspective I latched on to gratitude as a means to keep our family from being discouraged. An attitude of gratitude brought a peace, assurance, and fun that I never expected. Looking back at the experience, I now understand what Heavenly Father had planned for us. I can see now that complaining and moaning about an experience that was really intended to be a blessing for us would have been petty.

How can we be grateful for our illness or suffering or pain? By remembering a few simple lessons:

First, blessings are often guarded by challenges. Sometimes you have to lose a job before Heavenly Father can provide a better opportunity.

Second, with every challenge comes heavenly help. Heavenly Father opens doors, guides decisions, and often puts people in our way to help us.

Third, with challenges come lessons learned. Unemployment teaches humility, patience, practicality and even brings epiphanies.

Fourth, if Heavenly Father will bring you to a challenge, he will bring you through that challenge. The challenge will end eventually.

So the truth is clearer—gratitude for our challenges gives us a power to overcome those challenges. But that inspiration won’t become an epiphany until it changes how I react with the world for the rest of my life—until I meet every challenge in the future with gratitude.

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Self-publishing Questions

A fellow ANWA member, Theresa Sneed, has recently decided to dive into indie publishing. She sent me a list of questions to interview me on her blog. Check out her adventure at http://theresasneed.com/. Here’s the interview:

1.  How many books do you have published, and are they all self-published? What are the titles and where can we purchase them? Please give link(s).

I’ve self-published all three of my completed novels:

Master of Emotion (Book 1 of my Young Adult Sci-Fi Romance series)

Supreme Chancellor of Stupidity (Book 2 of my Young Adult Sci-Fi Romance series)

Once Upon a Tour—An LDS Romance

All of my books are available as e-books and paperbacks on Amazon and as e-books on Smashwords. Here are the links:



2. How long have you been self-published?

Master of Emotion was published December, 2011, the other two in 2012.

3. Do you set goals or follow a schedule pertaining to writing, self-publishing, and marketing?

Well, when I self-published Master of Emotion, I intended to set goals and implement a marketing plan—but a very busy church job and a some other non-profit work got in the way. Since then, I’ve been able to self-publish my other two novels, first as e-books and then as paperbacks, but I’ve chosen to use any other free time I have available to write, rather than market my books. After all, writing is therapeutic and marketing is work. My goal now is to finish my Young Adult Sci-Fi Series and then market the whole series together.

4. If you’ve been self-published for a while, what changes have you seen in the self-publishing industry?

There are more resources and information available. Every day it gets easier.

5. If you’ve been traditionally published, what moved you to become self-published?

I haven’t been traditionally published, but a chapter meeting lesson on self-publishing convinced me to give it a try. I’ve never regretted that decision.

6. Simon and Shuster has jumped on the bandwagon with their self-publishing service called, Archways. Do you see self-publishing as the “wave of the future?”

Self-publishing is here to stay, but as more and more authors jump on the self-publishing bandwagon, the “supply” of books will go up. Laws of Economics dictate that when there is a high supply and demand doesn’t change, the price of books will be lower. Luckily, the profit margin to the self-published author is higher than to a traditionally published author so a lower price per book is acceptable. However, if the number of e-books continues to increase, it will make it more difficult to stand out in the crowd and get a share of the market.

Like the 1850’s Gold Rush, where the only people making money were the people selling stuff to the prospectors, in the 21st Century Book Rush, the only people making money may be a few authors who break-out from the crowd and those people selling products and services to the self-published authors. For the future, the only sure thing in publishing will be change.

7. Do you use a website and/or blog to market your book(s)? Please leave web addresses.

My website is www.dogdenhuff.com . Check it out!

8. What is your best tip for marketing self-published books?

I loved Lisa Mangum’s advice at the 2012 ANWA Writers Conference. She decided to do one marketing activity per week. That might include anything from blogging to facebooking to speaking. At the time, I thought I could do that—and I fully intend to. Once my life slows down.

9. Let’s talk money. How much more profitable has self-publishing been for you than traditional publishing? If you’ve never been traditionally published, have you found self-publishing to be worthwhile? Please give examples.

I didn’t self-publish for the money, so the few hundred dollars I’ve earned when someone has wandered over to one of my books is just icing on the cake. I never could have traditionally published during the last couple of years—I simply did not have the time. As a result, I wouldn’t have made any money at all. But now I’ve profited from my writing. How cool is that?

10. Do you support your family with your self-published earnings?

Heck, no. But I go on an occasional date with my husband with my self-published earnings. That’s cool too.

11. What has been the most difficult part of self-publishing for you?

Finding time for the work of marketing. Everything else is fun, not work.

12. What has been the most exciting or rewarding part of self-publishing for you?

I had no idea that self-publishing would be so much FUN. I’ve loved learning the process, seeing the results, getting feedback from readers. There’s nothing like reading my own words in a paperback novel. Friends actually believe I’m an author now.

13. There has been a stigma on self-published books making them seem of a lesser value than those traditionally published. Why do you believe this is so? With the advent of e-books and the saturation of easy-to-self-publish books, do you find this still to be true?

Back when self-publishing meant dumping a bunch of money into printing your books, there was a well-earned stigma that the authors that would do that were either naïve or arrogant.  But now that the quality of self-published books have gone up and the cost has gone down (to the point of being free) I think the table is turning. Traditionally published authors are looking at the high profit margins of self-published authors and getting a little jealous. In addition, it’s getting harder to tell the self-published book from a traditionally published book, and even more difficult with e-books. In the future, I think the stigma will be with unprofessionally edited books compared with professionally edited books. The successful self-published author will be one who is fanatical about the quality of his/her book.

14. What question have I not asked about self-publishing that you would like to pose and respond to?

Since you’re not self-publishing for the money, why do it?

1. To ensure my hard work isn’t wasted – What good does it accomplish having my novels sleeping in a folder on my computer?

2. To share with my friends and family – I want others to be able to read my novels now, not in three to five years.

3. To back up my documents – I don’t have to worry about losing my manuscripts if my computer crashes, my house burns down, or my two-year-old granddaughter helps me type.

4. To catch the wave (of self-publishing) – I didn’t want to be left watching others ride the wave to shore.

5.  To catch my mistakes – Reading from a paperback book makes it easier to see my errors, my misspellings, my repeated words that somehow don’t appear on my computer screen. I swear they weren’t there before!

6. To get real feedback from someone other than family and friends – Strangers will tell you the truth. You learn a lot from the truth.

7. To avoid sending queries and getting rejection letters – Self-publishing is my way of sending agents, editors, and publishing companies a rejection letter from ME. Feels good.

8. To learn tons – I have new mad editing skills, cover design skills, and website skills. I’m a self-publishing ninja.

9. To have FUN – I have giggled with glee repeatedly as I’ve self-published my novels. Writing is more fun when you can see the result.

10. To claim bragging rights – I’m a real author and have the books to prove it. Boo-Yah.

I’m having fun! Are you?

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Blog Hop Giveaway!!

Announcing the 2nd Annual LDS Authors Giveaway Hop Featuring Books Written by LDS Authors  Hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer & American Night Writers Association  October 8th to 15th
Announcing the 2nd Annual LDS Authors Giveaway Hop
Featuring Books Written by LDS Authors
Hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer & American Night Writers Association
October 8th to 15th


What is a blog hop?

A blog hop is a linky list that is SHARED ON MULTIPLE BLOGS.  When several blogs put the same linky list code on their blog, the exact same list appears on each blog. Blog visitors can submit their entries on any blog that contains the list.  The entries will appear on each blog where the list resides. Blog readers see the same list on each blog, and can “HOP” from blog to blog seeing the same list of links to follow: BLOG HOP!

My Giveaway, to one lucky winner, is a set of two books in my Too Sensitive Series:

Master of Emotion (Book 1) by D. Ogden Huff

Supreme Chancellor of Stupidity (Book 2 ) by D. Ogden Huff
a Rafflecopter giveaway


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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

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“What’s in it for ME?

I’ll admit it. I agreed to run for Treasurer of American Night Writers Association (ANWA – check us out at www.anwa-lds.com) two years ago because my friend, Faith St. Clair, asked for help. She was trying to accomplish the Herculean task of preparing ANWA for the future. I had a certain skill set as a tax accountant that ANWA and Faith needed. I knew the job would be a lot harder without my help.

That said, looking back, I’m surprised to see the many ways that serving in a leadership role in ANWA has benefitted ME. I’ve been blessed in many unforeseen ways. Maybe it seems selfish, but with the multitude of demands on our time and energy, it’s nice to realize some benefits to ME for volunteering my blood, sweat, and tears.

Maybe you are considering volunteering your time as an officer, director, or committee member in a non-profit organization. If so, you might be interested in “What’s in it for ME?”

Here’s my Top Ten list:

  1. Associating with truly amazing women – The talented women of the ANWA’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors would fit well in any corporate board room or Council meeting anywhere. Not only are they brilliant authors and amazing organizers, but their kindness and compassion is matched only by their sense of humor.
  2. Networking – I met, talked to and worked with agents, editors, famous authors who knew my name (Okay, maybe it was because I was writing their checks, but they still remembered me later.)
  3. Learning – I’ve learned new skills and relearned many more – My professional resume has greatly expanded as I’ve gained the knowledge and experience this job has required.
  4. Organizing – I like to have a say in how things are run. Every month my wish comes true.
  5. Paying – I wouldn’t have been able to go to ANWA’s Writers Conference in 2012 without my Executive Committee discount. My husband had been laid off and money was tight. I appreciated the chance to work the conference.
  6. Paying back – I repaid a debt to ANWA – Being a member of ANWA has taught me so much. My writing has improved dramatically. Now I feel like I’ve paid back a little of what I’ve received.
  7. Friendshipping – I learned the names of my ANWA sisters and then at meetings and conference I made friends. It’s not easy for me to make friends; I’m naturally introverted, so I appreciate being forced to get out of my box.
  8. Publicizing – More people know MY name – Name recognition and branding is important to an author. If the women I met remember me as an intelligent, capable woman, then my volunteer work has helped me.
  9. Laughing – I had FUN! – We laugh A LOT at our monthly Board of Directors meetings, and lack of sleep at Conference has made us downright giddy.
  10. Bragging Rights – Executive Treasurer and/or Board of Directors of American Night Writers Association looks good at the bottom of a query letter.

As long as you are serving through your volunteer work, isn’t it nice that you are blessed too?

I wouldn’t trade my experiences of the last two years for anything. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could say the same thing two years from now?

You can! Just volunteer.

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The Best Villains (An Oxymoron)


By Creator: Shane Briant ("Own work".) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Creator: Shane Briant (“Own work”.) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Have you ever watched a movie where the villain is more memorable than the hero? Look closely at your own antagonists and consider how they compare to the villains described in these famous quotes:

I like villains because there’s something so attractive about a committed person – they have a plan, an ideology, no matter how twisted. They’re motivated. — Russell Crowe

I definitely need to understand the villains I play. The best [villains] cause pain to anesthetize themselves against their own pain. — Ron Perlman

… usually villains don’t know that they’re evil. — Danny Huston

I think all villains have something in common: they have something that they need or want very, very badly. The stakes are very high and they are not bound by moral codes or being ethical, so they can do anything and will do anything to get what they want. — Donna Murphy

Both villains and heroes need to have a steadfast belief in themselves. — Jack Gleeson

I’d prefer to play the villain because there’s a reason, there’s a motive behind their madness. — Ryan Kwanten

My theory of characterization is basically this: Put some dirt on a hero, and put some sunshine on the villain, one brush stroke of beauty on the villain. — Justin Cronin

I believe the most intricate plot won’t matter much to readers if they don’t care about the characters …. So I try to focus hard on making each character, whether villain or hero, have an interesting flaw that readers can relate to. —  Jeff Abbott

I try to give both my heroes and villains an emotional dimensionality which provides the motivation for their actions. — Sidney Sheldon

Many writers make the mistake of trying to create villains who are stagnant. They are bad simply because they are evil. But a far more interesting villain is one who is faced with moral choices, who struggles with them, and does not always do what is evil. He sometimes shows mercy. He sometimes is benevolent. But in the end, when faced with his biggest challenge of all, he falls. In other words, your story should not start with a villain, but should grow a villain. – David Farland (Million Dollar Outlines)

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Prune Your Dialogue

By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
“Dialogue is like a rose bush – it often improves after pruning. I recommend you rewrite your dialogue until it is as brief as you can get it. This will mean making it quite unrealistically to the point. That is fine. Your readers don’t want realistic speech, they want talk which spins the story along.”  Nigel Watts

I challenge you to pull out a scene of dialogue and really look at it closely. Then cut it, cut it, and cut it again.

Try these three simple methods:

Remove the fluff and filler – Highlight the words that are critical to the plot or character. Keep the words that tie those critical words together and try to get rid of most of the rest.

Forget complete sentences – Few of us talk in complete sentences, so don’t expect your characters to do it. Try writing the dialogue without a complete sentence. Your dialogue will speed up and sound more natural.

Change the voice – Each of your characters should sound different. Some will be succinct, some verbose. Some will have a “young” vocabulary and others sound “old.”

Good luck pruning your dialogue. Don’t be afraid to chop too much. Unlike rose bushes, dialogue can grow back almost immediately.

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