OK, so I'm rarely in jeopardy, but I write woman-in-jeopardy novels—otherwise called "Modern Gothics"—and this is my blog. It will probably have lots of time between posts, but I'll try not to bore you. Welcome.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Romance With Other Elements




Below is the letter I'll be sending in a couple of months to the Board of the Romance Writers of America.

Please note: I'm a proud member of the RWA, and this letter should not be read as a criticism of their decision in 2012 to eliminate the NSRE category. They stated then that "It is not within RWA's mission to grant awards to books outside the romance genre", and the organization is entitled to its decisions.

But many of us write books that are WITHIN the romance genre, and I just think there's a better solution.

If you're an RWA memberor a member who left the RWA because of the elimination of the NSREand you'd like to add your name to mine on this proposal, please feel free to "sign" in the comments below, with "Member" or "Past Member" written after your name, and I'll be sure to include your "signature" when I send this letter. (If you write under a pen name, just "sign" with that. I'm keeping this informal and friendly).

Thanks.

* * * * *

Dear RWA Board Members:

RE: RITA® Awards Category Changes – A Proposal

Four years ago in Anaheim, when it was announced  that the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category was being eliminated from the RITA® and Golden Heart® Awards, I felt sad and disappointed—not only for myself but for the younger authors starting out whose stories, like my own, were never going to fit neatly into any other category.

The following year, I wrote to the Board proposing a possible compromise position, which they discussed and declined.

But because I’m stubborn, and because I still feel it’s important for our organization to include and embrace a diversity of voices, I’d like to present the same proposal to you now:

That the lost Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category be replaced by the category of Romance with Other Elements.

By our organization's own definition, every romance novel contains two basic elements: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending. We further divide our genre into subgenres: currently Contemporary Long, Contemporary Mid-Length, Contemporary Short, Erotic, Historical Long, Historical Short, Inspirational, Paranormal, Novella, Romantic Suspense, and Young Adult, with a RITA® Award category for each subgenre.

This arrangement works well for stories that keep within one single subgenre, but it leaves no easy place for books that cross subgenres or multiple subgenres, like Lauren Willig’s (contemporary/historical), Lynn Kurland’s (contemporary/historical/paranormal) and my own (contemporary/historical/paranormal/ romantic suspense). 

Those of us who write cross-subgenre romance are currently told to choose one of the subgenres we’ve crossed and enter our books in that category. And fair enough, in 2014, when I let my readers select which of the four possible subgenres my novel The Firebird should be entered in, it did win the RITA® for Paranormal Romance. But that was a one-off—even my readers were hotly divided on which category it belonged in, and in most cross-subgenre books, my own included, the balance between the subgenres doesn’t allow it to tip into any one category.

Imagine you’ve written a novel in which fifteen chapters out of thirty are set in the historical period, while the remaining fifteen are in the present day. Both threads of the story are equally weighted and equally strong, so you flip a coin (or poll your readers) to decide whether to enter it in the Historical or Contemporary Romance categories.

Historical Romance is currently for “novels that are set prior to 1950”. Contemporary Romance is for “novels that are set after 1950”. 

Your coin flip or reader poll comes up “Historical Romance”. 

Your novel begins in the present day, and stays there for a couple of chapters before switching to the past, then back again, and so on. 

Assuming the RITA® judges don’t dismiss you out of the gate as being in the wrong category because your book starts “after 1950”, entering your novel this way is a lot like entering my cockapoo in the Best Poodle category of a dog show. He’s fully half poodle, and has a lot of the same physical features as a poodle, but no reasonable, rule-abiding judge could ever declare him the best example of a poodle in that dog show. Nor should they. He’s not the Best Poodle. In dog shows, he’d only be judged against others like him—other crossbreeds.

The original wording of the Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category description (see below) actually stated, in fact, that it was for novels “not belonging in another category”, and I feel this is an important catch-basin for us to preserve.

By creating the category of Romance with Other Elements, we’d be keeping the place for these cross-subgenre books, as well as for longer, epic books that might contain two or more romances, and books that, although they contain the requisite central love story and the emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending, may not be shelved in the Romance section of a bookstore or have “Romance” written on their spine (something we all know is rarely within the author’s power to decide). 

The difference would be that, just as the word “Romance” would come first in the name of this new category, all the books entered in it would have to comply with our mission statement, and be judged first as romances. That means they would be scored and rated just like all the other books within the RITA competition.  And a book that did not contain the central love story and an HEA or HFN would be marked just the same as any other entry would, as “Not a Romance”, and disqualified.

I’m optimistic that, if this difference were to be explained and made clear to our authors and their publishers, we wouldn’t have the problem that I’m told we’ve had in past years, with books that don’t have a real love story within them being entered for the RITA®, wasting everybody’s resources and time.

Here, then, is how I would propose re-working the former category description and judging guidelines for Novel with Strong Romantic Elements into a new category of Romance with Other Elements.

The former description and guidelines were as follows:

Novel with Strong Romantic Elements
A work of fiction in which a romance plays a significant part in the story, but other themes or elements take the plot beyond the traditional romance boundaries.

Judging guidelines: Novels of any tone or style, set in any place or time are eligible for this category. A romance must be an integral part of the plot or subplot, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.


This is how I’d personally alter that wording, to create the new category. The text in red shows altered/inserted words or phrases, with footnotes below to explain each change:

Since the awards categories now all share this common header: “All entries must contain a central love story and the resolution of the romance must be emotionally satisfying and optimistic”, there’s no need to include that in the individual guidelines anymore.

Romance with Other Elements
Novels1 A work of fiction not belonging in another category2 in which a romance plays a significant part in the story, but other themes or elements may take the plot beyond the traditional romance boundaries. also be significantly developed. 3


1 Novels: Changed to conform to the current wording of other category descriptions.
2 Not belonging in another category: This was in the original description of the former category, and I believe it is also an important filter.
3 In which other themes or stories may also be significantly developed: Again, this is a return to the original wording  of the category description.


So then, assuming all those changes are made, the new category description and judging guidelines would read as follows:

Romance with Other Elements
Novels not belonging in another category in which other themes or elements may also be significantly developed.

By putting the romance first, both in name and in eligibility requirements, I feel these changes would allow us to restore an important and much-loved category by bringing it firmly in line with our mission.

I’d like to respectfully submit this for your consideration and, hopefully, discussion at your upcoming Board of Directors meeting in San Diego.

Thank you for your time, and for your work on behalf of myself and all RWA members.

Sincerely,

Susanna Kearsley

(The original wording of the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category introduced in 2004 was: "A work of fiction not belonging in another category that contains a strong romantic element, such that one or more romances contained in the story form an integral part of the story's structure, but in which other themes or stories may also be significantly developed.")

62 comments:

  1. I'm willing to sign. I write straight (in both senses of the term!) contemporary, but I have friends who write less easily classifiable books that are romance at their heart.

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  2. I'm in. I'm unpublished but like you, I write contemporary/paranormal/historical/romantic suspense and frequently use you as an example in my query letters. I've even had a very nice agent come back to me in her rejection to ask for further clarification on genre (she said, "it also has heavy fantasy elements"). Oy.
    So a category that would better encompass the crossover novels that still have a core/central love story would make me really happy and I believe, serve those who's writing is a mixture of genres.
    Thank you for your persistence. Crossing my fingers and wishing you good luck!

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  3. Almost all the books I enjoy most would fit into this category. Occasionally, something comes along that is straight contemporary or straight romantic suspense, but most meld elements of various subgenres. I am a member of RWA, though I've been waffling considerably on whether or not to remain one as "gentler" romance gets shoved out in favor of its sexier counterparts. I think this would be a way to encourage a wider variety of voices, which would be lovey.

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  4. As someone whose work rarely fits neatly in one category (and who has, in fact, written a novel exactly as you describe: Half takes place in the past, half takes place in the future, both halves are equally important and balanced, and also has strong paranormal elements), and also as an RWA member, I'd like to cosign this proposal with you. :)

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  5. As a reader, I say thumbs up! I adore cross-genre books, and many of my favorite novels are NWRE (or ROE!). I was sad when so many books I loved got cut out of the RITAs, but mostly I was disappointed that the rules of the competition seem now to suggest that sticking to one sub-genre is really "best." I don't think RWA should project that message to its authors.

    So while I can't sign your petition, thank you!

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  6. I'm in as well. I'm a rebooted RWA member, rejoining after they lost some of the unconscionable stances they took on various items in the past. My stuff is often crossover (I'm currently working on a Christian time travel series for my small press) and I've no idea where it might fit. The "romance with other" is a good fit for mine and also for the Kearsley novels I love.

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  7. I think this is a great idea, Susanna. I too lost my category when they eliminated NSRE. Saying it "could" fit into contemporary doesn't quite work for me. Thank you! Very well said.

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  8. While I've published in both historical and contemporary, I'm not certain what I'm writing is either. And at the very least--and absent any personal investment--I believe the genre should have room for romance with other elements. Please do add my name.

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  9. Yes please--completely on board with this!

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  10. I'm in. I'm a PRO member and also a member of the FF&P community within RWA. This category is much needed for those of us that can't color within the lines ;)

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  11. Thank you so much for this, Susanna! My books definitely cross all sorts of genre lines and they are doing that more and more as I go along (and I want them to without losing the soul and structure of Romance). Also, given that Contemporary Romance comes with such a preconceived notion of what it should be, any story that is culturally or socially wider has a very high chance of being overlooked at the RITAs because it does not match up to the internalized category rules in reader's minds. With a wider category, among other things, RWA will give culturally and socially more diverse story canvases a chance and from all I've seen recently, I believe that is something the RWA is committed to doing. So, definitely, I'm all in here.

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  12. As a writer who writes what I consider romantic women's fiction, and a reader who's always loved books that blend genres, thank you for this letter, Susanna. I'm a current RWA Pro member, and I think the category you propose, Romance with Other Elements, would go a long way toward bringing back a lot of the members who left after the changes of a couple of years ago. Here's my "signature" for the list!

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  13. I agree completely! My novel straddles the line between Contemporary Romance and Women's Fiction in a way that isn't necessarily one or the other. It's being sold as WF, but it's very much a romance with an HEA, and without the romance, there wouldn't be much of a story! I'm an active member of RWA and serve on the board of my local San Diego chapter. I love this organization and I'd love to support this change! Thank you!

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  14. Wonderful! Count me in. I write contemporary women's fiction with strong romantic elements, so this would be a perfect fit. I'm on the verge of allowing my membership in RWA to lapse for this very reason. I'll wait to see what happens. THANK YOU!

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  15. Thanks for posting. This is a great idea! I'm a current RWA member and serve on the board of my chapter, and knowing I can't even enter my own organization's contest is disappointing to say the least.

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  16. There's so much benefit to recognizing more great books and authors, including those that aren't easily categorized. I'm an RWA member, contemporary romance author and 2016 Rita finalist, and I support this idea too.

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  17. There's so much benefit to recognizing more great books and authors, including those that aren't easily categorized. I'm an RWA member, contemporary romance author and 2016 Rita finalist, and I support this idea too.

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  18. I write what I consider contemporary romance but my books do encompass other elements that are significantly developed with a HEA ending. I think this category is something that should be considered.

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  19. Well said I whole-heartedly support your proposal

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  20. Absolutely on board with this. Two of my manuscripts won in the Strong Romantic Elements category in several contests back when they were unpublished. I'm a PAN member of RWA (since 2014, when I joined), and one of my books just finaled in Mainstream with Strong Romantic Elements in one of the chapter contests that still uses this category. It would be wonderful to have the backing of RWA for those of us who color outside the lines.

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  21. Cheering and waving my pom-poms.... Hear, hear! I'm happy to sign, cheerlead, or whatever else I can do. Retaining a wide variety of stories, romances told however they need to be told, is crucial to the health of the genre-- because what happens when you tell self-identifying romance writers that they aren't writing romance after all? You alienate your membership and lose that talent to other genres. Romance thrives when the tent is at its broadest. (I'll get off my soapbox now.) I'm a member and a RITA winner and I strongly endorse this proposal. Also, Susanna, you rock. Just sayin'.

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  22. Yes to all of this. Please add my name to the petition. I've been a RWA member for the past 10 years, but will not be renewing this year. My category was NSRE, and since it's been eliminated, I've found there to be very little place for me in this organization and so it's time for me to go. This makes me sad because I've loved being a member of RWA and spent five years serving on the board of two of its chapters.

    Sincerely,

    Annette Gallant

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  23. Sign me up. I'm an RWA-Pro member, but write romantic women's fiction. I'm also a member of WFWA. Holly Furney

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  24. Add my name to the list! I'm an unpublished PRO member and sincerely hope you are successful with this. I felt somewhat disenfranchised when that occurred in 2012, but I stayed in RWA. I enter RWA contests as a contemporary, but only because NSRE is no longer available. Romance with Other Elements is a perfect solution!

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  25. My paranormal with inspirational and contemporary elements won the Golden Heart last year for paranormal, but it was an uneasy fit at best. Add me to your petition!

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  26. My paranormal with inspirational and contemporary elements won the Golden Heart last year for paranormal, but it was an uneasy fit at best. Add me to your petition!

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  27. Cross-genre writer and RWA member here! I'm published in romance but also write novels that would fit perfectly in your proposed category. I know plenty of RWA members, some from my affiliate chapter (MCRW) who felt disenfranchised and unwelcome once RWA eliminated this category. Adding 'Romance with Other Elements' would benefit RWA national, affiliate chapters, and the parent genre as a whole by promoting inclusion and making writers of romance in ALL categories feel more welcome. Add my name, please!

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  28. I love this idea! My novels are typically fantasy/romance hybrids. The wording "other themes or elements may also be significantly developed" describes my writing perfectly. There's an even balance to the two that makes it tough to classify. If I were lucky enough to be nominated for a RITA in the coming years, I'm not sure they'd fit in the current categories.

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  29. Please add me to the list! My most recent books most closely resemble suspense with romantic elements, but I've written cross-genre before, especially historical hybrids. I think labels are death to creativity and innovation.

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  30. Please add my name in support. I write stories that do not neatly fit within the traditional categories. PRO RWA Member, Shantele Summa-Martin

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  31. Add my name to this list. I am an RWA and YARWA member and enjoy reading books that are romance with additional elements.

    Stephanie Scott

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  32. Alyson McLayne - PRO RWA Member. I agree completely.

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  33. Yes! I agree, too! I'm a RWA PRO member.

    Sydney Carroll

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  34. I agree too! I'm an RWA PRO member. - Kelly Hartog

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  35. PRO member and have judged GH several times (including the NSSRE category twice) and the RITA's once and know that many books don't fit just one category. Would love to see this category as an option.

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  36. Count me in. My writing is too romance for some and too women's fiction for others. I've placed in several RWA NSRE contests. As a reader, most of the books I fall in love with have several category elements woven in their story. Kerry Ann Morgan - RWA PRO member

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  37. Glad to see someone of your writing stature tackling this. I am still RWA pro, self publishing a series this year, and know of quite a few former members who have quit over this issue. Cross genre seems to be the wave of the future, and really, the present. RWA is not the only entity stuck in the traditions of the past. The industry has to keep up.

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  38. Count me in! I left RWA over the NSRE issue a few years back. I've rejoined, and I'm a finalist in this year's Golden Heart--in the long contemporary category, but this--and my 2010 GH finalist-ms (in the NSRE category)--is much more romance with other elements.

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  39. Hats off to you, Susanna. Beautifully and succinctly put! I joined RWA in 2011, prior to my romantic Women's Fiction debut. The "Elements" category had given me confidence that perhaps there was a genre where my books belonged, as I never felt comfortable calling them straight-up Romance. I would love to see it come back in the form you are suggesting. Please add me to the list of supporters of Novels with Other Elements!

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  40. RWA needs this category! I'm currently published only in historical romance (and a 2014 RITA finalist) but I have stories waiting that might not neatly fit the other categories, and good friends whose novels aren't currently a good fit for the others, as well.

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  41. I am in favor of this proposed new category! Thank you, Susanna, for articulating all of this so clearly and logically.

    --Amara Royce (RWA PAN member)

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  42. This makes complete sense to me, I certainly wouldn't want your books to fit into just one category, the way you write them is so intense and draws a reader right into the story!

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  43. This makes complete sense to me, I certainly wouldn't want your books to fit into just one category, the way you write them is so intense and draws a reader right into the story!

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  44. Add my name to the letter. I write historical romance/women's fiction hybrid, and resigned myself to never entering the RITA due to NWRE being sliced from the categories.

    Member

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    Replies
    1. I so agree with this petition. Please add my name as a current (and long-time) RWA member. Losing this category really drove out some excellent authors from our association.
      Louise Bergin Member

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  45. Please add my name: Brenda Margriet, Member

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  46. I agree with this petition. We want to encourage writers and inspire creativity, not try to discourage it.

    Cynthia Drews Cinnamon, former/future member RWA

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  47. Add me to the list! I was sad to see many wonderful members leave RWA because of this. The new wording will be much more inclusive. Emily Shaw - current member

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  48. Please add my name name to the petition. I love novels that cross genres. Romance with other elements will be a great addition to the categories.

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  49. You've got my vote, Susanna. I am a traditionally published author who is proud to cross genre lines. I've considered joining RWA before, but didn't because my work doesn't fit neatly into a romance box.
    Thank you for being the voice for many.
    Dee Willson
    Author of A Keeper's Truth and GOT

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  50. Darynda Jones (Past Member)

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  51. Melodie Campbell (Past Member)
    Please add my name to the petition, Susanna. I am traditionally published, and I left RWA last year because I no longer fit the categories.

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  52. Please add my name. I am a Member. Jeanne B. Magill

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  53. Please add my name. I am a RWA member - Julie Nieves

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  54. Please add me to your list and thank you. My novel BOUNCE won the 2014 NJ chapter Golden Leaf for Novel with Strong Romantic Elements. It upsets me that this category was eliminated. K.M. Jackson: Current Member

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  55. Thank you Susanna for leading the charge! In this commemt I endorse and support your letter as an author and RWA member. I write novels that are Gothic Mysteries with a strong romamce subplot. Like all of us who have commented, we enjoy writing and reading each other's stories that don't fit neatly into one category. Thank you!

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  56. Thank you Susanna for leading the charge! In this commemt I endorse and support your letter as an author and RWA member. I write novels that are Gothic Mysteries with a strong romamce subplot. Like all of us who have commented, we enjoy writing and reading each other's stories that don't fit neatly into one category. Thank you!

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  57. Please add my name. I am an RWA member. Thank you! - Brenda Lowder

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  58. Yes please! Put my name on the petition as a current RWA member.

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  59. Current RWA member - please add my name: Elle Keen
    Wonderful idea!

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  60. Yes - please add my name. I'm a current RWA member.

    Sheila Athens

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  61. Thank you so much, everyone. The letter has been sent to the Board for their consideration at the upcoming July 10 & 11 meeting in San Diego.

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