YA, MG, Seriously discussion

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message 1: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
And, of course, we need a forum where we can talk about our writing of this literature. Tell us what you are doing.


message 2: by Shelley (new)

Shelley Muniz (shelleymuniz) | 21 comments I am working on a young adult cross over novel. Fun! First attempt at this genre!


message 3: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
When you wake up in the morning and can't wait to get back to your story, to return to your world...that's the best.


message 4: by Shelley (new)

Shelley Muniz (shelleymuniz) | 21 comments Yes! I keep a notepad beside the bed because sometimes they wake me up at night!


message 5: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
I hope no one minds me mentioning that Oregon State University Press is sponsoring a giveaway of my new book Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and other New Ways of Engaging the World this January 24-February 7. Just click on the link to the book to sign up. Also, I am doing a QA on citizen science and on the writing life and everything in between on February 3. To join that, search for Conversation with Sharman Apt Russell. Virtual cookies and tea. This is my other life as a nature writer. I do know of some young adults who have read and enjoyed this book but mainly because they were already interested in beetles and citizen science. The protagonist in this nonfiction account is clearly me, a middle-aged woman seeking meaning and transformation in the natural world, and I think that's pretty clearly not children's literature. At the same time, I am reading in manuscript form a middle-grade book novel about species extinction--which succeeds pretty well. So I know that nature writing and children's literature can be done. Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World


message 6: by Julia (new)

Julia Flaherty | 14 comments I am working on a middle grade novel about very, very small people (like 3 inches high) that I call the Winkles. They are of the same ilk as The Borrowers, or The Littles, but less stuffy and British than the Borrowers and better written (imho) than The Littles. They are non-magical, with the exception that they can talk to animals. This however, they would regard as more of a talent than an actual magical ability.


message 7: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
I think it's great to build on a concept like the Borrowers, to continue that world. Fun for readers and writers, too.


message 8: by Tyler (new)

Tyler (connoley) | 4 comments When I was eight, I used to spend inordinate amounts of time imagining what our house would be like to me if I were two inches tall. How would I navigate the living room? How could I repurpose everyday objects? What would the cave under the couch look like?

When I found The Borrowers, I was so happy to know that someone else was doing this too. It's an idea that's rich with possibility. The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Tale of Despereaux, Ant Man, and the Incredible Shrinking Woman, in addition to the books you mentioned, all demonstrate our unquenchable need for these kinds of stories.


message 9: by Julia (new)

Julia Flaherty | 14 comments Tyler, I did the same thing when I was a kid! In particular, I used to imagine how a tiny person would navigate the bathroom. I really enjoyed the idea of being able to swim in the sink, and thinking about how big the bubbles in a bubble bath would be. It's nice to know that I wasn't the only one!


message 10: by Shelley (new)

Shelley Muniz (shelleymuniz) | 21 comments I did as well. I can't count the number of times I checked the Borrowers out from my local library.


message 11: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
I loved the Borrowers. But my interest in two-inch-tall people didn't predate them! How interesting, Tyler and Julia, that you were ahead of your time--at least in terms of children's books. I think the Borrowers were also so satisfying because they scavenged. Turning paper clips and safety pins into something useful. I have a kind of Paleolithic filter and I think in terms of us as hunters and gatherers--finding all this cool stuff in the world...


message 12: by Julia (new)

Julia Flaherty | 14 comments They definitely do some scavenging and repurposing of common household items. My main character, for example, sleeps on a bed crafted from a set of wooden spools of thread. I enjoy those details too!

However, the more I write, the more I find the animals in the story developing into larger and larger roles. For some reason, the voice of a raccoon or a chicken or a gerbil comes in more clearly than my main character does sometimes. As a consequence, the animals feature much more in my book than they every did in my imagination as a child. I don't really understand how it turned out that way, but I'm going with it!


message 13: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
That's great--the voice of a raccoon or a chicken or a gerbil comes in more clearly....the life of the writer listening to that static-y radio of the unconscious!


message 14: by Janelle (new)

Janelle Anderson (Pikareader) | 13 comments I am working on a middle grade fantasy story about a talking snake clan. It can actually be read as a stand alone story or a sequel since my first story was about a talking feline clan that lives not too far from the snake clan and they all have elemental powers. I am sooo excited to finish.


message 15: by Julia (new)

Julia Flaherty | 14 comments Because of my own experience writing about animals in children's stories, I have been wondering what it is about animals in children's literature. Animals are regularly anthropomorphized in children's literature, where they seem to fit easily and naturally. For example, in children's literature, two characters walking through the snow are just as likely to be a mouse and his father as they are a human child and his father. Why is that? What does it help the author accomplish?


message 16: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
I think that is such a fruitful and interesting question. One immediate and personal response is that I felt quite close to animals as a child. They felt like people, too. And then, of course, the world we live in says this isn't true and so I stopped feeling that way. To return to a world where animals are like people is to return to being that child again. It is an entrance into childhood.


message 17: by Brian (new)

Brian Kindall | 3 comments Julia, when I was kid I read all of these naturalistic novels about animals. They were not intentionally anthropomorphized, but of course it's impossible for an author not to let a little bit of that into the story. Instead they were told as objectively as possible, as if they were just close observations of animals living out their lives in the wild. My favorites were - Biography of a Grizzly, Odyssey of an Otter, and Yellow Eyes, about a cougar. The animals were the characters, and they endured all the imaginable hardships - hunger, poachers, fights with other animals. They were intensely exciting to me at the time. I remember my pulse racing when Yellow Eyes hunts an elk in the moonlight. Good stuff! I just published a middle-grade novel a few months ago about a young girl raised by a herd of ibex in the high Alps. It's called BLUE SKY. It is far from naturalistic, and yet there are still things in the mountain world of the story that are natural and hard. I think animals offer us a link to that world of nature, even if they're fanciful. We inevitably personify the characters so we can relate to them. We like animal stories with talking animals living lives somewhat like our own because it connects to a more pure state of nature. At least that's how I feel about it myself.


message 18: by Silvio111 (new)

Silvio111 I suppose the animal story I first loved was The Wind in the Willows. I think animals supply immediate individual personalities: think of Mole (shy), Ratty (Competent), Badger (the Patriarch), Otter (kind of a surfer dude...), the singing mice who visit Mole's home, and so many more.
Conversely, animals are beyond society's rules; they are natural, elemental, and uncomplicated. And of course, they mostly have fur.


message 19: by Sharman (last edited Feb 04, 2015 02:56PM) (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
Yes, I use this rather long quote by C. S. Lewis in my writing children's literature class. It's the last part that relates to this post, but I'll include the entire thing...

"According to Tolkien the appeal of the fairy story lies in the fact that man there most fully exercises his function as a subcreator; not as they love to say now, making a comment upon life, but making, so far as possible, a subordinate world of his own. Since in Tolkien’s view, this is one of man’s proper functions, delight naturally arises whenever it is successfully performed. For Jung, fairy tale liberates the archetypes which dwell in the collective unconscious and when we read a good fairy tale we are obeying the precept, “Know thyself.” I would venture to add to this my own theory, not indeed of the kind as a whole, but of one feature in it. I mean the presence of beings other than human which yet behave, in varying degrees, humanly—the giants and dwarfs and talking beasts. I believe these to be at least (for they may have many other sources of power and beauty) an admirable hieroglyphic which conveys psychology, types of character, more briefly than novelistic presentation and to readers whom novelistic presentation could not yet reach. Consider Mr. Badger in the Wind in the Willows—that extraordinary amalgam of high rank, coarse manners, gruffness, shyness, and goodness. The child who has once met Mr. Badger had ever afterwards in his bones a knowledge of humanity and of English social history which he could not get in any other way.”


message 20: by Julia (new)

Julia Flaherty | 14 comments So, is Lewis saying that we anthropomorphize animals as a means of conveying character succinctly to children? Especially young children who do not have the ability to tackle a long novel employing more conventional (more sophisticated) character development? Sort of character shorthand? Interesting. I think he may well be right about that, but I cannot help but think there's more to it than that.

In addition to serving as a character shorthand, I think employing animals lifts the character out of the context of human society so that the author can more sharply focus on a simpler theme rather than having to contend with all the complexities of our real social world. Imagine, for example, the tale of The Country Mouse And The City Mouse. Then imagine Jane Austen tackling the same story with human characters.


message 21: by Silvio111 (new)

Silvio111 I think it is more than shorthand. I think it is a shortcut to the emotions, because children automatically feel affectionate toward furry creatures, etc. (Am I making an unwarranted assumption here?)

I remember learning years ago (while in graduate school getting my teaching degree) that the main character of a children's book needs to someone the child is willing to spend time with for the duration of the book. (Actually, that is true of me as an adult reader also; probably the reason I never read John Updike's books: his characters give me a stomach ache... but I digress.)

So by making the characters furry animals, the author has immediately activated an intuitive response from readers. I am sure that Mr. Tolkien said it better; I am just agreeing with him.


message 22: by Julia (new)

Julia Flaherty | 14 comments I agree; the response to an animal character does have intuitive components. However, the response isn't always a feeling of connection/affection between the reader and the character. The villain can also be an animal, like the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood.


message 23: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
And I'll add to this interesting discussion that I have animal characters in my books for children (middle grade and young adult) also because they add the power or grace or beauty or unique quality of that animal. There's a were-jaguar in my upcoming YA fabulist novel Teresa of the New World and in writing about him I get to enter into that animal's world of scent and lithe movement and predatory precision. There is a Spanish war horse, too, who also brings these qualities of endurance and speed and loyalty. I enjoy this enlargement or transcendence of my human self as a writer--and as a reader, too, I think.


message 24: by Silvio111 (new)

Silvio111 Julia wrote: "I agree; the response to an animal character does have intuitive components. However, the response isn't always a feeling of connection/affection between the reader and the character. The villain..."

Well actually, the intuitive response to a villain animal character is also very efficient. In a way, animal characters fulfill a role similar to a music soundtrack in a movie; it is immediate and complete in an emotional, intuitive mode.

And just as a good soundtrack should not draw attention to itself (it should just zap you into the right emotion) so, an amimal character should transport the reader into the feeling of that character.


message 25: by Brian (new)

Brian Kindall | 3 comments I wonder if the intuitive response to animals is archetypical for the reader, especially a young reader. Maybe this goes back to the shorthand idea. Of course it's all relative to the story and how it's presented, but surely some animals have traits that some cultures might see as good or evil, or representative of certain other characteristics. For example - a fox is sly, a rat is despicable, a horse is valiant, and etcetera. I'm sure there are plenty of stories where these generalizations are wrong, but it seems that if you want to have an animal hero in a story in our culture, you would probably choose from a certain set of animals. You probably wouldn't choose a darling little mouse for a villain in your book, but it might be a great challenge to try it.


message 26: by Silvio111 (new)

Silvio111 I have sometimes compared my revulsion toward (real) rodents with my love of certain of them in children's literature and have concluded that the dissonance between the two is a sad reminder of how adults lose their child-like innocence much too soon.

I first noticed this while reading about the life of Beatrix Potter and how she brought all sorts of wild creatures into her room in the house and made pets of them. (It must have been one of those English households where the parents don't go in their children's bedrooms, leaving that to the maid, I suppose. I know in my house, my mother would have figured it out pretty quickly and given them all the boot.)


message 27: by Julia (new)

Julia Flaherty | 14 comments Animals in children's literature do very often conform to archetypes. The best ones, however, challenge those notions. Take the rat, Templeton, from Charlotte's Web or all the rats from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Templeton is selfish and greedy, as we would expect a rat to be, but Charlotte has the ability to prevail upon his better nature to get him to help Wilbur, so he's not just flatly the bad guy. The rats of NIMH are a mixture of heroes and villains, but overall, they are the good guys who demonstrate plenty of wisdom and bravery in their efforts to help Mrs. Frisby out.

Perhaps these examples are so memorable because they each show readers that we are not trapped by our innate natures. We can be brave if we choose, generous if we choose, etc., even when our instinct is to run away danger and hoard all our stuff.


message 28: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
These are such good ideas.

Someone in my graduate writing class also mentioned that animal characters can also bypass race, culture, and nationality--and probably skip over other human concerns the author doesn't find pertinent or want to deal with.

For some stories, I have to go back to my own longing to be an animal, to enter into some secret and desirable nonhuman world.


message 29: by Silvio111 (new)

Silvio111 And "longing to be an animal and enter into some secret and desirable nonhuman world" can be very liberating. Like being an actor, or like wearing a mask on Halloween. The normal rules are suspended and others' expectations of us no longer apply.


message 30: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
Absolutely. And we can jump higher! Or fly.


message 31: by Janelle (new)

Janelle Anderson (Pikareader) | 13 comments Well, for me animals as main characters in my stories as well as those I read provide me with that childlike feeling of innocence and the belief in limitless possibilities. If an animal can talk and interact like a human than a story can be made about almost anything. Watching the Lion King and Redwall as a kid and reading stories like Harry Potter and even Pokemon really brought my imagination to life and made me want to create my own characters. Oh and let's not forget about Spongebob Squarepants, he's a sponge and kids love him to death. I just feel animals or any character in general can provide a connection to children that mirrors their curious minds and desire to learn more about their worlds.


message 32: by Silvio111 (new)

Silvio111 I was just thinking about gender issues and how an animal character can transcend the societal gender expectations. Then it occurred to me that there are no "female" animal characters in THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS. (Okay, there is the woman who helps him escape prison, but really, that's about it.)

I find it interesting that this classic animal story was written by an early 20th Century Scot who was not allowed to attend Oxford, but instead was made to work in a bank. After living this conventional life with his wife and son, he finally left it to lead somewhat of a fantasy life, and wrote an extraordinarily beautiful bucolic animal story populated with all male creatures.

Most of my life I have treasured THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS as a truly profound homage to nature and its inhabitants. I always pictured the author as a wise sort of person (perhaps Badger?) It was disconcerting for me to read about his life and discover that he was probably trying to rewrite the unfortunate path of his son (who seems to have been the prototype for Toad!)

In our world, where until very recently, "mankind" and "humanity," purportedly referring to everyone, was in practice really just men. And an animal creature, unless the illustrator goes out of their way to show gender, is really just more men.

Since children don't consciously analyse all this, yet do subconsciously and automatically apply the stereotypes they are taught, I think it is interesting to consider how children perceive (or if they do at all) the gender of animal characters. I have vivid memories of years I spent as a camp counselor with very short hair; a child would often look me right in the eye and ask, "Are you a girl?" ( I was and am.) I had to learn not to respond with annoyance, and instead consider that this child's experiences of females must have been limited to those with longish hair. (This was in the suburbs in the 1980s; no doubt children are more savvy now.)

And Janelle, I liked your point about a child's imagination -- Spongebob is such a good example.


message 33: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
Yes. Sigh. Gender issues and some of our beloved classics. I also believe that when people said (or continue to say) mankind they really do mean men. Language reveals. As someone who has taught grammar a long time now, I am just calmly silent when a few students tell me otherwise, when they insist that he can stand for she.


message 34: by Silvio111 (new)

Silvio111 "Calmly silent..."
You have more patience than I do!
However, consider this hopeful sign: remember when people uniformly smirked when one referred to a female associate as "Ms. [Somebody]?" Now it is pretty much adopted by most.
And now all the news media are learning to refer to a transperson as their preferred gender. (Once Chas Bono went on Dancing with the Stars, it was all downhill from there.)

But you are right; we must conserve our energy and pick our (grammar and other) battles.


message 35: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
Well, I think I am calmly silent because I just know they are wrong and bumbling around like dinosaurs. Poor dears. So it's more of a condescending silence than a Zen one!


message 36: by Peter (last edited Feb 17, 2015 01:25PM) (new)

Peter Riva (goodreadscompeter_riva) | 10 comments I have to say there's a difference between causing offense and accurately reporting. I have a copy of the 1953 Encyclopedia Britannica - all references in there to women always use status/gender/approbation/approval terms - lady, woman, female, mother, virgin, girl, young lady, and on. In time context, I find none of these offensive or awkward. In other words, they don't concern me at all. On the other hand, when a TV presenter or an author refers to a MILF or a Cougar... well, that's a whole different issue. My question is this: in 50 years time, will we think nothing of those terms, in much the same way as "bitch" has so little impact now compared to the '50s?


message 37: by Silvio111 (last edited Feb 17, 2015 02:09PM) (new)

Silvio111 Peter,

Whoa! Can of worms alert!
Let's take "virgin" first. Isn't it interesting (at least from my female point of view) that "virgin" used in regard to a young woman carries of the baggage of an obligation of the young woman to preserve that state or else she has transgressed. On the other hand, "virgin" applied to a young man (in our society) means he lacks the experience that will qualify him as a man. Truly a double standard.

As for "MILF," that is just vulgar and offensive, and I won't be around in 50 years (unless I live to be 113), but I imagine the concept will still be offensive then (at least to women and sensitive souls like yourself.)

As for "Cougar," somehow that almost seems complimentary, considering how older women are devalued in our society, so a term that praises her for being sexy, I suppose, is something of an improvement, although not quite evolved.

I once got held up at an ATM; I refused to give the guy my wallet until he snarled at me, "Just give me the wallet, BITCH!" It sounded so threatening. So the word (or perhaps it was the gun) still has a certain amount of impact.


message 38: by Mark (new)

Mark | 5 comments Peter, I think you might be a little glib to comment that words that were offensive in the '50s are not so ill-regarded today. I'm sure there are many females today who find those terms you listed as offensive. They hold both historical and cultural implications that are rooted in systems of power that have (and do still) oppress females and limit the boundaries within which society dictates they must live. I'm not one to speak to the implications those words have on female identities (as a man), but I imagine if we asked a wide variety of females what implications those words hold, many of them would still be rather harmful.

As far as how we will come to value gendered terms in 50 years time, my only comment is that that representation of those words and its impact should be left to the individuals to whom they are applied. Much of the feminism movement of the 1980s focused on reclaiming power for females by females to take back the language they had been passively subjected to throughout history. Perhaps most famously, the word cunt was reclaimed and reinvented as a position of power for many females. This is to say that should terms like MILF or cougar be reappropriated to be less offensive or hold a different stigma, that decision and shift in representation should be left in the hands of the individuals to whom they are applied (i.e., females (and I should also note that I use females here in the most broad sense; white females, black females, all ages of females, all sexual orientations of females, transgendered and cis females, etc.).


message 39: by Sharman (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
Yes, individual words are more complex than grammar issues. And we are not a homogeneous society, not in age or race or culture. Words have different connotations to different groups. As a writer, I guess I can only try and be conscious about the words I am using and conscious about my audience, too. And yikes, I need to listen to more media than NPR radio? I don't know what MILF stands for...I guess I'd just stare blankly and sweetly at whomever calls me that.


message 40: by Peter (new)

Peter Riva (goodreadscompeter_riva) | 10 comments I certainly did not mean to be glib. My point was that I read those words in context of the times - all the time being aware that they are, in hindsight proper evaluation, to be considered contextually and carefully. The pitfalls are many and I welcome any illumination going forward as I can get!


message 41: by Merritt (new)

Merritt Helfferich | 5 comments Peter wrote: "I have to say there's a difference between causing offense and accurately reporting. I have a copy of the 1953 Encyclopedia Britannica - all references in there to women always use status/gender/ap..."
Peter, I still regard "Bitch" as offensive and probably because of living in the 50s and because of its reference to dogs. Valuing human beings makes such a statement a diminishment of the human and as such is offensive.


message 42: by Silvio111 (new)

Silvio111 I think another reason "bitch" has so much power to offend, perhaps, (at least in my case) is that I don't live in the country, and I don't breed dogs. Among dog breeders, the word "bitch" has a specific (and non-offensive) meaning. Since it has become an offensive epithet toward human women, it has become disconnected from its original meaning (merely, "a female dog") and instead means "a despised and disrespected female human."

It doesn't even have to evoke "You are LIKE a female dog;" it is shorthand now for "You are worth nothing." What woman would not be offended by that direct message?


message 43: by Sharman (last edited Feb 18, 2015 08:32PM) (new)

Sharman Russell (sharmanaptrussell) | 212 comments Mod
I’m pleased to announce that my publisher is doing a giveaway of ten copies of my new Young Adult fabulist novel Teresa of the New World. Please sign up!

Teresa of the New World

It took me twenty years to write this novel, a reflection of my long time obsession with the Spanish conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, with the numinous deserts of the American Southwest, with the dreamscape of the sixteenth century, with the plagues and epidemics (measles, yes) of First Contact, with the complexities of the hero father, with deep earth magic, with were-jaguars, with all that and more. Supposedly this is the story of Teresa, daughter of a Capoque mother and a Spanish adventurer, but really I think it has become my autobiography.


message 44: by Peter (new)

Peter Riva (goodreadscompeter_riva) | 10 comments Hey people, I was careful when I wrote ""bitch" has so little impact now compared to the '50s?" I mean it, I still hate the word (when not applied properly to a female unbred canine) but you all have to admit the word does not have the same "How Dare You!" feel it did when I was a child. It is offensive, just not AS offensive I feel.
And I have heard TV shows where women refer, rather coyly, as thinking of themselves as Milfs and Cougars... I AM NOT saying this is a good thing... I am merely pointing out that as time rolls by, words are more or less offensive in context.
On to more important things" Sharman's release of her wonderful Teresa!


message 45: by Silvio111 (new)

Silvio111 Sharman,
Thanks for alerting us to your book giveaway. How exciting!


message 46: by Silvio111 (new)

Silvio111 Peter,
Well not to beat dead [dog], but in the 50s I was too little to understand offensive words, but today when someone refers to anyone as a "bitch," I still feel pretty offended. In fact, one of my students once used a word from their native language toward me, and even though I did not know what it meant, I could tell it was an insult.

Now does this put me in the same or in the opposing camp as Lenny Bruce, who felt that putting those words out there early and often would rob them of their power? I suppose my conclusion is that contempt needs no language at all.


message 47: by Julia (new)

Julia | 11 comments I disagree with Lenny Bruce. I would not like to be called a 'kike' or a 'cunt.' Or a 'bitch,' either. They are still violent words, to my ears.

There is a magazine I avoid called 'Bitch,' because I find its name offensive. Of those terms from the Encyclopedia Britannica, I am some of them and not others. I am a woman, female and a mother, though my daughter is not a child any longer. Calling me a girl, isn't accurate or descriptive.

Sharman asks: I need to listen to more media than NPR radio?

I hope not, because that's all I listen to!

And Congrats Sharman on your giveaway!


message 48: by Silvio111 (new)

Silvio111 Lenny Bruce was a bit much, but his efforts make it possible for us to be having this discussion of those words here on Goodreads, which, I notice, is NOT censoring them out.
(For some reason, this surprised me! But I should not have been, because librarians are known for championing Free Speech!)


message 49: by Shelley (new)

Shelley Muniz (shelleymuniz) | 21 comments How do you all feel about swearing in YA?

Also, have you read Cry of the Wolf by Melvin Burgess?
Little known YA book, and very, very intense. Really good.


message 50: by Julia (new)

Julia | 11 comments How do you all feel about swearing in YA?

I don't mind it. Many kids swear, they like to see their language reflected in what they read. Also, kids like reading books that are 'forbidden,' at least to some, so they like reading from the banned & challenged books lists.

It bugs me here and on Amazon where reviewers will give a book with swear words or actions they don't like fewer stars.


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