Q&A with Karen Foxlee, author of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

For those of you who don’t already know this, I adore Karen Foxlee’s debut middle grade novel, Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy. Furthermore, I cannot express how thrilled I was to be able to interview Karen and that I’m able to share her answers here at The Hiding Spot. Please take the time to read my review of Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy as well… I’ve done my best to capture how absolutely wonderful this novel is and I can only hope I’ve done it justice! A big thank you to Karen Foxlee for taking the time to answer my questions!

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karen foxlee

Karen Foxlee is an Australian writer. She is the author of two young adult novels: “The Anatomy of Wings” and “The Midnight Dress”. Her first middle grade novel “Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy” is to be published in January, 2014. She lives and writes in Queensland, Australia.

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OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY is your first MG novel, as your first two published novels were YA. Did you set out to write a MG novel or did Ophelia’s story simply feel right as MG?

OPHELIA was written during a break from writing my second YA novel THE MIDNIGHT DRESS.  I was struggling with that one and just wanted to go away and have some fun.  I started with the small idea of a boy locked away in a museum room and it grew from there.  In the beginning I wasn’t sure at all what age group it was for.  I was only really interested in finding out why the boy was there and what his story was – solving the puzzle of the story for myself. Many drafts later, Ophelia arrived, and all the pieces started falling into place.   I guess somewhere around then I started to have the first inklings that it was a children’s book.

I adored Ophelia’s exploratory trips through the museum because we were treated to descriptions of the various rooms and curiosities. Did you base Ophelia’s museum on real-life museum trips or is the museum (and its curiosities) entirely from your imagination?

I’ve always loved museums and the older the better.  I went to the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia once.  It’s vast and a bit run down and the little old guards watch you like hawks (and sometimes knit).  So there is a little of the Hermitage in my museum.  Most of it is from my imagination though and mixture of different places I have been.  Oh, I loved thinking about that museum! I love making characters but I’ve never grown up a huge building!  That’s how it felt.  I gradually got to know that museum in my mind and through my writing; all its twists and turns and staircases and elevators and glittering galleries and murky corridors.  I loved thinking about the exhibits too.  Nearly all of those strange collections are things that I’ve loved, or read about, or wondered about, or seen.

Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?

I always felt very comfortable slipping into the boy’s voice when he tells his story.  And when Ophelia appeared in later drafts to find the boy, well, I just knew everything was going to be okay.  She took over from there.  I loved her immediately.  The hardest scenes were the ones between Ophelia and her mother. The sad parts.  I would get very emotional and have to go and lie down and have a good cry.

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?

ophelia and the marvelous boyThe title wasn’t there from the beginning because Ophelia wasn’t there from the beginning.  As soon as she arrived I chose that name.  I worried about if it was too simple but now it feels like there could never ever have been another title.

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general?

Wow.  So many, too many, each in different ways.  Fairy-tales as a child introduced me to the emotional punch of literature, to magic, to story-telling.   I loved the adventure stories of my childhood.  THE FAMOUS FIVE (Enid Blyton)!  Kids running around the country side solving mysteries.  What could be more exciting?  The big journey stories of Baum’s THE WIZARD OF OZ– the excitement of turning those pages.  Too many grown-up books to name.  But in particular I remember reading Arundhati Roy’s THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS and thinking: imagine being able to create something so perfect and so beautiful!  After reading that book I decided I wanted to keep trying and trying to learn how to write the best books I could.

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?

I have always worked as a registered nurse since I was eighteen years old and still do today.  Nursing made me the person I am so I guess in that way it has shaped my writing.  I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many amazing people through nursing and hearing and witnessing so many wonderful stories.  The stories of people’s lives I mean.  Everyone has a story.

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?

The first that springs to mind is Chandelier.  I’ve always had a thing for that word! It is just so lovely to look at and sounds exactly like the object I see in my mind, a glittering waterfall of glass and light.

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?

I am an experienced day-dreamer.  I schedule day-dreams into my writing day.  I day dream about my characters and my stories, about myself, about the future, about the past.  I’d say that is where I escape and let go.  My stories are born out of those day-dreams.

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More about OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY

My Review / Add to Goodreads

Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard, her sister, Alice, and their father, the world’s leading expert on swords, leave home for a foreign city where it always snows. Ophelia’s father has been hired to curate a museum exhibit and, while exploring the museum, a confusing, drafty place full of curiosities, Ophelia discovers an abandoned room. Within the room is a small door. On the other side of the door, is a boy. As you might expect, this is no ordinary boy, but a Marvelous Boy, the prisoner of the sinister Snow Queen. The Queen has kept him prisoner for near 300 years and he’s been waiting for Ophelia. Only she can help him defeat the Queen… and time is running out. Scientifically-minded Ophelia must look within herself – and to the memory of mother – to find the magic she holds within herself. A gorgeous retelling of The Snow Queen and an unforgettable story about friendship, love, and grief, OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY is sure to be loved by readers of all ages.

— Excerpt from The Hiding Spot review

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Interview with Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of the Lost Cities & Exile


Today Shannon Messenger, author of two series (one MG, one YA) visits The Hiding Spot to chat about the most recent release in her MG series, Exile. Keep reading to learn more about Shannon, including the MG authors that inspire her writing, her favorite happy word (which gives a sunny description to something not-so-sunny), and her personal non-spot hiding spot.

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Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write? 


It’s funny, because the answer to both questions is the same: Keefe scenes! On the one hand he’s an incredibly easy character to write dialogue for. I could write page after page after page without needing to pause. But that’s also extremely problematic, because he’s a side character and rarely the focus of a scene. So I have to constantly go back and chop so I can actually advance the plot.

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication? 


Oh titles… why can’t we be friends? Don’t get me wrong—I love my titles. But they were NOT easily come by. Keeper of the Lost Cities took us six months and hundreds of rejected titles to come up with. And  was Exile the same—which is especially crazy considering it’s only one little word. All I can say is: titles are haaaaard. And thank goodness for patient marketing departments who slog through my horrible lists of suggestions.

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general? 


Hm, that’s hard, because I can’t really say there’s any ONE book or author who influences me. I think I’m more of an amalgam. For middle grade, I love the way Rick Riordan uses humor to temper the brutal things he puts his characters through. I love the worlds Brandon Mull creates, how they’re both so incredibly fantastical and yet feel so plausible and real. I love the whimsical feel of Roald Dahl. I could go on and on, but I think that gives you an idea.

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing? 


I had two kinds of jobs: the steady, I-need-a-paycheck jobs, which involved exciting things like answering phones and making copies and filing. And I had the chasing-the-wrong-dream jobs when I was trying to work my way into Hollywood. I hated both—for different reasons of course. But they were also what pushed me to stay up late writing, and not give up during the long road toward publication.

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why? 


Kerfuffle! It’s such a fun word to say. Plus I love that it has such a sunny, happy feel despite describing something stressful and rather unpleasant.

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality? 


This will probably sound weird but… pretty much anywhere. I’m a huge daydreamer—which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s great as a writer, because I’m always imagining new things. But it’s bad when I have to be a functioning human being, because I get called out a lot for tuning people out without meaning to, or staring into space.
Find out more about Shannon and her books here!
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Interview: Natalie D. Richards, author of Six Months Later

Today, author Natalie D. Richards stops by The Hiding Spot to chat about her debut YA thriller, Six Months Later, and reveal some telling details about herself… like her favorite word, which make me wonder if her main character’s confusion stems from some personal experience. 😉 And don’t miss my review of Six Months Later, found here.

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The Interview


Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?


What a fantastic question!  The characters never give me much trouble because I tend to get to know them as I write them.  During edits, I’ll go back and fix all the things that feel wrong.  As for scenes…there were definitely a couple of scenes in Six Months Later that gave me fits.  It usually happens when it’s a particularly important scene and I don’t feel right until everything’s PERFECT.  There were a couple of scenes in Six Months Later I radically changed or deleted because they were just wrong. And boy howdy do I mean WRONG.  😉


Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?



My title took a drastic change and I really love the new one.  The book was nominated as a finalist in the 2012 RWA Golden Heart Contest as Pandora’s Clock.  But my amazing editor at Sourcebooks said she really felt like Six Months Later was perfect because it sort of sums up the whole book on three words.  I think she was right!  While I loved Pandora’s Clock, I think it indicates paranormal elements that aren’t at play in Six Months Later. 

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general?


This is definitely not a one-author/one-book answer! LOL!  I think there have been dozens of authors that have inspired me and challenged me and, really, changed the way I view books and even reality.  At the very top of that list would be Libba Bray, Barbara Kingsolver, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Neil Gaiman, Gayle Forman.  This isn’t a complete list by any stretch of the imagination.


What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?


Well, let’s see, I’ve been an executive assistant, a third-shirt waitress at a pancake joint, a business analyst, a customer service representative, a paralegal, a stay-at-home-mom, a clinical informatics coach for orthopedic surgeons….it’s a long and crazy list!  In particular my analyst and paralegal roles taught me the practice of writing on deadline which is crucial in this industry!

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?


Discombobulated.  First, because it’s fun to say.  Second, because it’s often my state of mind!

I also like incandescent, mostly because it sounds so pretty.  😉

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?


I’m right there beside you with the book escapism. If I had to pick my absolute dream escape, it would be a stack of books I’m dying to read next to a rocking chair overlooking the Atlantic.  I’m from Ohio, but I’m pretty sure my heart is always on the Carolina coast. 😉
Find out more about Natalie and her book here! 
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Interview with Alison Cherry, author of Red

Today author Alison Cherry visits The Hiding Spot to chat about her recent release, Red. Read on to learn more about Alison,including the character that gave her the most trouble in Red, her favorite (yet unused) word, and her go to movie choice for dire situations.

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Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write? 

My protagonist, Felicity, was actually the most difficult character for me to write. Somehow, I managed to finish an entire (terrible) first draft without ever really getting inside her head and figuring out what she wanted. Needless to say, that made it pretty hard for my early readers to sympathize with her. But once Felicity and I spent some quality time together, I started to understand where she was coming from, and things began to click into place. Disturbingly, I had the easiest time writing Felicity’s mother, Ginger, who is the least sympathetic character in the book. My own mom is basically Ginger’s opposite, so perhaps I was channeling her throughout the process and writing whatever she wouldn’tdo.

 

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication? 


This book was originally called Seeing Red, but my agent suggested we retitle it before it went on submission. Neither of us could think of anything good, so we sent it out under a placeholder title: Red. You can see how that worked out…

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general? 


I must have read Matildaby Roald Dahl fifty times as a kid. It was just the right mix of hilarious, absurd, intriguing, and horrifying. It also confirmed my belief that being a smart girl who loved to read was something to be proud of. Matilda’s brain is a powerful thing, and I wanted mine to be, too!

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing? 


I spent my first four years out of college working as a lighting designer for theater and dance productions all over the east coast. To pay the bills, I was also a theater electrician (which I was TERRIBLE at, since I’m afraid of heights) and a freelance editor (for which I was much better suited.) Eventually I left the freelance world to take a job as a photographer and archivist for the Metropolitan Opera. The Met was a fabulously bizarre place to work; on a typical day, I might photograph swords in the armory, document some fake severed heads, or film test runs of pyrotechnic effects. Once a ten-foot piece of scenery collapsed under me while I was taking pictures, confirming my belief that heights are terrifying. None of these experiences made it into Red, but I do intend to write a theater book eventually. These days, writing is my only job.

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why? 


My favorite word is “quiddity,” which means “the inherent nature or essence of a thing.” I have never once found the opportunity to use it, but I love that it’s sitting there waiting for me in case I ever do.

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality? 


Books have always been my escape, too, and I’m happy to report that writing professionally has done nothing to change that. Reading is the only thing that’s guaranteed to cheer me up or calm me down. There are certain TV shows that do the job almost as well—I will never get tired of watching The West Wing, Freaks and Geeks, Parks and Recreation, or Buffy. When things get really dire, I watch Pixar movies.
Find out more about Alison and her books here!
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Interview: Emma Trevayne, author of Coda

Today author Emma Trevayne visits The Hiding Spot to chat about her recent release, Coda. Read on to learn more about Emma, including her personal hiding spot (it might be obvious!), her favorite word, and the job she wishes she could have.

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Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write? 

 None of the characters were difficult, although there were times when I had to put them in sad or painful situations that were tough to write because characters become real people in my head. I do tend to find that if a scene feels really impossible in a certain way–and it is just a gut feeling–then it’s the wrong scene, and I have to go back and rethink what I’m doing. It shouldn’t always be a breeze, in fact it should be a challenge, but sometimes there’s a reason a scene just won’t come out. On the other hand, many of the scenes were really easy, to the point of nearly writing themselves. Those were the ones I had in my head before I started writing, the ones around which I really built the novel. My absolute favorite scene is one between Anthem and his best friend. I’ll say no more than that. 

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication? 

I test-drove a couple very early on in the process, but it’s been the same for a really long time. Since I was about ⅓ of the way through the first draft, I think. Once it had the title it has now, no one ever suggested I change it, and two-and-a-bit years later, I still think it’s the best title the book could have. Also it made titling the sequel pretty simple. 

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general? 

Ooooh boy.Um. I’m really not sure I can answer this, or if I can, it might be a bit of a cliche. I’ll say J.K. Rowling. Totally different books, of course, and I don’t for a second pretend I could write a series like that, but she is living proof that if you just sit down and write the book that’s in your head, you never know what might happen. That it is worth taking risks. 

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing? 

I’ve worn a lot of hats, none of them very exciting! And I wouldn’t say any of my jobs have ever shaped my writing, but reading has. Which I do seriously enough that it could be a job, I guess, if someone would pay me to do it. Where can I sign up for that? 

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why? 

Defenestration.It encapsulates everything I love about language…and yes, I know it’s about throwing something/someone from a window. How miraculous is it that we have a word for that? Such specificity in just a handful of syllables. 

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality? 

Well, on one hand I feel like I should agree with you that books are the best hiding spot, but actually for me it’s kind of a tie between books and music. Big surprise there, right? No matter what my mood is, I can escape into my headphones and there is music that will cheer me up, calm me down, get me pumped, or make me cry. I can lose myself dancing to it or almost fall asleep while it plays. And I am always, always inspired by it.

Find out more about Emma and her books here!
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Interview: Swati Avasthi, author of Chasing Shadows

I’m thrilled to welcome, Swati Avasthi, author of Chasing Shadows and Split! Check out the interview to learn more about Swati, which character’s prose she struggled with, the original title of Chasing Shadows, and her favorite type of word!

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The Interview


Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?

What surprised me the most was that storytelling in the visual format, the graphic sections, was the easiest part for me.  I hadn’t written in that form and never really thought of myself as a visual writer. Being so comfortable in the form was a pleasure.

 On the other hand, the prose for Savitri — the PoV that you would think would be the easiest for me since she is probably the character who is most like me both in terms of racial identity and personality — was a real struggle.

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?

BIDDEN was the working title for a few drafts.  As the story developed, it became clear that Holly wasn’t being called to the Shadowlands. Rather she started pursuing the Shadowlands and so a word like “chasing” seemed like a better fit. I named the Land of the Dead “the Shadowlands” because of a biblical association (“though I walk through valley of the shadow of death”).  Since I wasn’t talking about ghosts but about the idea of absence, shadows seemed like the right fit too.

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general?

Oh a ton, of course. For CHASING SHADOWS, there are a few texts that directly influenced the book.  The Hindu legend of “Savitri” is retold and intentionally mistold in the book.  Certainly American superhero comics influenced this book from DC to Marvel to Vertigo (but not really in the same way since I came to them as an adult) and, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gillman, which is a wonderful story. 

All these texts influenced me as a person – helping to inform my understanding of what it meant to grow up, to stretch loyalty to the breaking point, and to lose people you loved.  Since they influenced me as a person, they ended up influencing me as a writer, too.

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?

Jobs – lots of varied jobs from teacher/grader to paralegal to mom.  Although being a paralegal and coordinating a domestic violence clinic really influenced my first novel, SPLIT, even more than that was working in the theater because it has really shaped my writing.  I think of characters as whole people whose desires drive the action of the story and that comes from the theatrical notions of superobjectives, objectives, tactics, and beats.

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?

Wow, that’s even harder than picking a writer. I love words – the way they sound, the way the feel in your mouth, the way they carry a meaning and associations.  I love words that are nouns and verbs like “stain” or “swallow” or “split” (all titles of my publications) and I picked the titles in part because I loved the word itself.  So today, I’ll say, “grasp” because it has energy, a clear visual picture, and multiple meanings.

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?

In every place I’ve lived I’ve come up with a local spot – watching Lake Michigan break against concrete blocks by myself in the early morning at “the point” in Chicago, up in the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque New Mexico hidden in a copse of Aspens, walking on a shale beach beside Lake Superior. But I can’t easily to get to most of those, living in Minneapolis proper, so I opt for my bedroom. We have light blocking curtains and when I really want to escape, I turn off all the lights in the house, close the door, pull the curtains and breathe.  It’s the closest thing to a sensory deprivation tank that I think I could stand.  I revel in not being able to see my hand and just disappear into the darkness.
Find out more about Swati and her books here! 
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Interview & Giveaway: Peggy Eddleman, author of Sky Jumpers

I’m thrilled to welcome, Peggy Eddleman, author of Sky Jumpers, the first book in a new series by the same name! Check out the interview to learn more about Peggy, including the writer that’s influenced her most (he doesn’t write novels!), why she feels bad for her favorite word, and the long journey to deciding on Sky Jumpers as the title of this first book!

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The Interview


Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?

Action scenes are, by far, the easiest for me to write. They come out so naturally and are so much fun, and it’s so easy to make it chock full of emotion and great pacing. If it wouldn’t make for an awful story, I’d write a book with nothing but action scenes.

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?

The title did change. It was actually a very long and involved process. It began as THROUGH THE BOMB’S BREATH. We had considered changing it several times, but nothing had sounded right. Then, as the cover got closer and closer to being final, we decided that it needed to be different. My editor and I brainstormed more than a hundred titles and narrowed it down to a dozen. Then we polled nearly 500 middle grade-aged kids on what their favorites were. When we took that information to Sales & Marketing, they fell in love with the name SKY JUMPERS. We decided, though, that SKY JUMPERS made a fabulous series name, and that we would keep the book name THROUGH THE BOMB’S BREATH. Ultimately, though, having a strong series name actually split the focus. When people asked the name of the book, it was hard to know whether to say SKY JUMPERS (because it was larger on the cover) or THROUGH THE BOMB’S BREATH (because that’s the book name). So we decided to drop the book name, and have SKY JUMPERS be the name for both the series and for book one.

What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general?

My most influential author doesn’t actually write books— he writes movies and tv shows. Joss Whedon. It’s hard not to pick him because I learned so much about writing while watching his commentaries on the episodes he wrote, when I was just barely on the cusp of deciding to be a writer. Hearing the reasons why he made the decisions he made on each plot turn gave me the tools I needed to become a writer and plow ahead, hungry to learn more.

What jobs did you have on your way to becoming a writer/published author? Is there a certain work experience that has shaped your writing?

My first job, at age fourteen, was as a newspaper delivery girl. Then I moved on to laundromat cleaner, fast food worker, bank teller, technical support for computer software, technical writer, and most recently, I worked with fourth graders struggling with math and literacy. But the one that most shaped me as a writer is that of being a Mom. Not only does it mean I get to hang out with middle grade -aged kids all the time, but it means I get to read them lots and lots of middle grade books.

 If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?

As a kid, it was antidisestablishmentarianism (28 letters long), because my dad told me that it used to be the longest word in the dictionary until supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (34 letters) kicked it out. It didn’t seem fair that a fake word could strip it of it’s title AND get a song made up about it! I kind of felt for the word, you know?

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality?

Movies! But only in the theater. (If they leave the theater before I watch them, there’s a .001% chance I’ll ever see it. It’s all about getting distance from my to-do list, and not being able to do anything else while I’m there.) For some odd reason, I crave movies ferociously whenever I’m in edits. There’s an amazing theater a mile from my home that has tickets for $3.50 and popcorn for a buck. No joke.  I’m pretty sure they can guess exactly when I get each edit letter.

Find out more about Peggy and her books here! 
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