Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, and 2016

Debbie Reynolds died yesterday. Carrier Fisher passed the day before. Anyone who’s used the internet or checked the news over the last few days couldn’t have missed it. It’s ubiquitous, as if the whole world reeled from the loss of two people they only knew through their work.

A friend scoffed at my sadness over the world losing this mother daughter duo. “Why?” he asked. “You didn’t know them.” And that’s true, of course. We may have been in the same state at the same time at some point in my thirty years of living, but it would have been a mystery to them as well as me. Them, because they’d never have heard of me, and me, because it wasn’t as if I knew the details of their lives. I knew Carrie was a writer after her acting career, of course. I knew that Debbie had been Hollywood royalty before my parents were born. But the ins and outs of their day to day lives were as much a mystery to me then as they were in their final days.

But as a storyteller, how could I possibly miss them? Singing in the Rain is widely regarded as one of the best movies of all time. You can’t explore the fifties and sixties of last century without seeing pictures of Debbie’s glowing smile. Carrie Fisher couldn’t escape Star Wars with an actual space ship and a hundred years in a galaxy far, far away. They, like the news of their passing, were everywhere.

Both of them sculpted the land of entertainment. Debbie stepped onto the Hollywood scene as the silent films gave way to the talkies. As the nature of Hollywood today began to insert itself into the popular consciousness. Bright. Proud. All glits, glamour, and beautiful people with shining smiles. Thirty years later her daughter would star as one of the three leads in a movie series that changed the way the world looked at and experienced sci-fi. Star Wars did more than that, it shaped the way we interact with our media, and it still does. (One has only to look at the pictures from the Jedi Training Camp my friend’s children took part in to see that’s the case) Both of them were, and always will be, dynamos.

But me? I never knew either of them. Never so much as met them. So what is it that makes their passing so sad? Why do I and others feel more than the usual empathy over another’s tragedy? I believe that lies at the heart of why so many consider 2016 to be a terrible year.

We grew up seeing Debbie Reynolds and her daughter on the silver screen. Quite literally larger than life. We saw them dance and sing their way through troubles, and we saw them fight evil on other worlds. We knew that none of those things happened, but that’s the magic of modern storytelling. Those seats in a theater, those pages in a book, they transport us to another world. For just a moment, Carrie Fisher isn’t Carrie Fisher, she’s Princess Leia. Her mother isn’t just a distinguished woman who’s raised two children and kept smiling through tragedy, she’s the Unsinkable Molly Brown. When the movie or book closes, and the magic fades, we drift back into the real world. Carrie Fisher and her mother become actresses once more. But we still feel that closeness with the storyteller and the actor. That sense that we know something about them, even if we can’t put our fingers on it. A sense of appreciation that is usually reserved for people close to us, or at least acquaintances. And so we feel close to them.

And what happens when they grow old? To those of us who’ve watched those movies over and over, Debbie and Carrie are forever 21. Every time we enjoy those old films, we set time back to the summer of 78 or 64. We go on that journey all over again, lost in the magic. Even as the meaning of media changes to us with age, it still transports us back to a time when we watched the two of them with awestruck wonder. When we sang along with the songs as if they were ours, and we swished sticks as if they were lightsabers.

And what happens when those people we only think we know pass? When they age and die as we watch their ghosts live forever on the screen?

We’re forced to face our own mortality, in a way. We’re reminded once more that summer of 78 was a lifetime ago. That the young people who grew up watching Debbie Reynolds have grown old as well, birthing and raising us or our parents. The reality of it all, the big world outside of our fiction bubble, crashes in just a little bit. That sky above the magic cracks, and reality bleeds through. In doing so, it forces us to look up and contend with our own lives, be they waxing or waning. We must face that the memories of who we were when we first learned of those stories is no longer who we are. The young girls and boys that sang and played, that believed in the magic like only the young can, have grown into the people we are today.

Like the Debbie and Carrie on screen, the memory is only a ghost of who we are. Those swishing sticks and sing along songs are gone, and when we mourn the death of the amazing talents that brought them to us, we in a way mourn our own passing.

And so in a year like 2016, when so many icons of our childhoods have moved on, we find ourselves wondering why it hurts even when we didn’t know them. We wonder what it is about their passing that aches so much, and what it means to care for someone who never knew your name.

I didn’t know Debbie or Carrie, and I certainly can’t speak for what they thought awaited them in the end credits of their stories. They were, by all reports, as close as a mother and daughter could be. Sisters as much as parent and child. When Carrie passed, Debbie didn’t want to stay in the world without her. There’s something tragic in that, but something comforting as well. They lived a life fifty feet high. A life viewed and adored by millions across three generations. They saw and did more than most ever will, and both understood how lucky they were to have that. While we contend with our own mortality, and we spare our thoughts for their family now left without them, there is a comfort in them being together. Whatever awaits them next, they don’t go alone. They remain together in the hereafter, facing whatever that entails side by side.

The rest of us will always have the gifts they gave us. Those ghosts on the screen, and the memories of who we were when we first met them. It’s a small comfort, but it’s something.

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An Update As The Seasons Swing

Howdy, folks! Been a little while. How’s the weather over there? Temperate? Cold? Hot? It’s got to be one of them, right?

This year has been an interesting one. In April, my partner took a job as a traveling nurse, so we’ve been on the road for the last few months. I sent my third book off to a few agents and publishers. I became more involved with the HWA, first by going to the fantastic convention in Vegas, then by volunteering to help found and contribute to their YouTube channel. I’ve written two more books this year in addition to the three I already had waiting in the wings.

All in all, despite my silence, I’ve been keeping myself busy.

That said, most of that busy hasn’t translated into things I can take to people who enjoy reading my work, and for that, I’m sorry. The way things are shaping up, it doesn’t look as though I’ll be releasing a book this year. I have several I could, but none of them are quiet cooked yet. I don’t want to rush the process for the sake of having a slightly larger library. It’s not as though I have fans clamoring for my latest work, but I feel guilty about it regardless. There are a few of you who’ve reached out and asked. Rest assured, it’s coming.

In fact, my intent is to release two books next year. As it stands, I want to spend the rest of this year writing short fiction and putting the final touches on the ever growing pile of novels I have. A lot of this work on the back end of this year will leave me a little more breathing room to have something for you come 2017. As it turns out, selling books is about as much work as writing them, and it isn’t nearly as much fun. (But you didn’t hear that from me)

I’ll probably release a few short stories on the website so you don’t forget I’m here ticking away at the keyboard until the wee hours of the morning, but it won’t be until November or October. Until then, there is some good news. I recently released All That Remains on NetGalley. It’s open to anyone who wants a copy until March. If you or any of your friends haven’t done so, now’s the time to give it a read.

I’ll talk to you again soon, folks. Until then, thanks for taking the time to visit.

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2 1/2 Years Ago…

I logged into Facebook when I woke up today to find this gem.

That is the first draft of Darker Shadows Lie Below printed out and ready to be edited. That was two years ago today, which means that it was about two years and six months ago that I decided I was finally going to try my hand at being a professional writer.

At the time, I was already writing. I have been since I was a kid. Back then, I would read two books a day and play video games in-between. I spent half my time writing, and the other half devouring media like a hungry dog.

Fast forward a few decades, and I’d told myself that writing was something people did when they already had a career. Once they were somebody, then they took the time to sit down and try their hand at being an artist. I’d let people my whole life tell me it wasn’t realistic to pick that as a career.

Do I disagree two years later? Well, if you’re asking if I’m making my living off of my writing, then the answer is no. I don’t really make money doing this. But it stands as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve followed a lifelong dream. I’ve met amazing people because of it. I’ve traveled for it. I’ve made good friends, and I’ve come to realize that those people who told me to put my dreams on hold only said that because they were too scared to pursue their own.

I’ve written six books, a dozen or so short stories, a few scripts, a large box of blog posts, and I’m currently working on the sequel to All That Remains. Writing has kept me busy and sane. My writing now is on a whole different level than when I took that picture two years ago today, and I’m happy to say that it keeps getting better with every book. I have no doubt on days like today that I will one day attain that dream of being someone who makes their living writing.

There are a lot of people I have to thank for where I am. My girlfriend and friends who have been so supportive it’s almost embarrassing. My lovely editor, Jenn Loring, for being the counter point to their sugary sweet praise and helping me become a better writer for it. My beta readers who aren’t shy about pointing out mistakes. But more than anyone, thank you, readers, for sticking around for two years. I’d do this if nobody read it, but it wouldn’t be as satisfying.

Al Barrera

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Six Ways To Self-Edit & Polish Your Prose — Kristen Lamb

Originally posted on Kristen Lamb’s Blog: Whether you are new to writing or an old pro, brushing up on the basics is always helpful. Because no matter how GOOD the story is? If the reader is busy stumbling over this stuff, it ruins the fictive dream and she will never GET to the story.…

via Six Ways To Self-Edit & Polish Your Prose — Jennifer Loring

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A Commentary On Word Counts

I’ve been lucky the last few years. Not only have I gotten to follow my dream and write, but I’ve been exposed to a number of amazing peers in the process. I’ve gotten to speak to people whose work I adore, and I’ve made a lot of friends along the way. More than once, I’ve sat and thought about how awesome it is to have met so many other people who are as passionate about my field as I am. My “writing time” is spent in equal parts alone and with those people. Word counts come up a lot. I see it with experienced writers, intermediates such as myself, and more than anywhere, among the newest writers. There is a temptation to place the value of all of your work into how much work you’re getting done, and I think this is a mistake. Mind you, I don’t think word counts themselves are bad, I think placing the value of your work on how much work you’re producing is, and this is a trend I’m seeing a lot in self-publishing.

Writing isn’t a clock punching job. I don’t think any art is. When you make your living off of art you certainly have to put the time and effort into it, and only a fool would say otherwise. You will have timetables as editors, publishers, and agents begin to work with you. There will be expectations of punctuality once you become a professional, but I don’t think that should be confused with word count. (Especially as a newer writer) There is a temptation to get as much work done as you can and to sell it. After all, many of us have dreamed about this our whole lives. We envision a future in which we can support ourselves through the efforts we put into our writing, and so we want to put as much effort in as we can. But effort can’t be measured solely by word count, in the same way that success can’t be measured only by income. I think it’s a trap that a lot of people just getting into the industry fall into, and I think that work often suffers for it.

My editor, a much more experienced author and member of this community, has had a similar talk with me over the last few months. She noticed my eagerness to always have the next book out. All of our correspondences had time tables and assumptions about when I could get X book out if only I put Y amount of work in. I don’t think this approach is inherently flawed, I just think it’s missing the forest for the trees. Writing is more than just spewing words just like painting is more than throwing colored pudding on paper. (Or canvas. Don’t be a paint snob) After she pointed out the pattern, I couldn’t unseen it. I took a step back and tried to get a larger view of what I was doing and what I wanted from it. I came to realize that I was using word counts as a way to force myself to work, and even worse, as a way to compare myself to other writers. Instead of enjoying the process and trying to develop my work, I was constantly concerned with when I would be able to publish the next novel. I was more concerned with the ending than the journey. To be frank, I had stopped writing for myself.

Yes, word counts are one of the few daily metrics we have. And while it is a great thing to use, I am now of the mind that it’s not a good way to measure yourself as a writer, it’s just a good way to visualize the amount of time you’re putting in a day. You can write 10,000 words an hour and still be terrible at it, and you can jot 500 down in whatever little free time you have and make an amazing story. You could spend a week editing a chapter and have no word count to show for it after all, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t make progress. Word counts can’t measure the input that an editor or a trusted reader has. Your writing’s sum total value, and your ability as a writer, is not in the word count, and there is no need to torture yourself under the illusion that it is.

The worth of art is not measured in money. Yes, we need it to survive. Yes, we deserve it for our work, no matter what a bunch of verbal vomit maggots at some publications will say. (Looking at you Huffington Post. Also, fuck you) The worth of our writing is not measured in word counts either. To be honest, I don’t know how it is measured, or if it is at all. I thought I had a much better grasp on all of this when I was more inexperienced, but honestly, I’ve stopped worrying about it. Set a time frame you can live with, and work in that. Don’t tell yourself that your work is only worthwhile if you’re putting out two-thousand words per day, or if you’re putting out X amount of books a year, and certainly don’t confuse the worth you perceive in your writing with your self-worth. Remember, you’re following your dream and doing what you set out to do even when you’re doing it like a cold turd in a microwave. (We all have those days)

Am I saying not to use word counts? No. I’m saying that they should be used for what they are; a measurement. Don’t place value judgments on it. Don’t use it as a meter stick to compare yourself to other artists. Worry about you and your work first, going for quality before quantity. Of course, you should always take a spoonful of salt with any writing advice anyone gives you, and I’m just spit balling from my own experiences. I found that once I began to use my daily word count as a post-writing measurement, and not a pre-writing death-sentence, I was not only happier working every day, but my word count went up. I would always hit 1k a day, but usually fall short of my 2k goal. Now it’s been weeks since I wrote less than 2k in a day. Take that for what it’s worth.

As always, keep writing.

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Sneak Peek: All That Remains

My second book, All That Remains, will be out in a month or so. Just a few last minute tweaks and some final publishing preparations left, and it’ll be out in both paperback and Kindle edition for you to enjoy. I thought it would be fun to give you folks a little taste of what’s to come. Enjoy! (Also, forgive the format. WordPress is silly.)

Not knowing what else to do, he knocked. Three hard pounds. The sound rang into the darkness, vanishing in the night. He stood there stupidly, his hand pressed against the door, waiting for a response. Nothing. The inside remained as silent as the outside, even more so. In the cold twilight, bugs chirped. Birds sang. The world carried on as if it hadn’t really ended; turned as if lives weren’t in the balance and people didn’t matter. Maybe they didn’t.

He pounded again. Slower. Deliberate.

“Who’s there?” The voice from inside wavered as it spoke. He wasn’t thrilled about having a midnight visitor

Why would he be? What good news comes looking for kidnappers? His mind dipped low, away from Kyle the Sociology Professor. He was Kyle the Killer. Kyle the Survivor. A sniffer screamed off in the distance as if to agree with his grim resolve. He’d do what he had to. The jitters tapered off as he took a breath.

He made for the corner of the barn, ready for the door to open. Ready to save Sara and deliver a bloody death to anyone who tried to stop him. He pulled out his flashlight, flashing it once toward Tim.

The midnight ride of Paul Revere came to mind. One if by land and two if by sea.

“A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door.”

The insanity of such a thought brought a smile to his lips. Not a humorous smile. A dog’s grin. A killing leer.

Kyle positioned himself at the corner of the barn. If the plan didn’t work, he would have to bust in alone. Tim wouldn’t last long alone in such a miserable world, but at least he and Kaylee would have a chance. That’s how things went now. Families and friends torn apart. Nothing permanent. That had all gone out the window thirteen years ago.

“Hardly a man is now alive, who remembers that famous day and year.”

He tightened his grip on his pistol and waited, crouched not ten feet from the door.

Locks popped. This was it. Now or never. Tim knew what to do, and Kyle hoped he had the courage to do it. They would get one chance to give up Sara. If they refused or tried to go back inside, Tim would take one out, and Kyle would move in. If there were more than two or three, it would almost certainly be suicide. Only in the old movies did one lone gunslinger take down an army singlehandedly.

And the meeting-house windows, black and bare, gaze at him with a spectral glare, as if they already stood aghast, at the bloody work they would look upon.

The door opened, and a light spilled out into the world. These people had no caution. It was a wonder they’d survived this long.

“What do you see?” asked the big voice from inside.

A smaller voice, not more than a terrified child, replied. “N-nothing.” That could have been Tim.

“Then get out there and look.”

On the other side of the door was a small scuffle, someone being shoved.

This is it. Kyle readied himself, gun drawn.

Tim’s shot rang out from the darkness. Maybe he’d gotten nervous, or maybe he’d seen something Kyle hadn’t. The kid who’d poked his head out the door jerked back with the force of the round. Inside, the voices of at least three men started yelling.


“Close the door!”

“Get that fucker!”

Above it all, clear as day, came Sara’s voice. “Kyle! There’s three of them!”


Bildschirmfoto 2015-06-12 um 10.10.26


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Write To Completion

You have nothing until you have a book. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? A lot of people don’t like to hear it. I recently attended a pitch session for my second novel. There were literary agents, editors, and publishers all present at the event. Before it began, they flat out stated, “We don’t want to hear ideas, we want finished products.” Not thirty minutes later one gentleman was outside telling everyone he didn’t have a book, but he had an idea that was going to knock their socks off.

I have no idea what happened to him in or after the pitch session. Well, scratch that, I know exactly what happened. He went in, told them he didn’t have a book, and they sent him right back out. Let’s set aside the fact that he ignored their instructions. (Also a big no no) Let’s pretend for a second that they were totally cool with an idea. What do you think they would have told him instead of, “Get out. Take the shame door.”

Do you have a guess?

Are you ready?

They would have told him to write the book.

You have to have something in hand before you can sell it. Pretend for a moment that publishers didn’t exist, and it was just you and the readers. They wouldn’t want to hear your ideas either, they’d want to see what you can do. There’s an old saying that opinions are like assholes; everyone’s got them. The same goes for ideas. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they were going to write a book, I wouldn’t need to write my own. Ideas don’t do anything without action. It isn’t a product. It’s the start of something great that hasn’t so much as seen the light of day.

Okay, enough with the harsh stuff. I didn’t come here today to browbeat anybody who is looking for advice. If it sounds mean, well, I’m not sorry. It needs to be said. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. And you don’t get to write part of a book, you have to write the whole damn thing. Unless you’re writing it with someone. I have no idea how that works. I mean, seriously, does one person write a word then pass it to the next? Do they just shout things at each other while someone writes it down? Can someone explain that to me? I don’t leave my writing room much, so I don’t actually recall what other people look like

Back on topic. Writing to completion. That’s the trick of it. Even if you get a great idea for a different book halfway through. Even if you hate that chapter. Even if you despise the whole damn thing from front to back; finish the book. If you haven’t done it before, you will be amazed at what you can do in edits. Anybody who says you can’t turn a sows ear into a silk purse has never edited a book. It’s magical. Like, “Oh my God, these beans turned into a ladder to a giant’s house,” magical.

I know you want it in your hands now. Everyone does. I’m working on book number five and I want to see it too. But it isn’t going to happen for you. Writing isn’t something that falls into your lap. It’s a verb. It’s an action. It’s something you have to get out there and do, and you have to do it all the way through. If you’re looking at sites to help you, then you’re already on the right track. But no amount of reading and thinking is going to make you a writer, only pen on paper and fingers on keys can do that.

Go forth and write. The rest of us want to see what you can do.

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I Have No Idea How To Sell Books

As I sit here today, trying to think of clever ways to push my book, I come to realize that I have no goddamned clue what I’m doing. Seriously. Real talk. Now, I’ve sold books. Hell, for a first time author with no following and no notion on how to capture sales, I think I’ve done pretty well for myself. I sold enough on release day of Darker Shadows to bounce into the middle of the top one hundred horror books on Amazon, and I stayed there for a few days. When I did a free promotion, my book became one of the most downloaded free books on Amazon, and that translated to noticeable uptick in sales afterwards that is still plucking away. Outside of that? Lost, like a naked baby in the woods.

Don’t get me wrong; I get the writing part. That part has always come naturally to me. That isn’t to say that I haven’t worked hard over the years to improve at it, just that it was always something I not only could do, but wanted to. Selling the final product? *pffft* *throws hands in air* I have no idea. You might as well ask me how to get to the moon, because much like getting to the moon, I have a very vague idea of how it works. You write. You get it edited. You make a kick ass cover. You get a whole bunch of fuel… wait, I’m mixing those two things up again. *checks notes* Oh, that’s why! Because after the actual construction of a novel, I’m struck stupid.

Look, the truth is, you can follow all the steps and not sell a thing. You can get a website, do social media, make friends, engage people, promote, advertise, and scream from the rooftops. Not one of those things translates to sales. I’m not actually convinced anything does. What I’m getting at is this: If you haven’t figured out the perfect formula for selling books, don’t sweat it. Nobody has it figured out to the tee. Plenty of people will tell you they do, but those people are liars. Yes, I said it. Those people are dirty, filthy, rotten liars. The only thing that guarantees sales is being a super famous well regarded author already. JK Rowling could release anything and sell it. Joe Blow who had good luck on Amazon a few times won’t always sell five thousand copies of his newest book no matter what he tells you. I have several author type friends who have done very well for themselves, but only on some of their books. One friend pushes a thousand a month, but the vast majority of those sales come from three of his books… he has twelve. (Probably more by now. I’m a bad friend who doesn’t keep up)

Sales are important if we want to do this as a job, but I still think the best way to do that is to write good books. You might not bottle lightning, but I am damn near certain that if you keep up quality over a long enough period, people will notice.

But you won’t do that by reading my slow descent into madness. Go forth fellow authors. Go forth and write.

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All That Remains Cover Art Reveal

Bildschirmfoto 2015-06-12 um 10.10.26

“The old world is dead, and humanity struggles to survive in the shadows of the new one. Kyle, Sara, and Tim are scavengers, hiding in the remains of human civilization from the hungry things that destroyed it. Living on the few items that haven’t rotted in the thirteen years since civilization was wiped out.

But something has shown itself: A terrible creature that betrays an intelligence in the madness of the creatures that rule the planet.

When the group finds Kaylee, a little girl who claims to know of a safe haven somewhere in Tennessee, they embark on a desperate journey to find it. Memory and loss, depravity and salvation— their last run will put them face to face with horrors of both man and monsters the likes of which they’ve never seen.”

Written by Al Barrera
Edited by Jenn Loring
Cover Art & Design by Jana Heidersdorf
Available Late Summer/Early Fall 2015 through Amazon in both Kindle and paperback format

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When To Light Your Book On Fire

Let me start by saying that the time is not now. Hold on the gasoline. Put down the lighter. (Or matches, whichever is your preference) We’ve all been there. It comes at different times for different people in different books. You might make it all the way to the end of the first draft before you decide a book is garbage. You may get half way through before you bust out the grill lighter. Hell, you might decide after one chapter that this entire endeavor was stupid, and you should light all books on fire because if you can’t do it, then by god, nobody can.


This is not an appropriate solution.

This is not an appropriate solution.


Everyone gets to this point, or at least everyone who is being honest with themselves. Maybe there’s a gal or a guy out there who knows with absolute certainty that they are an amazing writer, and they’ve never doubted their work once. Maybe this unicorn of a person has been right on the money every time, and they’ve never put a pen to paper and created something other than a masterpiece. I really doubt it though. Self-doubt comes with the territory in any artistic endeavor. You slave over something mentally, pour a lot of yourself into it, take the hours upon hours to work on it, and then you loathe it.

Here’s the thing: You can’t tell much of anything from a first draft, especially if you’re in the middle of it. I know it might hurt to hear this, but a first draft and a rough draft are the exact same thing. For Darker Shadows Lie Below, I ended up re-writing two thirds of the book in the second and third drafts. Some writers redo the entire thing after the first draft. Sometimes all you need is a few tweaks in edits, and sometimes you need a lot. Hell, there are occasions where you don’t need much at all. After a little time you come back to read what you wrote only to find that you really like it; and if you like it, someone else out there probably will too.

Don’t quit. Don’t burn your book. The absolute worst thing that can happen with it is a learning experience. You finish, you hate it, and you come out better prepared to write the next one. That’s the trick, isn’t it? Unless you aim to just be a one and done writer, there is always the next book. Finish what you’re on, and don’t get too caught up in the self-loathing. A little bit can be motivating, but too much of it is literary kryptonite. It saps your will to work, it takes the joy from it, and it makes your writing insecure. (Which is to say bland)

I don’t know if you’re a good writer. Maybe you just scribble out four letter words in crayon on a coloring book. Maybe you’re the next Hemingway. What I do know is that if you don’t finish, the rest of us will never find out.

Keep writing.

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