Friday, July 12, 2019

Carl Vonderau--MURDERABILIA



DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's all about downsizing these days, right? All the experts tell us that if we haven't used something, we should toss it. But here's debut author Carl Vonderau to tell us why you shouldn't Marie Kondo everything!!! 


CARL VONDERAU: Never throw away what you write. Let me explain why. In 1995, I decided to write my first book and set it in Bogotá, Colombia. But how could I get the setting right? I’d traveled there but didn’t trust my memory. Much to my wife’s dismay, I decided the best thing to do was visit Bogotá and get the details down. Pablo Escobar was dead, I told her. Bogotá wasn’t as dangerous as the press made it out to be. There was no need to worry. Besides, I had a Colombian friend. I didn’t tell her much about what that friend did for a living. Victor was a Colombian public prosecutor who interviewed suspects and witnesses from behind one-way mirrors with his voice electronically disguised. His colloquial title in Spanish was a “fiscal sin rostro,” which translated to “faceless prosecutor.” Perfect, I thought. I’m going to get so much material. Maybe I was as foolhardy as the hero in my book.

That first night in Bogotá Victor said that maybe I shouldn’t visit him in his office building. No one would probably notice me, but why take chances? Hmmm. I was on my own during the day. Wandering the streets, I soon habituated and stopped worrying about someone putting a knife in me. I was short and my hair was black. I fit in. Right. The wide-eyed guy in bluejeans who toted a backpack displaying a Canadian maple leaf. 

I carried a notebook and a disposable camera. But the pictures couldn’t evince a full sense of Bogotá. I started writing down everything that I saw. I would get it on the page and edit later. Bogotá soon overwhelmed the words. The noise, the smells, the pollution, lines of buses five wide. Hawkers sold food, electrical appliances, umbrellas, and sunglasses. Men sucked in gasoline from Coke bottles and flicked cigarette lighters to spit out fire. A whole noisy street devoted itself to little shops for motorcycles. Another store specialized in rat poisons. I made lists of everything I saw. But I knew I was only capturing a small part.

A local friend arranged a group to see Cartucho. In those special blocks, addicts were free to lay on newspapers while they inhaled basuco, a primitive form of crack. Next to crumbling buildings, many had concocted shelters with garbage bags stuffed with newspaper. We soon arrived at a busy street where a young man lay dead. A photographer in fatigue pants snapped pictures while he smiled and joked with his police colleagues. Beside the squalor were low-end restaurants. On the terrace of one, a teenage waitress glared at us. I took it in and scribbled a few notes. No photographs. In the Cartucho community, pictures were forbidden.

I absorbed the city for seven days. Then went home to Montreal and took years to write the book. Maybe five percent of those great details made it into the manuscript. And when I finally queried agents about my thriller set in Colombia, no one was interested. “That ship has sailed,” one of them said.


But the manuscript survived. Parts of it made their way into Murderabilia, the book Midnight Ink is publishing in July. I converted a scene into a short story and submitted it to the anthology that Sister’s in Crime San Diego is publishing next year. The book will be called Crossing Borders.

You never know when your international adventures will sneak into the fiction you write. It could be tomorrow or twenty years from now. 

William McNary is a private banker who keeps his clients’ secrets — and some of his own. His father is Harvey Dean Kogan, the infamous serial killer known as “The Preying Hands,” responsible for killing thirteen women who abused children in the Chicago area. He brutally butchered them and then arranged their bodies for his disturbing black and white photos. These pictures started the “murderabilia” market, which William can’t seem to escape. Thirty years later, William has carefully constructed his life to exclude his father’s name and history. But a threatening phone call from a man claiming to be his brother shatters his idyllic life and makes him fear for his family’s safety.

Carl Vonderau grew up in Cleveland in a religious family that believed that God could heal all illness. He left that behind him when he went to college at Stanford and studied economics. Somehow, after dabbling in classical guitar, he ended up in banking. Carl lived and worked in Latin America, Canada, and North Africa, and conducted business in Spanish, French and Portuguese. He also secretly wrote crime novels. Now, a full-time author, he also helps nonprofit organizations. He and his wife reside in San Diego, where their two sons live close by. Check out more at  http://carlvonderau.com/.

DEBS: I would add that as a writer, you never know when ANY of your adventures will come in handy. But, Carl, I am absolutely fascinated by the picture you've painted of Bogata--I hope a little of that atmosphere made it into MURDERABILIA.  You have a fascinating set up there. And, eternally curious writer that I am, I'd love to know what happened to you friend Victor. Your own story sounds like a book in itself.

And I have to add that I think Carl's cover is just stunning. Did you have any input, Carl?

READERS, stop by and chat with Carl today!

48 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your book, Carl! I can certainly see why you say that writers should save everything they write. I enjoyed reading about your escapades in Bogotá . . . you are a brave soul! Your description is so atmospheric [and scary] . . . .
    And what about the faceless prosecutor? Do you plan to work him into a story at some point?

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    1. Hi Joan. Thanks. First of all, my friend Victor made it. He finally retired from the Public Prosecutors office. I've lost track of him but believe he is living in the city of Cali, Colombia. The faceless prosecutor was a big part of a book that never got published. He also made it into a story to be published next year. As a victim. That story is about a street orphan lured into becoming a sicario, a killer.

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  2. Congrats on the book. Way to recycle some of what you'd already written.

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    1. Thank you. You always end up using the good stuff.

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  3. I'm in complete agreement about never throwing away writing, Carl. I recently converted a non-fiction memoir essay I wrote while living in Burkina Faso twenty years ago into a short story, "The Divination of Death," which was published in Mystery Most Geographical, last year's Malice anthology.

    As a fellow orphaned Midnight Ink author, I commiserate even as I congratulate you on the release!

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  4. Hi Edith. Burkina Faso sounds like a fascinating place. I've never been there. Congratulations on preserving that memory in a a published story. It's hard to get the right details in the writing so that the reader gets a sense of the place without overwhelming them with every sight, sound and smell. I've found that, in my writing about Bogota, I could only partially do justice to it. The strange thing is that after all these years I still remember parts of my experience so well.

    It's so sad about Midnight Ink. For anyone who doesn't know Llewellyn, the parent, is closing this imprint at the end of this summer. Terri Bischoff, the acquisitions editor, discovered and acquired some terrific writers, many of whom won awards. One of them is Kelleye Garrett. She and I share Michelle Richter as our agent. And now Terri and the imprint are gone from Midnight Ink. I believe that my manuscript was the last one that my editor, Sandy Sullivan, worked on there. She left at the end of May. Fortunately my book is a stand-alone and not a series.
    Edith, have you found another publisher yet?

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    1. Yes, I have moved the Agatha-nominated Quaker Midwife Mysteries to Beyond the Page Publishing, and book five, Judge Thee Not, comes out in two months! I wasn't done with the series with book four and am glad I found a new home for it.

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    2. Good for you. You got the rights back then for the other books. I'm just a debut author so my situation is not as complicated as yours was. You must be excited and busy with the next one coming out in two months. I've found that I have never done enough to promote my book. I love the Quaker element in your series. In Murderabilia, the mother or the protagonist, and husband of the serial killer father, is a Christian Scientist.

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    3. I've left the first four books with MI for now. We'll see how that shakes out! I would imagine there is much to be mined with Christian Scientist characters.

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  5. congrats on the new book Carl--what a story. Most of our spouses end up living through a lot of interesting adventures, don't they? So glad yours finally made it into print. Do you have another book percolating?

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  6. I consider all my as-yet unpublished words as compost... for future work. And like you, I've repurposed tons of stuff. So much easier to begin with SOMETHING even if it smells not so great when you start. And who knew there's really such a thing as "murderabilia"! I read that items belonging to Charles Manson's have brought a sizable amount at auction. Depressing.

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    1. Hi Halle. You know Jackie Mitchard, who helped me extensively to develop and shape Murderabilia. Someone at a writers' conference said that she put what she didn't use in a manuscript into the Graveyard of Cuts, which she mined later. I don't remember who that was. I, for one, can't afford to lose good stuff.

      Murderabilia is not only depressing but disgusting. In my book, I had to make the protagonist's father notorious and creepy. I did that by having him take black and white photos of his victims that were so artfully composed that fans and academics studied his technique. I then discovered the murderabilia market, where memorabilia from killers is bought and sold. There are actually dealers in this stuff. John Wayne Gacy clown paintings sell for more than $100,000. I ran across a dealer who claimed, "we're just ordinary people." He then went on to describe a mother who bought her son "a Gacy" for his twelfth birthday. It gives me the chills just typing this. In my book, the protagonist's father's fame in the murderabilia market makes it impossible for him to escape the stigma of his past.

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    2. Sorry, I meant to type Hallie.

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  7. Thanks. It was a pretty stupid trip to make when I had young children. But once I was in Bogota, it didn't seem that dangerous. Fortunately my spouse didn't know the best details I used for my fiction.

    I do have another book I'm working on. This one is about a father with a very difficult son who's kidnapped in Mexico. Hank Phillippi Ryan looked at the first pages when she was at the La Jolla Writers Conference. I have a draft but it needs lots of work.

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  9. Thanks for mentioning the article, Michael. If you're interested, the title is "Is Murderabilia Really What I Think It is?" in Dab of Darkness Book Reviews. https://dabofdarkness.com/2019/05/20/guest-post-from-carl-vonderau-author-of-murderabilia/

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  10. Congratulations on your debut! The faceless prosecutor grabbed me. PD James described murder exhibits in lurid detail in The Murder Room.

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    1. Thank you. Isn't "faceless prosecutor" a perfect term for what these brave people had to do? When Pablo Escobar was bing hunted in Medellin, my friend Victor was sent there from Bogota as one of the prosecutors trying to try to capture him. Victor could not tell anyone his name or go anywhere without a phalanx of guards. He couldn't call home because Escobar's people controlled the phone lines. They discovered from an informant that a bomb was about to go off in Bogota and he couldn't warn his family to stay away.

      I haven't read that PD James book. But I guess murder exhibits have been around for a long time. There is a murder museum that was kicked out of San Diego and is now in Los Angeles. It's called the Museum of Death. I haven't seen it. Another is in New Orleans. Madame Tussaud has been around forever. I saw a Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum in New York as a boy that had some pretty grisly stuff. So we've always been fascinated with these disturbing images.

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    2. I had forgotten about The Murder Room!

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  11. Congrats on the book. Your post is why my cut files are full of material that can be used somewhere else - sometime.

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    1. Thanks, Liz. It's just a matter of time. But you have to go back and review what you have or you forget it. Unfortunately I don't do that enough.

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  12. Graveyard of cuts! That is hilarious! In my graveyard of cuts, there are only things that should stay dead. What a journey, Carl! I can’t believe you were terrified the whole time.
    And is so thrilled to see this come to life… You are such a terrific writer.
    And wow! What did you think when that Karin Slaughter blurb arrived?

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  13. Hi Hank. We're both at the Thrillerfest conference in New York, where I'm in the debut author's program and Hank is teaching. The strange thing about Colombia, and other places where I've traveled, is that you habituate in a day or two and it begins to seem normal. At one time I worked for a Bank in Montreal and handled their business with Algeria while the Iraq War was going on. One day my friend at a bank asked if I'd heard anything from my hotel the night before. I hadn't. They said that terrorists had taken over the power plant a mile away. The army came. "It was all done very professionally," he said. Which I took to mean that the army had killed the terrorists.

    I was very fortunate to get the Karin Slaughter quote. I was working with Jackie Mitchard on editing the book and she asked Karin to blurb me. Then it took years for the book to get published. Karin was very generous in allowing me to still use the quote.

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  14. Hi Carl! Congratulations on your debut. It must be very exciting to be at Thrillerfest in your publication week! And how great that Hank has had a look at pages from Book #2. Hank is the best at giving writing advice. I take it you know Mexico well?

    And do tell us about your cover!

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    1. It's really exciting being here. Murderabilia was officially launched this week. So it's busy, to say the least. But this is the moment I've been imagining for 30 years. So yes, it is special.
      Hank gave me great feedback on that all important first scene. Like everyone, I will probably write that 50 times.
      I do know Mexico. I'm fluent in Spanish and traveled there many times for business. I've been very active with the board of a YMCA n San Diego. For the next book, I actually worked with some friends in Mexico to help me scout a place where the son of a banker could be kidnapped.
      Midnight Ink came up with the cover. I initially thought it was too lurid, but now I think it's amazing. They also came up with the title. Murderabilia was a part of the book but not originally the title. That was The Darkroom, because of the importance of photography in the book and how it fit thematically.

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  15. Congratulations on the publication of your book. First book, right? How does it feel to have that first book seen by the world?

    Your friend seems amazing. I grew up with two uncles working in the local county prosecutor's office, share the last name with one of them and can't imagine any of us bring danger because of their jobs.

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    1. Thank you. Yes, it's the first book. It's a great feeling to see your words on a page in a bound book. I look at it and it seems like someone else wrote it. Now, of course, I have other worries about reviews, sales and social media. Plus, will I be able to write a good next book?
      Victor was amazing. So calm. Normal family life. I would ask him what the inside of the Bogota prison looked like and he drew out a detailed schematic and tell me about the organization. Complete separation of work from those he loved. His wife didn't even know some of the cases he was working on. He drove a broken-down Oltcit produced in Romania with one big wiper in the center of the windshield. He rented a very modest apartment with his family in Bogota. Incredibly long days for little money.

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  16. Congratulations on your debut, Carl! I think your story make another important point for writers - all the information of the world is available at our fingertips on the internet, but there is nothing that compares to actually being in a place, smelling the scents, eating the food and seeing all the details that never make it into a Wikipedia page.

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    1. Absolutely right. I don't know where the photos are I took at the time. But they didn't capture it either. I found it most helpful to just observe and to try to get the ambiance and feeling of Bogota down on the page as I walked the city. I had about 50 pages of notes from my one week background trip.

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  17. Hi Carl! I met you at Left Coast Crime in Vancouver and I remember you introduced yourself in Sign Language.

    Congratulations on your new novel! I read an ARC for your novel. I wrote several reviews for Bookbub, Goodreads and Netgalley. Good reviews, I would think.

    About Colombia, I remember the news stories about drugs coming out of Medellin, Colombia. Your story about Mexico reminded me of a conversation I had with a college classmate. She grew up in San Diego. She and her friends would visit Mexico for a day. She mentioned a high school friend who was "arrested" by the Mexican police for a made up traffic violation because the police often got money from American families in return for their teenagers. Well, this time it did not work. This American teenager's family DID NOT CARE. They refused to pay $$$. My classmate said that once the Mexican police knew that this American family did not care and would not pay, they released the kid!

    Wonderful that you kept notes for future stories! I am decluttering right now and finding many notes from another lifetime ago before my cochlear implants. I had interesting conversations with people I have met when travelling abroad. I lived in England for two months and attended classes at Worcester College at Oxford.

    Diana

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    1. Diana, of course I remember you. You even understood my terrible sign language. My wife is a hearing child of deaf parents and grew up with sign language. She teaches at University of California, San Diego. A few years ago an immigration attorney consulted her about some deaf people from Mexico applying for asylum in the US. A Mexican drug cartel had used them as slave labor on one of their haciendas. They picked on people least able to get help. We don't know what happened to their case.

      Back in the 1980s she and I traveled together to a deaf oral school near Merida, Mexico. I spoke in Spanish to the director while my wife looked around at the kids. The director described what the kids were doing as primitive gesture. She had no idea how to sign. Meanwhile the kids, who were discouraged from signing, had their own elaborate language going on behind the director's back. While I engaged the director, she looked at the sign language. Because there are more than 2000 sign languages in the world, and because Rachel only spoke American Sign Language, Rachel didn't understand what those kids were saying.

      Your friend was very lucky to get away from being kidnapped. Now the kidnappers mostly kill people who don't pay the ransoms. They often kill the victims even after the ransom is paid.

      How have you found life with cochlear implants? Are you glad you did it?

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    2. Funny, I thought you said your wife was Deaf. Now I understand. Are your children Deaf too? Or the only deaf people in your family are your wife's parents?

      Your story about ASL reminds me of when I met deaf people from other countries. There are some signs like "baby" that is universal. Made up signs or "home signs" can be difficult to understand anywhere. The kids at the oral school would have benefited from cochlear implants, IF there was a team updating the mappings regularly. These are very expensive and I do not know if the deaf oral school in Mexico had the money.

      Until the telephone was invented, Deaf people had professions like teaching. There was a Deaf architect who designed the State Capitol in ? TN or Minnesota ? After the phone was invented, unfortunately, it became harder for deaf people to find careers unless they went into the printing industry, which may or may not exist now.

      The thing about my classmate's friend is if the Mexican police killed him, the family would not care. Everyone was surprised when the Mexican police released him! Sad to say there are families like these.

      Glad I did it! I find the cochlear implants very helpful! The hearing aids never helped, which means that I was pleasantly surprised by how much help I got from the cochlear implants. It is NOT for everyone. It takes a lot of time - listening to books on tape for an hour in the mornings. I saw the cochlear implant team every month or two during the first year. Luckily, my insurance paid for everything!

      Diana

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  18. Welcome Carl and congratulations on publication! I've given MURDERABILIA a place of honor in the TBR stack, and I look forward to reading it. Enjoy your day with the Jungle Reds.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my book. I hope you like the many layers to the story.
      I'm enjoying Junge Reds. This is fun and bring all kinds of things out of the memory banks.

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    2. "Junge Reds" <<<< Jungian slip?

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  19. Congratulations on the new book, Carl. That was some adventure you had in Bogotá. It’s good that at least some of it made its way into MURDERABILIA. I’m sure an experience like that must in some way color almost anything you write. I agree that we shouldn’t throw away what we write. I have a manuscript that I never did anything with until I reworked some of it into a short story which made it into this year’s Malice Domestic Anthology. You never know.

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  20. I'd love to put you and my husband together to compare notes! He is also fluent in Spanish, having grown up in Mexico way back when. His career in security and loss prevention became international when we moved back to Houston in 2006 and he worked in Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and in the Mideast in Oman and other places. He has several unpublished mysteries based on his white collar crime investigations when he worked in the Cleveland Ohio area. Any chance you'll be at Bouchercon?
    At any rate congratulations on the publication of Murderabilia. It sounds wonderfully angsty and creepy!

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    1. I'd love to meet him. More coincidence. I also grew up in the Cleveland area--Rocky River. I will be at Bouchercon. Hope to see you there, Pat. And your husband. He probably has more stories than I do.

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    2. Pat, I didn't know that about your husband! How interesting! I spent a lot of time in Mexico growing up, even living in Mexico City in La Zona Rosa the summer I was eighteen. I'm sorry to say that my Spanish is very rusty, however.

      Carl, so looking forward to meeting you at Bouchercon. Will it be your first?

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  21. Thank you, Ang. You had the same experience I did. Congratulations. In my case, I think the short story works better than the book did. 100,000 words down to 5000 words. Both the short story and the old book dealt a lot with street orphans in Bogota. In Murderabilia, the protagonist's wife at one time worked with street orphans in Cartucho, the drug blocks of Bogota.

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  22. I just got a stunningly good review from Criminal Element! A little hard for me to think right now. You always hope for this, but you always doubt this kind of review will happen.

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  23. Wow, Carl! You have quite an impressive resume. Being multi-lingual must be an amazing advantage not only in business but in life. And, your visit to Bogota sounds like a brave mission for research. I am completely intrigued by your new book Murderabilia and look forward to your "Crossing Borders" short story, too.

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  24. Thank you. It's been fun to learn languages. They are all romance-based so they have a lot of similarities. Which means I often borrow from one language to talk in another. Which can get you into trouble. When I worked for a French bank in Montreal, I interrupted someone in a conference room and wanted to tell them in French that I was sorry to bother them. I used the Spanish word for bother: "molestar." But in French I ended up saying, "I'm sorry to molest you." Whoops.

    I hope you enjoy the book and the story.

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  25. Congrats on your book! Your trip to Bogotá sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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    1. Thank you, Marla. I had many once-in-a-lifetime experiences in Colombia. I worked in Bogota for a summer after I graduated from high school. Then I studied for a college semester in Medellin--before Pablo Escobar rose to power. It is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been to with mountains, jungles, plains and the sea.

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  26. >>>>>AND THE WINNER OF SUSAN VAN KIRK'S BOOK HAS BEEN CHOSEN BY SUSAN--AND IT'S Susan!
    "I would like to send a copy of my book to "Susan" who wrote in at 7:20 about finding the mother's wedding rings after the fire. Winner Susan---email me your address! To: h ryan at whdh dot com

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