Hiring a Publicist…or Not? (Part I)

If you’re hiring a book publicist, you might want to note the following Shakespearian quote, tape the words to your mirror, and memorize them as you contemplate interviews, signings, and other types of publicity.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

Shakespeare was a poet and playwright, so he must have understood the public’s temperament. The average publicist charges $1,000 to $5,000 a month for retainer fees, and that doesn’t include traveling expenses or monies for review copies. What’s more, there’s no guarantee of sales. A publicist can set up interviews with influential radio and TV stations, book signings, and blog tours; put together trailers and revamp your website. So you should realize some sales, but I wouldn’t bet your home mortgage on it. Can you afford to gamble $7,000 to $14,000? If the answer’s yes, most publicists recommend that you start your campaign about four months before the book goes live. If you have a beaut of a cover, superb editing, and a strong platform, you’ve taken the tide of publicity at the flood, and it’s on to fame and fortune. If not all that – you can’t win the lottery every time – the publicity will enhance your brand and provide a decent amount of sales. If you’re going in with an overpriced book, bad cover, and spotty editing, you might run into dismal reviews and other miseries.

Let’s say you’ve got the funds and everything’s squeaky clean with your cover and editing. You’ve consulted several publicists to compare prices versus services, and honed in on a choice. Before you sign the contract – yes, there’s one involved – questions need to be asked before you decide on and schedule services.

  • Is this your first book? What kind of platform will you offer?
  • Are you free to schedule a book tour or will family obligations, health problems, and/or work hours get in the way?
  • Are you media-shy? Could you benefit from coaching?
  • Is the weather where you live compatible with travel, or is your neighborhood prone to frequent snowstorms, hurricanes, etc.? How comfortable are you with traveling in adverse weather conditions?
  • Are you comfortable with guest blogging? I enjoyed my blog tour for Steel Rose as much as I do chasing balloons at the Giant, but I’ve seen people grimace at the prospect of writing a blog.
  • Is the SEO for your website up to par or do you need help in that area?

NTD author JoAnna Senger considered these questions before she hired JKS Communications for Reservation Ravaged. As her publisher, I got to see the process up close and personal. Mind you, everyone’s experience will be different, but in my next blog (Part II), I hope to give you an idea of what to expect when you hire a publicist.


Madhuri Blaylock’s The Boy

Blaylock writes compelling fiction.Where did you get your ideas for The Sanctum: The Boy? Is there a 3rd book coming?

Let’s start by answering the easy stuff first. Yes, there is a third and final book in The Sanctum Trilogy currently in the works. I published The Boy in mid May of this year and afterwards, took off a couple of weeks to read some other people’s work, blog and just kind of take a deep breath and exhale for a second. The Boy was emotionally taxing for me to write – so much of it makes me sad – so it was good to take a little time for myself and unwind a bit. But now I am back at it and hope to have the trilogy complete by the end of this year.

Now to tackle how I came up with the idea for The Sanctum Trilogy.

I started thinking about The Sanctum a few years ago.

I had been reading a lot of fantasy and paranormal fiction and although I loved every minute of it, I found myself oftentimes getting quite frustrated with the female characters. They possessed amazing powers and were many times expected to save the world, but consistently lacked self-awareness. Frustratingly, these same badass girls often had to learn of their capabilities from someone else, that someone else most often being a boy.

So I set about to create a girl who knew quite a lot about herself, at least when it came to her capabilities, and out came Dev.

Then Wyatt, and the rest is history.

I knew I wanted The Sanctum to be a trilogy as it seemed an ideal way to develop and explore the world I created. Book I would tell Dev’s story, Book II would tell Wyatt’s story and Book III would tell their story together.

The Girl introduced readers to the world of The Sanctum and Dev and I was hopeful it would transition smoothly into The Boy, which focuses more on Wyatt’s journey. At the time, I did not know all the details of his journey, but I knew the key aspect around which his life would evolve: The Ramyan.

The Ramyan are a mysterious sect of Magicals who traverse the worlds of both the living and the dead, remaining aloof and beholden to nothing but their own will and desire. They were briefly mentioned in Book I but knew they would play a significant role in Book II and Wyatt’s journey.

I tend to write from a very loose outline, and when I say loose, I mean loose. For book II, I basically noted how the book would begin, end, a few key points I wanted to cover in the story, and then just started writing. It’s not very organized but offers my imagination much freedom to run wild and create characters like Jedda and Pius, neither who were planned, but who play major roles in the plot line.

So I guess this is all a very long way of saying that my ideas for Book II: The Boy initially arose from a desire to create a very self-aware, badass girl and have blossomed, and exploded, from there.

Dev is the inspiration for it all and honestly, I find her to be so very worthy of the honor.

The Boy is a blend of dark science fiction.BLURB:

“Every now and again an excellent novel will come forth dealing with fantasy and magic that will just grab and hold my attention from beginning to end. That is exactly what THE GIRL did.” — OOSA Online Book Club

In THE GIRL, Madhuri Blaylock introduced readers to the world of The Sanctum, one corrupted by greed and savagery and hellbent on achieving a single goal: destroying the prophesied hybrid. When one of its most celebrated warriors questioned his allegiances, age-old secrets were unveiled and violence erupted. The journey becomes more perilous and intense as the trilogy surges forward with


Can you cross the plains of death, collect every piece of your soul and make it back to the land of the living?

And if you complete the journey, will your loved ones welcome your return?

The Ramyan have been answering such questions since the creation of The Sanctum. A mysterious sect of Magicals, haunting the blank spaces of time and memory, they serve no one but themselves and their higher purpose. They exist on a plane removed from earthly matters, shifting easily between the living and the dead, moving in time to the beat of their own drummer.

At least they did. Dev and Wyatt change all of that when the prophesied hybrid lands on the steps of Rinshun Palace, seeking help for the wounded Class A Warrior. That decision alters lives and sets old agendas back on course. But at what cost to Dev and Wyatt? And does that really even matter?

“The characters in Madhuri Blaylock’s novel…are well written and unique, and the story is just fantastic…I just loved every page of the story!” – Readers’ Favorite


Blaylock is the author of compelling science fiction.AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Madhuri is a Jersey City Heights girl via Snellville, Georgia, who writes paranormal fiction and is slightly infatuated with tattoos, four-inch heels, ice cream, Matt Damon, scotch, Doc Martens, Laini Taylor, photo booths and dancing like a fool.

She’s working on The Sanctum trilogy and hopes one day soon, everyone is walking around with copies of The Girl and The Boy in their pocket or on their Kindle.

She wants to get a goat and a burro, but since she lives in the city, will settle for some chickens.

To learn more about her, you can follow her blog at madhuriblaylock.wordpress.com, follow her on Twitter at @madhuriblaylock or like her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thesanctumtr.

She’s totally chatty so drop her a line any time.



The clearing in the park still hummed with magic. Her magic. And her scent. It was why he kept coming back to the same spot every night, just for a whiff. Then he could go about his business, whatever that might be.

Darvin Lucius Jefferson was one hundred and ten, going on seventeen. He was a wealthy, bored teenager who became a wealthy, somewhat bored vampire. There were a few things in this life that brought him joy, piqued his interest: from the very first day he saw her, Jools Clayworth, and as of nine days ago, that stunning thing her brother was running around with before he died.

Of course, Darvin had no idea whether or not Wyatt perished subsequent to his ministrations, nor did he care. He simply assumed the too-good looking, sanctimonious warrior was dead, for his wound was hideous and he seemed to be breathing on borrowed time. Darvin had told the pretty thing as much that night, then he’d returned to his perch atop the Dakota and watched her strap the warrior to her back and escape into nothingness.

What a feat that had been.

One moment she was there, in all her stunning beauty and tortured agony, the next she was gone.

As if she’d never been there at all.

Darvin went to the spot that night, less to follow her than simply explore. It was glamoured to avoid human detection but he found it easily, having watched the warrior and his beautiful best friend, Ryker Morrison, comb the area many a time over the past year. But try as he might, Darvin could spot nothing to hint at an escape hatch or portal. Whatever the pretty thing had used to vanish into thin air, it was long gone, hidden from prying eyes. All that lingered was her scent, that hypnotizing, intoxicating essence of her that Darvin wished he could bottle and keep hidden in his pocket. Away from Darby.

Darby Winthrop.

The one and only.

The dark queen of New York.

The southern belle from hell.

His maker.

The Boy is a blend of dark science fiction.


A Balloon Lady’s Look at 2014 PWC Conference

Barbara Custer improves her writing at Philadelphia Writers' Conference.During the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, I stayed at the Wyndham Hotel and brought balloons along to help me sleep. As everyone knows, I’m a balloon lady and my balloons follow me wherever I go. Therefore, I showed up at the conference alert and ready to learn.

Friday brought two delightful surprises: the lunchtime “Open Mike” and, along with the fiction and poetry raps, the “Apples to Writers.” So during lunch, I got an opportunity to read an excerpt from my book, and during the raps, participated in a contest involving writing after getting a prompt. Everyone who read got a prize, but the winner was nominated Queen of the Apples to Writers.

Many of my “aha” moments came with my “book promotion” classes – Dave Girgio’s Book Trailers and Audio Books, Cecily Kellogg’s Using Search and Social, and Suzanne Kuhn’s Reaching your Audience through Social Media. For starters, I learned just how much a good trailer costs – $3500, according to Dave, because a decent trailer involves hiring actors. If you can’t afford to pay that kind of money, it’s best to not use a trailer at all because the quality of the cheaper ones won’t do anything for you book. So…with my next book, I plan to promote it in different ways, but the book trailer will not be one of them unless I can pony up at least $2500.

Be aware of timing when posting an event or blog, advised Suzanne. You don’t want to announce an event during a Sandy storm or other national tragedy. Midday may not be the best time if people are just straggling home from work. She stressed the importance of platform. In Cecily’s class, I got tidbits about SEO – where to get free images for the website and some HTML to dress up my post.

Alma Katsu’s Upping the Ante gave me useful information on the types of conflict. It made me want to go back to my WIP with new eyes. She stressed the importance of writing “in scene” instead loading my beginning with thoughts and back story. I’ve struggled with beginnings, but I understand better how to fix them.

I also took two classes pertaining to characterization: Judith Schachner’s Strength of Character and Austin Camacho’s Creating Characters That Keeps Fans Reading. Judith gave us a new way of creating characters – pictures. Everyone created a character based on a photo she gave each of us. I have my photos and plan to use them for characters in my books. I was glad to get them as I’m a visual learner.

Okay, I know full well that “show, don’t tell” trumps all, but Austin spelled out just how to do that with characters. It’s not enough to describe what your character’s wearing, for example. How do other people react to his clothes? The ways people react can tell you who to watch and who to ignore.

I enjoyed listening to the keynote speakers, William Lashner and Lu Ann Cahn. All up, the camaraderie was great. This balloon lady would like to thank the Board of Directors for putting together a great conference.

Parkinson’s Scorched Earth – a Revisit

When people hear about the bad side of love, they think abuse or unrequited love. Parkinson’s scorched earth policy taught me that love has other dark sides.

I live in a forest. You’ll find Mylar balloon trees everywhere in my house. Butterflies, Disney characters, Valentine hearts, and glittering stars. At one time, Mike and I used to waltz under the fruits that grew on them. When we weren’t dancing, he worked outside in his tomato garden. Other times we’d browse brochures with which to plan amazing vacations in Florida, Nevada, Aruba, and on two occasions, Italy. At a party, he’d regale people with tales of his years in the Navy during the Vietnam War. For his living, he counseled unemployed workers looking for compensation, and the office became his second family. Time spent around other people enabled him to escape the reality of Viet Cong capturing people and Parkinson’s disease invading his body.

“Scorched earth” comes from the military strategy the US used to fight the Viet Cong. This strategy involved the destruction of crops, homes, and resources vital to the enemy. I can’t remember when Mike’s war with Parkinson’s began, but his disease whispered “scorched earth,” with gardening, driving, and activities of daily living becoming the casualties. The process might have started with tremors and loss of energy, but it ended with frequent falls, necessitating a wheelchair and admission to a nursing home. It’s not just about my inability to lift. Parkinson’s stiffens the body so that it becomes a dead weight. The docs came up with magic pills to contain the symptoms, but Mike’s body couldn’t tolerate their side effects.

I rate my visits with Mike into three classes: good, semi-good, and bad. Last two visits were good ones. Mike and I chatted as if he were healthy. He’ll handle a spoon and fork without help. His voice came through clear. Sometimes he might ask me about my balloons, and last time out, he encouraged me to buy a generator because of our harsh winter. On semi-good days, the alertness is there, but he’ll have trouble opening his eyes. He’s not able to answer, and when he does, people can’t understand him. On bad days, the dementia comes out in full bloom with hallucinations. On those days, he’s not allowed to be alone in his room because he tries to get up, and falls. What’s more, his personality changes have alienated him from friends and relatives. I think a lot of it is because Parkinson’s hereditary, and some relatives fear they might get it, too.

Thankfully, my family adopted him and visit. Bingo, movies, and other activities keep Mike engaged, and for a few moments he can forget his troubles. Sometimes I bring balloons for him and other residents. The staff has come to know me as “Balloon Lady.” When Mike embraces and hugs me, I know I’m in for a great visit. Sometimes though, the good visits can be tough because then I realize what we lost. Parkinson’s can’t destroy his spirit and his smile has endeared him to the aides and nurses. I’m hoping that a research scientist is reading this blog and works harder at coming up with effective treatment.

I’ve wish to thank my family and buddies who’ve supported me with Mike’s illness. My writing projects continue, and in my next book, I might introduce a character with Parkinson’s. I’m taking it one day at a time.

Barbara will be awarding an eBooks to a randomly drawn commenter.

1st prize Night to Dawn 25 PDF

2nd prize Steel Rose PDF

3rd prize Close Liaisons PDF

Mike Custer is husband of fiction writer Barbara Custer.


Keeping the Red out of your Manuscript

Close Liaisons features Barbara Custer's balloons and science fiction.During the last month, I’ve been proofing two manuscripts for NTD books and editing short stories that will appear in Night to Dawn magazine. I prefer Word’s tracking feature, which enables the writer to see what I changed and why. He or she can decide whether to accept or reject the proposed change. Questions or suggestions I might have will appear in a highlighted box or balloon outside the margin. Some tales or pages go back to the author with few or no notes in red; others make the manuscript look like I bled on the pages.

It’s hard to see one’s own mistakes. I’m revving up to approach an editor about my Steel Rose sequel and anticipate seeing my pages bathed in red. Here are five things that prompt me to apply the red ink at Night to Dawn:

  1. 1.     Adverbs. The adverb has its place in the English language, but it makes for BAD fiction writing. They clutter up and weaken the sentences. Most of the time, they’re unnecessary. Don’t tell me the music blasted loudly. “Blast” connotes loudness.
  2. 2.     Passive voice. Passive voice is a stylistic issue that may prevent the reader from understanding what you mean. It also includes linking your action with a “to be” verb, which may weaken the writing. For example in the statement “While the city was threatened, Barbara shopped for balloons,” we don’t know who or what was threatening the city. A better way would be “While the snowstorm threatened the city, Barbara shopped for balloons.” Passive voice may work if you don’t know who was doing the action, but use it with caution.
  3. 3.       Clichés. I’m referring to the old, tired phrases that need to kick the bucket (pun intended). Those sneaky little devils creep into the story as often as balloons hop into my shopping cart at Giant. Too many overused expressions make for a boring tale. Ditch them and replace with original images. Authoright publishes a list of clichés to avoid.
  4. 4.       Knowing the difference between “its” and “it is,” “lie” versus “lay,” “anymore” versus “any more,” “farther” versus “further,” and so on. I believe that most people do; but when you’re overtired, it’s easy to confuse the difference between related words. Start off with fresh coffee.
  5. 5.       Parenthesis and run-on sentences. A run-on sentence occurs when you have two or more independent clauses without a conjunction. Example: I love zombie tales I read them all the time. A comma, period, or coordinating conjunction between the two clauses will fix this. I see a lot of parentheses, too, and in most cases, the sentences work without them. The parenthesis has its place in nonfiction writing, and with fiction, you can use the parenthesis to achieve a desired mood. If I can read the respective sentence without stumbling over the words, you’ve done your job well. Otherwise, I get out the red pen.

About a month ago, I invested in Pro Writing Aid, which has a free version and the premium version for a reasonable price. Their software is tough on passive voice, adverbs, idle words that detract from the sentence, and repetition. I struggle with repetition. Though I catch it on NTD manuscripts, I can’t see it on my own pages. There’s a learning curve, but the Pro Writing Aid makes a great tool for copy editing and proofreading. Not so much for content editing. That’s when you turn to your beta readers and a developmental editor.

Barbara Custer got the red out of Michael Destefano's historical fiction.

Joseph Spencer’s Inspiration for Wrage

Joseph Spencer's Wrage features crime fiction.I’ve written a lot about the influences that mythology, religion, and historical lore have had on the supernatural aspect of my Sons of Darkness series books Grim and Wrage, so I thought I’d touch on the crime aspects of the novels and their influences today. There are parallel threads running in both books. There are events occurring in the supernatural realm which affect the afterlife and there are events which affect everyday life in Prairieville. The supernatural realm and the realm of men have become interconnected thanks in large part to the corruption in Prairieville caused by the influence of organized crime.

Though I’ve read a lot of crime fiction and it’s one of my favorite genres, I’ve gathered part of my inspiration for the characters which work for the Prairieville Police Department from my real life experiences. I work as a manager at a 9-1-1 emergency communications center for my full-time job, so I work alongside police officers every day. My center handles between 300 to 400 9-1-1 calls on a daily basis and even more non-emergency calls. Our job is to gather information such as location, types of crimes being committed, description of victims and suspects, description of the direction these suspects are travelling away from the scene of the crime, a medical disposition for those who are injured and any officer safety information such as weapons being used by suspects. After we’ve gathered that information, we relay it to police officers, firefighters and paramedics on the radio to respond to the scene of active and previous crimes.

The experience I’ve gained in public safety has helped to humanize these responders and given me a window into their personalities when I’m working on character development for my novels. Over the course of my five-year career, I’ve dealt with calls reporting to suicides, bridge jumpers, homicides, bank robberies, fatal fires, fatal car accidents, airplane crashes and almost any situation you can imagine. I’ve also had front-row access to see how people are first on scene at some of these tragic events handle the situation. In my experience, most of the public lauds these responders as heroes and rightfully so. But there’s more to their stories, and that’s what I try to capture when I create that sort of character. The stresses of the job are difficult to handle, and that’s resulted in some of the gallows-type humor I’ve incorporated in Grim and Wrage. That’s why some of the characters are heavy drinkers or womanizers. It’s a release from the pressures and stress of a stressful job which I’ve observed.

Another advantage to working in the public safety sector is that it allows me to become familiar with jargon and procedures used by police, fire and ambulance personnel. Did you know officers have specific radio codes to let each other know there’s a suspect armed with a gun or a business has received a bomb threat? Unlike what the movies and television shows would have you believe, you can report someone missing without waiting 24 hours. Did you know that when a fire department refers to a RIT team that it’s a specially-designated group called a Rapid Intervention Team with the sole purpose of evacuating fire personnel in case there’s some sort of accident while fighting a fire? These are all intricate details that I try to weave into my writing to add some authenticity.

Organized crime is another prominent aspect featured in Grim and Wrage. Even though most communities don’t have larger than life villains like the ones featured in my books or in movies like The Godfather, organized crime is still a pervasive problem in our society. Gangs traffic people, weapons and drugs every day, and I didn’t fully realize the severity of the problem until I worked in public safety. That’s why I chose to make gangsters such an integral part of the decay of Prairieville. I think gangs plague their surroundings wherever they are allowed to gain a foothold.


Joseph Spencer's Wrage features crime fiction.Blurb:  

Sometimes the toughest fight lies within yourself.

As more dark secrets come to light, the battle for souls pushes Prairieville to the brink of war in the living and supernatural realms.

Jeff Wrage swears a blood oath to Abaddon, the supernatural avenger of murder victims, to hunt the crooked cop who butchered his wife. Jeff wonders whether he can be the executioner Abaddon requires. Their pact throws the supernatural realm in chaos and threatens to trigger an apocalyptic fight for control of the afterlife between the Sons of Darkness and Sons of Light foretold in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Orlando Marino sees the death of Cyrus Black as his opportunity to restore the Marino family’s stronghold in Prairieville’s organized crime scene and become a mob kingpin. He unleashes a plague, turning its victims into mindless followers. Cyrus’ heir is busy rooting out a traitor and is unable to stop the coming turf war in the realm of man.

The fate of all rests with Homicide Detective Anna Duke, who steps into the shoes of her mentor while coming to terms with unrequited love. As she tries to clear the fallen hero’s name, she takes on a case where corpses go missing. Her new partner is reported dead. She learns the truth about her true identity and uncovers a trail of secrets questioning her tragic past. She journeys to avert the destruction of all creation.

Joseph Spencer's Wrage features crime fiction.Author Information:

As a boy, Joseph Spencer immersed himself in the deductive logic of Sherlock Holmes, the heroic crime fighting of Batman and Spider-Man, and a taste for the tragic with dramas from poets like Shakespeare and Homer.

Before Joseph took to spinning his own tales, he pursued a career in print sports journalism, graduating summa cum laude from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. He covered such events as NASCAR’s Subway 500 race in Martinsville, the NBA Draft Camp in Chicago, the Junior College World Series, and Minor League Baseball’s Midwest League All-Star Game during a ten-year career throughout the Midwest. Now, he works as an emergency telecommunications specialist with an Illinois police department. The combination of years of writing experience with a background working with law enforcement professionals gave rise to his writing aspirations.

Joseph was married to Dr. Amy (Waggoner) Spencer, an accomplished veterinary doctor, on March 14, 2012. He received word his debut novel was accepted by his publisher, Damnation Books, the next day. Joseph is hard at work on the rest of the series. Book 2 – Wrage – was released June 1, 2013.  The Spencer family enjoys reading Charlaine Harris, George R.R. Martin, Mary Janice Davidson, and most paranormal stories. The Spencers also enjoy quoting movie lines from “The Princess Bride”, “Rain Man”, “Bridesmaids”, and “Office Space.”

Twitter Link: https://twitter.com/josephspencer00

Facebook Link: https://www.facebook.com/joe.spencer3

Goodreads Link: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/7881659-joe-spencer

Book Video Links:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJMdOhL-Qrg  (Grim trailer)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3Z-ECZw3AE  (Wrage trailer)


Joseph will be awarding a $25 Starbucks gift certificate to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.

Joseph Spencer's Wrage features Crime Fiction.Excerpt:

Thunderclaps from high above jolted Jeff out of his slumber.

Something hard and cold with jagged edges pressed into his back.

When he tried to move, iron shackles strained against the skin of his arms and legs. Chained to a rock in a dry stream bed, he knew he’d become a helpless prisoner who could do nothing more than wait for his captor. Stormy skies threatened from directly above him with bright flares of lightning snaking among sooty clouds and disappearing. Out of the corner of his eye, he could detect that the sun was shining brightly on the other side of the rock.

Scant rays of brilliant sunshine peeked over the rock, reflecting bright light off a magnificent golden shrine on a bank not far from where he was chained.

This can’t be real. He’d never seen a place like this in his life.

Large wet drops crashed against his skin. The coolness of the rain streaking down his body caused steam to rise from his skin, which he noticed had turned a dark shade of crimson. The only being this red was….

“Lucifer,” a calm voice echoed from above Jeff on the shoreline.

A giant, dressed in white armor sparkling like diamonds in the spare sunlight, stepped into view. He wielded a golden-hilted silver sword in one hand and a silver shield with the Latin inscription “Quis ut Deus” (I am like God) on the front in the other hand. He loomed above Jeff. A large gold cross ran down the center of the giant’s breastplate. A second inlaid golden cross glinted at the center of his white helmet. The helmet obscured his face, save for flawless ivory skin which radiated a blinding light. There was something across his back casting a large shadow, but Jeff couldn’t see what it was.

“You were thinking of Lucifer, whose skin is often portrayed as red,” the giant said. The ivory giant stepped into full view. From his back a pair of massive wings spanned over ten feet wide and five feet long majestically fluttering in the breeze, yet didn’t cast a shadow. The rain pelting Jeff in the eyes didn’t touch this giant. He certainly was no man. The only thing Jeff could compare it to would be—

“An angel,” the giant completed Jeff’s sentence again. “You are correct.”

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