Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site packed with tricks and tips for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting!
Kim Tomsic

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Next John Green?

Clipped from the pages of Simon & Schuster (release date September 20, 2016):

In the tradition of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl comes the incredibly moving true story of a teenager diagnosed with cancer and how music was the one thing that helped him get through his darkest days.

Punk’s not dead in rural West Virginia. In fact, it blares constantly from the basement of Rob and Nat Rufus—identical twin brothers with spiked hair, black leather jackets, and the most kick-ass record collection in Appalachia. To them, school (and pretty much everything else) sucks. But what can you expect when you’re the only punks in town?

When the brothers start their own band, their lives begin to change: they meet friends, they attract girls, and they finally get invited to join a national tour and get out of their rat box little town.

But their plans are cut short when Rob is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that has already progressed to Stage Four. Not only are his dreams of punk rock stardom completely shredded, there is a very real threat that this is one battle that can’t be won.

While Rob suffers through nightmarish treatments and debilitating surgery, Nat continues on their band’s road to success alone. But as Rob’s life diverges from his brother’s, he learns to find strength within himself and through his music. Die Young With Me is a raw, honest account of a brave teen’s fight with cancer and the many ways music helped him cope through his recovery.

Pre-order Die Young With Me
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (September 20, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1501142615
  • ISBN-13: 978-1501142611

Rob Rufus is represented by Shannon Hassan, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Interview with Literary Agent Shannon Hassan

Hello, Readers!

Today on the blog we have agent Shannon Hassan from Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. Prior to this interview, Shannon and I sat down for coffee, so I can tell you from my face-to-face encounter, Shannon is personable, smart, and funny. The whole package!

Shannon has been an agent for three years, which is good news for writers seeking an agent, because she is currently growing her client list. Please know, her short time as an agent does not mean she is a “newbie” to the field of literature or contracts—she has years of experience as an acquisitions editor at Fulcrum Publishing and also years as a corporate attorney.

KT: Hi, Shannon! Thank you for meeting with me and for agreeing to answer my “fast five” questions. 
SH: Thanks for having me on your wonderful blog, and for your kind words! So Marnice to meet you and have you as my neighbor. J

KT: ICE BREAKER: You’re clearly one smart cookie! You earned a BA in Journalism and Economics at George Washington University, a JD at Harvard Law (Harvard!), and then you worked as a corporate attorney at a Park Avenue law firm—so please settle my burning questions. Which is better—cats or dogs? Dogs Pasta or sushi? Pasta Subway or bike? Bike!

1.  KT: Imagine we could strap into a time machine (ours can be a Tesla instead of a DeLorean) and travel back to your middle school and high school days—what books would we see on your night stand (and what else might be there)? 

SH: Well that would send me back to Texas in the 80’s, when I had big bangs, ha! The first book I fell in love with was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Another favorite was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I also read a lot of Stephen King—I’ve always been an eclectic reader.

KT: Also I know you have twelve-year-old twins—what are some of their current favorite titles?

SH: All Four Stars, Pax, When You Reach Me, The Land of Stories, The Crossover, and Book Scavenger. I enjoyed those too!

2.      KT: Some writers spend hours crafting their query letter (and they should!); others simply whip something together (yikes). I’m sure you can tell the difference. What are three tips you can give writers on query do’s and three tips
on query don’t’s?


·        Ask your critique group to give you feedback—it is impossible to have perspective on your own query letter after you’ve immersed yourself in writing the novel for so long.
·        Mention one or two “comp” titles—books that have been published recently (in the past couple of years) that show the type of audience you are hoping to reach.
·        Show your voice. I don’t mean write the letter in one of your character’s voices (that never works!). But do give a taste of what the voice of the story will be. For example: if your story is humorous, then get that humor across in the query.

·        Don’t write a long lead-in about yourself or why you wrote the book, etc.—just get right to the hook.
·        Don’t tell us every minor plot point—your query should be a concise, engaging blurb like you would see on a book jacket, not a synopsis.
·        Don’t forget to proofread. First impressions matter!

3.      KT: Taste is subjective, but great writing trumps all. For example, I would have said I’m not a fan of dystopian, but then I read (and loved) Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (and of course I love the obvious dystopian leaders, Hunger Games, Divergent, The Giver, etc.).  What are your favorite genres?

I love a range of genres, and my list for MG and YA includes everything from contemporary realistic, to humorous, to historical, to suspense, to romantic, to adventure and fantasy. See part two below on what these stories have in common….

KT: And part two—the important question (drumroll please)—what hooks you when reading a manuscript?

SH:  A fresh voice and compelling, authentic characters!  If you give me amazing characters that leap off the page and into my heart, then I will pretty much read about them doing anything.

A couple of my recent wish-list items include a page-turning historical in the vein of Laurie Halse Anderson or Ruta Sepetys, something that plays with narrative structure in the vein of Challenger Deep, and quirky stories with humor and heart.

4.      KT: Your bio shows that you represent authors who write middle grade and
young adult, but not authors who write picture books. If you sign an author based on a middle grade project, and they also write picture books, would you represent their picture books, too, or would they need to find a second agent?  Also, do you represent chapter books (i.e. similar to Junie B. Jones, Clementine, etc.)?  Lastly, please tell us about the nonfiction you are interested in.

     SH: I am not actively acquiring picture books or chapter books, but when I have existing clients who want to work on those things, I will represent them. But if you are looking to make your debut with a picture book, then I am probably not the right agent for you. For nonfiction, I am interested in narrative nonfiction and memoir from authors with strong platforms. 

5.      KT: Writers love to feel like they have the inside scoop—like they know you. Please tell us a little known fact about you (other than the fact that you ride an adorable purple cruiser with basket and all). 

      Well let’s see…I love to travel. Since our twins were barely out of diapers our family has been to some far-flung places like Easter Island, the Galapagos, and Iceland. 

      Thank you, Shannon! It is a pleasure getting to know you! Please provide your query instructions below:

      I look forward to receiving your queries at shannon@marsallyonliteraryagency.com. Please email a query letter + 10 pages.

Thank you again Kim. It was my pleasure!

Shannon Hassan, an agent at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, has worked in publishing and law for more than a decade.  She represents authors of literary and commercial fiction, young adult and middle grade fiction, and select nonfiction.  On the kid-lit side, she is looking for fresh MG and YA, and is open to a range of stories as long as they have authentic, memorable characters: contemporary stories with humor and heart, adventures, thrillers, and mysteries, original fantasies (with one foot grounded in reality), page-turning historicals, as well as nonfiction from authors with a strong platform.

A few of Shannon’s recent or soon to be published YA and MG books include THE WORLD’S GREATEST ADVENTURE MACHINE, a middle-grade adventure by Frank L. Cole (Delacorte/Penguin Random House), DIE YOUNG WITH ME, an adult/YA crossover memoir by Rob Rufus of the Blacklist Royals (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster), DIAL EM FOR MURDER, a YA suspense novel by Marni Bates (Merit Press/F+W), IN 27 DAYS, a speculative YA novel by Alison Gervais (Blink/Harper Collins), and a quirky, realistic middle-grade novel (working on the title!) by Dusti Bowling (Sterling Kids).

Before becoming an agent, Shannon was the Acquisitions Editor at Fulcrum Publishing, and prior to that, a corporate attorney at Arnold & Porter in New York. She received her JD from Harvard and her BA from George Washington University. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Twitter: @ShannonHassan

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

SCBWI Unofficial Scavenger Hunt

Unofficial SCBWI Scavenger Hunt!

How would you like to show up to LA16SCBWI and and win cocktails, conversation, and a critique with Chronicle editor Melissa Manlove? In 2011, I attend the SCBWI summer conference in Los Angeles and noticed an underground scavenger hunt in the works—it was to take place during the Saturday night gala. I quickly formed a team made up of strangers (which ended up being a fast and fun way to make friends). We had a blast working the scavenger hunt, but the best part was winning—we earned a private cocktail party and pitch session with Chronicle Books editor Melissa Manlove. In that hour and a half of sipping lemon drop martinis, Melissa generously shared her knowledge and offered constructive feedback. I learned more about my story and writing than I'd ever understood before. Now I can proudly announce I have two picture book deals with Melissa and Chronicle Books and also...oh, I can't tell you the "also" right now, but here's what you need to know—I am certain that the scavenger hunt was the spark that ignited my writing career. 

It is with great enthusiasm that I say YOU can have the exact same opportunity if you are attending this year’s SCBWI sold-out conference taking place this month in Los Angeles, July 2016.

Unofficial SCBWI Scavenger Hunt! #SCBWIscavenger  (tweet with hashtag #SCBWIscavenger) and/or #LA16SCBWI 

On Saturday by 4:30pm, the following will be hidden around the hotel:
a.      small plastic eggs containing scrabble titles
b.      a selection of unusual objects
c.      the indubitable Martha Flynn, who will be the keeper of four blank scrabble tiles (first four teams to find Martha secure a coveted blank tile!)

Please see Melissa Manlove’s Instagram account for photos of the unusual objects and Martha Flynn—the photos will all be posted at 4:30 pm on Saturday. Between that time and 12:00 noon on Sunday, teams will find all they can, and then spell the best word or phrase possible with the scrabble tiles they’ve collected. Post a photo of your team’s word plus any of the unusual objects you find to Instagram and tag Melissa Manlove—you must post your photo to Instagram by 12:00 noon on Sunday and remember to tag to Melissa Manlove!

Important Note: The eggs and objects will be hidden in plain sight, in public areas of the hotel. It will not be necessary to move hotel furniture or decorations to find them, or to step into areas not meant for foot traffic. Please stay respectful of the hotel’s property and tidiness while searching for them.

Anyone attending SCBWI LA16. You may form teams with a group size of 6 or fewer people.

The Biltmore Hotel—particularly (but not limited to) the Red Carpet Ball

4:30 pm Saturday July 30th – 12:00 noon Sunday July 31st

Is it worth it...oh yes!!!!!!!!!!! 
Melissa will post the results on instagram.
"The winner will be determined by an utterly subjective and seat-of-my-pants assessment of the team submissions. Having collected objects will likely tip the scales if I am torn between two words/phrases, but the words/phrases themselves, as exhibiting the team’s creativity, will be the primary point of judgement."

**Each team should share this post to their social media to be considered good sportsman**.

Winners will meet in the bar on Sunday at 4:30 pm for cocktails with Chronicle editor Melissa Manlove (!!!!!!). The winning team has the option to make the cocktail hour into an impromptu critique group with feedback from Melissa—if your team chooses this, each team member should bring up to 5 pages of a work, and enough copies for everyone.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Confessions of a Conference Junkie

Confessions of a Conference Junkie
Jerilyn Patterson
A guest post by Jerilyn Patterson

I became hooked on writer’s conferences after attending my first one in 2010. Now, I attend an average of three per year, and I always look forward to the wealth of knowledge they provide, the encouraging community, and the opportunity to meet interesting authors and industry professionals. Over the years I’ve honed some strategies for making the most out of my conference experience. Read on for my tips!

Focus on Craft

First and foremost, I go to conferences to learn. When I consider the accumulative experience of everyone in attendance, including fellow writers as well as faculty members, conference tuition is a steal. I try to absorb every single drop of information and take nothing for granted.

Before going, I reflect on the specific areas of my craft I want to improve, and then peruse the conference schedule in search any sessions and keynotes relating to that. While most conferences don’t require advance registration for specific break-out sessions, I prefer to have a game-plan from the get-go, instead of leaving all the decision-making until I’m standing in the crowded lobby of a potentially unfamiliar place.

While there, I take copious notes like I’m back in college and yes, everything will be on the final exam. I read somewhere that information is best absorbed when taking notes by hand, and I’ve found this to be true. I bring a shiny new notebook, stock up on my favorite pens,
and keep a bottle of ibuprofen ready to alleviate any hand cramps.

When I get home after the conference, I type out all my notes and save them in a file on my computer. This might seem extreme—why don’t I just use my laptop for note-taking at the conference to eliminate the extra step? Because typing them forces me to revisit what I’ve learned, which helps gel all that new information. After my last conference I ended up with seventeen single-spaced pages, and that was just for the first day! (I’m still working on transcribing day two.)

Cultivating Community

Throughout my years attending conferences, I’ve discovered an invaluable community that cheers me on and buoys me up. Yet I’ll admit that’s the last thing I expected when I stepped into my first conference. I was a brand-new, baby writer with nothing more than an intriguing idea and a can-do attitude and I had my game face on. My background is in music, a highly competitive field—even MORE so than writing, believe it or not! I expected everyone in the room to size me up and make snap judgments about my skills based on my outfit and hair-do. That had been my experience in the music industry, and I assumed writing wouldn’t be any different.

Nothing was farther from the truth. Everyone I talked to was warm and welcoming. I met new writers like myself who were eager to make friends, and veteran writers who were incredibly generous about sharing their wealth of knowledge. I left that conference with profound gratitude that I had finally found My People.

If you’re attending a conference for the first time, discovering your own community might seem daunting, especially if you’re an introvert like me. The good news is, every single person in attendance has something in common with you: Writing! Most will welcome the chance to talk about their latest project, their favorite books, or how their pitch session or manuscript consultation went. Don’t be afraid to reach out. And remember that while not everyone you encounter will become your BFF, everyone is a colleague. The children’s writing community is small and you never know who you’ll end up sitting with on a panel someday.

Connecting with Professionals—AKA Agents and Editors are people, too!

While I value craft and community immensely, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I also hope to someday make a connection with my future dream agent or editor. I know I’m not the only one—in my role as registrar for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI, I often receive inquiries about appropriate behavior when approaching industry professionals.

My first strategy is to sign up for a manuscript consultation or pitch session. Not only do these offerings allow for an authentic reason to talk with an agent or editor, they also provide invaluable feedback from individuals who have made a career of selling books.

In casual settings, my rule in approaching industry professionals is to remember they are people too and to put myself in their shoes. Would I prefer a stranger to walk up and start pitching out of the blue while I’m enjoying my lunch? Or would I instead want a writer to introduce themselves respectfully and maybe even chat about the latest Captain America movie? Option B hands down! Sometimes the conversation will naturally progress to what I’m working on. If not, I don’t fret and remember I’ve made a positive connection.

Or not. There was that one time on the last day of a conference when I rode down an elevator with a Very Big Editor from a Very Big Publishing House. Though the editor had sat on many panels throughout the weekend, I didn’t recognize them. Assuming the editor was a writer like me, I asked how long they’d been writing and if this was their first conference. I received a lifted eyebrow in response, noticed their nametag, and flushed bright red. I certainly left an impression! If something similarly embarrassing happens to you, laugh and move on. Agents and editors know that we’re people too.

If you’re thinking about attending a conference, give it a try! With a little preparation and a genuine interest in meeting and making friends with other writers and publishing professionals, you, too, can become a conference junkie.

***Bonus update: Would you like to sit down for cocktails, conversation and a critique with Chronicle Books editor, Melissa Manlove at this year's LA16SCBWI?  Following this link to learn how: Click Here

Jerilyn Patterson has been writing almost since she could talk. No joke--she dictated her first journal entry to her mother when she was four years old. Eventually she learned how to hold her own pen and years later she's still keeping a journal. She also writes young adult fiction and serves as registrar for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SCBWI. A native of Colorado, she lives on the front range with her family and two neurotic gerbils. You can find her on twitter, (@jerwrites)  occasionally tweeting about writing, legos, kickboxing or whatever else strikes her fancy. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fast Five: An Interview with Author Richard Peck

Fast Five with Richard Peck

by Kim Tomsic

It’s no secret I have been a longtime fan of Richard Peck—the author, the word wizard, the genius. Imagine my joy when the man who has been the single biggest influence in my writing career agreed to a phone interview! Here's how it went:

KT— As you know, I’m your biggest fan. In 2009, I decided to pursue a writing career, because I ran out of your books, and I craved more Richard Peck style tales to read to my son.  What/who influenced you to become a writer?
Answer: “Mark Twain.” When Peck was in fourth grade, his teacher gave him a copy of ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Peck “knew that’s where [he] wanted to be.” Furthermore, Mark Twain was from his part of the country, Decatur Illinois, and seeing someone who was like him and from his area helped paint the possibility of becoming an author in young Richard’s mind. He wanted to be “words on the page,” and yet he waited—he studied literature, became a teacher, and when was 37 years old he wrote his first book. Why?  "To fill a need." He couldn’t find a book to satisfy the needs of his high school students (a contemporary story that reflected them), and so in 1971 he wrote DON’T LOOK AND IT WON’T HURT (it was later turned into a movie called Gas/Food/Lodging.)

KT—Mr. Peck, you possess the magical ability to write humor and heart in a story—I’m laughing, I’m crying, I’m buying your books for my friends. Your characters are real and fleshed out, so here’s my FREAKY FRIDAY question:  If you had to switch places for a weekend with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
With an air of whimsy, Mr. Peck said he would be Joey from A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO, because Joey’s Grandma Dowdel is the grandma he always wishes he’d had. Very much like grandma Dowdel, Peck’s own grandma was six-foot plus, with a shock of white hair, and she wore Lane Bryant dresses. But unlike his own grandmother, Grandma Dowdel was nice. He said, “When we write as authors we don't write about our family, we write about the family we might have had.”

KT—At an event where I heard you speak, you talked about “first chapters” and how you rewrite your first chapter many times and still again after you’ve completed your manuscript. My biggest take-away was your statement, “The first page of a book is a promise to the reader.” You also said, “The first page is the last page in disguise.” What other elements do you believe make a successful first page?
Mr. Peck said authors often start in the wrong place. We need to find a place “to start nearer to the action. Hit the ground running. Don't start too early and don't wander around.” He also said, “The first page is the table of contents for your story. It has every element of the book; the reader just doesn't know it yet.”

KT—HABITS:  I look forward to reading your newest upper grade novel THE BEST MAN (Dial Books, September 20, 2016). First, I must know--did you write it on your electric typewriter?

RP: “Yes! I have to feel that page in my hands.” 

KT—Awesome. I remember hearing you say you type out your first page, pull out the paper, write notes all over it, and then when you can’t find any additional writing space (or you can no longer read your own writing) you start over—and you do this at least six times! Then when you get to the end of your manuscript, you return to the first page and write it again from scratch. What other writing habits do you have?
 Mr. Peck says that after he’s rewritten the first chapter six times and rewrites the tightest first page possible, he forces himself to remove twenty words from his first page. Twenty words, people!  The aspect Peck loves most about writing is dialogue. He says "A novel is conversation overheard.” His method for making dialogue lively is practicing his dialogue away from his desk. He also practices it standing up! He rehearses the lines and then acts them out with full movement,as if he’s in a play. If something strikes him, he rushes to his desk, types it on his IBM Selectric, and then his one-man show continues until the dialogue is electrified and alive.

KT—INSIDER INFORMATION: What is a little-known fact about you?
little-known fact is that Richard Peck was a soldier during the war. Because he could type like the wind, he was assigned to be the chaplain’s assistant and part of his job as the chaplain’s assistant was to interview American soldiers who wanted to marry German brides. In the course of the interviews he would get to know the bride and groom and was often asked to serve as best man. The groom always buys the best man a present, so at the end of the war, Richard Peck was probably the only soldier who came home with 37 pairs of new cuff links!

Meet Richard Peck! 

Richard Peck will be a keynote speaker at the RMC SCBWI Letters and Lines Fall Conference September 17-19, 2016. He will also do a reading and signing of his latest book THE BEST MAN (Dial Books, September 2016) at Tattered Cover in Denver on September 20, 2016. THE BEST MAN has received a starred review from Kirkus, from Publisher's Weekly, from the Horn Book and others!

ABOUT THE BEST MAN from  the Penguine Random House website:
Newbery Medalist Richard Peck tells a story of small-town life, gay marriage, and everyday heroes in this novel for fans of Gary Schmidt and Jack Gantos

Archer Magill has spent a lively five years of grade school with one eye out in search of grown-up role models. Three of the best are his grandpa, the great architect; his dad, the great vintage car customizer; and his uncle Paul, who is just plain great. These are the three he wants to be. Along the way he finds a fourth—Mr. McLeod, a teacher. In fact, the first male teacher in the history of the school.

But now here comes middle school and puberty. Change. Archer wonders how much change has to happen before his voice does. He doesn’t see too far ahead, so every day or so a startling revelation breaks over him. Then a really big one when he’s the best man at the wedding of two of his role models. But that gets ahead of the story.

In pages that ripple with laughter, there’s a teardrop here and there. And more than a few insights about the bewildering world of adults, made by a boy on his way to being the best man he can be.
Published by Dial Books
Sep 20, 2016 | 240 Pages | 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 | Middle Grade (8-12)| ISBN 9780803738393

Saturday, May 21, 2016

SCBWI Crystal Kite Winners 2016

The SCBWI is excited to announce the winners of the 2016 Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards for the fifteen regional divisions:

Atlantic (Pennsylvania/Delaware/New Jersey/Wash DC/Virginia/West Virginia/Maryland)
Laurie Wallmark, illustrated by April Chu - Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books)
Australia/New Zealand



International Other


Middle East/India/Asia

New England (Maine/Vermont/New Hampshire/Connecticut/Massachusetts/Rhode Island)
Lynda Mullaly Hunt Fish in a Tree (Nancy Paulsen Books)

New York

Southeast (Florida/Georgia/South Carolina/North Carolina/Alabama)
Rob Sanders, illustrated by Brian Won - Outer Space Bedtime Race (Random House)

Southwest (Nevada/Arizona/Utah/Colorado/Wyoming/New Mexico)

(Side note from blogger...take a look at the starred review from Kirkus regarding Melanie Crowder's AUDACITY:
A novel in verse featuring the real-life Clara Lemlich, a courageous, tenacious warrior for workers’ rights in turn-of-the-20th-century New York City.
Newly arrived in New York from Russia, she finds employment in a sweatshop, where young immigrant girls toil in dangerous conditions, cheated and harassed by bosses, earning pennies for long hours of work. Sacrificing her dream of an education and in spite of her family’s dire economic straits, she devotes her energy to supporting these girls, fighting for the inclusion of women in the all-male garment union and winning them their own local. She organizes strikes against individual sweatshops and leads the Uprising of the 20,000, during which she and the other young women strikers are repeatedly beaten by police and hired thugs, arrested and jailed. From her constricted life in a Russian shtetl and difficult journey to America to the choices she makes in her new life, readers hear Clara’s strong, clear voice in action-packed verses that convey with intense emotion her conflicts and conviction, her deepest thoughts, and her doubts and triumphs. Crowder breathes life into a world long past and provides insight into the achievements of one determined woman who knows she will “give / without the thought / of ever getting back, / to ease the suffering of others. / That, / I think, / I will be doing / the rest of my life.”Compelling, powerful and unforgettable. (historical note, interview, glossary, sources) (Historical fiction/poetry. 12-18)


West (Washington/Oregon/Alaska/Idaho/Montana/North Dakota/South Dakota)

The SCBWI would also like to thank Christopher Cheng, the International Awards Coordinator for all his help and hard work with the Crystal Kite Awards.

About the Crystal Kite Awards
The Crystal Kite Awards are given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to recognize great books from the seventy SCBWI regions around the world.  Along with the SCBWI Golden Kite Awards, the Crystal Kite Awards are chosen by other children’s book writers and illustrators, making them the only peer-given awards in publishing for young readers.

Founded in 1971, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is one of the largest existing writers’ and illustrators’ organizations, with over 22,000 members worldwide. It is the only organization specifically for those working in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia. The organization was founded by Stephen Mooser (President) and Lin Oliver (Executive Director), both of whom are well-published children’s book authors and leaders in the world of children’s literature.  For more information about the Crystal Kite Award, please visit www.scbwi.org, and click “Awards & Grants.”

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