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From the Kitchen Sink to Here

Mar
12

Yesterday, several people asked in the comments about how I came to be a romance writer. Before you forget that you even asked and wonder why I’m droning on about this boring nonsense, I shall reply!


I’ve known I was going to be a writer as far back as I can remember. I have a vivid memory of being five and reading Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter and wishing I had written it. I’ve always been a big reader and I was one of those children who started early–I started reading when I was four. I loved Beatrix Potter. And, hmmmm. She wrote stories about animals who talk….. I write stories about animals who talk! Writing this post is the first time it has occurred to me that Beatrix Potter has no doubt been a subconscious influence on my writing about our farm. Not that I fancy myself on the same planet with Beatrix Potter. (Just making that clear.) I wrote all sorts of stories and poetry and stuff while I was growing up.

My mother is a longtime romance reader and I read my first romance novel (a Harlequin Romance) when I was 12. I felt like a shaft of light hit me from the sky–this was what I wanted to write! Romance novels! I got a degree in English, concentrating on literature and creative writing, and I minored in History, concentrating on medieval history–a sort of self-styled “Medieval Romance Writer” degree. During my early 20s, I jotted around on book ideas, in particular a medieval romance, but about all I accomplished was scribbling incredibly detailed character and plot notes in a huge notebook. I couldn’t figure out how to put it all together.

My first job was writing for a newspaper. I quit to stay home when my first child was born. I wanted, very much, to start writing books, but I’d just had a baby and was planning to have more. One day I was standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes during naptime, thinking about how I wanted to have three babies, in short order, and figuring up how many years it would be until the last one went to kindergarten, which was when I thought I would have time to start writing books (when they were all away at school during the day). Of course, my first one–Ross (aka 17)–was only five months old, so the day when the third one would go to kindergarten was quite far away seeing as how she wasn’t even born yet. And I thought to myself–a dream delayed might be a dream lost forever because there will always be a reason I can’t do this. That day, I stopped doing housework during naptime and started writing a book. (My housekeeping went downhill accordingly.) I decided to start with writing a contemporary romance because writing historicals seemed too hard at the time–I knew I had to learn to construct a novel to begin with, so writing one that required a lot of research on top of that seemed, for me, not the best idea. I wrote a “sweet” romance (“sweet” in romance novel language means no love scenes) that was based on a short story I’d written in creative writing class in college. (The “short” story was about 20 pages, and was sort of a mini-romance novel. Upon reviewing the story, my English professor gave me a begrudging A and wrote on the paper, “This is very commercial. You’re a good writer and you’re wasting your talent.”)

And, I have to say, when I dragged it out into a book, it was an awful book. Only I had no idea it was awful so I printed it out, packed it up, mailed it to Harlequin, and started a second book.

The second book was only slightly less awful, and I was still completely unaware of its awfulness so I printed it out, packed it up, mailed it to Harlequin, and started a third book.

The third book was possibly slightly less awful than the second, and by then I was becoming aware of it as Harlequin was sending me little rejection letters in the mail. I discovered there were other publishers in the world and kept sending the books out, papering New York with my dribble. Around this time, I discovered other romance writers, who explained that I wasn’t supposed to just mail manuscripts out like that! I was supposed to send little letters describing the book and ask permission to send the entire manuscript. I found this notion baffling, and since I had not been struck dead from sending books out without permission, I kept doing it. (I’m such a bad girl!)

An editor at a small publishing house called Meteor rejected Book #3, but for the first time, instead of a letter simply telling me, No, thanks, it came with a letter telling me, in detail, what was wrong with the book and how to fix it. I rewrote the book, scrapping the first version entirely, starting back on page one with a blank screen using the same characters and story concept. (That’s how much was wrong with it–not a paragraph was worth saving, only the characters and major plot points.) Five weeks later (I had sooo much energy!!!! LOL) I had a new manuscript. I popped it in the mail back to that same editor at Meteor, and 13 months after the day I stood at my kitchen sink and determined not to let my dream slip away, I got a phone call from that editor in which she offered to buy my book for their Kismet Romance line. I was 28. While I was on the phone with the editor, Ross (who was then 18 months old) unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper and ran up and down the hallway of our house with it. And I didn’t care.

Never Say Goodbye was published in May 1993. I got my author copies in the mail the day I came home from the hospital with my second baby. Three months later, the publishing house folded.

By then, I had completely rewritten Book #1 (the one originally based on a short story from college). I mailed it back to Harlequin and Make Room for Mommy was published (in November 1996) as a Silhouette Romance (an imprint of Harlequin). Between my first and second published books, I received (understatement alert) a lot of rejections on numerous other manuscripts, but I kept writing more of them, and they were getting better. I also continued to submit to other publishers. I sold three books to Silhouette Romance, but I got tired of writing the sweet romances. I have a short attention span as a writer. I wanted to try new things. I sold about half a dozen books or so to Kensington that were published in their Zebra Precious Gems line (most of these were very sexy romantic comedies), then the line folded. I sold one book to Bantam’s Loveswept line, then it folded. (Are we seeing a pattern here? Publishing is not a business for the faint of heart.) Kensington started a new line in their Zebra imprint called Bouquet and I seized the opportunity to write my first romantic suspense novel. I wrote two books for Bouquet before that line folded.

By then, Kensington had started a historical romance line and I took that opportunity to write what I had started out wanting to write–medieval romance. I dug out my big, fat notebook with all my scribblings about this historical novel I had fantasized writing for years–and I wrote it. It turned into a three-book series for Zebra Ballad Romance. Of everything I’ve ever written, I’m most proud of those historical romances. They were LONG. Four-hundred page manuscripts each. And complicated, involving a ton of research. Then, of course (!!!), the Ballad line folded. I’d enjoyed writing romantic suspense novels and didn’t feel done with that yet, so I went back to Harlequin and wrote more romantic suspense novels for them. Then, of course (!!!), I got bored writing romantic suspense and started writing paranormal romances (my PAX League series and my Haven series), under the Silhouette Intimate Moments/Silhouette Romantic Suspense imprint.

It’s probably no surprise that, after 26 books, my attention has now wandered away from romance completely due to my writer attention deficit disorder. Or maybe I’m simply fulfilling my five-year-old heart’s dream by writing stories about talking animals?

I just know I’m having a lot of fun. And as I tell people when I give workshops on writing–“If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.” I believe in loving what you write, and writing what you love. If you do that, your passion will leap off the page and people will respond to it. Don’t ever write what you think is marketable and try to force yourself to love it. Write what you love and figure out how to make it marketable. You could write a book about a Martian with an addiction to QVC who is in love with a mad cow, and if it’s written with passion, there’s somebody out there who will buy it. Not that I’m suggesting anyone should write a book about a Martian with an addiction to QVC who is in love with a mad cow. Unless you really have a passion for it. Then I say go for it, and be prepared for a lot of rejection before you find that one editor who will love that story as much as you do. She’s out there–you just have to find her. And that’s the same with any type of book, Martian and mad cow or not. All you need is one editor to love your book, so when the other editors start rejecting you, don’t get down–just recognize that they aren’t the one and keep looking until you find her. And write more books. That’s the be-all end-all of my writing advice, though I do want to add this one thing: In the process of getting 26 books published, I have received HUNDREDS of rejections. I still get rejected. If you want to be a writer, rejection is just part of the process.

I love the challenge of writing in new and different directions. I love the sheer versatility of writing, the ability to re-invent myself as many times as I like, learning new things and setting new goals. There are always new mountains to climb and new dreams to dream. I have a lot of passion these days for writing about my farm, my animals, old-fashioned cooking, and country life, and, as always, I believe in following your passion. It is my single criteria for everything I write, whether it is my blog or my books. I owe passion to myself, and I owe passion to my readers who either plunk down their dollars for my books or open that bookmark in their browser to come to my blog. I write because I’m driven to share my passion with other people and affect them in a positive way, and so without that passion, there is no impact and there is no purpose for me.

I am a writer, and I am still writing. Where can you find my work now? I write a country living column for the Charleston Daily Mail. You can read my recent columns here. I also write every day here at Chickens in the Road. The best is yet to be.

If you are a sucker for punishment and actually want to know more about my writing after this longest blog post in the history of blog posts, you can find out more about my books here. You can also read my post about cover art or check out my post about stalking Nora Roberts.

If anyone wants to ask any questions about my writing or writing in general on this post, I’d be happy to answer. (As you may know, I rarely talk about writing on my blog.) Some common questions:

Are your children impressed that you are a published author? No. I’ve been doing this all of their lives and they aren’t impressed. (Or embarrassed. Or anything else. Unless, occasionally, when one of their friends mentions it or they see something in the media about me. Then they might be impressed for like one second. Then they’re over it.) It’s normal to them. What, is your mother not a writer???

Do you have a literary agent? No. I don’t like literary agents. I would explain why, but that would be a whole ‘nother post.

P.S. Someone mentioned yesterday that the model on the cover of my new book is Nathan King. I know nada about cover models. However, I know that there are people who do, so I want to mention that I have had at least one cover with the famous John deSalvo. It was It Only Takes a Moment, one of my Zebra Bouquets. I think I have another deSalvo cover that someone told me about, but I can’t remember which one it is. (I think it’s one of my Precious Gems.)

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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on March 12, 2009  

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  1. 3-12
    2:28
    am

    Did you ever start sending out letters asking permission to send your manuscripts, or did you continue to send the manuscript?

    I always enjoy your blog! Now I have discovered your a night owl!

    BTW – the pound cake was awesome. I made it last Monday.

  2. 3-12
    4:08
    am

    What a fascinating journey! I loved how you just stuck with it, because you knew that you were a writer, and you knew you could eventually sell. That is a story in and of itself.

    Ah well, off to make some Grandmother bread for the Grandgirlies who will be arriving tomorrow. They love cheese toast on Grandmother bread! Smart girlies.

  3. 3-12
    4:11
    am

    Oh, and welcome home Ms Clover! From the picture, I can see that your time at the spa was beneficial. You look so relaxed, and your coat is just gleaming. I certainly hope that woman has stocked up on cookies!

  4. 3-12
    5:23
    am

    I think it is wonderful that you have such passion for what you do. It is something I have always felt was missing from my life.

    I really just wanted to stop in for a minute and say Hi! since I haven’t left a comment in a while.

    Do you thing Annabelle is going to grow up thinking she is a giant puppy? :sheep:

  5. 3-12
    5:51
    am

    :snoopy:
    This was a fascinating post!
    I love to read, and I like to write. We actually got one of your novels the last one that came out the other day. Though…I haven’t read it.. :?
    I’m still trying to get through Eragorn, which I got for Christmas. I’m so behidn on reading.
    This was just a nice peek at what goes on behind the curtains when it comes to writers.
    I’m still a little foggy on how you go from scribbling incredibly detailed character and plot notes in a huge notebook to actually putting it all together so it makes sense to other people thats tricky.
    But this was a really nice look at what it took you to get rolling in the buisness and thats cool.

  6. 3-12
    6:07
    am

    I am a huge reader. HUGE! I read 2-3 books a week if I allow myself to. My entire house is littered with boxes of books; anything from Jodie Picoult to The Bronte Sisters and Stephen King to the raunchiest (and fun) of Romance Novels. I have read just about every Susan Wiggs, Nora Roberts and probably even Suzanne McMinn ;) but I have to dig through boxes to see. (no i am not talking you for this reason, I am stalking you because of the chickens, just to get that straight).
    I just wanted to say thank you to you for writing, I personally could NEVER write, i get bored easy and my punctuation and capitalization sucks. :)
    Just a thank you because I read so much.
    Now… I am going shopping for some books! I think I will try one of yours! — do you have any about chickens?

  7. 3-12
    6:17
    am

    Not yet……..!

  8. 3-12
    6:18
    am

    Thanks for sharing that. One of these days I’ll need to sit down with Aunt Pat and ask her about how she got started. I’ve always thought it was so neat that she’s a writer.

    My oldest does what you used to do. Pages of plot and character detail. (then a few pages of story until she has a project due…or gets distracted with something else!) A couple years ago she started a story she’d planned on entering into a contest. She had me read the prologue…got me hooked, wanting to read more and NEVER finished!! I hate to be left hanging like that! BUT, her passion is art…so she’s gotta concentrate on that. (hmmm…maybe she can turn it into a comic book?!)

  9. 3-12
    6:19
    am

    After the first few books, I started being able to sell on proposal. (A proposal is an outline and a few sample chapters.) So yes, I continued submitting without sending query letters, but I was submitting much less material because I was only submitting proposals, sometimes just the outline, sometimes with sample chapters. The more established you are as a writer, the less you have to write in advance to sell.

  10. 3-12
    6:23
    am

    Thanks for filling us in your your writer history. Like millions of other people, I’ve fancied myself a writer and my family encourages me, but I’m stuck at the kitchen sink (AKA High School Library) and use the ‘no time’ excuse.

    I really enjoy everything about your blog–besides a writer wanna be, I’m a farmer’s daughter who’s fed my share of bottle lambs and calves, gathered lots of eggs, cleaned a few chickens and cleaned out more than the average share of ‘animal byproducts.’

  11. 3-12
    6:25
    am

    Thanks so much for sharing all of that and now I know “the rest of the story.” Also, thanks for dissolving the myth you have to have an agent, every time I pick up one of those advice mags on how to get published, they tell you, “you have to have an agent.”

    Enjoy your day…………….and I am certainly looking forward to whatever you have got cooking in the creative brain of yours.

    Kathy

  12. 3-12
    6:35
    am

    Wow! OK, I’M impressed that you are a writer! I’m afraid I’m still back at the kitchen sink. I majored in English in college, wrote short stories for creative writing classes, sometimes for my friends. I always said I WANTED to be a writer, but after college I went off in other directions. You give me hope! Which means, I still have to just do it.

    I’m sorry, but I doubt Clover is impressed. She’ll just want cookies and the adulation that is due her.
    :sheep: Oops! You need a goat thingie!!!

  13. 3-12
    6:39
    am

    Thanks for all this info, Suzanne. Hopefully, it will inspire others to follow their dream. As you have.
    Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story!!

  14. 3-12
    7:14
    am

    Very cool but I still want to know how you find time to write, farm, blog, photograph, cook, mother and exist all at the same time.

  15. 3-12
    7:28
    am

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us. I have always wanted to write and I never had the courage to take the leap…I think that may change soon. ;)

    Thank you!!

  16. 3-12
    8:02
    am

    My reading dropped off after eight years in college (I didn’t want to see a book for a long, long while after that) and I recently bought a Kindle 2 in order to try and get back to reading, which I so enjoyed. I always dreamed of being a writer, but the closest I ever came was three years as a medical writer, and currently I write clinical and software training materials. I know now I’d never be able to write a book like you do. I’m so glad I found your blog so I can at least live vicariously through you. :)

    Just ordered the kindle edition of “Protected in his arms”. It’s been at least 12 years since I read a romance. I’m looking forward to it!

  17. 3-12
    8:12
    am

    I’d love to be able to write…..at least more than blog posts. I think some people were given ‘gifts’ at birth and yours was truly being able to write. Especially when you knew it so young. There are lots of things I’d love to do. My gift was music, I guess. I can play the piano pretty well.

  18. 3-12
    8:29
    am

    Thanks Suzanne! That was fascinating. I have the ultimate respect for fiction writers. I know a bit about the publishing industry since I write non-fiction indexes and it is so true about the “comings and goings” of different companies…not a homeostatic industry.

    It was also great to read everyone’s response to this post. Reading is the best! Well so is food….

    off to index my new book, then feed the cows (who are doing Lamaze breathing techniques in preparation for calving), and build a fire (famous story by Jack London – anyone read it??). The latter is of supreme importance since it is stickin’ cold here today!!

  19. 3-12
    8:44
    am

    What a terrific story of how you got from there to here. Rejection is such a part of writing and it takes a special personality to deal with it. Your own life reads like a novel. How about it?

    – Suzanne, the Farmer’s Wife

  20. 3-12
    9:00
    am

    This is so cool, Suzanne. Don’t have much time to read anymore – two 9-month-old granddaughters. But, I think I am going to go out to the bookstore and see what I can find.

    As for your next adventures, as others have suggested, children’s books would be wonderful. I’ll be needing those soon :)

  21. 3-12
    9:17
    am

    Thanks for sharing your literary journey! I just wanted to let you know I enjoy your blog and your writing. Keep following your dreams.

  22. 3-12
    9:59
    am

    Yeah Clover is home. Bout time!!! We missed you. Good luck with the new book! I put my preorder in yesterday. It will be my birthday present to myself as I was born in April!!

  23. 3-12
    10:15
    am

    Thank you so much for sharing so honestly about the writing process. Your comment “a dream delayed might be a dream lost forever because there will always be a reason I can’t do this” is so true. I find myself right there, trying to balance a busy career & personal life with the aching *need* to write, a NAGGING desire that never seems to go away no matter how much else I’ve got goin’ on!

    PS: It’s Nathan KAMP who’s your cover model … and you’ve already scored John de Salvo? Two snaps! Now, any cover HORROR stories you want to share? ;p

  24. 3-12
    11:33
    am

    As an avid reader, I just want to thank you for being a writer. Without writers my life would be missing a lot. I love and read all types of books and just love turning the pages to see what happens next. The feel of a book in hand just brings joy to me..don’t know if I ever would want an electronic book (kindle) because it’s just not the same tactile experience. I’m still hoping to see an announcement about some animal books!!

  25. 3-12
    1:13
    pm

    I’m looking foirward to whatever you write.

  26. 3-12
    1:20
    pm

    I enjoyed reading this post so much!I look forward to reading your new book, I’m almost done with the last one. ( I have a lot of irons in the fire,ha,ha!)The only writing I’ve done was for English Comp and Public Speaking. However, I did get compliments from both instructors such as, You really have a good idea of what others are interested in. And, this is writing on a college level. Yeah I did a lot of research for my papers and spent hrs at the computer writing them!I do LOVE reading! :)

  27. 3-12
    1:35
    pm

    Thanks for that satisfying post! I’m a writer – I write plays and have several professionally produced and I’ve got three novels on the go – one finished and busy being rejected and two that are half-done. I have to go back and forth between them because otherwise I get too antsy. I am a therapist as well. It is a good fit as I can make my own hours. For 23 years I have been writing and producing murder mysteries with my two best pals. We write them and act in them with a crew we put together. Hotels hire us and we continue to have a blast but I rarely regard it as real writing. It is weird how we tend to separate out bits of ourselves. I love saying I’m a writer. I love writing. It’s really hard but mostly fun…I look forward to what you write in the future! And of course your blog is REAL writing too. You’re a good writer with good heart – can’t beat that combination.

  28. 3-12
    1:42
    pm

    Thanks for sharing your writing journey, Suzanne. It’s interesting to me to see how many avid readers would love to be writers. I’m also a writer, with a bit of publishing success. Currently I write mostly for kids, and I’m loving the experience, regardless of “success” as measured by publication.

    I love your blog, and especially your conversations with or from the animals. (See, I’m a kid at heart.) You are a good writer, and I’m betting you’ll do well with whatever kind of writing you take up next. I’m glad you are the kind of person who pursues her dreams. You inspire me.

  29. 3-12
    2:01
    pm

    I like your thoughts about a dream delayed. I’m glad you didn’t delay yours and went for it!

  30. 3-12
    2:20
    pm

    Finally!!!! Hello Clover :hug:

    Perserverance!!!! Slow and steady wins the race etc. etc. So many of us have dreams and grand ideas but actually sitting down and doing the work is another story. I’m still hoping to get ahold of your historicals some day :happyflower:

  31. 3-12
    2:36
    pm

    Sounds like you had faith in yourself to make your dreams come true. You go girl!! I am enjoying your journey it’s helping me with mine to be more of an old fashioned kind of girl. Teaching others to go back in time and actually live off what you have is just great.

  32. 3-12
    2:43
    pm

    I started coming here because of your books! :sun:

  33. 3-12
    5:29
    pm

    CHASE YOUR RAINBOW…..
    YOU WILL FIND YOUR POT OF GOLD…..
    I’M BETTING ON YOU

  34. 3-12
    6:02
    pm

    :wave: HI CLOVER!! It’s SO GOOD to see you again! :snoopy: :hug:
    The farm hasn’t been the same since you left. Babies crying for their mama :hissyfit:,naked sheep,and a mean rooster that some people want to cook & EAT! :hungry: Not your mommy, though. She’s just gonna read to him, I think.
    Your throne has been polished and waits for your royal derriere to grace it.Jewels have been added to your crown, and your adoring public is waiting with bated breath for your first cookie nibbling photo layout.

  35. 3-12
    6:26
    pm

    I found a bizarre book called “Cluck, Murder Most Fowl.” It is about zombie chickens(??!!) I have not had the guts (no pun intended) to read it yet. Just thought I’d mention the chicken book.

  36. 3-12
    8:13
    pm

    Perfect timing! Perfect! I’m a wannabe writer. I love my characters and i love the blurbs i write. I can’t seem to get it to a plot or the “so what” part of a story. UGH! I love this blog! I had just cruised back to absolutewrite.com to review some suggestions about writing…then i cruised over here for more flying sheep photos. And ta-dum! a great, passionate, helpful blog about writing. Thank you.

    Oh, i first came here to during my search for blogs about country living and off-grid living…i’ve stayed for the west virginia/country/livestock stories. But I’m THRILLED that you wrote about writing! Thank you!

  37. 3-13
    10:17
    am

    Thank you for sharing that story, I’m going to look for you book this weekend.
    Beside my web log and sometimes my sons homework when he has to write a short story(don’t tell the teacher)..I’m not a writer.

    However If you ever need a translator? ;)

  38. 3-13
    6:04
    pm

    Thank you for this post. I always wondered about the book writing part of your life. I am inspired by your words. I am a voracious reader and a wannabe writer. Reading is my favorite thing to do in the whole world. Your words reminded me of something I think often;I like to read most anything, any genre, any author, as long as it is well written. Lately I am in a funk because I pick up a book and after a few pages I just can’t force myself to go on. The writing is average. The plot lines are unbelievable. The characters aren’t even really likable. It is almost a reflection on the state of society (now I sound like a nutcase, must be the PMS).

    Ok, I like writing that zings me in the heart. That connects with me on a personal and deep level. Chickens in the Road does that for me. I read one of the Haven books and I did like that. I will have to look up the medieval romance books. They sound awesome. Welcome home Clover.

  39. 1-17
    1:57
    pm

    Wow. The beginning of your story sounds a lot like mine. I’ve been writing since 1st grade and always knew I wanted to be a writer (I even have a book I finished in 7th grade that I am in the middle of rewriting), but since becoming a mom my writing has dropped off entirely. I really feel that void in my life and just need to start writing again! My degree is in History, and writing historical fiction is completely overwhelming to start out with. I think I might take a page from your book and start something contemporary. Thanks for sharing your story and advice!

  40. 8-30
    8:51
    pm

    I just found your blog today through a link for watermelon pickles and thought “this person’s writing is so entertaining, they should write a book.” Then I found this entry. I want to compliment you on your writing – most blogs are so full of misspelled words and poor English that I want to grab the WhiteOut and start making corrections. Keep writing – you’ve got a knack for it!

  41. 12-20
    9:23
    pm

    Where in the heck have I been all these months of blogging? EUREKA! I found you and will check back as much as I can.

    Sending joyful leaps across the miles.

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  42. 2-24
    10:10
    am

    Hmm. This is kinda funny weird. As I was reading some different blogs about making a cold frame, I wandered into your site. Then I wandered around. Then I decided I really liked the phrasing “Life in Ordinary Splendor.” Then I decided to wander around some more and saw “Suzanne McMinn” and thought, wait -she’s a romance writer. I’ve read her. (I’m an RWA member and all that, you see.)

    So, I found you as a romance writer because I was looking for a cold frame on a blog post from 2009? Dude. The world works in mysterious ways. LOL :bugeyed:

    So:
    A/ Thanks for the cold frame pics and info
    B/ If I see you at a conference I’ll introduce myself
    C/ Can I borrow the ordinary splendor line? Love that phrase!
    Leesa

  43. 1-28
    8:57
    pm

    Good Lord, woman, the more I read about your life, the more intimidated I feel! You’re SO amazing that I’ve added a permanent link to your site on my own :)

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The Slanted Little House

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