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@ctheokas and @raktinope Thank you so much! Extremely helpful feedback.
I hope I'm somewhat on the right track to having a coherent query letter.

Dear Agent:

In Karunapore, where twelve-year-old Azaan Ares Acharya grows up, myths and hearsay are aplenty (I'd rephrase this first sentence without the setting because it's stated below. "Twelve-year-old Azaan Ares Acharya grows up with myths and hearsay aplenty."). And Azaan believes in all of them. Growing up in a quintessential Hindu household with a larger-than-life grand patriarch and dodging a father with a love for social experiments, he escapes into select copies of the Reader’s Digest featuring myths from around the world.

As if the myths weren’t enough, he finds a new subject to pour his faith on—Jeremiah Brahma. The new charismatic classmate has a strange obsession with the idea of starting a new religion. He agrees to become Azaan’s friend and in return, Jeremiah asks of him just one thing.: <- (semicolon) Belief. 

Except Jeremiah is not the self-confident god he claims to be. He is only a little more than one of the (or rephrase some other way because it reads wierd) the scammers that Azaan sees on the news, stringing him along on his path to notoriety. It is when Azaan ends up getting trapped inside a wooden crate that he makes up his own myth of freedom and believes in it, more than he had ever believed in Jeremiah. Now Azaan must realize that some myths are born of the inability to deal with reality.

THE BOY IN THE BOX is a work of Adult fiction complete at 82,000 words and is set in Assam, India. Retrospectively narrated by Azaan while he is trapped inside the box, the novel interweaves psychological suspense with magical realism and has references to the oral storytelling traditions of Assamese folklore. The novel will appeal to the readers of Yangsze Choo’s The Night Tiger and Alix E. Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
I read an earlier draft and this one is a lot clearer to me. In the previous draft, the query mentions that Azaan's name comes from different cultures. I would keep that tidbit in because it adds to Azaan believing all myths.
Literary Agents / Re: Why are some queries rejected, others ignored?
« Last post by raktinope on Yesterday at 08:12:51 PM »
I honestly think they forget, especially if they query out of order. Let's say an agent gets 2000 queries a year (which is a conservative number). If they respond to 99% of them, 20 queries will be ghosted. I don't think anyone does anything at 99% percent efficiency. Some may legitimately slip through the cracks.
Literary Agents / Why are some queries rejected, others ignored?
« Last post by DougD on Yesterday at 08:06:51 PM »
My query has received 8 full requests so far and while I live the agony and ecstasy that is my life now for the next week(s), I wanted to ask a question:

Does anyone know why agents who are regularly reading queries and rejecting/ requesting, skip over a few and never come back to them? Earlier, I used to think these are writers not recording the responses, but now that mine has been skipped over on various occasions, I'm wondering why agents do that--why ghost someone when all you have to do is click a button for form-response reject?  :huh:
Hi phoebeebee,

I seem to remember your previous go at this, and I think this one is much better. I think you're on the right track. I have two questions here. First, about the box. In your previous query, it seemed to be really important to the story, like Azaan spent most of the story in the box. If that's the case, in this I'd introduce it earlier. I also want to know why he's in the box in the first place (I assume Jeremiah put him there, but I don't want to assume here).

The second is about the stakes. I know Azaan needs to get out of the box, but what's the deal with him and Jeremiah? Is Jeremiah an actual threat to the powers that be? How big and disruptive does this religion get?

Anway, moving on. Your query starts with the right information, setting up Azaan's life. I think you should start it like this:

"Myths and hearsay run rampant through Karunapore, where 12-year-old Azaan Ares Acharya lives. And he believes every single one of them."

You write "grand patriarch," which I read as to mean "grandfather." If that's the case, just say that. If it's not, give us an idea of what you're talking about. Also, the bit about the Readers Digests was nice, but is Azaan reading to escape into the myths? He loves them, so I would assume so, and would write something like this:

"Growing up in a quintessential Hindu household, the only thing that saves him from a larger-than-life grand patriarch/grandfather and dodging a father with a love for social experiments are copies of the Reader’s Digest that let him escape into myths from around the world."

You may need a bit of world building. I think you have some room to do that. Your whole query, including the page count and comps, but minues the Dear Agent, and Thank you, runs you about 265 words, so you defintely have some wiggle room here, maybe 50 words to flesh out Karunapore, all of which I don't think you'll need.

I'm also curious as to the social experiments, but I'm torn as to how far you should go with explaining them. If you do decide to add some detail, keep it very simple.

I like the intro of Jeremiah, but I think you should put that he's a classmate in the intro sentence, like so:

"As if the myths weren’t enough, he finds a new subject to pour his faith on— his classmate, Jeremiah Brahma, who is obsessed with the idea of starting a new religion."
Other than what I wrote about the box, I don't know that I'd change much about the last synopsis paragraph. I like comparing Jeremiah to scammers, but I think that sentence is a little clunky. Maybe it should read something like this:

"He is no better than the scammers on the news, stringing Azaan along on his path to notoriety."

Anyway, I hope this helps. I took a look at your comps on Amazon, and I think you're really nailing the tone with this query. Keep it up.
Chapter 1 / First chapter - YA, dystopian **Updated**
« Last post by AnnaKnire on Yesterday at 02:24:44 PM »
Hi all,

I've updated my first chapter and hopefully it's better than my first attempt. I'd really appreciate if anyone could sacrifice their time to read through it.


I will never forget the day I learnt of the rules. The Ten Commandments as some call them. Not because they were new, but because they were preposterous. Well, they were new to me. Preposterous all the same.

My mother, who could barely trudge by then with her huge stomach bumping everything in front of her, not to mention her needing to pee every single time there was a toilet within a ten feet radius, waddled before me through the scrubby hall to a living room. My new house. My first thought was that I became a street rat overnight. The concrete cubicle was small, and it stank of abandonment. I probably gave off a similar stench considering my father recently left my family.

Now one of his bony subordinates whose name I couldn’t recall whatsoever stopped in the centre of the room and even though he tried to put on a brave face, his lion wrinkle and slightly grimaced mouth deceived his shock at our living quarters. Lovely. Even a plain, no-name police officer dared to offer his judgement in his muteness. He’d never make that face if my father, his commander, was still around. But that’s the bloody problem, right? He wasn’t and now I was forced to move out of my lovely house in the suburbs and move in here when we ran out of rent money.

Mother stared at the no-name mirroring his disgust.

“Let’s get it over with”, she told him which seemed to snap him back to earth.

The policeman took an official-looking paper out of his saddlebag and started reading the history of my predicament in monotone voice. The oil leak in the Gant Bay of Southeastern part of Northrup a decade prior. Forming of the enclaves. Shooting of any possible invaders to our community. I stopped listening and focused on the grey ceiling above my head. Grey! My mask of indifference almost crumpled right there, and I raised my hand to scratch my scalp. Mother drank up his words intently though with her eyes opening ever so widely with each new sentence. When the no-name finally got to the rules, she raised an impatient hand.

“Is it all really necessary, officer Grunwald?”

“This is the protocol, Ma’am. Everyone with their social status degraded, or upgraded for that matter, needs to sign the amendment”, he replied raising his posture and expanding his chest while my jerk-radar picked up on his name at once.

“The first rule of Knire’s community states that no aggression should be exercised within its borders. The consequences depend on the delinquent’s position in the society and the severity of the crime. The ultimate punishment is exile. Once exiled, there’s no coming back.”

I sniffled a snort. Seriously. I looked between me and mother with my eyebrows raised. Definitely a seventeen-year-old girl and a pregnant woman who’s on the labor ward’s door are bound to go savage and attack people on the spot for the fun of it.

Grunwald gawked at me for a moment before carrying on and my jerk-radar shifted up by a notch. 

“Second rule involves the Newcomers. Everyone new to the community is required to pass their quarantine in the Henhouse within the Purgatory grounds to ensure safety of the high-class citizens. They have no rights for the period of two consecutive years –”

“I doubt we need to know that Grunwald. We’re no Newcomers and no Purgs for heaven’s sake!”, mother exclaimed with ugly blotches of red spreading onto her cheeks that matched her lipstick-rimmed lips.

Oh, snap. For anyone to ever hint that mother might have anything to do with the lower-income class of Knire was like a slap on a cheek. A big one. She was so used to her elite caste of a Prop that she shuddered at the very thought of being compared to those savages.

Grunwald chewed his tongue for a few moments but, in the end, merely nodded his head and read the remaining rules in a quick pace of someone desperate to leave at once. We listened to him in silence while mother’s eyes got clouded by shadows and mine must have resembled those of an ambushed prey.   

That’s how my new life, the life of a former upper-class brat, began.

Chapter 1
The first thing that assaults my ears is a high-pitched wail. I automatically snap out of my doze and squint at the clock beside my head like a trained soldier. My head turns towards the noise with an involuntary gasp of exasperation on my lips. Third time this night. At first, I can’t see much as the room’s still dark, both due to the darn pre-dawn time and because of the heavy curtains covering the windows that give an eerie tint to everything inside as if all my possessions were bathed in red paint. As my eyes adjust, so does my mood darken. By now I can almost make out the outline of a child’s crib and the boy himself pulling his tiny hands through the bars to grab my attention. And, of course, crying at the top of his lungs.

For a moment I contemplate pretending to be still asleep, to mock snore even, but I know from experience that he won’t believe my performance and will continue shrieking until I either go deaf or pick him up, whichever may come first. After a few more moments of slacking off, I grit my teeth and unwrap myself from the blankets that cover the floor. The moment my body’s unshielded from the warmness of the quilt, icy cold attacks my legs and at once they are covered in prickly goosebumps though the portable heater that I always have on is set on full blast.

My brother pushes his hands toward me, eager to cling his body to mine and catches my hair in a tight grasp of his fist, yanking some strands out in the process.

“Ouch! Let go!”, I bark but my voice comes out muzzy and still thick with sleep.

Maybe not as gently as I should, I unlock his fingers and swat them away with my hair at a safe distance while my nose simultaneously picks up and the distinctive smell of a soaked diaper. I go through the motions expertly – change clothes, make milk and rock to sleep while humming a few senseless nursery rhymes from my youth. Thank goodness the kid doesn’t mind my singing since I can’t carry a tune in a bucket whatsoever but after much jostling him around the room, Mattie stops resisting being put back to his bed. If I think it’s over, well, the joke’s on me. In a few minutes he’s up again. Maybe if my vocal abilities were a tad better, he’d finally sleep through the night.

This circus, because really there’s no other word to describe it, goes on and on for up to three hours. Eventually, my voice snarls commands such as “Come on! Sleep! Now!” and I pin him down rather forcefully to lay still, only for a pang of guilt to rush over me when the fit of temper recedes. Anger and comfort – an endless circle of impatience and compassion. We have the same battle most of the nights. Usually, he wins and with a smug, crooked smile on his lips I give in and let him sleep on top of my chest. Yes, all twenty-five pounds of him.

By the time Mattie finally goes out like a light, it’s already six in the morning and I lay down grouchily on the pile of blankets with a heavy sigh that expands my cheeks like a hamster. It takes me only a few moments of closing my eyes, adjusting my pillow and tossing around to know that I won’t be getting any more rest that night. Splendid.

Cursing under my breath, I get up quietly and force my stiff legs towards the bathroom just through the scrubby hallway. I close the door behind me enveloping myself in the darkness and flip on the switch. The light momentarily blinds me, and I stop in my tracks to allow my eyes to tune to the brightness of a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling in front of a large mirror.

A few people called me pretty before. Or maybe “used to” would be a better phrase. I‘m fairly tall and slender enough although recently I’ve gained additional padding in the areas that did not need the extra cushioning. My thick brown hair is in disarray and in an obvious need of a wash, falling in two greasy streaks down my back. Eyes appear puffy after yet another half-sleepless night, with dark shadows encircling the sockets and the light framing makes me look perpetually ill, washed out. As I model around sucking my stomach in for better posture and roll the love handles in between my fingers, I notice an irregular angry-looking patch on my hip. Right. Fantastic. The heater burn mark proving that nothing, apart from this house and its walls, is immune to heat. I click my tongue impatiently at my own image. Get over yourself, girl.

I emerge from the bathroom smelling of soap and second-rated shampoo. Stifling a massive yawn, I take stone steps to pass through the living room, currently serving as mother’s bedroom, to enter the adjoining kitchen.   

Her breath comes out in a slight vapour through her parted lips, and it covers her in a hazy fog. The scar from the awful car accident from her youth, the one that claimed the lives of both her parents, is the most prominent feature on her gaunt face. She flew through a windshield with a tree branch curving and drawing the angry lines that now spread across her cheek and forehead, but in the dim light of the dawn they aren’t as aggravated as usual. Or maybe it appears so because her face isn’t set in her usual scowl yet. At times I ask myself if that’s the dearest “thing” she lost that night, her beauty that is. I guess she might be petty enough to consider it a viable option. 

Mother’s still pretty if one looks past the obvious, although time and grief definitely took their toll. Her eyes are blue, but not the diluted blue like mine. Hers are dense and vibrant that are now covered in equally electric blue bruises. She usually keeps her mouse-brown hair wrapped around her head like a crown, set high above her dark, perfectly arched eyebrows. That’s the only physical aspect she kept to remind herself of who she used to be. The rich one. The queen. The one who sat on her throne of idleness and thrived in nothingness.

I still have no bloody idea why father left. Sure, he had his fair share of enemies, why with being who he was and how he was, but I can’t picture him running away with his tail between his legs. Yeah, not father. I can’t remember the day clearly as tensions, temper and emotions ran high and so I couldn’t trust my judgement. Plus, I was slightly intoxicated which would normally be frown upon but hey, there you are. My face stretches into a sleezy smile as I start with a lie again. Darn, I admit, I was drunk as a lord. And I lie very much so.

The one, clear recollection of the day were father’s eyes. I always focus on people’s eyes, not because of their beauty or hidden emotions or other nonsense people like to claim. No, it’s through the eyes of another person that you can see your true self. See how people react to you. See what they think of you. All I see now around me are hooded eyes accompanied with creased foreheads, Pity. Not for the loss of a parent but for the loss of my position. No one will let me forget. All of my new neighbours carry the same slimy expressions on their lips and in their sneaky eyes before they hide in their concrete huts. They never greet me unless I’d count their teeth-baring. That’s their way of saying “Good morning!”.

Anyway, usually stern and unforgiving when it came to training his officers, father’s eyes had a playful, almost boyish twinkle in the recluse of the house. But that day they were bottomless black wells. I tried to stop him, to run after him in my inebriated state. Drunk as a lord, indeed.

I enter the kitchen and with another rub of my eyes, start preparing breakfast for myself and Mattie. In a way, it feels like I’m more of a mom than a sister to the child. Mother never gave him much of her attention and most, if not all baby duties fell on my shoulders. I could only compare it to being given a particularly bad birthday gift and being forced to stand in front of a camera with a fake smile plastered on my face while holding it in my arms. Though of course I wasn’t at the liberty to trash the said gift afterwards. Or exchange it for something else.

I keep telling myself that I don’t mind that much on daily basis, apart from the heinous nights. Really, it’s fine. He’s a great kid. I’m doing gre-e-eat. Sweep everything under the carpet and move on to the next problem of my sucky life. Oh, pardon me. Considering my heritage, I should speak like a lady. Doesn’t matter that I’ve landed in the last link of a decency chain.

As I beat some scrambled eggs and butter toasts, I inadvertently look around my surroundings. The house, which used to belong to my mother’s parents and was used as a summer place before she was even born, had to be cosy at some point in time. Had to, past tense. Definitely past tense. Now its dilapidated state shows mould in the room corners around the ceiling area and scuffs and cracks in the wooden floor. When we first moved in here, we spent a few days, mother and I, trying to make it up to its previous glory or at least liveable. We cleaned the cupboards and wardrobes, scrubbed the walls, emptied the trash and all the cabinets. Well, it was more I than mother, really, since by that point she couldn’t even see her two feet let alone a bottle of disinfectant. At some point we both decided it was futile and simply gave up. And. I. Hate. It. In this place, there wasn’t an ounce of chance for my tendencies to bloom. Even now there’s a pile of yesterday’s dishes in the sink, and an overflowing trash bag waiting to be binned. I turn my head away, but the mental image enlarges and multiplies the culprits of my lack of inner peace as my nose suddenly picks up the mixed stenches attacking me from all sides. Get a grip!

Really, it doesn’t matter that everything’s mismatched, that the shower head attached to the wall is at the height of my chest. I couldn’t care less that the cupboard is covered in expired extravagant creams. Or that my back and hips are crying out in cramps every night and that with the way Mattie sleeps, I’ll stay on those damn blankets till I’m an octogenarian.

With a full plate of eggs and stifling yet another massive yawn that stretches my lips into perfect “O”, I sit at a marble dining table that takes most of the kitchen space. My grandma, Sharon, bought and presented it with words “so you eat like a human and not a Purg”, which to others might’ve been a personal insult but it simply made me explode with shrilly laughter. Seriously, I couldn’t stop my guffaw or the silly tears at the stupid comment because it reminded me that I’m still not at the rock bottom. Hurray for me. So, now I visit Sharon almost every day for a mood boost. Still, the table feels strangely at odds with the scuffed kitchen cabinets. I guess we could afford something decent even due to the past glory associated with our family name, but no one wants to ask Sharon for help and in return be eternally indebted to her gloating. I will never be dependent on anyone ever again. Period. Or humiliated by public ridicule. Double period.

Shrieks of bed springs of mother’s bed reach my ears. As usual, irrational fear shoots through me and at once I put a mask of indifference on my face, the very one I don every day apart from the time spent with Mattie or outside. Mother jerks to a stop by the kitchen door and her bare feet hit the tiled floor with a clickety-clack. She looks around herself with squinted eyes until her nose picks up the scent of piping hot food judging by the way she’s sniffing the air. Hunger wins out. While I gained weight in the last year, she turned to skin and bones.

“Good morning, Liz”, she says while passing me on her way to the fridge and her right hand sets the kettle on the stove.

Her voice’s raspy and she stands so close that her morning breath envelopes my face and I shudder involuntarily, pounding heart ringing in my ears.

“Good morning, mother”, I reply stiffly after what would normally be considered less than a cordial pause.

That’s possibly the highest civility we achieved in the last year. On the daily basis she largely ignores me and Mattie; reliving the past or reflecting on how her life got so badly messed up. From riches to rags, indeed… Welcome to my world. 

Mother pokes around in the fridge, almost touching me with her bony shoulders and ultimately her fingers close around a carton of milk. She gives it a quick, tentative sniff wincing almost immediately.

“I’ll get some after seeing Sharon. Need anything else?”

She stares at the fridge contents as if hoping to find answers to life and comes with a slight shake of her head.

Just then, as if on cue Mattie’s cry follows me from upstairs, thus saving me from more pointless conversation with mother. Blessed kiddo! But whereas I stir immediately to go pick him up, she gives no indication of even having heard him. I rush through the steps and catch my brother, his head bent backward, ready to emit another wild animal wail.

“Hey, rascal”, I say and give him a peck even though his face is already covered in tears and mucus. “Sorry I shouted at you”, I add meekly and kiss the top of his head.

We don’t resemble each other much, apart from the brown curly hair that we both inherited from father. Mattie’s chubby with a round toddler face, freckles around his cheeks and dark eyes with impossibly long lashes. Subjectively, it’s a face of an angel. Especially when he’s sound asleep.

I spend some time with Mattie in the bedroom, dressing him quickly and packing up his diaper bag while he plays with his toys – all courtesy of Sharon, thank you very much, since neither me nor mother could possibly afford even one. Then we head downstairs: him a happy tot, me resembling a camel with all the stuff I carry after him. Unwillingly I catch sight of mother still rooted by the open fridge. Her face is frowned, nose wrinkled in apparent concentration. Well, I’m that coward that leaves behind a plate of scrambled eggs, somewhat regretfully, hoping that will appease her. I grab Mattie and leave the kitchen before we all would be required to sit together at the dining table. Some things are more unendurable on mornings like this.

Mother breaks her reverie and follows my every step with scornful eyes whereas I control the urge to show her a middle finger.
Chapter 1 / Re: First chapter - YA, dystopian
« Last post by Odd John on Yesterday at 01:40:43 PM »
First rule for writers: If it sounds like writing, it's not good writing. Purple prose is overwriting -- beyond melodrama. Perhaps trying to make up for something important that's lacking. Or just too much in love with itself. Or your ESL skills are choosing words with shades of meaning that are on the far side of translation. The only answers to that last is to catch the words in context by reading even more than you usually do. Or it's back to those damn flash cards! (Actually aside from the occasional purple, I see no problems with your English.)

Yet -- surprise! There are (extremely few) exceptions in a sense: those "mistaken for purple prose" in the Literary "genre": John Banville's work. Carson McCullers. Others. And last but most, Nabokov's LOLITA --  manifestly showy, beautiful writing about a grotesque subject. (Perhaps the only way it could be written successfully.) It helps that these three were unquestionably geniuses of their art.

Proceed at your most grievously unhindered and redoubtable dangerous peril!

"Oh, the pain, William! The PAIN!"
                            - A Doctor
Query Help / Re: Advice on nudge / follow up emails please
« Last post by Onmyway on Yesterday at 07:28:43 AM »
This is all really helpful, thank you.
First Five Pages / Re: TRANSIT OF VENUS, Last third of First Five Pages
« Last post by richardclin on Yesterday at 06:32:52 AM »
Hi John,

Without looking at Rivergirl's crits, which I am sure are magnificent, allow me to provide mine to see if we have any similar/contrasting suggestions.

One thing, I notice you do not utilize articles in places where one would traditionally find them, but use "the" in front of People. So, in their language, are their no articles? Or are they used differently?

Overall, I found this highly atmospheric. It further draws my interest to explore this exotic world. Keep writing, John!


TRANSIT               OF               VENUS            Yokoa woke up late. She shuffled to her washroom, and, feeling lazy, didn’t want to walk all the way to the sacred Waterhouse for fresh. At least tThe water in the basin was only half a day old. It would do. After scrubbing her face with the water and waxy sandsoap, she rinsed and looked at herself in her obsidian mirror. It was only one of two in the entire village, the other being the Chief’s. She had the honor of owning the second since she, Yokoa Invuk, Sky Wisdom Woman, discovered the rocks and was the only one to discern how to polish them properly.

       She saw how tired she was. Even her whiskers drooped. Not yet being fully awake, she felt possessed by random thoughts possessed her. Were a cat’s whiskers like the People? Were there any cats with smooth brown fur like the People? Yokoa had never seen a cat or any other animal for that matter. She knew them only from descriptions in books. An odd, temperamental but beautiful four-legged creature. There were no more animals on Urth. Except of course the People. She sneezed, spraying the mirror with melph, not covering her muzzle in time. "Sorry, mirror", she yawned. She picked up a towel and cleaned it lovingly.

            Yokoa was named after the stars and she often wondered if that mere naming and her enjoyment of it ignited  were the ignition of her love of the night sky. The mirror! Something about the mirror called to her. Something about it and the stars. Seeing them in a mirror to make them look bigger. No. They wouldn’t be bigger. But it gnawed worked at her. There was something there.

        Sometimes being half-awake was not such a bad thing.

            Yet now she thought not of mirrors or stars, but of one person also, the boy at Named One’s feet. That’s where she would have been if not for some stupid tradition, the Balance of Leaders. A person is Named One of the Tribe, the only member who is allowed to carry the People's Name, Soogpiak. When named so, they become the Tribe's highmost wisdom holder, as powerful as Chief, and in some ways more so. They hold the name and the office for life. If the Named One was female she must choose a male successor. And if male, Chief must choose a female successor. This way the tribe had a balance of power that held genders across it evenly. But the boy apprentice was a fool. Yokoa Invuk should have been next in line. What special knowledge had the boy observed and revealed to the Tribe? None. Exceptions should be made, especially in important times. These were important times. The god Andrew had come.

       And who made stone as like water-mirror? Until then the mirror was water, each home having a mirror basin full of freshwater <or are you purposely calling it "fresh" water?> to be refilled each day. Who created the long-burning half-day candles of vegetable oils and scents only? And crafted them to burn down one scent per hour so the People could smell what time it was while being away from the center of the home? <Very cool.> Even to waft outside to let the People know. Who improved the greenhouses? Yokoa Invuk, Sky Wisdom Woman, that’s who. Stupid boy.

       “Yokoa!” It was mother calling from outside. The lilac hour had started and it was time to gather fresh seasonings for morning meal.
Fiction Writing / Re: Songs that make you want to write
« Last post by jonny_555 on Yesterday at 02:47:01 AM »
I've not really given jazz much of a shot for writing. I will play that video later this morning when I write and see how it goes.

If I create a best seller as a result I will dedicate it to you :D
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