Teresa Grant


photo: Bonnie Glaser

photo: Bonnie Glaser

Hope everyone is having a great week! Last Saturday was Mélanie’s two and nine month birthday – hard to believe she is only three months from turning three. We celebrated by seeing an outdoor screening of Hook (which was also a lovely memorial to Robin Williams) at The Village Mall where we spend so much of our time and then having a late dinner (pic above). It was her most “grown up” movie yet, and she did great. Also a movie I have fond memories of seeing with my own parents, so it was lovely to see it with her.

I’m considering doing another novella before the release of my WIP (which will be late March/early April). I posted on Facebook asking for ideas for a novella and have had some great suggestions, including Colin’s birth,  something with the Courland sisters, and something from that stirs Malcolm and Suzanne’s memories of their own parnets. i thought I would post here as well, as both my prior novellas have been inspired by suggestions on this blog. What episode from Malcolm and Suzanne’s past (or that or other characters in the series) would you like to see dramatized?

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Mélanie and I had a very fun weekend with a trip to Children’s Fairyland with friends (pic above) and a reunion of alums and teachers from my high school, Marin Academy.  It was great to see what everyone is up to and to introduce Mel to old friends. Yesterday we had a mid-week treat with a wonderful writer lunch yesterday at Catherine Coulter’s fabulous house. (For pics from all these events see my Facebook page). Now I’m back at work on revisions to my  WIP, and I thought this would be a good time to post a teaser. Here’s a scene I’ve just been going over that shows Malcolm and Suzanne/Charles and Mélanie navigation the uncertain waters of their first investigation since Malcolm learned the truth. Any spoilers are for very early in the book.

 

Malcolm tucked Suzanne’s hand  more securely through his arm as they turned in the opposite direction. “What haven’t you told me?” she asked.
“Am I that transparent?”
“No, it took me years to learn to read you.”
Malcolm saw the realization of what she had just said flash in his wife’s eyes in almost the same instant it dawned on him. So much between them was unchanged and so much would never be the same. She swallowed but didn’t look away. Suzanne was tougher than that. “If you prefer not to tell me, I quite understand.”
“Good of you. Though of course that never stopped you from uncovering things in the past.”
“Darling—“
“Sorry.” He squeezed her arm with his free hand. “No sense in dwelling. In truth I could use your opinion. David revealed rather a lot about Trenchard.” He recounted David’s story about his belief that Trenchard had struck Mary.
Suzanne’s eyes darkened. “Men who strike their wives rarely do so only once.”
He pulled her arm closer against his side, aware of the warm of her skin through the layers of coat and pelisse. “Quite. David knew he was giving a motive for himself and for his father. I don’t think he realized the same about Mary. Perhaps because it’s beyond his comprehension that she could have committed murder.”
“It is beyond his comprehension about his father?”
“No, David made a token protest, but I’d say he’s all too aware of what his father’s capable of. As am I. And as a father myself, I can well understand Carfax feeling the impulse to murder. It’s damnably difficult for a woman to get out of a bad marriage. Money and family help, but even with a legal separation, she’d be likely to lose custody of her children. I find the thought intolerable in general. I can only imagine how I’d feel if it were Jessica and our grandchildren in the equation.”
“Your conscience would stop you. Carfax isn’t given to moral quibbles.”
“No. The chief factor in Carfax’s defense is that he asked me to investigate. It was actually  David who pointed out Carfax might have known I’d investigate anyway, and he wanted me in the open as well as to keep a check on Roth. And that he then brought David in to keep a check on me. David knows his father well.”
He could feel Suzanne considering this as they covered the damp cobblestones between the yellow glow of two street lamps. “It’s possible.”
“I was holding my breath lest Carfax say that Trenchard was a French spy.” He looked sideways at her familiar profile. “He wasn’t, was he?”
“Not that I know of.” She looked up at him, her eyes as hard and fragile as crystal. “I would tell you, Charles. Do you believe me?”
He gave the question honest consideration. “I think so.”
“Impressive.” Suzanne was silent as they turned into xyz Street. “Darling— We haven’t talked about this part of it, but these are your friends.”
“It’s hardly the first time we’ve been involved in an investigation involving friends.”
‘But these are the people you grew up with. In a way they’re family.”
Family. Always a tangled word for him. “Difficult to think of Carfax that way. What concerns me, is that I don’t want him anywhere near you.”
Suzanne’s fingers tightened round his arm. “I don’t think that’s an option, dearest. Unless we go to a remote desert island.”
“Don’t imagine I haven’t  thought of it.”
“I’ve told you before it isn’t wise to try to protect me, Malcolm. The recent revelations don’t change that.”
Malcolm looked down into her bright eyes. There had always been a hardness beneath the glow. He was just more aware of it now. “I’m not just protecting my wife. I’m protecting the mother of my children.”
“Darling—“
“You’ve always run risks with your safety, Suzette. I understand now just how far you’ve gone. But it’s different now. Colin and Jessica make it different. There’s no room for extravagant gestures. Whether they come from indulging a craving for adventure or trying to expiate guilt.”
Her chin jerked up. “I’ll own to a taste for adventure, but I’m not in the least given over to guilt. In fact one could say I’ve been all too able to commit all sorts of betrayals without showing any proper guilt at all.”
“My dear girl. Don’t show off. I may have been criminally blind to a number of things where you were concerned, but in other ways I can read you rather well. I know you. I know what you’ve been doing to yourself. And it’s folly—it won’t improve matters for any of the four of us.”
She glanced away. “Damn you, Malcolm—“
“Because I think we agreed. Before anything else, we’re parents.”
“I never forget that.” Her voice was low and rough.
“I know. But sometimes you’re so busy looking after everyone else, your forget to look after yourself.”
“All right. I won’t give in to any extravagant guilt-driven impulse—not that I admitting to having them in the first place—if you won’t give in to any extravagant protective impulses.”
“Fair enough. If—”
From the sudden tension that ran through her, he felt her sense what he had in the same instant. Nothing as defined as footfalls or movement in the shadows or a rustle of clothing, but someone was following them.
“Diversion,” she murmured.
The uncomfortable moment was gone. They were a team again. Of one accord, they moved into the doorway of a shuttered shop.

Arrived in Ashland, tickets collected, a stop at the Member Lounge

Arrived in Ashland, tickets collected, a stop at the Member Lounge

Mélanie and I spent last week in Ashland, Oregon, visiting friends, eating some great meals, and (for Mummy) seeing some great theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival while Mel played with some wonderful babysitters. The theatre highlight of the trip was Great Society by Robert Schenkkan, a sequel to All the Way, the play about Lyndon Johnson’s first year as president and the passing of the Civil Rights Act which OSF commissioned and premiered two years ago and which recently took Broadway by storm and won the Tony for best new play. Great Society picks up the story after LBJ’s re-election and chronicles his nights to pass Medicare and other social program legislation, the increasing quagmire of the Vietnam War, and his ultimate decision not to run for a second term. Like All the Way, it is written in the style of a Shakespeare history play, with the protagonist addressing the audience at times, a large cast of characters (including Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and J. Edgar Hoover) from different groups, large scale scenes set on the public stage contrasting with domestic moments of key characters with their families. As an historical novelist, I’m in awe of the way these two plays bring history to life.

8.25.14TracyMel

A visit to our friends’ house on the Applegate River – a glorious day with lunch outside and time for Mel to chase butterflies and pick a peach

 

It was a brilliant production and particularly exciting to follow it up with an also brilliant Richard III.  Schenkkan’s LBJ is far more sympathetic than Shakespeare’s Richard III, a flawed ambitious man who is also trying to do genuine good, but there are some wonderful parallel moments in the two plays – LBJ and Richard’s opening monologues to the audience, scenes in which both of them try tactics that have worked in the past to manipulate, respectively, Robert Kennedy and Elizabeth Woodville, this time unsuccessfully, and closing speeches by the “new king” – Richard Nixon and Henry VII. Both casts were fabulous with amazing performances by Jack Willis as LBJ and Dan Donohue as Richard III. In the curtain call, both looked like completely different men, a sign of how much they had transformed themselves in the performance.

Dinner outdoors at Peerless before Richard III

Dinner outdoors at Peerless before Richard III

Another standout of the trip was a magical production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods which did full justice to the complex music while also bringing out the dramatic nuances of the story. A mix of fairytales (among them Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel) at it’s heart it’s a story about parents and children poignant, starkly sad at times, ultimately hopeful. I cried through the last fifteen minutes.

Sharing time at the hotel with our cats, all excellent travelers

Sharing time at the hotel with our cats, all excellent travelers

All the plays were wonderfully inspiring for me as a writer. Political intrigue and family drama go to the heart of what my books are about. I came home excited to get back to writing. I can’t wait until Mélanie is old enough to take to some of the plays. Meanwhile, it’s fun telling her about the plays. And on the drive home, we listened to the CD of Into the Woods, to which she announced “I like the music.”

Savoring time on the deck at the Member Lounge before we headed home

Savoring time on the deck at the Member Lounge before we headed home

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Last night was the Merola Grand Finale, a concert at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco that marks the end of this summer’s Merola training program. A bittersweet night, as it is exciting to see the Merola participants showcase their bountiful talents and the wonderful way they’ve stretched their artistic wings over the summer and sad to be saying goodbye to them. It is also the day of the year I spend the longest time away from Mélanie (eight plus hours). I am inestimably grateful to my wonderful friend Bonnie who watched her. And the evening made me think back to a post I put up recently on History Hoydens and thought I would repeat here. I tend to think of my posts as about my books, about my life as a writer, or about my life as a mom. Often they touch on two of the three, but this one definitely touches on all three.

Summer is a challenging time for me in terms of childcare. I’m very fortunate that I can write at home (or in cafés, at the play park, even on occasion at places like Children’s Fairyland) and I can also do most of my work for the Merola Opera Program (for which I work part time as Director of Foundation, Corporate & Government Relations) remotely. But Merola is a summer training program, so our summer is full of master classes, performances, and other events I need to attend. This summer, in the midst of the Merola Summer Festival Season, we also had the Opera America Conference in San Francisco. I had a hard time getting childcare sorted out for the weekend of the conference, but at last I had it organized. I walked into the first day of the conference on a Friday afternoon wearing a tailored dress and pumps, my beloved Longchamp tote bag for once more like a briefcase than a changing bag, only to get a text from my nanny for Saturday and Sunday saying she’d come down with stomach flu.

I sat in the first session of the conference listening to some fascinating insights into opera marketing while drafting an email on my cell phone to everyone I could think of with children or grandchildren to see if anyone had a babysitter they trusted to whom they could refer me. Incredibly, while still at that first session, I found someone (through a wonderful friend who emailed me while on vacation in New York). Mélanie had a great time, I got to attend the rest of the conference, and we made wonderful new friends. But the nerve-wracking incident made me think about the challenges of finding childcare and the trust involved in leaving your children with someone. A dilemma that my historical characters share as well.

A children’s nurse has been part of middle and upperclass British households for centuries. In the late 18th century many aristocratic women (such as Lady Bessobrough, Lady Caroline Lamb’s mother) breastfed their children. Rousseau was a great advocate of breast feeding, which was part of the romantic idealization of childhood. Fashionable gowns were even made with nursing bodices “designed to allow mothers to nourish their infants in the most genteel manner.” But a number of mothers employed wet nurses. Some wet nurses were part of the household. In Romeo & Juliet, a couple of centuries earlier, Juliet’s nurse was her wet nurse and has obviously spent far more time with Juliet in her almost fourteen years than either Lady or Lord Capulet. Others sent their children away to a wet nurse. Jane Austen’s mother sent all her children to a wet nurse in the nearby village of Deane. Their mother visited them every day, but the young Austens didn’t come home to live until they were eighteen months old. (Mélanie, who is still nursing, maxes out at about five hours away from me; I think the longest we’ve done is eight).

Even those who breastfed would have a “dry nurse” to manage things in the nursery. Later if the family could afford it, governesses would take over not just education, but a great deal of the day to day care of the children in the family. Often the would remain close to their charges long after they grew up. Harriet Cavendish, who I blogged about a few weeks ago, wrote to her former governess Selena Trimmer about her hopes and qualms when she accepted Granville Leveson-Gower’s proposal.

Hiring someone to look after one’s children is a great leap of trust. There’s a level of intimacy in a child bonding with someone else that I don’t think really hit home of me until I faced the conundrum of childcare myself. Whatever one may say about changes in parenting and attitudes toward the parent-child relationship, the love of parents like the Austens for their children is plain from their letters. I can’t believe they didn’t feel some of the same concerns I’ve experienced myself. I’ve been fortunate to find a number of wonderful people to help take care of Mélanie. But it’s still a bit nerve-wracking whenever I leave her with a new person. Perhaps it’s not surprising that my WIP concerns Laura Dudley, the governess/nurse to the two young children of my central couple, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, being accused of murder. Malcolm and Suzanne are convinced Laura is innocent. They care about her, but both have faced the fact that one can never really know even those closed to one. And yet—

“I know it sounds absurd for me to be so certain. But for all Laura’s reserve, I can’t believe she’s a cold-blooded killer,” Suzanne said.

“Why such certainty?” Malcolm asked.

Suzanne’s fingers froze on the jet buttons on her waistcoat bodice. “Because I trusted her with our children.”

It’s an intimate bond, paying someone to watch one’s children. One of Mélanie’s nannies recently moved away. It felt like saying goodbye to a family member. We gave her a necklace with two hearts, one for her and one for Mélanie. Trust is priceless.

What are some of your favorite nurse and governess characters in fiction? Parents, how do you manage childcare? Writers, if you have children, do your thoughts about them and their care taking creep into your writing?

A few weeks ago, thanks to my work at the Merola Opera Program, I had six days in a row of events. This meant a lot of childcare juggling and the fun and challenge of putting together six outfits for events involved a lot of the same people. In days after, catching up on sleep, email, and housework, i thought about characters like Suzanne and Cordelia, whose adventures occur amid a social whirl, whether in London, Vienna, or Paris. I don’t think I’d properly considered how exhausting those events are, quite without the added intrigue and adventures their encounter. Going out every night, choosing gowns and jewelry, and constantly needing to be “on”. Do you ever think about that when reading about characters existing in the whirl of the London (or other city) season?

Here, in pictures, is a look at my week. I managed not to repeat the same dress!

With Mélanie at my talk at Book Passage about the Merola season

With Mélanie at my talk at Book Passage about the Merola season

snuggles after Mummy talked

snuggles after Mummy talked

With Merola participant Casey Candebat at a Merola Signature Event

With Merola participant Casey Candebat at a Merola Signature Event

With Merola alum Quinn Kelsey and my friend Amii at another event

With Merola alum Quinn Kelsey and my friend Amii at another event

Opening night of Merola's production of "A Streetcar Named Desire"

Opening night of Merola’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire”

With Merola alumna Maria Valdes at another event

With Merola alumna Maria Valdes at another event

Mélanie needing some mummy time before the Saturday "Streetcar" matinee

Mélanie needing some mummy time before the Saturday “Streetcar” matinee

photo: Raphael Coffey

photo: Raphael Coffey

Hope everyone is enjoying the summer. I’m looking forward to the Merola Opera Program’s performances of Don Giovanni this week which have inspired a couple of recent posts. I’m also blogging on History Hoydens about nannies and the challenges of childcare and trust involved, today and historically. Do check it out, especially if you like me “writing mom” posts.

I’ve also been mulling over an email  I got from a reader. She was excited to have found Malcolm & Suzanne after having started with Charles & Mélanie and said some lovely things about The Berkeley Square Affair. She also said “Is it my imagination or does the story as told for Malcolm and Suzanne seem less dark than when it was Charles and Melanie’s? Malcolm seems more hopeful and less pessimistic than Charles, while Suzanne seems more pessimistic and less pragmatic than Melanie.”

This intrigued me. To me they are the same people, but I think inevitably characters develop and change a bit over the course of a series (so they’d probably have morphed a bit even if they were still called Charles and Mel). I definitely think Malcolm is more aware of being a spy and the compromises he himself has made than Charles was – that was actually starting to be the case for the Beneath a Silent Moon and The Mask of Night Charles. Charles is Daughter/Secrets didn’t even like to use the word spy. So Malcolm was going to have a more pragmatic reaction to Suzanne’s revelations and be more aware of his own deceptions and compromises. But I don’t know that I’d call him more hopeful. I don’t think of Suzanne as more pessimistic but perhaps since you’re seeing her in the midst of her deceptions she dwells on them and her guilt more? In any case, I’m always intrigued by how my characters appear to others, and I’d love to hear what readers of this blog think.

7.19.14TracyMelIt’s a busy opera month for us! Above are Mélanie and me at Merola’s outdoor Schwabacher Summer Concert this weekend. This month’s teaser combines my WIP with my work for the Merola Opera Program. The talk I recently gave at Book Passage about Merola’s 2014 productions stirred some thoughts about Don Giovanni that made it into a scene I just wrote. It seemed a good time to post it. But please note, this is a first draft!

“I wonder if Don Giovanni would be so infernally attractive if Mozart hadn’t given him such ravishing melodies to sing.” Cordelia rested a gloved hand on the gilded paneling against which Gui Laclos was lounging. “The man doesn’t show a scrap of affection or concern for any of his conquests. Of course I used to pride myself on not taking my love affairs seriously.”
“There’s a difference between being light-hearted and callous, Cordy.” Gui gave a twisted smile. “You couldn’t be callous if you tried.”
It was good to see him smile, but his eyes were still shadowed and his face gaunt. “You may be seeing me through rose-colored glasses, my sweet.”
“No. You I think I’ve always seen clearly, Cordy.” For a moment, she thought he was going to confide in her, but instead he said, “Poor bastard, Don Ottavio. He tells Donna Anna his peace depends on her own and she doesn’t seem particularly interested.”
“And really, what more could a woman want than a man who put one’s happiness first. Unless of course he didn’t seem to understand one’s happiness.” Cordelia unfurled her fan and ran her fingers over the ebony and lace. “Donna Anna says when Don Giovanni broke into her room at first she thought it was Ottavio. I’ve always wondered if things progressed a bit before she realized it wasn’t. And if a part of her doesn’t wish Ottavio were a bit more like Giovanni. And so of course she’s wracked by guilt.”
“That makes  Ottavio’s situation even worse. How the devil is one supposed to know what a woman wants?”
It wasn’t like the usually cheerful Gui to take a love affair so seriously or bitterly. Cordelia turned against the paneling so she was facing him. “Is that the problem, Gui? A woman?”
He gave a bitter laugh. “You’re becoming as much of an investigator as your husband, Cordy.”
“I just hate to see you unhappy.”
“The devilish compassion of those who’ve found happiness who can’t understand why others can’t be as happy as they are. Not everyone can find perfection, Cordy.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Cordelia glimpsed her husband, face set in the sardonic lines that were his habitual company expression. Her heart warmed, in that ridiculous way it did when she looked at him the most seemingly trivial moments. ‘I wouldn’t call it perfection. But I know I’ve been far more fortunate than I have any righ to be. I thought perhaps something had happened with your family.”:
“No, Gabby and Rupert couldn’t be kinder. Unlike—“ He drew a breath, one of those moments that teeter between defense and confidence. “See here, Cordy. You’re a woman.”
“I was always under the impression that you thought so.”
Gui gave an abashed grin. “Sorry. I just need a woman’s perspective. I’m trying to understand— why would a woman suddenly lose interest in a fellow after months of seeming quite the opposite?”
Cordelia considered and as quickly abandoned numerous flippant responses that sprang to her lips. There had always been something endearing about Gui, something quite apart from the brief, diverting, light-hearted passion between them. Something that had endured beyond the end of that passion. “My dear— I’m sorry. But sometimes one does—grow past these things as it were.”
“But this wasn’t a casual fling like the one we had. It—“ Gui broke off and stared at her, eyes suddenly wide and oddly like those a schoolboy. “Oh, damn it,  I’m sorry, Cordy. I didn’t mean it that way.”
“It’s all right, dearest.” She touched his hand. “I think we were always admirably clear about what we meant to each other and what we didn’t mean. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to stay friends, which  I wouldn’t give up for anything.” She wondered sometimes why she hadn’t let it become anything deeper. Was it because she’d been afraid of the dangers of falling in love again? Or because a part of her had still been in love with Harry, though at the time she wouldn’t have admitted she’d ever loved her husband?
Gui squeezed her hand. “Nor would I. You’re the best, Cordy. I think I always knew you couldn’t be more than a friend.”
“Because of Harry? At the time I wouldn’t have admitted he’d ever been more than a husband of convenience.”
Gui’s dark gaze grew surprisingly shrewd in that way it sometimes did. “Perhaps I saw some things you missed. In any case, this was different. Not just a fortnight at a house party.” He swallowed, the torment back in his gaze. “But it wasn’t just the time it lasted. It started out casually enough. Some lighthearted flirtation while waltzing, stolen moments in the garden after a bit too much champagne. Sorry, don’t mean to give you too many details. But it soon became clear that it meant more.”
“To you?”
“To me certainly. I’ve always rather made a point of treating love affairs lightly.” He flushed, looked away, looked back at her. “Given that my entire identity was a house of cards, I couldn’t afford to treat them as much else. I don’t know when I realized this was different. When I couldn’t stop thinking about her. When the smallest brush of fingertips was enough to feed me for days. When the thought of life without her was a gnawing void I couldn’t contemplate. When I realized I’d rather hold her hand in the rain than lie on silken sheets with any other woman.” He shook his head. “I sound like a bad novel.”
“You sound like a man in love. Rather more articulate about it than many.”
He turned his head and met her gaze, his own vulnerable as glass. “The thing is I’d swear her feelings were engaged as strongly. We talked round it. She was guarded, protecting her reputation, protecting herself. But I could see it in her eyes. That is, I would have sworn I could see it. Until a fortnight ago. When she told me it was over.”
“In those words?”
“She said it had been very agreeable, but that we’d both always known it had to end, that we’d let it go on too long as it was, and best to cry off as friends before we grew bored. The sort of thing I’ve said a dozen times myself. The sort of thing—“
“That we said to each other. Only we didn’t even really need to say it. We both knew.”
“Quite. But can you imagine Davenport talking to you that way?”
“Not now. Not ever. Harry would be far more caustic.”
“It was as though she’d transformed into another person.”
“Gui—I take it she’s married?”
He hesitated, looked way, drummed his fingers on the paneling behind him, looked back at her.
“It’s not a great leap,” Cordelia said. “I don’t think you’d trifle with an unmarried girl. So unless she’s a widow—“
“She’s married.”
“Could her husband suspect?”
“That’s what I feared. Not that he had any right to judge, given his own behavior. But if she’s in trouble, why won’t she talk to me?”
“My dear—“ Cordelia touched his arm. “It is possible her feelings weren’t as deeply engaged as your own. Or that her feelings have changed.”
“I know. Damnation—“
“But it also sounds as though she called it off very quickly. That makes me think it’s more likely she’s trying to protect you.”
Gui stared at her.
“My darling idiot, one doesn’t like the idea of exposing the man one loves to the wrath of a jealous husband.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” Gui straightened his shoulders, as though about to charge off to defend his lady’s honor. “I could protect myself in a duel.”
“I daresay you could, but she’d be pardoned for not wanting to see you try.”
Gui scraped a hand through his hair. “All right, that makes a bit of sense. But— her husband’s rather out of the picture now. And she still won’t even see me when all I want to do is comfort her–”
Cordelia stared at him, mind racing. “Who—“
“No questions, Cordy, please.”
“Gui—“ Cordelia twisted her bracelet round her wrist, wondering how far she could venture. Her own past hung before her as she stared at the harlequin diamond links. A gift from Harry before their life had fallen apart. “There’s one danger a woman engaged in a love affair particularly fears. Is is possible she could be with child?”
Gui’s eyes went wide. “No. That is— we were careful—“
“One can’t be completely careful.”
He pushed himself away from the wall. “My God. I’m an idiot. How could I have left her alone in this? How could she not have told me? She must have known I’d protect her—“ He broke off. “I sound like an idiot. There’s little I could do.”
“If she’s pregnant could it be her husband’s?”
“No. Not the way she tells it. Not based on everything I know. Christ, I shouldn’t be glad about that. It makes her situation worse. But— I have to see her.”
“Gui, you can’t be sure any of this is true.”
“Putting together the clues and arriving at a theory. Isn’t that precisely what Charles and Mélanie do?”
“They’re careful before they voice the theory.”
“I need to know, Cordy.”

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