Why I Launched a Secret Pen Name

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

So, umm…surprise. I have a pen name.

She published two novels and one novella in 2016 with the third in her series already complete and ready to go in a few weeks. In 2017, if all goes according to plan, she’ll put out books 4-6 in the same series as well.

Up until now, few people have known about her existence, and even fewer know her name. I’m not going to share her name in this post. I’m not sure yet if I’m ever going to openly “own it,” even though I’m proud of everything she’s written.

But I decided I wanted to explain my reasons for creating her and some of the lessons I learned from publishing her books in the hope that it can help others. Even if you’re 100% opposed to writing under a pen name (whether that be a pen name in addition to your real name or whether you write solely under a single pen name), I still think some of these items are things every writer should consider. Some of my reasons were business-related. Some of them had to do with fear and broken confidence.

As you might have guessed, this is going to be a multi-part series. As I add each part, I’ll link them here for newcomers. Here’s the roadmap:

Reason #1 – Part of a writer’s brand is their name.
Reason #2 – I wanted to run an experiment on how to gain visibility and sell books.
Reason #3 – I wanted my crayons back.

Today I’m going to look at Reason #1.

After this mini-series finishes, I’ll be diving in to some of the craft topics that you voted for in my recent survey. (If you haven’t voted yet, there’s still time. If you want to choose more than one option, you can select the “Other” option and write in your answer too.)


As Marcy Kennedy, I’m the author of non-fiction books for writers, and my long-term goal has always been to publish science fiction and fantasy.

That’s already a divided platform and public image because many of you won’t be interested in my fiction. You read my blog for writing advice and you buy my non-fiction books about the writing craft, but you’re not speculative fiction fans. When fiction readers come to my website after reading one of my future novels, they’re not likely to be interested in my writing craft posts.

So I’m already trying to find the tenuous balance between my two audiences. Half the time, I don’t know what to share on social media because I keep thinking about the part of my audience I’m either alienating or failing to build. I hate that.

The genre I wanted to write in with my pen name isn’t science fiction or fantasy. In fact, it’s so far from those two genres that the odds of many people crossing over were slim. So if I hadn’t used a pen name, I would have been creating yet another distinct segment to my audience.

Some writers choose to put all their genres together under the same name anyway with the idea that readers will simply ignore what they aren’t interested in. That might be true. I know some writers make it work.

But I had qualms about this for me.

(1) I’ve been studying other successful creatives—writers, artists, and musicians. What many of them have in common is a clearly defined brand.

They’re specialists. They don’t try to appeal to everyone. They don’t need to in order to make a good living from their work. What they need to do is connect with their people—the ones who “get” what they’re doing and love it.

This specialization makes them memorable and instantly recognizable. You know a piece of their art when you see it. You know what you’re getting when you download their new album. Their name is almost synonymous with their genre. Everything about them online and in person fits this brand.

It makes them a go-to for their audience and easy to recommend to people with similar interests.

Which leads in to my next point…

(2) I want to become an auto-buy for readers.

They see that I’ve put something out and they purchase it because they trust and enjoy my writing. I want them to know they’re safe investing their time and money in me. The promises I’ve made to them with my past work will be kept in the newest work. I don’t want them to have to pause and figure out whether this particular new release is in a genre they enjoy or will be a type of story they’ll enjoy. (I’ve written more about this at Janice Hardy’s blog if you’re interested.)

I also don’t want them to get into the habit of sometimes ignoring me. I want them to expect that everything I produce—whether it be a Facebook post, a blog, or a book—will interest them.

(3) I’d already made the mistake once of publishing something where the tone was different from my other work.

In a recent Creative Penn podcast, Kristine Kathryn Rusch mentioned that one important criteria for whether or not you need a pen name is tone, not genre. Readers will often read across genre if the tone is the same. They’ll be upset if they pick up one of your books and the tone is very different from what they’ve come to expect from you.

When I released my book of short stories (Frozen) a few years back, I made the mistake of not considering content and tone. Those short stories are suspense, and they’re darker and more disturbing than my fantasy or science fiction, and the feedback I got after releasing them was that people (some positively, some negatively) now expected that same feeling from my fantasy. And my fantasy isn’t like that.

It hurt my brand. There are people who won’t read my fantasy when it releases because they think it’ll be grim dark. If my short stories hadn’t given them a false impression, they would have been more likely to read my fantasy and would have seen that it’s much more noble bright, full of hope and people who want to be good and honorable making hard choices in difficult situations.

Likewise, the difference between what I have planned for release under my real name and what I was thinking of writing under my pen name goes deeper than genre. I instinctively knew there’d be differences in tone as well. My pen name writing has more humor in it. It’s quirky. It’s more light-hearted. It’s the girl-who-wears-funny-socks-and-dances-around-her-kitchen side. It reflects a side of me that didn’t fit with the fantasy stories I wanted to write.

If I released this pen name series under my real name, I knew I’d be making the same mistake as I had before, but on a much bigger scale. I’d be muddying up people’s expectations—losing potential future readers of my fantasy and, later, disappointing current readers when my fantasy wasn’t the same as my books in the other genre.

(4) Amazon’s Also-Boughts and Algorithms can help make you or they can bury you in obscurity.

Right under the description of a book on Amazon, you’ll see a section called “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.” It’s a selling tool. The theory behind it is that people’s buying habits are predictive. If a lot of people who buy a certain book also buy your book, then other people who like that first book should also like your book.

The best-case scenario is that your book will appear in the Also Boughts of other popular books in its genre and that your book’s Also Boughts will be filled with other books by you in the same series or genre.

But if you write in multiple genres, then the Also Boughts stop serving their purpose as a sales tool. I didn’t want that kind of Also Bought pollution happening to my fantasy books or to my other genre books.

When you write in multiple genres, Amazon’s algorithms also have a more difficult time figuring out who to show your books to. And if they show your books to people who don’t buy them, eventually they stop showing them to anyone at all.

So there you have it. I’d love to hear what you think. Are you in favor of pen names or against them? Do you find it frustrating when one of your favorite authors starts writing in a new genre (one you’re not interested in)? Have I missed anything that you think writers should consider when it comes to pen names?

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Showing and Telling in Fiction.

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Creating a Print Book Box Set

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

The last two months during my guest posts at Fiction University, we’ve looked at why we might want to create a box set of our books and how to create a single-author ebook box set. This month I wanted to look at one of the most challenging questions for indie authors when it comes to box sets: Is there a way to create a print book box set for our books?

The short answer is yes. Whether or not we’ll feel the options are workable for us, though, requires examining them carefully.

I hope you’ll join me today at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University for Creating a Print Book Box Set.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Using Characters’ Apology Language to Create and Resolve Tension

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)


Some of the biggest challenges we face as writers are creating characters that feel like individuals and building authentic tension between our characters, especially if those characters are allies.

Today I’m going to look at how figuring out our characters’ apology language can help. (You might also want to read Gary Chapman’s When Sorry Isn’t Enough, which is the book that lays out these concepts for people rather than for characters.)

Our characters will naturally try to apologize using their personal apology language. Which is great if the person they’re apologizing to speaks the same language, but not as effective if they don’t.

We can use this disconnect to create tension. And later, when it’s time to move the characters closer together, we can have them take a step forward by allowing the offending character to apologize in the way the offended character needed.

There are five apology languages. No particular order to this list since no apology language is better than the others.

(1) Expressing Regret or Remorse

This character needs the apology to carry emotion—embarrassment, sorrow, shame. They basically want to know the other person truly feels bad about what they’ve done.

We can do this through dialogue, but, as writers, we also need to make sure to include tone of voice and body language cues around the dialogue for the other character to hear and see.

This language of apology provides an opportunity to reveal the character of the apologizing character as well. We can show the offending character’s regret through actions leading up to the event. Or we can use this to show a character isn’t trustworthy. Perhaps the offending character isn’t sorry at all, but they know how to mimic the apology language of remorse and deceive the other character into trusting them.

(2) Accepting Responsibility

This character needs to hear an admission of guilt or wrong. In terms of dialogue, this is as simple as “I was wrong” or “It’s my fault.”

But now imagine the offending character has the flaw of struggling to accept responsibility when something goes wrong. Not only do you have tension between the characters but a nice growth arc or circle you can build into your story.

(3) A Promise to Change

This character wants to know that the same mistake or offense won’t be repeated again and again. Oftentimes this requires the offender to state what, specifically, they’re going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

For the character with this apology language, a single slip into the same wrong again can destroy all trust between them and the offending character.

(4) Requesting Forgiveness

This character needs to hear the offender actually ask for forgiveness. For them, the request for forgiveness isn’t implied in “I’m sorry.”

As writers, we can play with the fear of the request being denied. Or we can have the offended character actually deny forgiveness and give them an arc where they need to learn something about the meaning or value of forgiveness. Or we can have them say they forgive, but work with the theme that some wrongs should never be forgiven.

Our personal beliefs will dictate what theme we include.

(5) Making Amends

This character needs the offender to right what they wronged. For example, a husband who ran the lawnmower over his wife’s newly planted flower garden could buy new flowers and plant them himself.

This apology language can be the most moving because it gives us a built-in image to use.

For this apology language, though, some of the most interesting stories grow out of cases where the wrong can’t be righted. A drunk driver can never replace the child he killed.

So there you have it. Next time you’re struggling to make a conflict and resolution between two of your characters feel realistic, try working with their apology languages.

You might also want to try figuring out the apology language of your significant other too 🙂

Do you know your apology language?

If you haven’t yet taken my year-end single-question survey on what topics you’d like me to cover in 2017, please help me out by completing it now.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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What Writing Topics Would You Like to Read in 2017?


By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’m about to head into my blogging vacation over the holidays, but during that time I’ll also be making plans for what I’ll write about on this blog in 2017. I’m not someone who likes to guess what would be most helpful to all of you. I’d rather just ask.

So with that in mind, I’ve put together a little multiple-choice survey. I’d really appreciate it if you’d not only answer yourself but also share this post so that I can get as much feedback as possible.

You can choose more than one answer (in fact, many of them overlap a bit). And even though these questions focus on writing posts, I’ll be picking back up with my non-writing posts in the new year as well.

Create your own user feedback survey


Thanks and I’ll see you in the new year!


Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Homophone of the Month: Rein vs. Reign

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

As one of my monthly features, I cover homophones. I’m going to explain the different meanings, and whenever I can, I’ll give you little tricks to help you remember the difference between them. If nothing else, you’ll at least realize going forward that these two words might be confused, and you’ll know when to look up the correct meaning.

(If you missed the first installment, homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently and mean different things.)

Today’s homophone comes courtesy of J’aime: rein vs. reign.

According to Merriam-Webster, rein is used in three ways. Below are some examples of the word:

I pulled back on the reins, easing Max to a stop (a strap fastened to a bit by which a rider or driver controls an animal—usually used in plural).

The officials calling the Raiders game kept a tight rein on the action (a restraining influence).

The election will determine who will hold the reins of power for the next several years (controlling or guiding power).

Reign means something different. For example:

Queen Elizabeth II’s reign has been marked by unprecedented prosperity for the British people (the period of time during which a king, queen, emperor, etc., is ruler of a country).

These two words are often confused because, not only do they sound alike, but they also both have the idea of control or power behind them. The difference is that rein refers to an act or an item, and reign refers to a period of time.

These two words can also be confused with rain, which is the wet stuff that falls from the sky.

What words do you have trouble telling apart? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll make sure to feature them later.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next is Misplaced Modifiers.

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.



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Creating Single-Author Box Sets: Part Two

By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Janice Hardy's Fiction University

I’m a fan of box sets because they’re an easy, affordable way to get additional products out into the marketplace. And from the perspective of a reader, if I think there’s a good chance that I’ll like the series, I always prefer to buy the box set as opposed to having to buy the books individually.

Last time in my regular guest post slot at Fiction University, I talked about these and other benefits of putting together a box set. This time I’m digging down into what we need to think about on a practical level once we’ve decided that a box set is a good idea.

I hope that you’ll join me for “Creating Single-Author Box Sets: Part Two.”

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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Using Ellipses and Dashes in Fiction

editors-cornerBy Chris Saylor

Today’s post comes from a request. In a comment, Kassandra Lamb wrote, “I am a tad lost on the subject of dashes. Could you do a post on them, Chris? When to use each…”

So this one is for you, Kassandra, and for everyone else who is also confused about how to use dashes. Because they’re so similar, I’ve also added ellipses.

Ellipses are the three dots (…) that you see in place of omitted text (nonfiction) or at the end of sentences (fiction). In nonfiction, ellipses are used, as indicated above, to show that a certain amount of text has been omitted from a direct quote. In fiction, ellipses are used to show that a thought or bit of dialogue trails off. For example:

My brain whirled through the implications of what she was saying. She claimed that she was the heir to the throne, but that meant…

There are three types of dashes that you can use: hyphens, en dashes, and em dashes.

A hyphen simply connects two or more words that form a compound adjective. Here’s an example from a novel I edited for a client. I’ll bold the hyphenated words so you can see what I’m referring to.

I straightened my already-straight jacket and plastered what I hoped was an I’m-not-at-all-affected-by-how-good-looking-you-are smile on my face. I wasn’t here to date. I was here to bury my uncle. (From Emily James’ A Sticky Inheritance)

An en dash is used to indicate a range or a relationship.

student–teacher relationship

An em dash is used to indicate a parenthetical phrase. A parenthetical phrase is an aside or an added thought or piece of information.

The windows were too small to climb out—a protective measure against people climbing in—and that left her only the front door as a means of escape. (From Marcy Kennedy’s upcoming Scottish historical fantasy Cursed Wishes)

It’s also used to show that a piece of dialogue has been cut off midstream.

“But you said you wouldn’t—”

“But Chris,” you might say, “how do I know when I’m looking at these types of dashes?” The answer is pretty simple. Below are the types of dashes.

Hyphen: – (the hyphen/dash key on your keyboard)

En dash: – (CTRL + minus sign in Word)

Em dash: — (CTRL + ALT + minus sign in Word)

Do you have any questions or any other aspects of grammar for fiction writers you would like to see discussed? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be sure to address them.

Every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’ll be here in the Editor’s Corner, simplifying some of these grammar concepts for you and showing you how they specifically apply to your fiction. Coming up next week is my Homophone of the Month (rein vs. reign).

Want to hire Chris for a proofread or copy edit? You can find out more about him at https://saylorediting.wordpress.com, or you can email him to talk about rates and availability at christopher.saylor21 [at] gmail.com. You might also want to check out the book he co-wrote with Marcy, Grammar for Fiction Writers, available at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple iBooks.


Five Reasons Genre Matters

fictiongenresfinalBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I’ve heard writers argue that genre mattered back in the days where the only path to publication was going through a traditional publisher. With the rise of self-publishing as a viable option, they say, we don’t need to understand genre anymore.

Here’s why that’s not true.

Reason #1 – Traditional publishing is still the right choice for some writers. If you pitch to an agent, they want to know genre because most of them represent certain genres, and most publishing houses publish only certain genres of books (or they have lines devoted to particular genres). If an agent reps only urban fantasy, for example, and you send them your epic fantasy, you’ve wasted their time and yours.

Reason #2 – Genre matters even if you plan to go indie. If you self-publish and upload your book to retailers, what category are you going to put it in? If you manage to get into bookstores or libraries, what shelf will it belong on? It has to go somewhere. Also, readers do look at the top 100 lists on their retailer of choice. They might love your book if they found it, but if you don’t put it in the right category (aka genre), they might never find it.

Reason #3 – Genre helps you find your ideal reader, the people who are most likely to turn into diehard fans, because people who read books similar to yours may enjoy your books as well. This knowledge allows you to better target any ads you might run, and gives you an idea of who would be best to partner with for joint promotions.

Reason #4 – When the average person asks you what your book is about, they’re really asking first to know what genre it is. They want to know if it’s a mystery or a fantasy or a romance. Only after that do they want to know the plot. Because if you give them the plot before the genre, the first thing you’re going to hear is “So it’s a mystery?” or “So it’s a fantasy?” People need to categorize to make sense of the world around them.

Reason #5 – If a reader comes to your story expecting one thing, and you don’t give it to them, they’ll be disappointed. If you’re craving chips and someone tricks you into eating a piece of cake instead, you’re probably not going to feel satisfied. You need to know what readers expect so you can meet (and exceed) those expectations or so you can help them adjust their expectations. As well, if you plan to write to market (selecting a genre niche and writing a book that you know will hit the expected tropes), you can’t do so without first knowing your genre.

Genre still matters. Genre will always matter.

If you’re confused about genre or simply want to gather some inspiration for what genre you might want to try writing in, then you’re in luck.

Fiction Genres: A Busy Writer’s Guide is now available!

This mini book will demystify genre so we can better understanding what we’re writing and who might want to read it. In Fiction Genres, you’ll learn what qualities make a book one genre rather than another, and you’ll discover the smaller “genres” that fall under the larger umbrellas of fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, suspense, thriller, and romance. For each, you’ll also see examples of published books or authors whose books exemplify the genre.

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Overusing Names in Dialogue


By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

I wanted to go back to one of the basics today because this topic seems to be one that every new writer struggles with. (And those of us who are veterans could always use a reminder.)

Overusing names, titles, and pet names in dialogue is one of the fastest ways to make our dialogue sound clunky.

Titles are things like doctor or mom. Pet names include sweetheart, dear, love, you get the idea. For the rest of this, I’m just going to say “names” but it includes all of these.

Let me give you a little example of what this sounds like…

“Hey, Maggie, you have to see this.”

“What is it, sweetheart?”

“I’m not going to tell you, Mags. You have to come look.”

Yes, I’ve exaggerated slightly for this example. Most writers wouldn’t use names in every line of dialogue, but I’ve seen some come close.

I have a few guesses for why writers fill their dialogue with names. Some are probably trying to avoid overusing dialogue tags. Some probably think it sounds more realistic. Some are probably trying to minimize confusion about who’s talking to whom in scenes with multiple characters.

Whatever the reason, it immediately makes our dialogue sound artificial and awkward. It doesn’t sound like the way a real person would talk.

You can test this out. Keep track of how many times in a day you call someone by name (and, if it ever happens, note the circumstances around it). Pick another day and track how many times someone else calls you by name (and when that happened).

You’ll find that if it happens at all, it happens extremely rarely and in specific types of circumstances.

  • It’s the beginning or end of a conversation, and we’re saying hello or goodbye.
  • We’re trying to get someone’s attention.
  • We’re angry or upset and using their name for emphasis, almost as a weapon.
  • We’re trying to establish premature intimacy – this last one is one you’ll often hear from conmen or salesmen.

If we’re going to use names in our dialogue, these are the only times we should use them, and those uses should be strategic. For most writers, a good guideline is to avoid using names in dialogue at all.

So my editing tip is to go through your current manuscript and hack out the names you’ve used in dialogue, rewriting what’s around those sentences as necessary to make sure the speaker stays clear. You’ll find your dialogue sounds better almost instantly.

How do you feel about direct address in dialogue? Is this something you’ve struggled with?

Interested in learning more about writing great dialogue? You might be interested in Dialogue: A Busy Writer’s Guide.

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Avoiding Pointless Conflict in Our Stories


By Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

As part of my mini-series on goal, motivation, and conflict, we’ve already talked about the antagonist’s role in building conflict in our story. This week I want to look at good conflict vs. bad conflict.

Alongside the antagonist standing in our character’s way, our character is also going to face other challenges in reaching their goal. It could be other people, it could be physical obstacles, it could be puzzles they need to solve or clues they need to gather. We call these challenges conflict.

Here’s the tricky part for many writers. As Dwight Swain said in Techniques of the Selling Writer, “conflict for conflict’s sake” is useless. It hurts our story rather than helping it.

To put this another way, not all conflict is created equal. The best way that I know to help writers understand good conflict that turns their story into a page-turner is to explain bad conflict that annoys the reader and makes the story feel pointless and slow.

So here are the top three offenders when it comes to bad conflict.


There’s a difference between characters disagreeing over how to handle a real problem that they need to solve and characters that seem to be arguing simply for the sake of arguing.

If our characters bicker over minor differences, this is bad conflict. (I’d argue it isn’t even really conflict.) If you want an argument to have any chance of working as conflict, it needs to stem from deep, fundamental differences in your characters’ belief systems, morals, or end goals. Petty squabbling isn’t interesting, and it can make our characters seem childish and stupid.

Another expression of this type of bad conflict is a character that argues or disagrees even when doing so isn’t in their self-interest. A character shouldn’t randomly pick a fight if doing so hampers reaching a much more important goal. 

Our characters should get along at least some of the time.

When you’re thinking about adding an argument for conflict, consider where what they’re fighting about sits on each character’s personal value scale. Is achieving the goal more important to them than the particular thing they’re fighting about? If so, delete that argument.

If the content of what they’re arguing about is more important than the end goal, then the argument works as conflict (e.g., a character whose moral compass says I won’t kill for any reason vs. a character who believes killing in pursuit of their goal is a time where the end justifies the means).


If our characters could sit down and resolve their misunderstanding with an adult conversation, we don’t have conflict. What we will have is annoyed readers.

Misunderstandings only work if there’s a strong reason these two characters can’t talk it out. By strong reason, I mean something like one of them is a POW and can’t communicate with the outside world.

Rabbit Trails

Rabbit trails are conflicts that are unrelated to the goal. These conflicts might be fascinating in a different story where they actually matter to the long-term goal, but when they only serve as a detour, they actually slow the story down and cause readers to lose interest.

Here’s an example. Let’s say we have a pair of archeologists who think they’ve located the hiding place of the Holy Grail.

Good Conflict: One of our archeologists is kidnapped by a drug cartel that plans to torture him for information because they also want to find the Holy Grail and sell it to the highest bidder.

Bad Conflict: One of our archeologists is kidnapped by a drug cartel that is kidnapping random people will the plan to force them into becoming drug mules to smuggle their product across the border.

Do you see the difference? One roadblock is random and unconnected to the larger goal. This type of conflict will frustrate the reader because they’ll want to get back to the real story. The other roadblock increases tension and keeps the story moving because the conflict is intimately connected to the larger story goal.

Do you have any questions about conflict? I’d love to answer them either in the comments or in another post.

Interested in more ways to improve your writing? Check out my Busy Writer’s Guides such as Description, Deep Point of View, or Internal Dialogue.

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