swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

When I was a sophomore in college, I wrote an archaeology paper on Elfquest.

No, really.

It was supposed to be a paper looking at the Wolfriders as hunter-gatherers and the Sun Folk as horticulturalists/early agriculturalists. Naturally, when I finally had a paper topic I enjoyed and could have run well past the guideline of 10-12 pages, I had a professor who said anything past twelve pages he would chuck in the trash, and then dock us points for not having a conclusion. The result is that the paper wound up only addressing the Wolfrider half of the equation, because I ran out of space for anything else.

I was going to rehash the paper as my third and final post for The Forbidden Grove, but in re-reading it, I discovered that it was a) longer than I recalled (I thought it was 5-7 pages) and b) way more technical. So rather than trying to recycle the whole thing in a quarter the words, I decided it would be better to just post the paper on my website (pdf link), for those of you who actually care to see the whole thing, bibliography and all, and then use this post to talk about the things that didn’t fit into the paper.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve fallen comprehensively off the wagon of recording what I read and posting about it, but I’d like to get back to that. So, without any attempt to catch up on the year or so that I missed, here’s the log from January.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Charlotte Gordon. The premise of this dual biography is that Wollstonecraft and Shelley influenced each other, even though Wollstonecraft died a few days after giving birth to Shelley. The mother-to-daughter influence is easy to see; the daughter-to-mother influence is much more heavily inferred, based on the idea that Wollstonecraft was concerned with the future and with the lives of women, ergo with the life her daughter would have. I’m not quite sure I buy that half of the premise as much as the introduction made me expect, but that in no way stops this from being an excellent book that vastly expanded my understanding of both women. I had no idea how many other books both of them had written, nor the degree of respect Wollstonecraft had during her lifetime. (A respect that vanished almost immediately after she died, thanks to her husband’s misguided attempt to “rehabilitate” her image to the way he wanted to see her. She went from “respected intellectual” to “whore;” her daughter, who likewise got revised by her daughter-in-law, went from “whore” to “respectable Victorian wife.”)

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee. [Disclosure: the author is a friend.] The opening battle scene was gruesome enough, thanks to the exotic technology used, that I wasn’t sure what I would think of the book overall. Once I got past that, though, I was thoroughly sucked in (and the rest of the book is much less gory). The genre is space opera, but because the functioning of exotics is based on the enforcement of a calendrical system and heretical deviations from that system can make the tech stop working, it reads to me like fantasy poured through a mathematical framework. The worldbuilding reminds me of Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, not in any of its specifics, but in the sheer wealth of detail, much of it the sort of thing I don’t usually encounter in science fiction. And despite the fact that I am thoroughly sick of the “asshole genius who makes everybody dance to his tune because he’s so damn brilliant” trope, Jedao was my favorite character in the whole novel. There are ways to make that trope work, and this is one of them.

Women in Practical Armor, ed. Ed Greenwood and Gabrielle Harbowy. Anthology I backed on Kickstarter, themed around female warriors. Most of what’s in here is very much classic D&D/sword-and-sorcery fantasy. My favorite story was probably the one that took the antho title most literally: “Pride and Joy” by Eric Landreneau, wherein the hazards of boob-plate armor get hammered home.

The Just City, Jo Walton. First of the Thessaly series. Athena gathers together people from throughout history to found the city described in Plato’s The Republic and see how it works out. By dint of its subject matter, I mentally classify this with utopian SF, but from the start it’s clear that while the Just City is an attempt to create a utopian society, it is deeply flawed in multiple ways. (As Apollo says at one point, what Plato knew about love and relationships would fit on a fingernail paring.) If, like me, you are the sort of person who bounces in glee at the prospect of seeing Athena and Socrates square off in a public debate, this is the book for you.

Elfquest: Fire and Flight, Wendy and Richard Pini. Re-read. I love this series so much. For more detail, see the re-read posts (but beware spoilers).

Everyday Things in Premodern Japan, Susan B. Hanley. “Premodern” here specifically means the Tokugawa period, with some attention to what came before and after for context. Hanley’s main thesis is that, contrary to how Victorian travelers portrayed things, the quality of life improved massively in the Tokugawa period, in large part due to technological advancements that came out of the Sengoku/Warring States period immediately prior. What I found the most interesting was the discussion of how many aspects of what we now think of as traditional Japanese culture were Tokugawa-era responses to limited resources: with the country closed to outside influences, they had to make do with what they had in their islands, and this influenced everything from food to architecture to clothing to sanitation. (When you don’t have enough arable land to waste much of it on livestock, you don’t have animal manure to use as fertilizer, so human waste becomes a valuable enough resource that you not only put in place systems for removing it to agricultural areas, you start having problems with people stealing it.)

The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, Samuel Noah Kramer. I must have bought this back in high school or early college, because the price sticker on it is from Half-Price Books, which I used to frequent in Dallas. The book itself is a mildly interesting read, but I would love to compare it against something more recent, because I imagine the state of Sumerology has come on a bit in the fifty years since this one was published. I welcome any recommendations from the commentariat.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

When humans appear in Fire and Flight, they are quite simply and straightforwardly the enemy. They capture and torture Redlance; they burn the forest because they believe that’s what their god wants. They fear and hate elves, and elves fear and hate them right back.

But it doesn’t remain that simple.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

I like Fire and Flight, but this volume is where the story really hits its stride. After our simple, linear introduction, where the plot is straightforward and only a small number of characters get much in the way of attention, the narrative opens up: two strands, with Cutter and Skywise searching for more elf tribes, while back in Sorrow’s End Suntop receives a warning that sends nearly the entire tribe on the road again in pursuit of that pair.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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In the course of all the protesting and petitioning and calling my representatives and so forth, I remind myself that my normal activities can also be used to make a difference in the world.

The VeriCon Charity Auction is live right now, with proceeds going to benefit Cittadini del Mondo, which is working to help refugees. My own contribution there is a signed copy of Cold-Forged Flame, but there are many, many other items on offer, and the cause is a very good one.

I’m also involved with Children of a Different Sky, an anthology of stories about refugees, whose profits will be used to benefit same. My intent is to write a new Driftwood story for it: that whole setting is about the survivors of calamity carrying on in a new place, which makes it very fitting for this kind of project.

The last thing is a bit more indirect, but still important. I’m one of the judges for Fantastical Times, a writing contest for Tampa Bay-area high school students. I know the likelihood that anyone reading this post being eligible to enter is small, but I want to mention it anyway. Because right now I feel especially bad for our younger generation, the people looking ahead to the future, wondering what they’re going to inherit from us — and wondering if they can do anything about it. Their voices matter. They’re the ones who are going to have to deal with the mess we leave behind. If you know of a similar opportunity for kids in your area, promote it. We need their vision, and we need them to know we’re listening.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Appropriately enough, after the chronological trainwreck that was the previous volume, I never actually numbered this notebook. Because it was the one I was in the middle of using when I took the time to number the previous ones? Because I started using it after that? Not because I gave up on trying to fit it into the chronology; this one is remarkably coherent. Judging by the stories I was working on and the class notes that appear sporadically, this starts around the summer after my junior year, continues through senior, and fetches up in early grad school, without any huge skips or bits of Doppelganger showing up at the end.

I don’t know why, but I went through another phase here of writing a lot more stuff longhand — which is nigh unheard-of for me. I did it in high school because I spent all day in class and had to look like I was paying attention, but in college and grad school? Class occupied much less of my time per day, and I was taking much more in the way of actual notes. Not sure why I went on a kick of it here, but I definitely did; I have an almost-complete draft of “Such as Dreams Are Made Of,” a good-sized chunk of “Beggar’s Blessing,” and the entirety of “A Thousand Souls” — the latter with its wordcount helpfully written in the margins, because apparently I wrote it somewhere I didn’t have access to my computer right away, and that was the only way to figure out how long it was. (760 words in the first draft; counting wasn’t a very onerous task.) I have lots of planning for the still-unwritten novel that goes by the acronym TIR, including the page where I stumbled through a lot of phonemes on my way to the main character’s name. I have snippets from another unwritten Nine Lands novel, because I had an idea for an interaction between three characters and wanted to make sure I didn’t forget it. I have other planning for Old Project C, because this apparently coincides with another spate of work on that.

But the most interesting things in here, from my perspective, are the bits related to two novels that did get written. The first, from the standpoint of what shows up in the notebook, is Sunlight and Storm, the trunked novel I mentioned before. On the very first page I wrote:

I feel like I have this inability to tell the difference between an honest need for a break and simple procrastination.

Am I stuck on Sunlight and Storm? I don’t think so. Could I be writing something more powerful if I stopped and took a break and made some deep meaningful connection? Maybe. Or is that just laziness talking, uncertainty, stupidity. Who knows?

I can’t swear that taking a break would have produced any great improvement in my situation, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can say that powering through (which is what I did) left me with a completely lifeless first draft. The story had no energy; it was preachy and colorless and not at all what I wanted. It remains the one novel draft I have never tried to revise. Instead of attempting to clean it up, I wrote out a scene-by-scene outline of the story in its first incarnation, scribbled a few pages that I think are the single time in my life I’ve ever explicitly written out the themes of my story, and then started a white-page rewrite. I’m not sure I even looked at the original draft again, after I wrote that outline — I’d have to compare the files to see whether I kept any original text. My recollection is that I didn’t, but that could be mental erasure talking; that’s how much I disliked my first attempt.

Nor is that the only novel outline in this notebook. The other one is similarly an accounting of a book I’d already completed; I’ve never been much of one for outlining stuff before I write it. In 2001 I went to WorldCon in Philadelphia, and found that an editor I’d been submitting to was on a panel, so I hatched a plan to try and talk to her afterward. She’d written me a personalized rejection letter for what eventually became Lies and Prophecy, so I figured that would be my hook: introduce myself, remind her about the book, thank her for that encouragement, and then get out before I took up too much of her time.

I got as far as my name.

She remembered me. She remembered the book, before I even said anything about it. She remembered that I had another novel (The Kestori Hawks) in her slush pile. And she asked whether I was doing anything else in the setting of Lies and Prophecy. When I stammered out something to the effect of how I was thinking about revising it, she asked me to send it to her once I did.

And I know all of this because I wrote it all down in the notebook I’d taken to the con. 😛 (Though the memory is pretty vivid, too.)

So after that I have an outline of Lies and Prophecy, wherein I made a lot of progress in tightening it up and eliminating the stuff that was more just about the characters hanging out at magic college than anything plot-related. (I’ve mentioned before that Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin was one of the inspirations for the story; the original draft was waaaaaaay more Tam Lin-y in that respect.) Which means this notebook very thoroughly documents the period where I learned to be a lot more aggressive about my revisions, not just polishing up the story but going in there and hacking stuff apart to put it back together again. It’s a key skill, and one I didn’t have in the early days.

There are other bits and pieces in here — me poking at a story based on one of the only dreams I’ve ever remembered, research notes for my paper on Minoan bull-leaping, a quasi-journal of my first trip to Ireland, notes from a class with Henry Glassie the Most Amazing Lecturer Ever, a brief stab at my second Latin grammar/Irish phonology mashup conlang (for Tir Diamh, one of the countries in the Nine Lands) — but those two things, the Sunlight and Storm and Lies and Prophecy revision notes, are probably the most significant things in here.

Well, that and the seedlet for a novel that may never get around to writing. It’s entirely possible I’m going to repurpose it for a short story I promised to write this spring.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

I suspect I’ll wind up making several posts about Recognition during the course of this series, because it’s such an interesting and complex topic: a spontaneous soulbond, with bonus reproductive instinct. You can spin a bunch of different stories out of that, and the Pinis hit quite a few of them; in fact, I’m not sure there’s any point in what I consider the main canon (the first eight volumes, up through Kings of the Broken Wheel) where they play it completely straight. Cutter and Leetah come the closest — but before I get to that, let’s talk about Recognition itself.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Fred Rogers, the uncanonized saint of American television, said it best: When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’

(via Making Light)

That is, in essence, what these tikkun olam posts are for: they’re a place to find helpers, to remind yourself that they’re out there, and even to motivate yourself to be one of them. So that when you’re like ickle Fred Rogers, the world might seem a little less scary.

So share your news of how you’re helping, be it big or small. Are you doing volunteer work, either through a formal organization or an ad hoc arrangement with someone you know? Are you changing your own life so that you’ll be a better citizen of your town, state, country, planet? Have you made a donation to some good cause? Don’t feel like everything you mention has to be new; continuing efforts are just as good as one-off or additional things. And remember that everything is fair game, even if it’s not very big. Sometimes the little gestures mean the most.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’m starting to think there are two kinds of research — or rather, a spectrum with two ends. Quite possibly it’s a more multi-directional spectrum than that, but there are two ends that seem particularly applicable to my life.

The first kind is reading for facts. This is the type of research I did all the time for the Onyx Court books: I’m writing about a specific thing, and so I need to know stuff about it. What route did Elizabeth I’s coronation procession take? Where were the imprisoned members of Parliament held after Pride’s Purge? When did somebody calculate the moment of perihelion for Halley’s Comet in 1759? What actions were taken by Fenian terrorists in the later Victorian period? This extends to more general questions; a lot of my reading was to fill in broad topics along the lines of “what was life like in this period,” not because there was a specific detail I knew I needed, but because I needed a large mass of specific details to draw from in shaping my plot and laying out my scenes. And often one of those elements would suggest a new dimension to the story, so then I’m off down a new fact-reading rabbit hole; rinse and repeat until my deadline starts breathing down my neck and I have to quit adding to the pile.

The other kind of research is one I used to do all the time — but I didn’t really think of it as “research” back then. It was just, y’know, my life. I took an odd assortment of classes and read an odd assortment of books, and they all poured material into my head, and out of that came stories. This is reading for fodder, and I’m finally back to doing it, because I have several projects in the hopper that are all secondary-world, as opposed to urban fantasy (the Wilders series) or historical fantasy (Onyx Court) or what I think of as world-and-a-half (Memoirs of Lady Trent, halfway between historical and invented). It isn’t that I won’t wind up using specific details out of what I read; the difference is that in the end, I’m not actually writing about those things. Lately I’ve been reading a book on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Everyday Things in Premodern Japan, the Mahabharata, a book on the Sumerians, a bunch of Wikipedia articles on ancient Greek philosophy and society because I finished Jo Walton’s The Just City. Am I planning on writing anything set in Georgian England, Tokugawa Japan, ancient India, ancient Sumer, or ancient Greece? Not necessarily. But it’s all going into the mental compost heap, to intermix and break down and become fertile soil for ideas.

Some subconscious part of myself feels like I’m skiving off of work reading these things, because it’s been trained by nine books of historical or quasi-historical fiction to think the only real research is the kind done for facts. I need to do this, though, or else the worlds I invent will stay firmly in the box of “modified analogues,” places that can easily be mapped to single real-world origins. I need to throw a bunch of different things into my head at once, so that I come up with a society where there’s a deified emperor (a bit Roman, a bit Egyptian) and a caste system (a bit Indian) with a meritocratic way of changing your caste (a bit Chinese) and a clockpunky tech level (a bit Italian Renaissance) and so forth, without it being straightforwardly any of those things. If they wind up having an architecture a little bit like Tokugawa Japan or a schooling system like ancient Sumer, it will be because that happened to click into place, not because I had to use one of those societies for inspiration.

As I said at the beginning, these aren’t clearly divided types. “What was life like in this period” is closer to being a fodder-type question than “how rapidly did the plague take hold in 1665,” because it’s designed to help me come up with ideas for that specific period. And you’ll see the Mayan calendrical system with a minor fictional paint job showing up in Lightning in the Blood because years ago I read about it for fun and wound up incorporating it into a story more or less wholesale, complete with fiddly little details about Year-Bearers. But it helps me to remember that fodder-type reading is a form of research, and one that’s very necessary for my job.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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If you need proof that my numbering for these notebooks is more what you might call guidelines than actual rules, look no further than this volume.

Our last installment was largely devoted to the spring of my junior year, with a brief retro-foray into my sophomore spring in the last few pages (where I was pondering which field school to attend and writing part of Doppelganger). This notebook, which theoretically follows in in sequence, opens with me as a sophomore again, dwells for a while on my actual time at Cas Hen, skips off my junior year like a rock off a pond, and then lands firmly in my senior year for a good half the notebook before wrapping up in the final pages with me settling into Bloomington the summer between college and grad school — except that the back has the nigh-obligatory couple random pages of text from Doppelganger (seriously, how many notebooks did I spread that across?) and page after page of Japanese vocabulary practice, which could date to any point between my freshman year of college and my third year of grad school.

Like I said. Guidelines, not actual rules.

Anyway, this bounces back and forth between NPC stats for the Japan-based Vampire game I never ran on the recto side of pages with Irish verb conjugations on the verso before getting to quite an assortment of writing stuff. The notes for Sunlight and Storm must be very early; I hadn’t named any of the characters yet, just referring to them as “the protagonist” and “flighty” and “Mrs. Dull.” (Who actually isn’t dull, but that’s how the protagonist first sees her.) Then, after a page of semi-outline for Doppelganger and a page of me conjugating laudare for no reason I can recall, I’m at Cas Hen!

I think my field school notes started when we were in Ireland for the middle two weeks of six, because the earliest stuff is about graveyards, and we spent a lot of our time in Ireland taking rubbings of old headstones and so forth. That and survey work: if I need to remind myself on the differences between resistivity, magnetic susceptibility, and magnetometry, now I can. Also phosphorous testing, which I’m pretty sure is how we snapped the handle on the auger before somebody got around to admitting we had totally the wrong kind of auger for the job and that’s why it never worked for beans even when it was intact.

Random line, reigning in solitary glory on the back of a page, I think said by one of my friends at the field school: “The reincarnation of Jack the Ripper is the son of Zeus.” No, I have no idea what we were talking about to wind up with a line like that. I don’t think it was meant seriously.

Some of this is actually kind of interesting, and I can only assume I got it from someone at Cas Hen, given its placement in the notebook. I have a page describing the tools a blacksmith uses: not just the obvious things like hammer and anvil, but also bosh, mandrel, swage block, drifts, sets, fullers, hardies, and the difference between cold chisels and hot chisels. Also the parts of an anvil, and the detail that the block it sits on is usually elm? And then another page of the different heats you bring a metal to (warm, black, dull red, bright red, bright yellow, light welding, full welding) and the techniques you use on it (drawing out, upsetting, bending, hot cutting, punching and drifting, welding, hardening, tempering, annealing, normalizing, case hardening). The next page talks about the right build for a workhorse versus a warhorse vs a horse for endurance riding; for all I know, I got that from one of my field school friends, who knew a lot about horses. I don’t think it’s really worth photocopying these before I send the notebook off, because I could get that info in much greater detail from a book if I ever need it for some reason, but it’s still quite nifty.

Then piles of notes for my final paper, about how the site of Cas Hen gets presented to the public through signboards, reconstructions, pamphlets, and shop displays. Unlike most of my classmates, I actually have the paper itself, too, because I went to the trouble of hauling my laptop to the back end of nowhere and running it off the electricity in the finds tent. I had to write my final draft by hand, which was annoying, but at least I was able to compose the paper digitally. I’ve preferred to write on a computer ever since I was nine.

Back to writing! There was a thing I was doing freshman year, that must have continued for longer than I recalled, where I was writing folktales and bits of pseudo-history as worldbuilding for the Nine Lands. I have one of them in here, about an incident in the political history of Tir Diamh. (In verifying that, I also discovered that what I thought was me trying to write poetry for poetry’s sake was actually an attempt at the satire that gets mentioned in one of the other bits of Diamhair history. It seems I used June Tabor’s “Aqaba” as my source for its melody and scansion.) Did that plant the seeds for something that shows up near the end of the notebook? I have there something of an outline for the early part of a novel I still haven’t written; whether I will or not, who knows. Then more Doppelganger bits, including the earliest evidence I’ve yet come across of what eventually became Dancing the Warrior, eleven years later.

Junior year is represented by me trying to work out floor plans for our dorm suite and about four pages of class notes for three different classes, before the next page declares HIEROGLYPHICS! in very large excited letters. Which means it’s now my senior spring, when I took a class on Egyptology. But wherever the first half of that semester is, it isn’t here, because the hieroglyphic bits are followed by my first trip to Japan, during spring break: thoughts on which places I might visit (I hit rather a lot of them, though didn’t make it to Sanjuusangendou, Arashiyama, or Fushimi Inari until a later trip), an attempt at a daily journal that died four days in. (Half in Japanese, half in English, of course.)

“Since I work on stories instead of taking notes anyway, I might as well use a story notebook.” Is that what this is? And here I thought it was a nonsensical hodgepodge of random crap. But while I may have been ignoring the professor in my Aegean Bronze Age archaeology class, I do wind up having actual Egyptology notes soon after that. Interspersed with bits from my push to write a bunch of short stories before I graduated, so I could send them in to what was then the Isaac Asimov Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing; it’s now the Dell Magazines Award for same, and it was my first monetary success with my writing. Of the six stories I wrote in those two months, “Calling into Silence,” “The Twa Corbies,” and “A Thousand Souls” wound up being published; the other three are currently trunked. But trying to brainstorm story ideas from folklore gave me my first notion of writing a short story based on “Tom O’Bedlam,” so while I can’t really say that I had the idea for “Mad Maudlin” in college, I did have the ancestor of the idea for it.

Unexpected treasure: notes from the Shadowrun game a friend of mine ran. It was, for a long time, the only campaign I played in that actually reached a conclusion — because it was planned from the start to be something like six sessions. People who know Shadowrun are invited to beat their heads into their desks when they hear that our party consisted of three physical adepts and a shaman. <g> Our GM was kind and tailored the game so we didn’t need a decker or a rigger or, y’know, any of the things that are normally core to a Shadowrun campaign. (One of our phys ads practiced . . . aikido? Some martial art that meant he had a penalty if he initiated violence. He was also built like a tank, so we generally stuck him in front as our meat shield, let the bad guys attack him, and then went to town once he started fighting back.) But really, our weird-ass party composition fit the plot, which turned out to be a modern-day sequel to the old wuxia film The Bride with White Hair. Sadly, the notes here cut off before the end of the campaign. I hope they turn out to be in another notebook, because I remember the conclusion wound up being very bittersweet: we had to decide which of several factions (the Bride, her lover, some triad group, I forget who else) to give the magic flower to, and waffled back and forth so much, more people died than might otherwise have done. My comment afterward was “I think my character feels like they made a wrong decision . . . but she can’t tell which one it was.”

The last thing in here, before the logistical notes from me moving to Indiana for grad school, the Doppelganger bit, and the Japanese vocabulary, is from what I dubbed Old Project C a while ago. I’d laid it aside round about my freshman year, maybe sophomore; years later I picked it up again, in the hopes that the intervening time would have given me enough distance to be able to really reconceive it as I needed to. The answer was both yes and no: I was able to make major changes, but not to turn it into something successful. I got far enough, though, that I started trying to write new fiction in the setting, plots wholly unrelated to my previous attempts. And this one is especially noteworthy because it’s pretty much the only thing I wrote that entire summer: I was working for a contract archaeology lab, getting up way earlier than I was accustomed to, which meant I also had to go to bed way earlier than I was accustomed to.

This killed my creativity.

I knew I was a night owl, but I didn’t know how much. I won’t say that I’m incapable of writing in the daytime, but my most productive hours are after 10 p.m. Always have been. And the shifted schedule, combined with a mind-destroyingly tedious job, meant I got no writing done — except for the one night I decided to say “screw it” and stay up later than I should. I wrote a short story that night, the story I apparently started here in this notebook. So it’s a reminder that yeah, my work schedule is a choice . . . but not a random one.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

I mentioned in my last post the cultural exchange between the Wolfriders and the Sun Folk, two very different societies. One of the differences between them comes to the forefront when the earthquake sends the zwoots stampeding toward the Sun Village, and the Wolfriders head out to try and turn the herd away. Leetah is shocked to see Dewshine going with them, saying “But it is not a maiden’s place to –” She can’t even muster a justification for that incomplete thought, and Dewshine shrugs it off with a laugh, because she sees no reason she shouldn’t ride in the hunt.

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Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I pity the hypothetical poor bastard who ever tries to go through these notebooks to write some book or paper on me. The fifth page of this notebook features the following gem: “Tá mé réasúnta ard agus measartha tanaí. Caithfidh mé a ? láidir. I should email [name]; he can probably help.” Four pages after that, we get “家へかえりたい” — the start of a whole block of Japanese text. I think by this point in my life I had stopped randomly writing things in Spanish, but I can’t swear to it, nor that there won’t be some Old Norse later on. The actual content of this stuff is rarely meaningful; the Japanese says “I want to go home” and goes on to whine about how I can’t write in kanji anymore and I’m tired, while the Irish, from what I can piece together with the help of a dictionary, is an evaluation of my height and weight and physical strength (why I was writing that I don’t know, other than as a way of not forgetting the language). But a casual glance at the text doesn’t tell you whether it’s pointless filler or not, written down because I was bored in class. Some of it might be load-bearing. The only way for that hypothetical researcher to know is to translate the Irish and the Japanese and the Spanish and maybe the Old Norse, along with the Welsh song lyrics and Latin poetry and other crap I scribbled out because I was trying not to fall asleep.

Dear god. A later page has me trying to write out the first line of the Aeneid . . . in katakana. アルマ ウイルムクエ カノ。

My brain has always been a weird place.

Anyway, this notebook. It mostly continues straight on from the previous one, as in I’m still taking notes from my junior year Japanese history and witchcraft classes. (Also my ethnography class, but either it bored me stiff or it was the kind of class that was more about discussion than absorbing information. Possibly both; I could tell you better if I remember which professor taught it. Anyway, my “notes,” such as they are, largely consist of details about paper due dates and complaining about my fellow students.) Reading through it took me a while, because I was pretty gung ho about writing as much as I could of my notes in Japanese; I got a lot of hiragana practice the last couple of days, and had a few rounds of “what do those kanji mean? Bakufu, maybe? <goes to dictionary> Okay, yes. Then the bit right before it probably means Kamakura, because I know that’s the next historical period after Heian.”

From a writing perspective, it means this volume isn’t very interesting, as the vast majority of it is class notes, and the bits that sparked story ideas are pretty scarce. But I’ve got a page or so of noodling about the Nine Lands, scattered notes on The Kestori Hawks, and the occasional nugget of idea, marked to hold onto for later. My paper for that ethnography class was written on the local SCA fencing practice, which is further evidence of how my interest in that subject developed. Toward the end I started working on my junior thesis, which wound up being about weapons in Viking Age Scandinavia; apart from more proof of “hey, I like sharp things,” that thesis led directly to a short story and an as-yet-unpublished novel based on same. (I read Hervarar saga and was wildly disappointed by how it squandered the narrative potential of the poem “The Waking of Angantyr,” which was included in my Old Norse textbook. So I decided to write my own version.) And I think this one page full of random words was me scribbling down names I liked while working for Anthropological Literature as an indexer, because the second page of that also features the note “Kumari” by Allen, Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society, 32:3 207-221 pp. I knew “Once a Goddess” was inspired by an article I read while indexing; now I have the exact citation. Thanks, Professor Allen!

The most interesting bit, however, comes at the back of the notebook — which clearly got used before the rest of it did, because the material there dates to my sophomore year, before everything else. I’ve got contact info for several archaeological sites, which must have been field schools, because the last thing on that page says “Cas Hen’s a possibility.” That would be Castell Henllys, the field school I attended the summer after my sophomore year, which is noteworthy for two things in particular. The first is that I wrote a good chunk of Doppelganger while sitting in my pup tent with my laptop balanced on my air mattress — including the pivotal scene where Miryo comes face-to-face with the Primes after her encounter with Mirage, which will forever stick my memory because my subconscious threw a spanner into the works that night, that wound up making the entire story much richer. And the second noteworthy thing is that Cas Hen is where I met Alyc Helms, who seventeen years on is still a good friend and my closest writing buddy. As I said when recommending her to my former editor after he set up shop as an agent, every time I hit a wall mid-draft, Alyc is the person I fling my manuscript at, wailing piteously for her to hellllllp meeeeeeee. So, uh, I’m glad I decided not to go work on Low Briker Farm or Silchester Roman Town or the Billown Neolithic Landscape Project, because I could have written Doppelganger there, too, but I wouldn’t have met Alyc.

Oh, and there is Spanish in this notebook, though it’s limited to me scrawling CALLATE! (shut up!) when one of my classmates wouldn’t stop talking, and some song lyrics when I got really bored. So, par for the course.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: a headshot of Clearbrook from the comic book series Elfquest (Clearbrook)

(This is part of my Elfquest re-read. There will be spoilers.)

Fire and Flight, the first volume of the series, could stand on its own just fine. It’s the story of how a tribe of elves called the Wolfriders were driven from their home and found a new one; it’s also a romance story for the protagonist, the Wolfrider chieftain Cutter. Both of those things find resolution here, so while the seeds of the ongoing story are present, you get a complete tale right out of the gate.

Read the rest of this entry  )

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Growing up, I never read that many comic books. I associated the medium with superhero stories, which didn’t much interest me; later on, when I knew there were lots of other kinds of stories out there, I still found myself bouncing off them for various reasons (didn’t like the art style, found the stories too thin to engage me, etc). These days there are some comic book series I love, but even now they’re few in number.

And then there’s Elfquest.

A friend of mine handed me the first graphic novel when I was about twelve, and I fell hard. She went out of town right after loaning me the third volume; I just about went mad waiting for her to come home and give me the fourth. I discovered there was an Elfquest roleplaying game, and I got my local bookstore to order it in. Had I ever played an RPG? Nope. Never got around to playing that one, either. But it was an Elfquest-related thing, so I had to have it.

I’ve decided, in the tradition of my Wheel of Time and Diana Wynne Jones Project, to re-read the series and blog as I go. I don’t have a terribly organized plan for this; I think I want to approach it more via topics than making one post per volume, but I’ll tackle those topics in narrative order, revisiting some of them as they become relevant again. Right now my intent is to stick only to the first eight graphic novels (up through the end of Kings of the Broken Wheel); nothing after that worked as well for me as the early stuff did. But possibly I’ll change my mind, especially as I’m still working my way through The Final Quest, and may want to revisit some of the middle volumes to remind myself of what’s going on there. If you want to read along, all the stuff I’m definitely going to post about is available for free on their website.

This post will serve as the index for the whole blog series, so I’ll update it as I go with links to the individual posts as I make them. Look for the first of those soon!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Years ago I numbered these notebooks so I would know roughly what order they went in, but it’s more what you might call guidelines than actual rules. This one, #5, starts out with my junior year of high school — I can tell because there are three pages from a project I was working on for Theory of Knowledge — but then it jumps straight to my sophomore year of college. And I can tell that because I was finally taking actual notes in class.

In fact, the bulk of this notebook is dedicated to class notes, stretching across three semesters. But even if there were nothing story-related in it — which isn’t the case — I would still consider it fair game for archiving, because of what it shows about my development as a writer. The classes recorded here are Ancient Celtic Society, my Irish Gaelic language course, The Christian Revolution (on the early formation of the church), Shakespeare’s Later Plays, the history of folklore theory, Japanese history, and witchcraft. (Yes, I took a course on witchcraft. My textbooks for that had the most interesting titles.) This is characteristic of my education: I ricocheted all over the globe, filling my brain with bits and pieces of material from a dozen different cultures.

I hadn’t realized it began this early, but here we get the first scattered appearances of the mark I mentioned before, the thing I would put in the margins of my notes to let me know when I’d gone haring off the path of class material and into ideas for my stories. It’s a little MB, for Marie Brennan, and it makes obvious what otherwise would require inference: the fact that my classes were directly fueling my fiction. It’s possible that one of my other notebooks will even record the moment at which a folklore seminar gave me the idea for “Calling into Silence,” the first piece of fiction I ever had monetary success with. I’ve said before that I didn’t choose my majors (archaeology and folklore & mythology) with an eye toward what would be useful to me as a fantasy writer, but I don’t think I could have chosen better for that purpose if I tried. Here is the proof of it, with my college education dumping truckloads of fertilizer and seeds directly into my brain.

Story-wise, there are a bunch of things in here, starting with Old Project C (that can be the code name for the originally-fanfic-based-but-later-original thing I may revive someday in vastly altered form) and bouncing around through Doppelganger, The Kestori Hawks (my third and wildly unsuccessful novel, now trunked), the Nine Lands short stories, and Sunlight and Storm (my fourth novel, which may get revived from the trunk someday). I can see the moment where I started noodling around with the name that wound up becoming Shikari. There are some scene-bits for what would probably be the pivot point of a series I have not yet written, more than fifteen years later. There are diagrams and choreography for the plays I worked on, during the four years that I was basically the only stage combat person at Harvard with anything resembling training — early stratigraphy for Writing Fight Scenes.

There are also a few habits that are still with me now. The first is my tendency to randomly start writing in cursive, in a never-ending and perpetually doomed attempt to regain the ability to make it look good. Sketches periodically fill the margins; I’m not much of a visual artist, at least not outside of photography, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying. And every so often — more, when there’s a good reason — I’ll write bits of my notes in Japanese, again in an attempt to keep up my skill. Mostly what it means in practice is that I remember how to write dates, and my hiragana comprehension has stayed good, because I can spell out things I don’t remember/never knew the kanji for, and kanji (at least the way I write them) are often too slow for note-taking purposes. This was useful in the part of the notebook where I was studying Japanese history, because I could and did write about how しょとく promoted Buddhism in やまと during the 六の century, but a few scattered habits stayed with me overall; I suspect later notebooks will show me writing 人 for “person” or “people,” because that’s one of the few cases where the kanji is genuinely faster to write.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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My dojo’s New Year’s party was today*, conflicting with the Women’s March up in San Francisco. So instead I went to the Answer Coalition protest last night.

(*Japanese New Year’s parties happen in the new year. I’m told that as long as you get it done before the end of, oh, February, it still counts.)

I don’t think I’ve ever really been to that kind of event before. I can’t recall anything like it, anyway. It was grey and raining and rather cold when I arrived at UN Plaza, but I worked my way slowly to the front-ish part of the crowd and listened to people give speeches, including one delivered in both Spanish and English. Every so often the sky decided to drool on us for a bit; people were good about opening their umbrellas safely above head height, and indiscriminately sheltering not only themselves but whoever happened to be standing nearby. I couldn’t help but see a metaphor in that. Out of an abundance of caution I’d taken a Sharpie to my arm and written out an emergency contact, drug allergies, and the fact that my ophthalmologist had dilated my eyes a couple of hours earlier (so any hypothetical EMT would know why my pupils were blown), but it wasn’t at all necessary; everything was good, all the energy channeled in the right directions.

I hadn’t looked very closely at the details of the protest. Answer Coalition, okay, 5-7 p.m. in UN Plaza. I missed the part where it said there was going to be a march. When they said we were heading to the Castro (nearly two miles away), I thought about returning to BART and calling it an evening. But hey, it won’t hurt to go at least a little way, right?

Next thing I know, I’m in the Castro.

I thought about splitting after a few blocks. But there was a cadre of six or seven people who had brought side-slung marching drums, a guy with a snare, somebody with a cowbell, and one brave guy with a trumpet (I’ve played brass in cold weather before; it sucks). Everything is better with drums. There’s a reason armies use them, and it isn’t just to keep everybody in step. I went along with those people for a while, enjoying the beat, but eventually outpaced them and caught up with another group that was doing lots of chants: anti-Trump things, “Black Lives Matter/Native Lives Matter/Trans Lives Matter,” socialist worker chants, chants in Spanish. Somewhere in there I noticed that our progress down the westbound lanes of Market was being facilitated by cops, and I started thanking them as I passed. One of them grinned and said that if he hadn’t been on duty, he probably would have been there anyway. Another said it was easy with a group like ours. Cars headed eastbound on Market, or waiting at the cross-streets, honked in support as we went by. And then I could see the giant rainbow flag up ahead, and, well, who could quit before reaching it?

Only we weren’t done there. We hung a left down Castro Street itself, then hooked back east on 18th. Where was our stopping point? I began to form a suspicion that we didn’t really have one. I asked one of the cops, and he just shrugged: he didn’t know, either. I checked my phone and discovered that if I got ahead of the march, I could hit Borderlands before it closed; we were headed that direction, but not fast enough. So I peeled off at last, stopped by to sign some things and stuff a pastry in my face, got back on the nearest bit of BART, and went home utterly exhausted.

But very, very glad I went. I wish I could have joined the Women’s March today, but that one was good, too. And today I get to see the pictures, which made me just a touch verklempt. I knew there were marches in a lot of major U.S. cities, but I had no idea there would be marches in so many not major cities, too. And in other countries. And on other continents. (I wondered out loud if that’s every woman in Antarctica right now, and possibly every human in Antarctica. Turns out that the staff of McMurdo Station is much larger than that, plus there are other stations down there, so no — but still. Every. Single. Continent.)

Donald Trump has insulted and threatened well over half the population of this country. (Women alone make up 50.8%. Add in all the black, Latino, Muslim, Jewish, queer, or otherwise targeted men, not to mention all the men who don’t see those groups as the enemy, and who knows what the number really is.) We have mobilized, in our hundreds of thousands, to show what we think of that.

It’s a beginning. Now let’s keep going.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Yes, by the laws of this country Donald Trump is legitimately our president.

By any measure other than the letter of the law, I do not accept him.

He did not receive a majority of the votes, and is not supported by a majority of the American people. He benefited from some unknown quantity of illegal foreign interference. He is supposed to defend the Constitution of the United States; he has shown repeatedly that he has no understanding of that document, much less concern for what it says. He has demonstrated a degree of cronyism and corruption unprecedented in my lifetime, before he even took office. He makes the United States less safe. He represents everything that is worst about this country, from bigotry to crass materialism, and none of what is best.

I do not accept him as my leader in any sense other than that forced upon me by law. And I will work by any legal means available to oppose the damage he is going to inflict on my nation.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I have a tradition of keeping one copy of every version of my books: paperback, hardcover, audio, translation, etc. And that includes ARCs . . . but I never got one of Cold-Forged Flame (an oversight on my part). If you happen to have one of those lying around that you’d be willing to sell me, please let me know! My collection is incomplete. 🙂

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

My fourth notebook dates to my senior year of high school (because there are calculus notes and Latin translations in it) and my freshman year of college (because there are personal notes in it, which I have no compunctions about tearing out before I send this off to be archived).

It is probably fair to say that my writing process has never been so well-documented as it was in this period, simply because of the circumstances of my life. In high school and early college I didn’t really take notes in class, because I mostly didn’t have to. (When the “lecture” consisted of the teacher going over the information that was already in the book, I didn’t see much point.) I just listened . . . sort of . . . and remembered stuff. But I needed to look like an industrious student, so I wrote stuff in my notebook, and sometimes it had to do with the topic at hand but most of the time it didn’t. The result is things like this:

scan of a notebook page featuring a triquetra knot

Right there, documented for posterity, is the moment I had the idea of using the triquetra knot as the symbol of Starfall’s witches. There are countless little tidbits like that scattered through here: Poltergeist activity in Talman? says one page, a four-word query that led to a major scene in Lies and Prophecy. Another page has Five sections of witches. Name? followed by Ray in a different pen, as I worked out the structure of witch society in Doppelganger. There are worldbuilding tidbits that got abandoned, like the modes of address for the Primes; there are worldbuilding tidbits that got kept, like the top margin that has a few scribbled details on the psi-virus. There are two entire pages of me brainstorming setting details for the Nine Lands, evidence of me pursuing my goal of a world whose countries really were culturally distinct from one another — and given its placement in the notebook, after I had arrived at college, also evidence of how anthropology was feeding my brain.

I don’t know exactly when this habit ended, but I know it didn’t last beyond my days of taking classes, because it only happened when I was sitting around with a notebook in front of me for hours each week. These days my ideas sometimes get scribbled down on scraps of paper, but they’re more likely to stay in my head until they go into a story. There’s no record of the moment when I figured out the end of In the Labyrinth of Drakes, because it happened in conversation with Alyc Helms instead of when I was pretending to listen to a teacher. For years I had a tendency to jot down random names, phrases, cultural snippets, plot twists, and anything else that came into my head; eventually I developed a mark to put in the margin so I’d know which parts of any given page were about writing instead of class. It means I can watch myself think through things from back then in a way that just isn’t true of later work.

It reminds me of where certain ideas came from, too. For example, this notebook contains a lot of game notes: for my Vampire character, for my very short-lived Mage character, for Vampire sequel game I thought up and never ran, for the Highlander game I was running online. That latter had a female PC named Miryoko, and I remember that I knew “three syllables ending in -ko” was a common form of Japanese name (didn’t learn until later that it wasn’t that way in the time period the PC lived in), but I looked up “miryo” to see whether it was a legitimate Japanese word, and found it meant “charm or glamour.” Looking at it now, I’m pretty sure it means in the social sense, but it stuck in my head as the magical one, and yep, that’s how one of the protagonists of Doppelganger got named. The Head/Hand/Heart division of the witches comes from the comic book Elfquest, the three trials Cutter and Rayek go through when their rivalry over Leetah annoys her enough to make them fight it out with each other. Old forms of the stories get preserved: the scenes from Lies and Prophecy in here still feature a professor named Shields, because that was a perfectly innocuous name for Grayson until the plot headed off in directions that had a lot to do with shielding and it became a distraction. (And yet for all of that, startling amounts of text in here went almost verbatim into those first two novels.)

This notebook also features extensive evidence of a writing habit I had to kick before I could really make progress. It used to be that I would get an idea for a scene or even just a brief interaction, and I’d write it — out of context. Both Lies and Prophecy and Doppelganger got started that way, me hopscotching around to do the fun bits and then having to stitch them together into a coherent narrative fabric afterward. I didn’t manage to finish a novel, and I’m not sure I could have managed to finish a novel, until I made myself write more linearly, because that was the only way to make sure the stuff in between the fun bits was also good story rather than the bare minimum of connective tissue, and to make sure the key moments were properly grounded in the preceding text. These days I’ll sometimes let myself skip ahead if I’m really stuck and need to remember why I’m excited about the project — but even then, I usually write it in a separate file, to remind myself that any and all of it is subject to change once I get there properly. Non-linear writing works great for other authors, but not me.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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(Jim Hines posted this to his blog earlier today; I’m reposting it because it is timely and well-chosen.)

*

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured…

-From Letter From a Birmingham Jail
Written by Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 16, 1963

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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