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I feel sorry for Anne Rice

I don't know how many of you have seen the response she posted at amazon.com to reviews about her latest novel, Blood Canticle, but I'm assuming by this time many of you have -- because things like that tend to get around.

I read it with a kind of horrified fascination -- because, of course, it's the type of thing you think when you're very unhappy about a particularly nasty or incomprehensible review, which affects you say, when you're in the throes of PMS, etc.; the type of thing you might, in fact, grind out against a friend's shoulder in bitter frustration. Never the type of thing you post in public.

Otoh, she's always been a fairly public person, and she's not known for her lack of opinion about her work. How do I know this? Because I also visited her web site after I'd read her commentary. She's pretty clear about what she wants, and about how she views her own writing. And it's damn clear, reading her words there, that that lovely patina of detachment that writers are supposed to develop in public about their work and the comments or reactions it engenders? She hasn't. Ever.

Proof, of a sort, that you don't necessarily have to develop these calluses in order to be a million copy+ bestseller. Yes, that was a digression.

Do I agree with what she said? No. I don't think that people who didn't like it are clearly stupid or of lesser intellectual capacity. I think speculating on why the book didn't work -- that she was tramautized by the death of her husband and it affected her work, or that he must have been writing the other books because now he's dead and this one 'sucks' -- gives me some information about how seriously I should take the reviewer, and I understand why she might feel a sense of outrage at the implication that the words weren't hers. I think talking about the genius of one's own work is always teetering on the edge of wise (the wrong edge), but frankly, I've heard so many damn authors say the same things about their own work, either publicly or in chat rooms with a large number of people, that I guess it slides off the hard skin; it doesn't surprise me. It doesn't offend me.

What I find somewhat bewildering is the hostility that the counter engendered. She is clearly emotionally invested in her work to such a degree that she can't detach once the book has gone out of her hands; she's done something inadvisable and even publicly embarrassing (to herself), but I understand the source of the reaction because she's demonstrably not capable of not taking it personally; the work is what she has.

Do I advise anyone else to do this? Not on your damn life. And I would be eternally grateful to anyone who stopped me from doing something equally ill-advised; that's what spouses are for, poor sods.

The anger and scorn and derision and general cruelty that arose in response to her comments? I understand that less well. I don't understand that it comes from the same place; there's obviously no one with that same visceral attachment, that same inability to let go, because it's not their work. Yes, it's published. Yes, it's now open to public commentary, and yes people on Amazon have every right to post their opinions; I'm not arguing against that.

It's the reviews, if you will, of her response to the reviews that I find almost creepy. Or mob-like. Or something. It's like, "Okay, she's down and she's exposed a very stupid vulnerability, so let's all get together and kick her and giggle." I understand bonding exercises, and things that draw a group together in fun -- but this kind of fun is not my kind of fun. There's not a lot of malice in her words, that I can see; a lot of rage and obvious pain, but not a lot of malice; she's right there, in her words. She's completely exposed. There's a sh*tload of malice coming from other people, and it doesn't seem to come from a place of pain.

A better way to put this: She's not knowingly lying. She didn't knowingly turn out a bad book. She's not misinforming others to their detriment. Will the book make money for her? Yes, but not in a scam-artist way. I can understand a group assembling around any of these other things, because it seems to me to serve a purpose. Not entirely getting the purpose served here. (And Graydon, if you're reading this and you attempt to tell me this is some value of poor insecurity management, we'll have words <wry g>.)

My reaction to Rice's post is, as I said, a certain horrified fascination; it's like watching something implode. Or worse. But I'm wincing at it. If she came into my store tomorrow and screamed her head off, using more or less the same words? I'd grind my teeth and say nothing, and feel sorry for her because of the obvious cracks in the façade; but I'd be thinking, while I did it, there but for the grace of something-or-other go I. You build a lot of walls in this business, and it's like watching a car accident when they come down in this particular fashion.

I'm not immune to disaster scenes. I'm probably a lesser person because of this. I have to go and look. Why? Because obviously I'm stupid. And I have an edge. Just not that much of one.

Comments

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oneminutemonkey
Sep. 22nd, 2004 01:51 am (UTC)
I actually went to look at Anne's commentary, and I was just mindboggled. I think she basically broke every rule of writer etiquette I've ever tried to imagine.
Basically? She comes off like some 15 year old fangirl who's just had her first ONE PERFECT STORY critiqued, and she's ready to declare war on any who don't like it as much as she does. No, seriously. Put her words in the mouth of some online writer, and see if it doesn't sound exactly the same.

I can respect a lot of things from a lot of authors, especially convictions. But Anne's temper tantrum has just exposed something about her I never wanted to see. I'm amazed. Truly. THIS is a bigtime author with the big money and the many fans and the movies made of her books? THIS is one of the Writing Elite? She's allowed to contradict the critics; where I'm left shaking my head is when she points out how perfect certain scenes are, how special, how wonderful, how it's art and just so very right.

Let's not even get into the "I don't need an editor. I'll never let an editor touch my work. I'm too big for an editor." I think that if someone ever hits that point, they need an editor all the more.

In the end, I'm just amazed in a bad way that any author could get to where she is, and still be capable of blowing up in such a spectacularly pathetic fashion.
msagara
Sep. 22nd, 2004 06:25 am (UTC)
THIS is a bigtime author with the big money and the many fans and the movies made of her books? THIS is one of the Writing Elite? She's allowed to contradict the critics; where I'm left shaking my head is when she points out how perfect certain scenes are, how special, how wonderful, how it's art and just so very right.

Having read about 150 of the reviews before I gave up (the reviews prior to her comment), I think the weight of her replies about which scenes were perfect are, in context, a defense of text. When she specifically says she has never felt this character so strongly, for instance, she's responding to people who say she was phoning him in; that he wasn't there at all, that he's not the real character, etc. When she says his voice has always been her voice, it's in response to specific criticisms about his voice. Which is my of saying that her particular choice of style and dramatics in her contradiction of the critics is the part that makes you shake your head.

Once again: I think this was a very bad idea on her part.

People do two things when insecure: they either expose their throat instantly or they come out swinging. To me, this isn't a stance of gross arrogance, but one of -- oh, okay, I'll say it -- poor insecurity management.

I've known SF/F novelists who declined to let their acquiring editors touch a word, fwiw. And in some cases, given the weight of experience, I don't even think they were wrong. They did, otoh, have other friends who served in an editorial capacity for much of their process.

But having worked in a bookstore and spent enough time with publicists, I've got to say this is nothing in terms of behaviour that is inappropriate; it's not even a surface scratch.
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(Anonymous)
Sep. 22nd, 2004 02:16 am (UTC)
I suspect we all must have felt like doing this at some point. Ann Rice actually did it. There is a terrible warning here.
shermel
Sep. 22nd, 2004 02:17 am (UTC)
I feel a bit sorry for her actually.

Then again, I've always believed that if the readers don't 'get it' then the writer hasn't done her job properly. It's my cardinal rule when receiving critique. So I don't have that much sympathy.
schulman
Sep. 22nd, 2004 02:28 am (UTC)
I agree that the mob response is ugly, and getting uglier (and I hadn't seen the reviews that speculated about her late husband, which is certainly uncalled-for). But Rice's response is so self-congratulatory and over-the-top that it's hard for me to muster sympathy for her, particularly since she has a history of rhapsodizing about how editors are not allowed to come between her and her deathless prose.

I'm not a writer, and I've written a few unnecessarily cruel reviews in my day, so I'm on the other side of that divide. I'm also a reader, and whatever the sins of the Amazon reviewers who pushed Rice over that ledge, they paid $17+ for the privilege.
msagara
Sep. 22nd, 2004 08:12 am (UTC)
I'm not a writer, and I've written a few unnecessarily cruel reviews in my day, so I'm on the other side of that divide. I'm also a reader, and whatever the sins of the Amazon reviewers who pushed Rice over that ledge, they paid $17+ for the privilege.

Some of then; I think the recent ones paid 7.99 or less for it (yes, yes, so I'm a pedant). I do reviews, but I admit that it's been a long time since I did a really snarky one -- because it's been a long time since I've had the time to finish something I detested enough to maim in that particular fashion.

Plus, umm, a lot of it is free, so the outrage at lost money and lost trees is less burning than it used to be.

domynoe
Sep. 22nd, 2004 03:12 am (UTC)
That so seriously blew me away. It's like she expects every reader to love her work and, sorry, that one just isn;t going to happen. You can not please every reader, it's impossible. So, knowing that some will love it some will hate it, and some won;t bother, you just gotta let things go. Heck, I've just done short stories and learned that one in the first couple of dozen rejections. She's been around A LOT longer than I have, has got to have received worse than I've ever gotten, so she's got to know all this.

But, then, she's been very public about how she feels about how people treat her work. Well, sorta. The whole Tom Cruise thing must have taught her something because she didn't say a word about Queen of the Damned and that movie adaptation definitely destroyed the book.

But this is still mind boggling.
pixelfish
Sep. 22nd, 2004 03:48 am (UTC)
Haven't read the review of Blood Canticle (yet--I'm not immune to rubbernecking either) but I did read some letter on her site that she posted a few years back, where she stated that she didn't think she needed to be editted or words along those lines. Seeing that reiterated here makes me feel a little squeamish.

(I also wonder how people know that it's The Real Anne Rice. I suppose I do tend to take things like that mostly on trust--just like I trust that Michelle is the Real Michelle--but I have to wonder when somebody does something so bizarrely public like this. It's not unheard of for people on the interweb to spoof other people they are obsessed with, for good or for ill.)

I wish she would allow herself an editor. I know the foundation of her work seems to appeal to the purple-prose loving crowd, but I think it's always good to have somebody to rein in your excesses. (Or to prompt them--since my last beta reader told me that my narrator was a bit too narrative and clinical and we never saw any emotions. I suspect Anne is at the opposite end of the spectrum, though.)
sleigh
Sep. 22nd, 2004 04:07 am (UTC)
"...ust like I trust that Michelle is the Real Michelle..."

But this isn't the real Michelle. It's just a clever facsimile. The real Michelle would have written another thousand words on the subject.

(Steve ducks for cover)
(no subject) - msagara - Sep. 22nd, 2004 06:27 am (UTC) - Expand
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elialshadowpine
Sep. 22nd, 2004 04:30 am (UTC)
Like Pixelfish, I'm kind of wondering if it's actually Anne Rice or someone using her name, which is entirely possible on the internet.

On the other hand, I knew a multi-published midlist fantasy author who banned a long-time regular member from her writer's boards for supposedly writing a negative review of said author's books on Amazon.com and then lying about it. (Said now-ex members claims she never read the book, but the author held she was lying even after receiving an email apology from the real author of the review.)

Considering that the "bad review" basically consisted of the reader saying that the book wasn't deserving of the awe and worship that it got by previous reviewers, who were nearly all members of this same site, I really didn't think the review was that harsh. (Kinda agreed with it myself, actually. The book sucked, imo.)

So ... I honestly don't know. If Anne Rice really did write this, than it's immature in the extreme and, as someone else said, breaks all rules of writer etiquette. (Might make a couple new on its own, too. LOL.)

If you're going to publish something, it seems to me that you have to deal with the possible eventuality that people might not like it. People have different tastes, but if the majority of people are bitching about the way you've written a book, maybe that ought be a sign to you? "Hey, people don't like this. Maybe there's something valid here? *toddles off to take closer look*"

At least, that's the reaction I would have. But maybe I'm just odd. *shrugs*
mistri
Sep. 22nd, 2004 05:59 am (UTC)
Ooooh, I remember that all blowing up, but I've forgotten the title of the book in question. I've read the trilogy by that author (the more popular trilogy that took a lot of people to that website), but nothing else. Can you give me just the first letter of the book so I know to avoid it? Was it V? ;)

And I would *never* assume my work didn't need editing, that's just so, GAH, shortsighted, I suppose. Surely an editor's view is at least worth *considering* because an editor will always have more distance from the book than the author.
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msagara
Sep. 22nd, 2004 06:31 am (UTC)
I feel a little sympathy for her because I also tend to get out-of-control when responding to sheer nastiness tossed in my direction, but I'm tempted to print out her Amazon.com post and hang it on my wall next to my computer as a reminder to never, ever try to get in the last word wrt a bad review, whether written by an Amazon.com nameless nabob or Edmund Wilson.

This is probably the best thing that could come out of it -- those of us with a short fuse print out a copy and post it beside our computers <wry g>.

It's interesting how many people are comparing her to a fanfic writer who can't take criticism -- because what she's responding to isn't the kind of measured criticism fanfic can get. I wonder how much of that is due to her status as a "genre" author -- a bestselling one, to be sure, but still someone without "literary" prestige.

I don't write fanfic, and I don't read it, so I don't always understand the subculture. Could you expand on this a bit?
(Deleted comment)
msagara
Sep. 22nd, 2004 07:20 am (UTC)
I haven't read the book, the review, or her post, but I know I've whined on my LJ about reviews, and even about the Amazon review that says "This is the worst book I've ever read."

So yes, I too sympathise with the impulse, even while seeing hos foolish it is.


Your form of whining about a bad review is the acceptable, professional one -- it leaves the rest of us the room to say "that person is an utter idiot; was he writing in English"? (I apologize for the gender assumption <g>). Which is how these things are most properly done.

Somehow, saying those things about your own work just never goes over well. Demonstrably <wry g>.
pegkerr
Sep. 22nd, 2004 05:05 am (UTC)
Oooooo. Oooooo. I'm wincing from your description, so hard I don't think I can even bear to read it.

I was lucky: I got a talk from one of my writing mentors very early in my career (Tim Powers) who felt it important to tell all us budding hopeful writers at Clarion that we had to remember to pay attention not only to our writing, but how we conducted ourselves as decent, considerate human beings who didn't allow ourselves to get too puffed-up with ourselves. I've always been so grateful for that wisdom, because it has kept me from being tempted to act badly in ways I've since seen other writers act. And yeah, I can get really, really hurt when the critics get savage, but good heavens, I know enough not to pitch a fit publicly!

msagara
Sep. 22nd, 2004 07:25 am (UTC)
I was lucky: I got a talk from one of my writing mentors very early in my career (Tim Powers) who felt it important to tell all us budding hopeful writers at Clarion that we had to remember to pay attention not only to our writing, but how we conducted ourselves as decent, considerate human beings who didn't allow ourselves to get too puffed-up with ourselves. I've always been so grateful for that wisdom, because it has kept me from being tempted to act badly in ways I've since seen other writers act. And yeah, I can get really, really hurt when the critics get savage, but good heavens, I know enough not to pitch a fit publicly!

Tim Powers = very smart man. Clearly <g>.

merriehaskell
Sep. 22nd, 2004 05:31 am (UTC)
Yeah, I read the stuff that was up there (on Amazon) as of noon yesterday. I find it somewhat amazing that she's been an author lo these many years and hasn't learned to let go of this stuff. It's easy, in our insular worlds, to get caught up in thinking we're cool, that what we say is important to everyone. You learn on what fronts to guard against criticism (or at least, to curb your reaction to criticism)--appearance, salary, the one person at work who always thinks you're an idiot, whatever. An attack comes on an undefended flank and it floors you, and all the urbane detachment you've developed about the other things is of no use.

I guess I'm just totally shocked that a writer hasn't learned that writing is one of those fronts.

But maybe that's what her husband actually did for her--I tend not to think that he wrote her works, because that's just convoluted and insulting on a whole different level--but maybe he shored up those defenses for her, and now she's reeling from something that, by rights, she should have experienced long ago.

Just a guess. I do feel sorry for her, but not in a good way.
msagara
Sep. 22nd, 2004 06:15 am (UTC)
Just a guess. I do feel sorry for her, but not in a good way.

I'm not sure there ever is a good way to feel sorry for someone, fwiw <wry g>.
(no subject) - merriehaskell - Sep. 22nd, 2004 06:40 am (UTC) - Expand
thinkum
Sep. 22nd, 2004 06:14 am (UTC)
I have a Thing about Vampires. It's not rational, logical, or enlightened of me, but there it is: the whole subject gives me nightmares, despite the best efforts of the intellectual side of my brain.

This is by way of saying that (a) I've never read Anne Rice, (b) I don't ever intend to read Anne Rice, and therefore (c) I have absolutely no firsthand knowledge of the quality of her writing.

If her rampage on Amazon is any example, the quality of her writing is fairly substandard. Of course, that's a totally unfair example, as she's obviously coming from an emotional place, unedited, rather than crafting a structured argument. As you say, she's right there, totally exposed. But sometimes I find that's the most telling measure of a person, when their words are unedited, coming fresh from an emotional core.

We can't all be Dorothy Parker (thank god *g*). But even in anger, someone who truly crafts words as carefully and deliberately as Ms Rice claims to, should have made a better job of it.

Ultimately, her comments serve as the perfect example of why one should never post anything until the motivating emotion has cooled off. I think that warning should be emblazoned across the internet, at the top of every newsreader, web browser, IRC, IM, and email window: Never Post In Anger.
msagara
Sep. 22nd, 2004 06:36 am (UTC)
But sometimes I find that's the most telling measure of a person, when their words are unedited, coming fresh from an emotional core.

I agree with this statement, but think that judging the whole of a person's literary ability on what they say in a single emotional state is a bit on the harsh side.

Ultimately, her comments serve as the perfect example of why one should never post anything until the motivating emotion has cooled off. I think that warning should be emblazoned across the internet, at the top of every newsreader, web browser, IRC, IM, and email window: Never Post In Anger.

Amen.
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kristine_smith
Sep. 22nd, 2004 06:29 am (UTC)
I read some of Rice's commentary. She crossed the line so many times that she erased it. Sharks smelled blood and circled. Ugliness on both sides.

That said, I also understand her impulse to defend herself. I have received and read Amazon reviews that seem to have no relation to the book in question, or which reveal the reviewer as someone with an axe to grind. Some people seem to view Amazon as a valid outlet for their 'kick the cat' impulses. Others don't understand the difference between a book that doesn't work for them and a bad book. But to respond to it as Rice did is bad form. The work needs to stand up for itself, and as others have said previously, if you need to go back and explain things, you didn't do your job properly in the first place.
yonmei
Sep. 22nd, 2004 07:22 am (UTC)
I dunno. It's such a awful thing to have done - to post this kind of reply to a negative review - that it's almost impossible for me not to feel some sympathy.

Even though she's such a dreadful writer, and this "review of reviews" epitomises why she is such a dreadful writer. (Came over here via ide_cyan, btw - hope you don't mind.) She didn't use to be dreadful: but it's been years since I greeted the arrival of a new Anne Rice with pleasure, and indeed years since I started to wonder how she could possibly still be a bestseller. That she chose out of arrogance to become a less good writer than she's capable of being (that is, she used her bestseller status to avoid being edited) is a sin that I find hard to forgive: it's a waste of talent by pride. And the end result, is, indeed, that she's simply not capable even of accepting that some people who read what she writes won't like it.
msagara
Sep. 22nd, 2004 07:42 am (UTC)
And the end result, is, indeed, that she's simply not capable even of accepting that some people who read what she writes won't like it.

I'm going to argue that one. I don't think she's done this before -- and lord knows there are people who probably know what underwear she's got on today, so if she had, it would have propagated, in much the same way this has.

There are a lot of people who can't stand her Vampires or her books.

I've been talking to other people about this, and I'm almost getting the feeling that maybe 1 in 5 read the reviews that she's responding to. Given the timing, you don't have to go that far back; even read the previous sixty to her comment, and you'll understand that it's not that they don't like it that seems to have pushed her buttons; there are certainly less than glowing reviews of all her other books.

I'm really guessing it was the person who said her dead husband was probably the real writer that tipped her over the scales (and way, way off, and I'd even bet my own money on it, as opposed to, say anyone else's); but then again, since she was going to do it anyway, why not also answer every other sweeping dismissal?

So either this book was somehow very special or important to her, or something -- because as I said, she's got a lot of negative reviews lying around the rests of amazon and she's never responded like this.

I don't know her; I've never met her; I'm not actually trying to defend her -- although I'm beginning to think that it's a twitch on my part.

I do understand the frustration with the lack of being edited, though, because I think it did make a difference.

But you know what? Colleen McCullough hated what she had to do to THORN BIRDS to sell that book -- and it's by far the biggest hit she ever had. I remember 6 months after it came out it was still outselling front-list new releases in the chain I worked at at the time; we were crating them in in 50's. Well, okay, 48's.

Still, she hated and loathed what she'd been forced to do editorially, and she never allowed that level of interference again.

Sometimes what we want to do as writers and what connects well with readers isn't the same thing :/. I'm not sure it's a waste of talent, per se in the case of Anne Rice; she seems to write so much from where she is in the moment that there would almost have to be changes because she's thirty+ years older than she was when she wrote Interview.

Ummm, and no, of course I don't mind -- I confess I don't immediately recognize ide_cyan though, which is probably because I have no memory and few brain cells.
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stakebait
Sep. 22nd, 2004 07:40 am (UTC)
I didn't post one of those responses to the review, because it's been said, but I identify with them -- my private response was much the same.

I didn't see the vulnerability and pain you describe coming from Anne -- I saw narcissistic drama queen. She refuses to let anyone touch her sacred words and then turns around and flames people for pointing out grammar errors. How dare we hold her responsible for...exactly what she just grandiosely claimed complete responsibility for? Um, no.

I can't speak for anyone else, but my malice comes, not from pain, but from righteous indignation. Oh no, honey, you can't be thinking to put this over on me, to make it my fault that I am too stupid to understand your masterpiece. I don't think so. (Of course, I've got my own history with narcissism and having things be made the other person's fault. So maybe this is a place of pain after all.)

It's also a context thing. If this were the first time she'd pulled something like this, she'd get the "wow, must've been a lot of straw on that camel already" benefit of the doubt.

But Anne Rice makes a habit of psychodrama of precisely this sort -- flouncing off, seeing betrayal and personal insult in any critique, leaving long rants on her answering machine and web site that, in the course of defending herself, manage to insult a large number of other people and sound laughable in the process.

Several friends of mine were deeply into Anne Rice fandom for years, and were finally disillusioned by her behavior as much as by the decline in her books once she refused editing. So as far as I'm concerned she used up the benefit of the doubt a long time ago.

In a nonfamous person I have no tolerance for repeated temper tantrums. Someone who pulled this in my real life would be long gone from it. In a famous person... I still have no tolerance for it. Less, in fact, because if people are shelling out for your novel and reading it all the way through, that puts an additional burden on you to act like a grownup in return.

I'm not sure getting angry needs to serve a purpose. I just get angry when confronted with something that strikes me as inappropriate, and then the purpose served is expressing my anger. In addition, I'd argue, it serves as an object lesson to other pros that falling in love with yourself to this extent is going to alienate readers, and to fans who behave in a similar fashion in our own small puddle to see how unattractive it is when viewed from the outside.
msagara
Sep. 22nd, 2004 07:50 am (UTC)
But Anne Rice makes a habit of psychodrama of precisely this sort -- flouncing off, seeing betrayal and personal insult in any critique, leaving long rants on her answering machine and web site that, in the course of defending herself, manage to insult a large number of other people and sound laughable in the process.

This is the first thing I've ever seen publicly, aside from the criticism of Tom Cruise and the retraction of the criticism of Tom Cruise, fwiw.

I'm not one of her readers, but I'm not really a Vampire fan of any kind. I liked Buffy because she killed them. And then didn't kill them so much. But <ahem> I try to avoid religious issues in topic.

So I'm giving her the context benefit that I have.

I'm not sure getting angry needs to serve a purpose. I just get angry when confronted with something that strikes me as inappropriate, and then the purpose served is expressing my anger. In addition, I'd argue, it serves as an object lesson to other pros that falling in love with yourself to this extent is going to alienate readers, and to fans who behave in a similar fashion in our own small puddle to see how unattractive it is when viewed from the outside.

I don't get angry when something strikes me as inappropriate. I do get angry when something strikes me as stupid, otoh. And if I'm tired, gross incompetence makes me cranky. Okay, crankier. But I don't get a lot of glee out of being pissed off or offended.

Your response seems appropriate to me; you're responding in context to something I've said, rather than adding to the heap of things that are being repetitively said, and frankly, are using whole sentences, which separates you somewhat from many <wry g&g;t.
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